On the Warriors To-Do List: Fixing the “Curry Cliff”
By: Jack Detsch
What was the Warriors’ biggest hiccup last season?
Losing Andrew Bogut to a busted ribcage? No. An off-year from Harrison Barnes? Think again. Mark Jackson’s iso-ball offense? Not quite.
Stephen Curry hitting the bench? Exactly.
When Golden State’s superstar leaves the floor, the offense falls to the worst in the league: scoring just about 95 points per a hundred possessions, according to Basketball Reference. That’s four points south of what the Philadelphia 76ers produce, and they weren’t even trying to win this season. In the playoffs, the so-called “Curry Cliff” steepened to nearly 26 points.
No other NBA team has a bigger offensive drop-off when their superstar sits: even the Russell Westbrook-less Oklahoma City Thunder. Without Curry to misdirect defenders and create mismatches in the half-court, Golden State’s effective field goal percentage (which adjusts FG% to stagger the value of the three-pointer) sags by eight points, from around 53% to just above 45%.
That’s a big difference, and in the dog-eat-dog Western Conference, it could be fatal in a close playoff series next spring, particularly if the second unit ends up facing down a top-notch defense like San Antonio or Oklahoma City.
For a contender like the Warriors, that raises serious questions. What made the Warriors’ supporting cast so bad?
Mark Jackson used just five lineups that didn’t feature Curry in the regular season. In almost all of them, the foundations of the Warriors’ success, particularly perimeter defense and three-point shooting, simply evaporated.
|Minutes||Lineup||3P% vs. Opp||eFG% vs. Opp||Net PTS|
|Stats per Basketball-Reference.com.|
Two things jump out from these numbers.
- Harrison Barnes is the only player that appears in every lineup without Curry.
- The Warriors scored and defended at a much lower rate without Bogut, Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson.
Barnes was bad this year in the sixth man role, but the bench was even worse. Toney Douglas, brought in via the mid-level exception over the summer, was supposed to be the season answer to Golden State’s shooting woes. After he struggled to contribute, Myers flipped the former Knick for Jordan Crawford in March in a three-way deal with Boston and Miami. Douglas is currently riding the pine for the Heat alongside Greg Oden.
Crawford fared a bit better, proving effective when Jackson unleashed him in isolations (0.91 points per possession, per Synergy Sports) but was limited by a lack of playing time and poor decision-making skills. Steve Blake, brought to Oracle from the Lakers for shooting at the trade deadline, only managed to hit 33.7% of his attempts from three.
So what are the Warriors’ options?
Blake is an unrestricted free agent, and the Warriors possess Crawford’s bird rights, meaning they can sign him above the salary cap without biting into their mid-level exception in free agency, worth about $5 million per year. For management, neither of these details will matter: Blake and Crawford are likely gone, giving the team about $64.6 million in salary commitments for next season, according to ShamSports. That’s above next year’s predicted cap of $63.2 million, but well under the tax threshold of $77 million.
That doesn’t leave Golden State with a ton of flexibility, outside of four moveable assets to fix the cliff: David Lee, Barnes, and first round picks in 2015 and 2016 (’16 pick can’t be traded this offseason, only swapped for another ’16 pick). The Warriors also have a trade exception worth $9 million from moving Richard Jefferson last season, meaning they can take back that money in any deal.
For Minnesota, that might not be enough to lasso Kevin Love, even though it’s warranted and Bob Myers worked salary cap voodoo magic last summer to acquire Iguodala from Denver in a sign-and-trade, dumping Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson to the Jazz in the process. Beans and Jefferson were considered two of the NBA’s most toxic contracts at the time.
But the Nuggets had to offload their star or risk losing him for nothing; there’s no incentive for the Wolves to rush into moving Love, unless they’re clamoring to move up the boards in June’s draft, which the Warriors can’t help them do. The most Golden State can offer outside of Klay Thompson (a favorite of management) is all of the previously mentioned assets: Lee, Barnes and picks in 2015 and 2016, which can be swapped after the draft. Even with Thompson in the deal, the Wolves would be missing out on more promising offers from the Suns, Bulls, and Celtics.
If Myers stays out of the trade market and Bogut manages to remain healthy come October, Kerr could take David Lee out of the starting lineup in favor of Draymond Green and use the Florida product as his number-one option off the bench. Lee scores a point per possession in isolation and remains a solid post-up option. That would give Kerr the option to use Iguodala as a second-unit ball handler, and play Lee alongside frontcourt combinations of Barnes, Marreese Speights or Festus Ezeli. But Lee’s contract, valued at $15 million next year, might make that arrangement prohibitive.
The Orlando Magic are rumored to have interest in Lee, and own the fourth and twelfth picks in this month’s draft. A trade could yield former Pac-12er Arron Afflalo, a three-and-d stalwart out of UCLA that proved exceptionally effective this season on a terrible team. He would be a good get for the Warriors. But even better could be the twelfth pick, which Steve Kerr and Myers could use to draft a stretch-four like Michigan State’s Adreian Payne.
The Warriors’ $5 million non-taxpayer mid-level exception doesn’t amount to all that much with shooting, ball handling and size priorities for the front office on the free agent market.
Myers will look for size, but that comes at a price point, unless you’re just looking for a body to fill space, like Sacramento’s Aaron Gray. So too do three-pointers and fundamentals. The Warriors can probably kiss solid options, like Rodney Stuckey, Mario Chalmers, and Mike Miller goodbye unless they’re looking to dole out the whole MLE on one contract. Jodie Meeks made just over a million dollars on his last contract with the Lakers, but he’s likely to make more than that given his tremendous three-point range. Even Caron Butler, the Thunder’s three-point shooting swingman who’s way over the hill, could charge a higher rate than the mini-MLE.
That’s not to say that Dubs can’t find gold in the depths of the free agent market. Miami’s James Jones, Charlotte’s Anthony Tolliver, or a second coming of Brandon Rush could provide value at the bottom of the free agency pile. But the Warriors don’t have a ton of flexibility this offseason to fix the “Curry Cliff” on the market.
Still, as a contender sitting in the hottest real estate market in North America, they have distinct advantages in chasing free agents and trade targets, even in the grindhouse of the Western Conference. Expect Myers’ summer sales pitch to feature heavy doses of the words “championship” and “Bay Area.”