Game Thread: Consistently unpredictable Warriors try to find their stride in Detroit

Curry is fixing as much of the offense as he can - is it enough though?

The Golden State Warriors are looking every inch of the marginal playoff team that they were expected to be coming in to the season. Clearly more talented than some teams, but lacking the cohesion and consistency to reliably play like an elite team, the Warriors are doing okay. Locked into a four-way tie for the 6th seed (or the 9th, depending on which portion of the partially filled glass you prioritize), Golden State has vacillated between showing flashes of greatness and flashes of mediocracy at seizure-inducing infrequency.

The latter was on display in the Warriors previous game, a loss to a Phoenix Suns team playing without Devin Booker. The shortcomings were on full display. It’s not secret at this point, and despite what people on the internet might tell you, there’s no Steve Kerr rotation solution that will drag this roster into elite status.

But that’s fine. Remember, the Warriors are doing what they can, but are unfortunately stuck in a second consecutive gap year. Beholden to a roster lacking it’s second most important scorer, and carrying the burden of developing James Wiseman, the Warriors just want a puncher’s chance until Klay Thompson’s return next season.

Tonight’s opponent, Blake Griffin and the Detroit Pistons, are the type of team that this Warriors team should beat. And living up to that expectation is the first step towards a successful season this year.

So… let’s see how this goes!


GAME DETAILS

WHO: Golden State Warriors (10-9) vs Detroit Piston (5-14)

WHEN: Saturday, January 30th, 2021 // 7:00pm PST

WATCH: NBCSBA


Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown - the burden of being Stephen Curry

Somehow, Stephen Curry’s team ranks 21st in the NBA in three-point percentage. Basketball isn’t a binary exercise though. Players don’t need to be good at everything. So while I won’t bash Curry for a lack of blocked shots, it feels unfair to heavily dock Draymond Green for not being a great shooter.

That said… check out the shooting efficiency (eFG) in the table below, and remember that the numbers in color show the player grade (so 99th percentile is elite, zero is bad). Green is in the 0th percentile for shooting, Kelly Oubre is only slightly better at the 5th percentile… meaning 95 percent of players at his position shoot a higher percentage from the floor.

Apparently, Curry has single-handedly outscored the other starters three times this season (and the Warriors managed to win two out of those three games). Green does so many other things that it’s really hard for me to fault him for not being a complete player that is elite at all levels. But still, your team can only carry so many non-shooters and still be a success.

But still.

That’s a lot of offensive weight for Curry to carry without his splash brother. I think that’s probably what’s behind so much of what looks weird for these Warriors. So let’s look into that.

Kelly Oubre is coming off knee surgery, but also trying to fill that Klay Thompson hole - while also looking towards his next contract. It’s a combination of those forces that have led him into one of the highest usage rates of his career, and (by far) the worst shooting.

Now, there are plenty of valid questions about what the Warriors should do now, or what they should have done to avoid this position, but one way or another, this year’s team features Curry, and a bunch of other players that are good, but all flawed in some way. Unfortunately, with so little shooting among the strongest supporting cast members, the Warriors have to overcome a limited roster, as well as some negative synergy:

Kerr’s reluctance to lean too heavily on Curry’s offense is a source of online contention, but I think I worked something out - along with friend of the program, Ivan Bettger. The question that started this was about how many open shots Curry is getting this year (a lot less, obviously), and what impact that actually has on his game - since he seems to be putting up solid numbers; a remarkable achievement for a player that has climbed so high, and played with so much more talent.

So, thanks to Ivan, we can see that yes, Curry is shooting over “tight” coverage significantly more often than at any point in his recent career - over 41% of his shots are against tight coverage, versus just 30% or less during the dynasty run.

But check out the consistency of his shooting.

It doesn’t matter how often he’s facing tight coverage:

No (and this is something I think that is at the very core of Kerr’s preference to keep Curry off ball occasionally), the true unlock comes with Curry wide open, where his penchant for accuracy can really shine.

Look how much higher the ceiling is on a wide open Curry shot.

This is why the Warriors aren’t too eager to dive into Curry isolation plays - it’s flat out not the best use for him. Though both his frequency of wide open shots, and the resultant shooting percentages are way down, this is the number set that Kerr and the coaching staff are trying to chase. Mostly unsuccessfully so far, but we’ve seen flashes of promise.

This is why they’re letting Oubre fling up 15 shots a game while shooting in the bottom 5th percentile - because the offense is better served trying to get Curry those open looks. The Warriors know a stifled Curry will still be able to do okay, but they want to chase those open looks. Open looks that will come once Oubre hits his shots at a normal level.

If this was a Netflix show (looking at you Wanda Vision), we are watching these Warriors because of the hope that it gets better. Whether that be a trade for someone like Lonzo Ball, or internal development that sends Oubre back into his career shooting splits, the Warriors are a team with a hard ceiling, barring some sort of change through the rest of the season.

Jerami Grant is Blake Griffin; Griffin is now the semi-washed, but still dangerous veteran

Did you forget that this was supposed to be a game preview? Well, let me tell you, the Detroit Pistons are not very good!

Though they’ve managed some big wins recently against the Lakers, Philly, and Miami, those games represent three of their five total wins on the season. Winners of two of their last three, the Pistons are either starting to figure it out, or due for a nice loss.

Overall though, it’s hard to call this Pistons team anything other than “bad” - and like… not in the cool “Bad Boy Pistons” sort of way, like legitimately not good. According to Basketball reference, there are only a couple of areas where Detroit shine: getting to the line, and forcing turnovers on defense. Unfortunately, those are some of the thermal exhaust port level weaknesses on the Warriors’ Death Star (to be fair, this version of the Dubs is as much thermal exhaust post as it is Death Star).

Newcomer Jerami Grant is having a fantastic year in his first year with Detroit after abandoning ship in Denver. Grant’s scoring has jumped from around 12 points per game last season with the Nuggets to a Pistons-leading 23.8 points (to go along with 6.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.2 blocks, and 0.9 steals) per game.

As much as a love to dunk on Blake, he was the best player in the team’s previous game, a win over the Lakers: 23 points, six assists, three rebounds and a +24 on the night. And even as he’s been slowed by a variety of knee and body issues, Griffin is still pretty good at basketball.

Hopefully, shutting this guy down brings back the Draymond Green of old!

Predictions

Last time these two teams met earlier in the season, Andrew Wiggins had 27 and Stephen Curry had 31 points - both efficient. I’ll be looking for a repeat from those two. After a painful loss to the Suns, I’m also predicting the Warriors energy is a bit higher - though messy defensive rotations appear like they’re here to stay.

Draymond Green facing old foil, Blake Griffin, a recipe I like - and hopefully Green gets cooking tonight.

The Pistons are one of the few teams in the NBA that the Warriors should beat. So I’ll predict a win 122-112.