Warriors vs. Nuggets preview
Curry is slated to be available, but it's no sure thing
Here we go Dub Nation: the 2022 NBA playoffs! Though the team never really got the chance to put it all together during the regular season, the squad seems poised to assemble in time for their first round matchup against Nikola Jokic and his Denver Nuggets.
It’s an auspicious game tomorrow for a lot of reasons: the return of the Warriors' core, the first game of an important chase for another ring, and Chase Center's first taste of that high octane playoff energy.
Let’s dig in!
WHO: Golden State Warriors vs Denver Nuggets
WHEN: Saturday, April 16, 2022 // 5:30pm PDT
Curry, health, and rotations
Like so much with this team, the availability of Stephen Curry is going to be of paramount importance. He’s missed about a month of action, but after participating in scrimmage yesterday, it's pretty much a foregone conclusion that Golden State’s super star will be there for game one.
Still short of 100%, Curry will be on a minutes limitation - something short of 30-35 minutes, according to coach Steve Kerr. That said, his clear availability for the first game of this series is a major victory.
The Warriors have discovered another gear that will come in handy during this uphill climb to another championship, and it’s time to uncover the cool car that they’ve been working on in the garage all year.
The hot rod, Jordan Poole is ready to tear up the streets of the playoffs. He’ll likely slot in as the offensive driver when Curry is out; Kerr and the Warriors have spent most of the season working on that engine. A donut-burning whirlpool of offensive attack, Poole may be one of the teams most intriguing new weapons. More than anyone else on the team, Poole is the one that helps cover for any Curryless minutes for a team that has historically been rudderless whenever Curry sits.
Slot Poole in for Curry in the starting lineup, and you get the 5th most used lineup — and also on that has averaged a Net Rating of -34.8 points per 100 possessions. A performance that puts that 5-man unit in the second percentile (meaning 97% of lineups in the NBA performed better).
But Klay Thompson is a new man — or maybe just “his old self, finally.” Whether you want to look at that last lineup in that table above, or just lean on the memories of what Klay has been, the backcourt seems to have been rebuilt. The timing didn’t exactly work out, in the sense that there was no “tune-up' period” — Golden State is going to be leaning on the old familiar vets, and figuring out how to make it all work on the fly. Guys like Kuminga, Poole, Wiggins, and Payton are new elements.
Depending on where one falls within the spectrum of faith in Kerr’s coaching, this strange timing is either an exciting wrinkle to explore, or another chance for Kerr to put in whatever this team’s version of Anderson Varejao or Festus Ezeli would be.
But time has passed, and not only has Kerr’s philosophy changed, so too has the roster construction. It didn’t seem likely earlier in the season, but with Poole and Thompson’s solid late-season showings, the likelihood of Kerr making a small ball lineup change at some point in the post season has grown. Maybe not against the Nuggets, but then again, why not go small ball?
….would Kerr go all-in on small ball by starting Green at center alongside Curry, Thompson, Poole and Wiggins?
“There’s going to be a lot of unknown,” Kerr said. “I don’t have expectations. … In a lot of ways, it makes things really fun.”
Gary Payton will play a large role, plugging a different gap entirely, but still serving a key role both with, and without, Curry. It harkens back to Shaun Livingston, though the math is a little bit different, the Strength in Numbers philosophy is going strong, and will be as important as ever in regards to the Warriors’ chances in this post season.
It all starts and ends with Curry. He’s still as lethal as ever. But in those non-Curry minutes, the Warriors are figuring out how to survive.
Nuggets SWOT analysis
SWOT analysis is an assessment technique used to help a person or organization identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats related to business competition. For today’s article, I thought we could apply the process to the Warriors and Nuggets matchup.
According to basketball reference, there is exactly one key category in which the Nuggets rank first, and it’s a criteria near and dear to coach Steve Kerr’s heart: eFG% That’s right, the Nuggets shot a league-best .556 eFG% Meaning that if every shot was a two-pointer, they’d hit 55.6% of them. Overall, they’ve got the 6th best offense, and the 11th-ranked Net Rating.
The Warriors ended the season with the league’s second-best defense, allowing just 107.6 points per 100 possessions, per Cleaning the Glass. Compared to a league average of 112 or so, Denver may find themselves struggling to score on a Warriors team that will certainly dial up the defensive intensity.
Jokic is undoubtedly the engine for the Nuggets in the same way the Curry is for the Warriors. Looking at his on/off via Cleaning the Glass, it’s clear that the Nuggets aren’t an especially deep team, but they make it work. Looking at Cleaning the Glass, it’s clear how top-heavy the Nuggets are:
The Nuggets have been going through some bad injury luck of their own, a big part of how the team finds themselves as the 6th seed right now. Guard, Jamal Murray is inching closer to a return, but is still more likely to miss this series than not according to coach Mike Malone; Michael Porter jr. is basically ruled out.
It’s precisely their reliance on Jokic that makes the Warriors such a challenging opponent for Denver. Jokic isn’t the bruiser that his frame implies, killing opponents with finesse rather than brute force — which makes the duo of Draymond Green and Kevon Looney all that more difficult. If those two can play Jokic straight up, it will seriously curtail the potential impact of the entire Nuggets offense.
Denver doesn’t take a lot of threes, so the inside out attack is a bit over-emphasized in my opinion. They rank 14th in three-point attempt rate, and shoot around 35% as a team (ranked 16th) — neither mark is especially concerning. Stop Jokic and you stop the Nuggets.
That’s no hyperbole, Jokic leads the team in all the major categories: points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks.
With both Draymond Green, and a surprisingly adept Kevon Looney at Kerr’s disposal, the Warriors are in a good position to stifle Jokic, and therefor the Nuggets.
Things won’t get much easier for Denver against the Warriors’ backcourt either, from a rad Nuggets-centric preview, here’s the skinny on covering Curry (or any of the Warriors guards):
When Curry eventually returns, the Nuggets don’t have many reasonable options to try and guard him (or the other Warriors guards). Monte Morris tries his best but has been abused defensively in prior playoff series against high-level guards (vs Donovan Mitchell in 2020, vs Damian Lillard in 2021, vs Devin Booker and Chris Paul in 2021) due to his lack of size. Will Barton’s inattentiveness off the ball and declining athleticism have led to some really bad defensive miscues this season. And God bless him but Bones Hyland has so many Shaqtin’ a fool level defensive possessions both on and off the ball at this point in his career.
Denver’s best option against Curry in this series will probably be Austin Rivers taking the point of attack
This is the Warriors’ battle to lose.
Warriors in five. Denver is an extremely worthy adversary, but between Curry’s return, and the defensive excellence of Green and Looney, Golden State has everything they need to advance.
My biggest X-factor this series is Otto Porter jr. When he plays well (as he has been of late), his size, rebounding, and shooting prowess are going to cause headaches for the Nuggets. Remember that the Nuggets have two big plodding centers in Jokic and our old friend DeMarcus Cousins, so Porter may well be one of the key indicators of if the Warriors can get by with some small ball.
I’m down in San Diego on vacation. We’ll be blasting back towards home base tomorrow so I can get back in time for the game, but I’m also dreaming about this band that will be coming through SF next Wednesday. This is PUP, our of Toronto. Check ‘em out!