Inconsistent but exciting, Warriors adjust to new identity as they host Magic
Wiseman still out, but nearing return as Golden State returns home from mixed results road trip
You never know what you’re going to get out of this year’s Golden State Warriors team, but on the whole, they’re rounding into shape. That shape? Some sort of lower-tier playoff team - as expected.
After becoming accustomed to the Warriors being so close to perfect, Golden State’s maddening inconsistency this season has been hard on the hearts and eyes, at times. When everything comes together, it’s easy to imagine the blueprint working: held together by Stephen Curry and Draymond Green, with a pair of robust defensive wings flying around the perimeter, this is a team that plays fast and dangerous.
But on the other end of the spectrum, the Warriors have not won or lost more than two games in a row all season. As often as the previous example of the blueprint working, Golden State can just as easily look broken - a cheap, slapdash facade with Curry’s brilliance obscuring the duct tape and broken jumpers holding the bulk of this roster together.
But I wouldn’t miss it for the world. To me, this is a fun season in a way that the dynasty run could never tap into. There’s an element of the unknown at play again. We are living through a season where Juan Toscano-Anderson’s development and improvement may play a significant factor.
I wrote earlier about how I hated the idea of the franchise wasting a single moment of Curry’s prime, but I think I had the entire premise wrong. There’s no “wasting” possible here. Curry’s brilliance is on full display, even as the rest of the roster works towards solvency. After a mixed 2-2 road trip against a tough pair of Texas opponents, the Warriors open this homestand with a soft Magic opponent tonight, before welcoming old friend, Kevin Durant on Saturday.
WHO: Golden State (13-12) vs. Orlando Magic (9-16)
WHEN: Thursday, February 11, 2021 // 7:00pm PST
Clap, clap… DEFENSE!
Don’t look now, but somehow the Warriors have forged that defensive identity that coach Steve Kerr has been talking about since training camp. Anchored by the brilliance of Draymond Green, the Warriors have built a smart scheme that harnesses Golden State’s newfound pairing of long-limbed agile wing defenders.
As it stands now, the Warriors defense is allowing just 1.062 points per possessions, the sixth-best mark in the NBA. They rank tenth in blocks per game, largely on the strength of Andrew Wiggins - who is tied with 7’2” center, James Wiseman with a 1.3 blocks per game average. The team is holding opponents to a meager 0.511 True Shooting percentage, the fourth best such mark in the NBA… which bodes ill for tonight’s opponent (the Magic rank dead last in team shooting efficiency, and third worst in overall team offense).
While the team will still be without centers James Wiseman (wrist) and Kevon Looney (ankle), the remaining crew should be more than adequate to suffocate that wheezing, bottom three, Orlando offense.
Importantly, this is a personality trait that should translate well into next season, as well as the ongoing playoff chase. For the current roster to work, rookie Wiseman will need to just not be a negative. As mentioned above, he’s tied for team lead in blocks, and is a disruptive presence and rim deterrent overall; having a strong existing background framework for him to hang his defensive identity on will be an excellent catalyst for his development.
The book is still out on Kelly Oubre, but his poor shooting start to this season may actually help the long term chase for his services by lowering the asking price next year. While no one knows exactly what Klay Thompson will look like in his return, the Oubre/Wiggins defensive wing tandem has proven to be an effective fit alongside the marshalling force of Green’s presence.
Tonight’s matchup against the injury-stricken remnants of the Orland Magic should be a nice easy warmup for the Warriors’ defense before they take on the Kevin Durant and the Nets on Saturday.
Newbies are finally learning to eat off Curry’s offensive mastery
The Warriors pedestrian offensive numbers may be obscuring some of the growth in this aspect, but it looks like the new supporting players are becoming accustomed to operating in the space created by the attention Curry draws from opposing defenses.
For non-shooters, cutting to the basket for an open look is almost certainly the best offensive outcome they can hope for. It’s something that Kerr and Green have understood as a driving factor in the team’s success for years, but one that is often elusive or even detrimental to newcomers. Oubre took a lot of heat earlier this season for not just his poor shooting percentages, but for the volume of shots he was hoisting (he ranks third on the team in attempts per game, and 11th on the team in shooting percentage). But he’s learning and improving.
Another player improving in this regard is new starter Toscano-Anderson. Thrust into the starting lineup because of injuries, the Oakland-born player is chipping in nice averages of has averaged 8.8 points (shooting 42.9% from deep), 9.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game.
Kerr spoke on his recent excellence after the last game - note how Kerr points to the ball movement and the phrase “generate offense” here, :
"I think having Juan Toscano-Anderson next to him, it's almost like a mini version of Draymond," Kerr said Wednesday to reporters. "I love that combination, especially when Steph is on the floor because both just know how to generate offense, how to get Steph open, how to get the ball moving."
Golden State’s offense is mired at 20th, but given the wobbly uncertainty and unpredictability of this season, that may not be as much of a concern as it looks to be on first glance.
This is likely the core issue that led Kerr to prioritize defense over offense - but with Curry in the fold, the Warriors support players will for sure get good looks. The problems so far with this season’s offense has been mostly related to the offensive support role players not being able to fully take advantage of Curry’s gravity. As the Warriors roster continues to work towards familiarity with each other,
If Curry is the engine driving everything on offense, then Green is the steering wheel. He’s at least 10 assists over the past four game consecutive games, the only Warrior player to achieve that same mark was Steph Curry all the way back in 2012. Green, ever the vocal floor general, is starting to gel with the rest of the roster, it’s not just leading the horse to water, he’s force-feeding that horse - and it’s been exactly what the team needs.
The best part is that this is something that will grow. As Oubre, Wiggins, JTA, Paschall, and others come to embrace the cuts to the basket, it will only act as a force multiplier. Remember that Curry is putting up MVP-caliber numbers right now against defenses that don’t really have to key into much else other than stopping Curry.
Warriors should smoke the Magic, and I don’t think it’s going to be all that close tonight. Though their top tier players aren’t up to snuff with what the Warriors are missing with Klay Thompson out, they’ve got a hefty injured reserve list of their own:
Warriors go up big early and never look back. Watch for Wiggins to have a big night. His offense has been on a bit of a downward trend, but if he is seeing those cuts to the rim as frequently as I expect he will, then it should be an easy fix.
Dubs win, 112-99.