Wiggins and Oubre - subpar shooting isn't that big of a problem, yet
Preview: Warriors welcome the Pacers to conclude home stand
After dropping a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter , but hanging on for the win over the Toronto Raptors, the Golden State Warriors are ready to conclude their homestand tonight against the Indiana Pacers.
The Warriors imperfect, but hugely entertaining season has been mostly successful - an enormous accomplishment given the injuries. Now, with a bit of breathing room earned after salvaging the team out of a rough start to the season, the Warriors are going to focus on fixing all the little things. The team has proven that it can beat high quality opponents, now the question is how to do so reliably.
And in case you haven’t noticed, the Pacers do actually qualify as a high quality opponent this season.
WHO: Golden State Warriors (6-4) vs. Indiana Pacers (6-3)
WHERE: Chase Center, San Francisco, CA
WHEN: Tuesday, January 12, 2021 // 7:30 p.m.
WATCH: NBCSBA, NBA TV
An anchor, and a balloon
Back when I used to do hippy stuff for a living, we had a way of venting/checking in that was called “an anchor and a balloon;” something that was bringing you down, and something that was lifting you up. Today, I’d like to borrow that format to dive into Kelly Oubre and Andrew Wiggins, the #2 and #3 consumer of minutes for Golden State this season.
First, the balloons.
When coach Steve Kerr talked about looking at this roster and seeing a top-10 defense, it was met with skepticism. This was the same Warriors team that spent most of last season with the NBA’s worst defense, and early games played without Draymond Green or James Wiseman did little to soothe the nerves.
But with Green manning the defensive helm, and Wiseman continuing to improve, the Warriors are beginning to show enough flashes of elite defense that you just know they’ll all come together like a zoetrope. The pairing of Wiggins and Oubre has proven to be an excellent one-two combo of long-armed, athletic, willing defenders. Wiggins takes the cake, he has been by far the team’s best defender.
The blocks are nice (I may even like a good block more than a good dunk, if pressed to decide), but Wiggins defensive impacts are showing strongly in the stats. Looking at Synergy, Wiggins has defended 129 possessions (most out of any Warriors) and given up only 109 points, which Synergy calls "Very Good." His 0.845 points per possession ranks him in the top third of all players at his position on defense.
Not only is Wiggins busy out there, accounting for almost 11% of Golden State’s defended possessions, whoever he’s guarding is having a really hard time scoring.
Oubre doesn’t have the same individual impact, and Synergy even goes so far as to call his overall defensive numbers “poor,” but Oubre is an agent of chaos. He leads the team in steals (tied with Draymond Green), he’s 7th in the league in deflections, and he’s great at defending off of screens (where Synergy has him ranked in the 67th percentile).
Taken together, this wing tandem looks very much like it will live up to Kerr’s vision. Which is good for this season, and great for next year, when Klay Thompson returns.
Now, for the anchor: the shooting
Ok, so now that I’m on the record praising Oubre and Wiggins, let’s talk about a glaring issue that isn’t a deal-breaker, but… complicates our basketball relationship. This is a touchy subject that can easily kick of the ol’ “stats vs. eyeballs” debate, but let’s forge on and look at the scoring efficiency of Oubre and Wiggins.
Wiggins is obviously the lesser immediate concern. His 17.5 points per game are second only to Stephen Curry, and he’s doing all that heavy lifting on defense. It’s fine. Mostly.
My initial reactions to the Wiggins acquisition are well documented, and I know it’s a stat nerd problem to point out on a guy that has been one of the team’s most valuable players this season - but I’m going to do it anyways. Because here’s the problem: Wiggins isn’t such a problem on his own, but against the canvas of the entirety of Golden State’s roster, there may be a design issue here.
Look at the “PSA” column below to see the Points Scored per hundred Attempts. Do you notice a pattern in blue?
Oubre is the worst in this regard, but we can gloss over him because it’s clearly some sort of huge slump for him, but also because he doesn’t fit into the Warriors long term plans in the way that Wiggins does.
Stephen Curry is going to continue to do Stephen Curry things. And Klay Thompson’s return will lighten the scoring burden significantly - but that’s a whole lot of bad offense to carry. Especially when combined with Green’s parsimonious relationship with scoring.
The question of how much more efficient Wiggins can score isn’t especially pressing, since he’s clearly helping the team, but it’s an interesting wrinkle in Wiggins’ time with Golden State. This season, Wiggins is averaging just 108.3 points per 100 shots, which ranks him down in the bottom third of the league (28th percentile). In his short time with the team last season, Wiggins looked to be much improved in this regard, but even then, was only hitting “average" scoring efficiency. Here’s his entire career, again, the PSA column shows the scoring efficiency:
Common sense just says to let the bad shooters shoot less (and they do, do that) but the pressure to substitute more proficient offensive threats is going to start pushing against the seams of Kerr’s preferred rotation patterns.
This is why Kerr has leaned on Damion Lee to close the team’s last two games, an acknowledgment of a compromise between the lack of buckets on defense (good) and the lack of buckets on offense (not good). Right now, the Warriors are fine, thanks for asking. But this is a lot of inefficient scoring to carry - even with an elite defense.
Meet the Pacers
Indiana comes in on the tail end of a back-to-back, after a tough loss to the surging Sacramento Kings last night. At 6-4 on the season, the Pacers are holding the fourth seed in the East, and doing so with a combination of good offense (6th in the league), and a decent, middle-of-the-pack defense. Overall, they’re a team that plays slow but is dangerous enough to have the 6th best net rating in the NBA. Coming off a loss to the Kings, they’ll be working hard to get a win tonight to secure the split.
The Pacers shoot well, and don’t turn the ball over a lot, so a solid defense will be extra critical tonight. This is a team with a clear trifecta at the head: Malcom Brogdon (23.5 points, 7.4 assists), Domantas Sabonis (22.2 points, 12.4 rebounds), and Victor Oladipo (20 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 4.2 assists).
Defensively, this is one of the better teams in the league at forcing turnovers (ranked 7th), but we’ll have to see if their preferred lineups are quick enough to run around with the speedy Warriors. Currently, Golden State is getting almost 17% of their shot opportunities in transition, and with the Pacers preferring to play slow, we could be in for a fun battle of wills in this game.
If the Warriors can win the battle for pace in this game, I like their chances. Although the Pacers show up stronger in a statistical comparison, the Warriors are beginning to hit their stride and should rise up to the Pacers’ challenge.
Paschall is starting to make a name for himself out there, and while I still think he’s going to keep putting up big numbers off the bench, watch for how other teams begin to modify their personnel substitution patterns around him. Sabonis is a fantastic center, but will probably match up mostly against Wiseman.