Game Thread: The Wiggins era begins as Dubs host Lakers

New year, new me!

With a roster defined by their three core players, you wouldn’t expect a ton of roster stability from the Golden State Warriors - and yet the major teardown and rebuild we’ve seen over the past week was still a bit jarring. D’Angelo Russell was never a great fit, playing the same position as Steph Curry, but the common consensus was that he was a highly valued player that the team wanted to take a good look at. Apparently they saw enough, because they flipped him in a surprise move that returned Andrew Wiggins and a very nice 1st-round draft pick (plus an additional second-rounder) while also taking Jacob Evans off the ledger next season.

It was a move mostly driven by the team’s desire to save money by avoiding the repeater tax, something that General Manager Bob Myers said could have cost the team as much as “the high $200 millions” per year. Regardless of motivation, it leaves a decidedly different roster rising from the ashes as they welcome the Los Angeles Lakers to San Francisco today.


GAME DETAILS

WHO: Golden State Warriors (12-40) vs Los Angeles Lakers (38-12)

WHERE: Chase Center, San Francisco, CA

WHEN: Saturday February 8, 2020; 5:30 pm

WATCH: NBC Sports Bay Area


Riggin’ for Wiggins

The biggest storyline heading into the game tonight is Andrew Wiggins. General Manager Bob Myers spoke extensively on Friday about the trade deadline flurry of activities, and what it means moving forward. Though none of the players traded were exactly mainstays - Jacob Evans, drafted just one year ago was the elder Warriors statesman of the departing group - the breadth and depth of the changes are remarkable.

The Warriors have begun to fill in some of the gaps in reasoning that had fans scrambling for clarity as the news broke that the big D’Angelo Russell trade we’d been told to expect brought back nothing more than Andrew Wiggins and a couple of draft picks.

For one, the taxes next season would have cost the team hundreds of millions of dollars; an amount hefty enough to make the team balk, especially in light of the Warriors place at the bottom of the standings and looking to spend profligately next offseason.

Secondly, there is a positional need for a small forward.

If they had retained Russell, it would have pushed Klay Thompson to the small forward position - not ideal for a guy returning from a knee surgery - which would wreck the backcourt Splash Brothers pairing. And it was becoming clear that Russell’s defense was going to be a real problem, compounded by the inability to hide him now that the other guard who would step up to guard Russell’s man would have to be Curry. Thompson could perhaps shuffle down, but that would shift Curry or Russell to cover the opposing small forward. A cascading stream of bad defensive options.

So, enter Andrew Wiggins.

A solid 6’8” wing player with a seven foot wingspan, he’s just 24 years old and comes with all the physical tools needed to fill the gap at small forward. But the Warriors are going to need to help him adjust his game to the Warriors system. Just fitting in with the roster construction better doesn’t necessarily mean the team will be better off with Wiggins rather than Russell.

So what does Wiggins offer, besides a huge wingspan and a heft salary?

Before answering that, it’s important to understand his strengths and weakness. First off, from this excellent round table The Athletic put out, take a look at Wiggins shooting profile as compared to recently departed Russell. You can see that Wiggins has a much more “vanilla” game - he isn’t particularly dynamic with his shot type diversity, nor is he above average efficiency on catch-and-shoots, or off the dribble.

But the article goes on to point out that Wiggins has improved this year, landing in the 64th percentile according to Synergy on catch-and-shoot shots. This is going to be a large portion of the Warriors strategy to improve Wiggins impact: simplify.

Here’s coach Kerr, talking about how embracing a reduced role can actually work to a player’s advantage:

"There's a difference in the role that we're gonna ask him to play, too," Kerr said. "Minnesota needed him to be a star. And we're not asking him to be a star. We're asking him to play a role on a team that already has some star players. There's a huge difference there.

"When you have to play that role, it means bringing energy every night more than it means putting up numbers. He's very capable of giving us numbers, but what we need is energy and the commitment defensively and sprinting the floor."

Offensively, he should be fine. It’s not unreasonable to expect more efficiency in this system, where ball movement and looking for “great, not good” shots is a point of emphasis.

Defensively it will be a work in progress. Wiggins shows very poorly in the defensive metrics - but those things are notoriously unreliable anyways. The bottom line here is that the team just needs Wiggins to embrace the defensive philosophy and play hard every night; the coaches and team will help facilitate all of this, of course:

Back to that round table from the Athletic, it’s important to note that especially with the defensive impact numbers, context, and teammates are both extremely important aspects that must be considered:

In Wiggins’ minutes with Towns, the Wolves have a disaster-level 115.2 defensive rating. In the minutes Wiggins plays without Towns, though, they have a 107.4 defensive rating. Basically, in Minnesota’s non-Towns minutes, they’ve fielded a top-10 defense that Wiggins is a part of. He’s not the player on that end that some thought he’d be coming out of Kansas due to his length and athleticism, but I don’t really think he’s a true negative anymore, either.

Draymond Green Questionable

Not much more to say about this…

As the Warriors have formally embraced the tank, I expect them to find more reasons to rest Draymond Green. As valuable as he is to the development of these young players, and serving as the only other link to the old guard besides Looney, there is probably a rationale for ensuring a certain level of institutional inertia by keeping him on the court.

As Golden State’s best defender, the team could certainly use his presence against LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the big man tandem of Javale McGee and Dwight Howard - but if Green is in any way hampered, expect him to sit for the tank, and his own well being.

Lakers sit atop the standings, but would have liked to make a move at the trade deadline

Like the Warriors of yore (ok, it was just last season, but it feels like a lifetime ago), the Los Angeles Lakers aren’t really playing for the regular season. So while they sit perched atop the standings like that sticker Dwight Howard slapped on the backboard that one time this isn’t what they’re playing for. Oh sure, they smoke the Warriors - a team held together by duct tape and minimum salary contract players - but Los Angeles is playing for a price that isn’t available for a few months yet: an NBA championship.

The Lakers are elite, there’s no doubt about that, they’re top 5 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and have two of the best players in the league: LeBron James and Anthony Davis. But behind that, it gets a little thin on raw talent. Kentavius Caldwell-Pope, Danny Green, and Kyle Kuzma are next in minutes played - all around 25 per game, none of whom can be counted to take over a game if one of the superstars are struggling.

So the Lakers had been looking to add something.

In the end, the Lakers ended up standing pat and will head into the Playoffs with the roster they have - barring someone like Darren Collison emerging from retirement.

The problem of course, is what happens when LeBron James leaves the floor. As is often the case with his teams, it’s those minutes that can decide wins or losses, depending on how badly his supporting cast slides.

Much like the Warriors of the past five years, any help would just be a luxury; a tertiary insurance policy against those rare nights when the superstar is having a bad night. The addition of Iguodala would have come in handy for the playoffs, but make no mistake, the Lakers are doing absolutely fine right now with the roster they have.

From Cleaning the Glass, just take a gander at the impact of LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Not only are both players using the majority of possessions, controlling the ball for a combined 63% of the offense while on court, they are a monument to unselfish basketball. Looking at those assist percentage numbers you can see that not only does LeBron run the offense, he is the very best in the league at taking that resultant defensive attention and reverse judo throwing it into an advantage by assisting on nearly half of his teammates shots.

They say a team can only get as far as their best players take them, and for the Lakers, it’s probably pretty easy to look past the fringe roster issues.

Prediction

Oh, the Warriors are getting demolished this game. It’s been just a few days since the team jettisoned almost half it’s roster, which included the top two players in both minutes played, and total points. There will be more Warriors players that spend last week in the G league than not, sitting on our bench.

Still, it will be fun to see the new squad. I haven’t watched Wiggins play very closely so will be eagerly watching and hoping he plays. Same goes for Bowman and Smiley, two players that I’ve desperately been wishing were up with the NBA team. So as brutal as this game may well be, it should still be a fun one.

But I do predict a successful tank mission, which is what the Warriors are really playing for right now.


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