Welcome to Warriors Weekly after a very different seven days.
The Week that Was:
Well, this was the first time this season the Warriors lost twice in the same week.
That is not a big deal in and of itself, especially since they ended the first half of the 2015-16 season at a remarkable 37-4.
Beating a somewhat limited Miami team and narrowly falling in Denver without Draymond Green are solid, justifiable results and the Lakers win was fine but far from dominant.
Getting run by Detroit in a game where the Dubs had pretty close to their full complement of players is a little concerning but should not inspire too much fear and doubt.
What changes things a little is that a 2-2 week puts the Warriors just 1.5 games ahead of a Spurs team that has been much more judicious about resting their best players. While I doubt Pop and the Spurs will push too hard for the #1 seed unless it is right in front of them (after all, remember last season), San Antonio keeping it close for longer could make April less restful for Golden State.
Stephen Curry Above the Break Three Update: Stephen Curry has made 158 above the break three pointers this year, more than three teams (back above Miami and Memphis). Curry’s 44.8% shooting from there is better than every NBA team from mid-range and all but two teams in the paint (non-restricted area) without even accounting for the fact that 3 > 2.
As of now, Stephen Curry is shooting the best percentage on above the break threes of any player in the top 30 in attempts and is one of only four in that group above 40%.
The Soapbox: The Second Unit
If the Warriors have a long-term problem worth addressing, it comes when their stars are off the floor. Over the season as a whole, the team has outscored opponents by 21.6 points per 100 possessions with Stephen Curry on the floor (a reasonable proxy for the starters) and been outscored by 5.7 per 100 with him out. That discrepancy is stronger since December 1st: +21.7 with him vs. -12.4 without him.
The first reaction to that for many will be that the team should work to balance those two numbers out. After all, it can be devastating to see a lead evaporate or a close game become a deficit, both of which happened at different times in this week’s loss to Detroit.
However, there are some very important forces at play worth considering. First, basketball is a collaborative game where strong talents often make other players better. Separating Steph and Klay may hurt both more than the team would be helped by a single one on the court a higher proportion of the game. That logic may even be clearer with Draymond Green considering the Curry/Green pick and roll domination we have seen so far this year.
Second, the poor performance of the second unit could be helped by factors other than adding starters to the mix. The bigger flaw of the non-Curry groupings could be on offense as they score at a rate that would be 28th in the league between Memphis and Brooklyn. The bench defense has been abysmal too but having Bogut and Ezeli healthy could resolve some of those issues by having a rim protector on the floor for those minutes as well. One way of improving the bench offense would be running off makes, something the team as a whole did to great success after being stymied by Memphis early in their playoff series. This works even better if Walton/Kerr opt to keep the starters together since it would not wear them out. The Warriors play at a meaningfully slower pace without the starters on the floor which makes sense if they are at a talent disadvantage but that also creates less opportunities for easy baskets. Adding shooting could help too, especially if the coaching staff wants to rely on Igoudala and Livingston playing together in these minutes.
One of the most telling stats of the season so far runs against a well-trod narrative: when Andre Iguodala is on the floor without Curry (i.e. the starters), the Warriors are giving up a concerning 105.5 points per 100 possessions, better than non-Curry minutes in total but far worse than expected. Having better rim protection should help but if Andre’s presence keeping the backups above water does not hold as strongly, it opens the door for more Iguodala minutes with the starters, which could create a more balanced second unit. After all, I have been one of the people pushing for Brandon Rush to get some time as the second unit power forward but a Rush/Barnes forward combination makes far more sense.
Fans should remember that any bench woes matter less when it comes to the postseason. After all, the Curry/Klay/Green triumvirate’s minutes all jumped 5+ per game last year, which takes significant time off the table. That said, the Spurs in particular have a dangerous second unit and a starting lineup good enough to make those bench minutes count. One other factor to consider is that if (hopefully) Coach Kerr wants to deploy the Draymond at center lineups more in the playoffs, that will change the bench dynamics as well, especially with Iguodala since it shifts his minutes most.
The Warriors’ coaching staff has three more months until the playoffs and their biggest remaining challenge other than staying healthy is figuring out the best way to distribute minutes. Hopefully they use that time to learn what works and develop a rotation capable of weathering a tougher storm than they faced last season.
The Week to Come:
Golden State’s run of playoff opponents continues with one of their more demanding stretches of the season so far.
On Monday, the Warriors face a healthier Cavs team than the one they faced on Christmas Day. From there, they head to Chicago where the Bulls are reeling from the news that Joakim Noah will miss the rest of the regular season (if not longer) with a dislocated shoulder but they still have plenty of front court talent including promising rookie Bobby Portis.
Finally, the team returns home to face Paul George and the Pacers for their only time at Oracle.
3-0 is on the table but for the first time in a long time I will predict a loss. 2-1.