With some critical players coming back, who could get pushed out of the Warriors rotation?
Wiseman, Iguodala, Green, and an evolving roster
The complete artistry of a player like Stephen Curry can’t be shown in the regular season. As impressive as his accolades are, it would all be for nothing without the post season KO punches. Those three rings are an inherent part of Curry’s oeuvre, and they tell a story that cannot be sung in the regular season. It’s still cool though.
Which is why the Warriors might still struggle when play resumes. And also why that’s not as big of a deal as it might first appear to be. They may be chasing wins, but those aren’t necessarily wins in the month of March.
Looking at the standings, the Phoenix Suns have a firm grasp on first place, and the Memphis Grizzlies are tightening up with the Warriors after both teams went through opposite ends of the streaking spectrum as the All Star break approached.
Beyond that though, there’s a whole lot of breathing room for the Warriors.
Part one of this article ran yesterday, so be sure to click back and check out our summary of who has done well (or not) so far this season. The natural follow up to all of that is a simple question: what should coach Steve Kerr do differently in the final remaining games?
After posting this on Twitter, a lot of people quickly (and perhaps fairly) zoomed in on Damion Lee and Our guy Juanito. Ironically two of the team's more reliable players last season.
But there’s more to worry about than simple on/off numbers. With James Wiseman’s rumored return potentially happening sooner rather than later, my guess is that the minutes allotments are going to change up and down the roster.
One way to think about this is to look at some lineup subsets. Using the excellent tools over at PBP stats, we can see how some basic three-man unit combos have performed so far. Go ahead and mess around in there if you want!
For me, I chose a reasonable (to me) core five of Curry, Poole, Thompson, Wiggins and Looney. You see, rather than looking at the full five-man units, what interests me are which groupings of this core has been more effective. Here they are sorted by net rating:
The most encouraging news out of that table is that top group. Curry, Poole, and Thompson working out shouldn’t surprise anyone, nor is it shocking that Thompson’s best impact came alongside Curry and Poole. A lethal guard combo that is going to be an extremely tough defensive assignment in the playoffs. Because of all this, it may also be a group that Kerr wants to give extra time to develop - even though Poole is concurrently supposed to be leading the bench unit.
Kerr will have to balance his desire to focus on specific player combinations against all the pressures that have led to circus level rotation juggling. So here is that same core five group, but sorted according to total time together this season.
I think it’s safe to assume that Wiseman won’t take minutes away from Looney in the traditional sense, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Kerr try to work Wiseman in alongside some of these names. Looney has morphed into a center, but it’s not a secret that the entire franchise is salivating at the thought of what Wiseman could look like amidst the spacing provided by the Splash Brothers and Poole (also, we seriously need a moniker for this group).
So what will change?
Firstly, it’s important to understand how much lineup juggling happens. Via the NBA, here’s the entire list of Warriors’ five-man units that have played more than 50 minutes together this season:
Knock it down to four players and you get three pages of results:
The impact of Iguodala is immediately apparent — though to be fair, the entire team was playing better in general back when his body was healthy. Also, parsing by minutes in order to get the most heavily used combinations returns some nice results:
These are all combinations that Kerr and his staff will be aware of; but for those of us on the sidelines, take note of how many names are absent. There was no limit to included players like I added on those earlier three-man units and yet it's pretty clear which players are most impactful.
To me, this indicates that the flexibility in regards to rotations will mostly be a lot of tinkering around the edges. Not a great sign for guys like Toscano-Anderson or Damion Lee. I’d also imagine that Wiseman takes some minutes from Looney for a lot of reasons.
I don’t have the answers here, and I don’t think Kerr does yet either. Instead, they’ve likely identified some core lineup groupings to look at, and will slot in the returning pieces around these groups. Proof of concept is in hand. The Warriors know that they’ve been winning with the roster as currently constructed.
But as players come back into the fold, it’s going to be a mad scientist lab for Kerr, hoping to hit on those elusive synergies in time to establish some chemistry before the playoffs. It’s going to come up fast, so watch early for lineup adjustments.