I hate to break it to you, but this is not a "win now" Golden State team. And that's ok.
Understanding the Warriors starting lineup through historical inertia
In the entire history of humanity, no one has ever calmed down after being told to “calm down.” So I’m not going to call the current state of the Golden State Warriors anything other than problematic, or say that fans are over-reacting. Even knowing that this roster would struggle to contend without Klay Thompson, it’s been hard to watch, at times. And even harder to stomach, the notion that through some combination of poor planning and/or bad coaching decisions, the Warriors are “wasting” a year of Stephen Curry’s prime.
No. What we are going to focus on here is building an understanding of the historical inertia that put the roster in this state, and then look at some potential solutions.
The Golden State Warriors are not all-in on this current roster iteration as a “win now” exercise. If they wanted to win now, at all costs, then Wiseman wouldn’t be here. Likely traded in some sort of larger package for a player like James Harden, the win now Warriors roster wouldn’t have room for unproven 19-year old rookies.
If this was a win now roster, Wiseman (even if he was on the team) wouldn’t be starting. And he sure as hell wouldn’t be attacking this aggressively.
Again, here’s the issue that a lot of people aren’t accepting into their Warriors world view: this team isn’t trying to win right now, so a lot of really “weird” stuff is happening.
Stephen Curry is taking the second-most shot attempts of his entire career (on a per possession basis). Curry is getting opportunities. So our problem with that shot attempt chart in the tweet above is really about the names down the list - most notably Wiseman, but pick a name off that list in the tweet above and I’ll tell you right away that Curry should be taking any shot over them.
Same goes with Kelly Oubre. By far the most disastrous new acquisition, his aggression is at odds with his scoring efficiency. And though improving, if this was a win now environment, the team would have moved Oubre to the bench long ago.
But the Warriors are not in a win now mode.
Here’s a recent quote from Steve Kerr discussion this issue. Apologies for the length of this clip, but it’s important to take it in as a whole.
“The team is learning on the fly. I’ll be very honest. If I had to win a game tomorrow, I wouldn’t start that group. If this was a one time thing I would start a different group and probably got to some different combinations, but this is the team that I wanna see develop a really good defensive identity, and James needs to be out there.
When Kerr says, “this is the team I want to see develop,” he’s giving a clear signal about the root cause behind sticking with a starting five that doesn’t seem to make sense on paper: these are training reps.
Kerr goes on [emphasis added by me]:
Kelly and Andrew need to be together on the wings guarding, you know, LeBron and Kawhi and Paul George and all those guys. So it’s gonna take some time and in the meantime there’s gonna be some growing pains, but I’m okay with it because for us to be great down the road, whether it’s by the end of this year or even next season, James has to develop and Kelly and Andrew have to get comfortable and I’m willing to sacrifice some things here early in the season to get to where we wanna be later on.
This is a roster that knows it’s going to wobble their way into the playoffs this year, and rather than chase the highest seeding possible the Warriors franchise is intentionally prioritizing future development.
This is the historical inertia.
When Klay Thompson went down, it stalled the Warriors’ dynasty chase for a year. Rather than burn every asset trying to cobble together a roster with a 4th seed ceiling, the Warriors are attempting to toe the line between competing now, and putting in the work on internal development to be best poised to compete for championships again when Thompson returns. But we’ve all got to understand (well, don’t have to… but should) understand that the Warriors are making design concessions in the current season with an eye towards next year.
Or even with the playoffs in mind, the Warriors are telling us that they’re willing to take the bumps and bruises now, when the schedule is less meaningful.
Ok, so even assuming all of the above is true, and the Warriors want this starting lineup to develop, there are some issues that are becoming clear, and adjustments that could be made. Because even with development in mind, this is the worst starting five, statistically in the NBA. And from Kerr’s postgame comments last night, it feels like the organization is beginning to seriously consider a change.
There are two problematic positions in that opening roster: Oubre and Wiseman. So let’s take each on on their own.
Oubre is a long-limbed, dynamic athlete that hounds ball handlers with the frenetic energy of a puppy. But he’s also one of the primary culprits behind the problems plaguing the Warriors. Adding another wrinkle to the origami-shaped problem here: Oubre appears to be slowly rounding into shape.
Shooting less is certainly an option here. Oubre could easily be as valuable - or perhaps even more valuable, given his low shooting percentages - without taking all these shots. According to Synergy data, Oubre is scoring just 0.78 points per possessions, ranking him in the bottom 16% of all players at his position; a condition Synergy describes as “below average.”
It’s a problem compounded by the presence of Draymond Green (one of the only players with a lower points per possession mark than Oubre).
Going deeper, Oubre’s offensive styling overall is a problem. Oubre generates just 1.5 assists per 100 possessions - and like Green’s shooting, there’s a negative synergy in the combined starting five here with Wiseman’s passing… Wiseman is the only Warriors that generates less assists than Oubre (1.4 per 100 possessions). Together, it’s just a whole lot for Curry, Green, and to a lesser extent, Wiggins, to carry.
The obvious adjustment is to add more shooting. Damion Lee is getting the most public support, but I’d take a look at Mychal Mulder here as well. Either player would help solve the lack of shooting.
But bumping Oubre to the bench is problematic, both from a developmental standpoint (again, Kerr’s quote about wanting the Oubre/Wiggins defensive duo to work for the playoffs), as well as some broader personnel concerns. Though we were spoiled by Andre Iguodala’s seamless transition to the bench, the NBA is much more rife with stories about players refusing to move to the bench, or just playing poorly.
Another option is Kent Bazemore. He feels like more of a middle ground solution. Though lacking the offensive scoring punch, he’s closer to a defensive answer, and he knows the Warriors offensive system well enough to not gum up the works.
So, that brings up Wiseman. The Warriors young center of the future.
If you were just a spreadsheet nerd, the answer here is probably Kevon Looney. It’s actually a fairly simple response, assuming the goal was the best 5-man unit, because there are only three units that have played more than 20 minutes together, and ended up with a net positive scoring differential.
There are signs that the developments are occurring. Oubre has been shooting better, Wiggins looks more and more comfortable in his role, and Wiseman is making progress.
We want this; And I’m not at all sold that Wiseman puts in a game like this, so early in his career without the investment of time and reps that he’s gotten this season.
Assuming the team left all their development goals in the trash, we are still stuck with the question of how much any of these marginal changes moves the needle. As Anthony Slater wrote after the Jazz game:
The Warriors don’t beat the Jazz in Utah if they deploy a different starting lineup. The score doesn’t change much if Mychal Mulder is getting Jordan Poole’s first-half minutes. The Jazz are too good, too hot from 3 right now and too comfortable at home, especially against a tired team such as the Warriors…
I’m not saying that Warriors fans can’t gripe, or that none of this should be a talking point; but the organization isn’t in a win now mode. They don’t have the roster built for winning now, and abandoning the goals for internal development one month into the season would be short-sighted.
It’s frustrating to watch at times, but the Warriors are building for the future, while keeping one foot firmly stuck in the present. It’s going to look as imperfect as the situation.