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Warriors starting to figure it out
Golden State has gone far down their list of contingencies, but it's all finally coming together
Let’s rehash for a moment. Stephen Curry and Andrew Wiggins were out (both will again miss the game today), the Memphis Grizzlies were at full strength, and had been building up to the game by talking about it for months. The most recent cherry on top was Ja Morant’s version of “I said what I said” when asked about which team he was worries about in the Western Conference. Turns out, maybe Morant and the Frizzlies aren’t “fine in the West” after all.
For the Golden State Warriors, things haven’t exactly gone to plan here, but the end result is still in flux. As the Warriors work their way towards cohesion, these games without Curry and Wiggins are a fantastic opportunity to begin building some of the connective tissue that the back end of the rotation has so sorely needed this year.
WHO: Golden State Warriors (16-18) vs Charlotte Hornets (9-25)
WHEN: Tuesday, December 27th, 2022 // 7:00 PDT
Plan Z, go!
Even before Kevin Durant left the team in Free Agency, the Warriors’ brass were keeping a lot of irons in the fire. In an NBA world full of so much uncertainty, it feels like there cannot be just one plan. Rather, it’s a basic starting block (the core plus some guys who can dribble, pass, and shoot) with a tree root system of branching design decisions.
Make no mistake, Golden State badly misses what Otto Porter and Gary Payton II brought to the table. Porter has only appeared in eight games for his new team this season, none of them recent. Payton hasn’t yet played a single minute for the Portland Trail Blazers.
It is against this backdrop that we should be evaluating the opportunity cost of those players walking and being replaced by Donte DiVincenzo and JaMychal Green. Green will miss tonight’s game as he remains in Covid protocols, but DiVincenzo was everywhere against Memphis. Often responding to every Ja Morant bucket, he was a huge part of why the Warriors won their Christmas Day game.
The Warriors are three games back from being the fifth seed right now - but the season doesn’t end right now. If this squad can make another push once Curry and/or Wiggins return, then all of my fingernail biting anxiety will have once again been misplaced.
There’s obviously still some concern here. The Warriors may only be three games out of 5th, and six away from first, but they’re still playing below .500 on the season. Injuries to two key players are enough to derail even the most heavily stacked NBA team, so the Warriors’ main goal these days is to simply tread water while they await reinforcements. The biggest worry I have right now is the health of Wiggins and Curry. Wiggins has missed now missed the last ten games, with the team going 3-7 over that period. The All Star forward already shelved when Curry suffered a left shoulder injury against the Indiana Pacers on December 14th - a shoulder injury that should heal up by mid January or so.
In the absence of those two, the Warriors turned back again to their second timeline. Led by the craft playmaking and scoring of Poole, the Golden State system and personnel looked perfectly viable against Memphis. Obviously, none of this looks anywhere near as nice without the championship resumes associated with the ring bearers. Klay Thompson, Kevon Looney, and Draymond Green provide a sort of emotional backbone. Anything is possible with this franchise as long as we have the old heads steadying the ship.
One of the best ways to think about the redundancies and two timelines here is to examine the role that each Warriors player holds within Kerr’s ecosystem. I love these graphs, here’s the team’s overall scoring efficiency (points scored per 100 attempts) charted alongside the usage (percent of team plays where a certain player was involved while he was on the floor). Raw data is from Cleaning the Glass, so excludes garbage time; and top right is more (higher usage and higher efficiency).
Jordan Poole had a little bit of a bumpy start to the season, but has really been on a tear since Curry went down with his shoulder injury. Being able to carry such a significant offensive load isn’t easy, as you can see from the gap between Curry’s godly efficiency and Poole’s. Still though, it finally feels like the Warriors have found a guy that can placehold for Steph when needed. It’s not a replacement, but let’s call it a functional equivalent at least.
As this team continues to gel as a unit and improve individually, it’s important to understand the timeframe and endgame here. The Warriors do need to chase some wins of course, but as long as this internal improvement continues, there’s still room for error. It’s all part of the plan!
Sorry for the late publish today, hopefully the Warriors woke up knowing they had a game tonight! Let’s get another win, and keep the momentum building.