Warriors still looking for answers
Epic 26-1 meltdown reminds Golden State that the All Star break wasn't a magic reset button
Through the first three quarters of Sunday’s matinee against the Dallas Mavericks, the Golden State Warriors were the better team. But then, over the course of about eight minutes of game time, everyone got served a reminder of just how many problems the Warriors were looking to alleviate with that much-needed All Star break.
Defensive lapses, stagnant offense, and a bench that didn’t hold any answers.
All familiar problems, and the same familiar set of shoulder shrugs when it comes to solutions. Draymond Green is practicing again, to a limited extent. James Wiseman is currently travelling with the team. And even ol’ Andre Iguodala has started working the dust out a bit.
None of that fixes the current issues affecting the team, not now at least. But presumably those players are all returning at some point, meaning the current ephemeral struggles should soon be alleviated.
Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen tonight. Also, Klay Thompson will miss his second consecutive game with a (non-Covid) illness. Soooo… internal improvement it is!
WHO: Golden State Warriors (43-18) at Minnesota Timberwolves (32-29)
WHEN: Tuesday, February 28, 2022 // 5pm PDT
Let’s point some fingers
On the one hand, it’s not rocket science. Figuring out why a team that is losing when they’re mostly filling out their rotation with minimum value contract players isn’t tough. Nor is it a mystery how the long term injury to Klay Thompson ($38 million), combined with a banged up Draymond Green ($24 million) and James Wiseman ($9 million) have all contributed to a salary pinch that has hampered the team’s ability to make meaningful improvements around the edges.
But all of that is small comfort when the meltdowns start like a hungry toddler demanding candy in the checkout line. That collapse against the Mavericks may not have been an all-time record, but it broke plenty of hearts.
Curry, who played a game-high 38 minutes, and pitched in 27 points and 10 assists (both team highs) sat out right there for all of a minute and-a-half. Curry can do a lot, but not literally everything.
The Warriors’ next highest scorer was Andrew Wiggins, who contributed 18 points — but needed 16 shot attempts to get there. The second leading assist giver was center Kevon Looney, who continues a strong season. Five assists for Looney is a bonus though, not a reliable offensive philosophy.
Nemanja Bjelica, one of the team’s primary offseason additions isn’t doing so well. I can’t remember who talked about it first, but Bjelica is probably one of the most impacted by the absence of Green. Without a colleague down around the rim to help clean up mistakes, Bjelica’s flaws are getting exposed to such an extent that there’s no room for his strengths to shine.
Other previously strong players, like Juan Toscano-Anderson, and Damion Lee are struggling this season. With more rotation to support their spot appearances, maybe it goes different. And hindsight is the world’s most precise science, for whatever that’s worth. But unless you think someone like Robin Lopez is going to be an answer at center, this team is locked in with what they have.
Right now, the thin availability is causing a series of downstream chain reactions. In a fully stocked roster, where coach Steve Kerr has the luxury of picking and choosing where to plug Bjelica, the offseason addition would make a lot more sense; but as a hole plugging, plus defender capable of manning the center position? Nah.
I’ve posted a portion of this table before, but this time, take a look at the minutes load, in conjunction with the players on/off impacts. Bjelica is fine for what he is: a decent NBA player on a minimum contract. The problem right now for Golden State that there’s nowhere else to turn on a roster intentionally short on bigs.
I know it’s not as fun as blaming the coach, but this list is on/off (per 100 possessions), sorted by total minutes played. These generally seem to match up with the eyeball test:
So go ahead and wring those hands like Kerr is trying to wring value out of a threadbare roster that’s been waiting for whatever the basketball equivalent is of Gandalph arriving on the first light of the fifth day. Because even at second best in the West, it’s looking like a tough road through the playoffs and they're definitely going to need to be a better, deeper team by then.
At some point (hopefully soon) both Green and Iguodala will be back, and whenever Wiseman returns, he’ll immediately slot into that center position for at least 10 or 15 minutes a night.
There are plenty of players on the Warriors right now that are not playing the best basketball of their career. Jordan Poole has struggled to maintain consistency. Thompson is back but different, and his reappearance has forced an adjustment to Poole's rotations and performance.
But try to remember that the Warriors still have the second best record in the NBA, while dealing with a level of roster crunch that has destroyed lesser teams.
Help is coming.