Warriors midseason report: Roster out of step with current NBA originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
SAN FRANCISCO – The superpowers of Stephen Curry and Draymond Green were enough for the Warriors to plague the NBA for years. With Curry destroying the defense and Green destroying offenses, the league was at their mercy.
Just halfway through their fourth championship defense in the past nine seasons, the Warriors are discovering those days are over. They are, as Klay Thompson likes to say, like a ponytail in the past.
Using the same formula in the battle against a league that is adjusting its strategies, the Warriors’ 20-21 record illustrates just how difficult it is to navigate the new NBA. Coach Steve Kerr, his staff and the players discover that today’s league is a different beast. Their first 41 games were a tour of humility.
The next 41 games, and all games coming into the postseason, will determine whether the Warriors can decipher what they still have to solve.
The source of their problems is their roster, which is put together differently than most because Curry and Green are such unique talents.
Green’s versatility allowed them to roll out a six-foot center and thrive on either end. Curry’s offensive gravity allowed the Warriors to stick with nonscorers Kevon Looney and Green and somehow thrive with a “three-out” system.
It’s Curry, Thompson and Andrew Wiggins on the perimeter, spaced on the floor, leaving non-scorers Draymond and Loon on Throwback Island.
Which is at odds with the most obvious trend in basketball. Offenses, especially those in the NBA, have made a sharp shift in recent years to four and five-out systems – with four or five players who can shoot from distance.
And with the better teams, the non-shooters can end up on the edge. Neither Green nor Looney does that right. They are great screeners with high intellect and they know how best to unlock the shooters.
“It’s more of a shooter’s league than ever,” a Western Conference executive told NBC Sports Bay Area. “Teams spread the floor, stretch defenses, shoot 3’s and pile up points. It’s hard to guard four shooters, and it’s much harder to guard five. Look at the score. It’s up across the board.
“Golden State’s problem is that (its) best lineup only has three shooters. It is four o’clock when (Jordan) Poole is on the ground, but that is hit and miss. Three shooters were enough sooner, probably because two of them were Steph and Klay. Utilities? It’s something you rarely see.”
The Celtics, who lead the Eastern Conference, play with four or five. They put out four with center Robert Williams, whose defense makes up for his lack of shooting range. When Al Horford replaces Williams, Boston has five shooters demanding defensive cover.
Boston’s 117.1 offensive rating is tied for No. 1 in the NBA. The other team? Denver, which has been at or near the top of the Western Conference for a month and looks set to be Golden State’s biggest challenge. The Warriors’ offensive rating this season? 112.3, ranking 19th in the NBA.
The Nuggets are particularly terrifying as they can put Nikola Jokić in the center of the arc where he can shoot the 3 (37.5 percent at low volume) or form a defense with his spectacular passes to four very capable shooters. Jokić leads the league’s offensive rating (123.1) and four teammates – Aaron Gordon, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., in order – join him in the top 10.
The NBA’s No. 3 offense, the Utah Jazz, routinely plays four outs. The same goes for the No. 4 Kings and the No. 5 Brooklyn Nets, who have the most offensively gifted stretch 4 in the league with Kevin Durant.
“Last year the Warriors had veterans who seemed to know how to play in Kerr’s system,” said an Eastern Conference scout. “(Otto) Porter was good to them. I think they got lucky with that [Gary Payton II] because I don’t think anyone has seen him make such an impact. They had just enough to win it all.
“This team doesn’t have the same chemistry or the same wisdom. Too many young boys. Very young. Their shooting is inconsistent and they don’t do much else.”
The Warriors signed Porter 18 months ago to be their stretch 4. They had to control his aching feet, but it worked. They signed JaMychal Green last summer, hoping for a similar production, but he hasn’t produced much and has been out since Dec. 18 with a non-COVID illness and infection.
The Warriors won 18 of their first 20 games last season and were 30-11 by the middle of the season, having posted two seven-game winning streaks while losing just two straight games and never losing three in a row.
This season? The Warriors have lost back-to-back games 10 times. Only once have they won more than three games in a row.
“Last year felt different from the start, with the way we built,” Kerr told NBC Sports Bay Area. “The lead we had last year, at the start of the season, was a bigger chip on our shoulder because we hadn’t made the playoffs in two years. We’re off to a great start.
“This year it didn’t exactly go smoothly in the camp (trip abroad). It didn’t feel like we were ready to go physically, emotionally or spiritually like we were last year – due to a number of factors.
The Warriors have fallen victim to season wins at the hands of the surprise Indiana Pacers, the lowly Orlando Magic and the lowly Detroit Pistons. Golden State ended the first half of the season with a blistering loss to a Phoenix Suns team that lacked four starters and its top two reserve players.
While other teams chased long, long shooters in the draft, the Warriors opted to use their three recent lottery picks on a project center (James Wiseman), electric athlete (Jonathan Kuminga), and wing with two-way potential (Moses Moody). All three entered the NBA as teens with meager resumes.
“Bet the (warriors) wish they had taken Wagner,” said the West executive, referring to Franz Wagner of the Magic. “He is 6-9, 6-10. You must guard his 3. But he’s a high IQ player who understands attacks and really pushes through them. No doubt he would be in their rotation.
For the record, Wagner – who had some fans within the Chase Center offices – was ranked No. 8 overall in 2021, just after Golden State chose Kuminga, who has the physique of a small forward but doesn’t shoot well enough to stretch the floor .
Rookie Patrick Baldwin Jr. shows promise as a youngster who could push the Warriors to the rest of the league. A natural stretch 4 by 6-foot-10, he possesses the high basketball IQ that has been the hallmark of Golden State’s top teams. He turned 20 in November and isn’t ready to consistently impress.
RELATED: Kerr hopes the loss to Suns is a “shock” Warriors need
So the Warriors waded into the second half starting Friday in San Antonio, 14th in the West with 15 teams. They have 28 days to the trade TBEN, three months to the playoffs.
Until there is a movement, and there almost certainly will be, these Warriors will carry on as they have for years, only going as far as Curry and Green can take them.
Download and follow the Dubs Talk Podcast