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Will Warriors emerge from the cave and live again? Curry is back, but can they find a win against Hawks?
Green questionable, Paschall out again
The Golden State Warriors are fresh off a historic walloping, and are hoping the the return of Stephen Curry can boost them out of the loss column. After two straight losses, and an inauspicious 4-11 over the past 15 games, the laundry list of problems is growing longer and more complicated.
The Warriors advantage is down to just one game, as the 11th-placed Sacramento Kings are eyeballing the 10th seed and the NBA play-in tournament that goes along with it. It seems like just a week or two ago the discussion was about the sixth seed - now 5 full games away from a stumbling Golden State franchise. Already throwing a nod to the future by prioritizing player development, if the players in question aren’t actually developing, it naturally brings up the question, “what are we doing here?”
But with Stephen Curry on the court, there’s only one answer: we are out here to win (hopefully). As reported by Anthony Slater and others last night, Curry is all the way off the injured list, and will play today.
WHO: Golden State Warriors (23-26) at Atlanta Hawks (25-24)
WHEN: Sunday April 3rd, 2021 // 4:30 pm PST
The pressure is accelerating at the speed of light
The current state of the ships on the Golden shores of Dub Nation are just a husk of their old glory. That’s mostly okay. Knowing Klay Thompson is out for a second consecutive season, and then losing starting center Marquese Chriss less than a week in, this was already going to be a lost season. But there are levels to the panic associated with losing something. This is well passed the “anyone seen my phone?” We are quickly approaching the level of “I can’t remember my crypto password for those hundreds of Bitcoin I got back in 2009 for 20 bucks.”
You see, once Durant left, Livingston retired, and Iguodala got moved for salary cap reasons, it put a ton of pressure on a front office that has famously called itself “light years ahead of the competition.” It’s extremely difficult to succeed at the highest level of professional sports, so failure is, in fact, always an option (shout out Adam Savage of Mythbusters!).
But the kicker here is that owner Joe Lacob isn’t just talking a big game, he has put both of his sons into high profile positions in the organization - one as the Director of Team Development and the other as Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations. Two extremely important jobs given to two non-NBA experts. It’s fine if everything works out, but now that the window for success has been squeezed down to just a slim crack, the pressure to pull off a rebirth has Dub Nation lined up outside that window anxiously looking in.
It’s hard not to notice that many of the team’s development projects are also some of the biggest detriments to winning. I’m not here to assign blame, but even for developing players, there’s a lot of negative ballast swinging around the Warriors current rotation. From Cleaning the Glass, here are the team’s top-5 net negative players. Note that the “Diff #” is points differential per 100 possessions, accounting for both offense and defense.
It’s fine (and even beneficial) to carry some developing players, but given the organizational pressure and timing at play, I think it’s fair to get a little bit judgey on if (and how much) these players are actually improving as this season progresses.
Things are far from completely lost.
The Warriors can still make a shot for the playoffs, and the core of Curry, Thompson and Green is still viable. Golden State still has a little bit of time to sign another player, and players like Juan Toscano-Anderson and Jordan Poole appear to be emergent wins from this mostly lost season.
Curry is available, pushing through that painful tailbone injury, and that alone vaults the team into another stratosphere. Still well short of previous heights, but the Warriors, with Curry, should be able to hang with a banged up Hawks team.
Finding the diamonds in the rough
I’m not sure if the Warriors make the play-in tournament or not, and am frankly more closely aligned with Draymond Green in thinking that squeaking into the 10th seed isn’t exceptionally important overall.
So if the team’s looking towards prioritizing development, then how should the rotations look. Here are a few of the basic priorities that I see, both from watching the games and looking at the stats - that’s right, the super power combination of stats plus eyeballs!
Kerr is probably right prioritizing defense (and to be fair, jettisoning Brad Wanamaker may have a bit to do with the team’s recent defensive struggles), but it’s pretty wild to me that the offense is this bad. I know it’s a very blog boy thing to do - singling out the low usage players like this - but it’s absurd that Toscano-Anderson isn’t getting more playing time. If you are really working on development, here’s a cheap contract, a good player, and an excellent organizational fit.
According to Cleaning the Glass, look what happens when you sort the roster by “points scored per attempt;”
Our guy Juanito (no patent filed, because it’s for everyone - like Sir Alexander Fleming not filing the penicillin patent) has been on a carnival ride of playing time all season. But notably, he was on of the lone bright spots out of the last Hawks game: going +10 in 9 minutes of action.
He’s second on the team in defensive point differential (behind only Kent Bazemore) and has a better net point differential (on a team basis) than Andrew Wiggins, Kelly Oubre, or Jordan Poole.
It makes a lot of sense, on a lot of levels, to start leaning on Toscano-Anderson. Assuming he has a place in the franchise’s plans moving forward, there is an opportunity for development that’s being squandered.
He helps the team win, he would seem like a good programmatic fit, and most importantly, he just seems like a good dude. More Juanito, please!
Trae Young vs. Stephen Curry? Finally.
As the primary model of the modern era run and gun point guard, it’s no surprise that a number of palimpsest players are emerging. I don’t know that Young was the first, and he’s far from the only, but he’s definitely been compared to Curry. Weirdly, because of injuries and scheduling, this will be the first head-to-head matchup between the two since December, 2018.
Though not banged up to the extent that the Warriors have been, the Atlanta Hawks will be more than happy to get two of their best players back. Along with newly acquired Warriors’ headache player, Lou Williams, Atlanta should have no problem hanging with the struggling Golden State team.
Win or lose, let’s all try and have more fun than that last game, ok?
With Curry back, and Draymond questionable (hey, that’s not out!), I like the Warriors’ chances tonight. The true measure of a professional athlete is often how strongly they can respond to difficult circumstances and bad games.