Warriors need to figure out the "anyone but Curry" defense yet again
Warriors, Lakers, and the glory (and difficulty) of old dudes
The Golden State Warriors aren’t doing so hot at the moment. They’ve now lost seven of their last nine games, including some ugly, lethargic moments and blown leads. Struggling like this isn’t fun for anyone, and calls for patience as the team awaits a clean bill of health that has proved elusive all season are wearing thin as time runs down.
But each game is a brand new start. And today’s opponent, LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers are going through struggles of their own that seem to be a whole lot deeper than the ephemeral ponds of hand wringing afflicting the Warriors.
On the injury front, it wouldn’t be a Warriors game without an injury note, so today Gary Payton II is going to finally get a chance to rest that leg he’s been limping on for the past few games.
WHO: Golden State Warriors (43-20) at Los Angeles Lakers (27-35)
WHEN: Saturday, March 5th, 2022 // 5:30pm PDT
Steph Curry’s zero shots in the 4th quarter against Mavs are a problem with deep roots
With a newly revamped bench, the Warriors were hoping that they’d solved the dreaded Box+1. It’s a tale as old as the squeak of shoes on the basketball court: teams overloading defense on their opponent’s best player. But there’s an extra tender Achilles heel there for a Warriors team that relies so heavily on what Curry does in order for the team’s offense to work. The same stress point that was at the crux of the Warriors’ emergence all those years ago — only this time, it’s an injured Draymond Green that will be the veteran that comes back from an injury and reminds everyone how to be the relief valve when Curry is trapped.
If none of this worries you, if you know Green will be back shortly to fix everything then you can skip this section. The Warriors are still in second place in the West, with 19 games before the playoffs start; plenty of time for Green’s return. Because as nervous as folks may be, the bottom line is that this Warriors squad at full strength is more than capable of going to to toe with any other team in the NBA. It’s mostly the “full strength" part that’s at question.
But in the interim, the recent slide is far from ideal, and the erosion that it’s caused has exposed the flaws that pretty much everyone identified coming in to the season. An extremely thin frontcourt rotation is now counting on last minute returns from both Green and James Wiseman. The former will certainly help immediately, and is a prerequisite for any meaningful level of postseason success. The latter is a huge gamble that the team had hoped to make with much lower stakes. 19 games left. And each one offers a bit less wiggle room.
Beyond all that stuff though, let’s talk about Curry’s fourth quarter against the Mavericks. Zero shots. Something that simply cannot be allowed to happen, and yet it’s become the preeminent strategy for opposing defenses: "anyone but Stephen Curry.” They trap him, he passes, no one else can score, the defense wins.
Curry is the Warriors leading scorer and the engine that drives the whole machine. It’s miraculous that he manages to do as well as he does, considering the offensive burden that he carries.
Curry’s effectiveness is at the center of what the Warriors do, but coach Steve Kerr’s offense isn’t tailored to maximize Curry, so much as it is built to maximize Curry’s overall impact on the court. The team’s past success points towards this not being a problem, but by the same token, their current struggles (even accounting for missing players) points towards a systemic issue.
Golden State doesn’t run the pick-and-roll much, preferring instead to chase spot up jumpers.
Right now, the Warriors offense isn’t working so well. Some of it — perhaps even most of it — is due to the lack of personnel, but even as a spreadsheet using basketball blog boi, I can’t help but wonder if it’s all a little too fancy at times. Especially when there’s no secondary play maker like Green.
If no one other than Curry is making shots, couldn’t the team benefit from simplifying things and spamming the pick-and-roll a bit more? Or even just simple isolation calls for Curry? Not all the time, but in crunch situations?
But don’t listen to me, take if from none other than Stephen Curry.
“Offensively, that’s not really the issue,” Curry said. “We’ve got to get more aligned on what we’re trying to do defensively. They were hunting isos. It seemed like they had the whole court with work with, as opposed to the other side.
“Maybe taking a page out of the way they were defending us to counter that, especially since if [we're] going pretty small and don’t have rim protection.”
The Warriors are just a half game up on the Memphis Grizzlies for the 2nd seed, only two up in the loss column over the Utah Jazz as the current fourth seed. Winning these games around the margins does, in fact, matter.
Yo, Jordan Poole!
After all the chatter, I feel like I need to take a brief moment here to praise Jordan Poole’s last game. Just as Curry is hoping to find a little bit more individual traction by going on the occasional iso hunt, so too does the team need to find players that can fill in around the edges of Curry’s brilliance.
One of the big challenges with the Warriors’ current strategy is merging of the timelines between their veterans and youth. Poole is somewhere in the middle, not quite the OG, but also clearly entrenched ahead of the rookies and Wiseman.
Kerith Burke said it perfectly, so I’m just going to repost her words and end this one with praise:
Poole had a great game yesterday against the Mavs, with 23 points in 27 minutes on an efficient shooting night, including 8-of-12 from the field, 3-of-6 from deep and 4-of-4 from the stripe. He did not return in the usual substitution pattern late in the fourth quarter, however, because Kerr decided to ride Moses Moody’s hot hand. The rookie exploded for a perfect 5-of-5 shooting performance from the field, including 3-of-3 from 3-point land for 13 fourth-quarter points.
Skid? You want a rough skid? Then take a good long look at the Los Angeles Lakers. Way down on the edges of the play in tournament, the Lakers are going through it this season with the dregs of a franchise left over from chasing veterans to pair with LeBron James. But a nationally televised game against Curry and the Warriors is bound to get everyone’s blood up.
In the end though, the Warriors, even as banged up as they are, should be able to readily handle this deeply flawed Lakers team.