Welcome to Warriors Weekly after a particularly eventful back-to-back.
The Week that Was:
I said last week that losing at Staples would be the galvanizing force for the road trip but it looks like it may have happened a day earlier as Portland played an absolutely spectacular game and ran the Warriors out of the Rose Garden. Damian Lillard’s 51 is getting most of the attention but it was a strong performance by plenty of Blazers including Ed Davis on the boards and CJ McCollum as the secondary scorer/creator.
From there, the Dubs headed south to LA and faced the Clippers without Andrew Bogut. They played very well and had a comfortable lead before the bench mob coughed it away in garbage time. Unfortunately, that could lead to Coach Kerr having a shorter leash on them, which means more minutes and stress for the starters.
Another key development came at the trade deadline. While Cleveland added Channing Frye and the Clippers swapped Lance Stephenson for Jeff Green, neither move makes a substantial difference in terms of a seven game playoff series this season. In that way, a Warriors team that made no transactions ends up as one of the bigger winners in a somewhat nondescript deadline.
Over the weekend, the Warriors also swapped out the disappointing Jason Thompson for Anderson Varejao.
Stephen Curry Above the Break Three Update: Stephen Curry has made 216 above the break three pointers this year, more than two teams and tied with Milwaukee for the second week in a row. Curry’s 45.4% shooting from there is better than every NBA team from mid-range and all but the Spurs in the paint (non-restricted area) without even accounting for the fact that 3 > 2.
Stephen Curry Total Three Pointers Update: Stephen Curry now has 255 made three pointers on the season, still seventh all-time. He is two away from tying George McCloud for sixth and six away from tying his 2013-14 mark for fifth with another few spots coming soon thereafter.
The Soapbox: Symbiosis
Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson have played 1,293 minutes together so far this season, almost 24 per game and more than 26 in the 49 all three of them have participated in. That probably sounds like a lot and it should: only four trios have shared the floor more this season (amazingly, Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young are first with 1,367 minutes together).
Beyond the fact that all three were deserving All-Stars this season and are the team’s three best players at the moment, that combination also fits together incredibly well. Curry/Green pick and rolls are even deadlier when they create a three on two rather than a four on three because Klay’s defender refuses to leave him. Klay’s gravity played a major role in the team’s Finals success in particular but it wreaks havoc pretty consistently regardless of the opponent or stage. In fact, the Warriors outscore opponents by an incredible 22.9 points per 100 possession when those three are on the court together- the next trio in terms of MP to even get to +20 is LeBron, Love and Tristan Thompson in almost half the minutes.
Disappointing bench play has inspired the coaching staff to stagger their minutes a little more, particularly Steph and Klay. Unsurprisingly, both are less productive without the other- their individual numbers drop and the team scores about 10 less points per 100 possession with only one of the two out there.
Rather than balancing the highs and lows, Coach Kerr and the Warriors should consider riding the tide and actually concentrate Curry, Green and Thompson’s minutes. This would more closely resemble a playoff rotation and also force the staff to think more critically about the surrounding talent which could unveil another important wrinkle which could be more relevant in the postseason: tying Andre Iguodala to bench units is artificially limiting his impact even if they want to keep his minutes down. The Warriors are at their best defensively when Andre and Draymond share the floor as their versatility and intelligence function like a hive mind. In 853 minutes this season, the Dubs have allowed just 93.2 points per 100 with those two playing together, the second-stingiest duo in the league behind Kawhi Leonard and Tim Duncan.
Additionally, lineups with Curry, Klay, Iguodala and Green have been particularly devastating. The Nuclear/Death lineup gets plenty of attention but that quartet with any fifth Warrior is outscoring opponents by a remarkable 35 points per 100 possessions in a far more sizeable 461 minutes (vs. 130 for the death lineup). It should not be surprising that +35 is the best in the league for a foursome and the only other one that comes close swaps Klay for Festus. The best non-Golden State grouping is LeBron, Love, Thompson and Dellavedova (yeah) at +27.6 with some potentially unsustainable defensive success.
Thinking of the second unit as more of a consistent bench unit could help offensively too. Livingston and Iguodala are both talented facilitators but overlap too much and playing both with Leandro Barbosa does not provide enough spacing to properly utilize their talents. Giving Brandon Rush more time with this grouping creates a better balanced unit that can create open shots for Rush and Barnes in the corners. The combination of Livingston, Barbosa, Rush and Barnes has only played 18 minutes together this season (12 of which came with Iguodala as the fifth man) but is worth serious consideration.
There are different ways to approach time without the starters and this approach would create something a little similar to what the team has had for stretches of the last few seasons: give them a margin and hope they can at least keep it close. Intuitively, that feels more possible with a collection of players with more offensive potential as long as they can get buckets with some consistency. When a defensive center is healthy, they could also do enough to keep these groups respectable on that end.
At a fundamental level, figuring out rotations for a star-laden team like the Warriors boils down to a desire to maximize the chances of winning each game, which often becomes a challenge of minimizing valleys at the expense of peaks. Thinking about it the opposite way opens up more minutes for some truly devastating lineups while also providing an opportunity for a logical bench unit to develop some chemistry. If it fails, they can always go back to the current status quo.
The Week to Come:
The continuation and conclusion of the six-game road trip. From LA, the Warriors head across the country to face the Hawks on Monday. Atlanta is reeling after two disappointing losses in a row after the break so it could be a dangerous game.
From there, the Dubs head to South Florida with back-to-back games against the Heat and Magic. While Miami has the star power and has actually played well despite some high profile absences (they play faster without Wade), Orlando on the tail end may be the tougher challenge due to the rest advantage and a healthier group. The Bay Area’s own Aaron Gordon has earned a starting spot and will likely spend most of the game with Draymond on him.
The week ends in Oklahoma City with game #2 against the Thunder. Since both games in San Antonio are on the tail end of a back-to-back (and one is in mid-April), this may be the most telling game on paper the rest of the season. Neither team made any major changes at the deadline and hopefully are as close to full strength as they can be at this time.
Lots of outcomes are possible with four challenging road games but I will go with 3-1 for what would be an encouraging 4-2 road trip against some of the league’s best. After this trip, the Warriors never head out for more than three games and have a 12/5 home-road split in March.