Game Thread: Warriors at Pelicans for an important doubleheader

In a no-excuse league, the Golden State Warriors 2021 season sure is wracking up a bunch of very plausible excuses.

In a no-excuse league, the Golden State Warriors 2021 season sure is wracking up a bunch of very plausible excuses. No Klay Thompson all year, the loss of starter Marquese Chriss for nearly the entire season, James Wiseman and Draymond Green both missing all of training camp due to Corona, Eric Paschall’s extended absence.

The team has also recently lost Wiseman for the rest of the season, and although Kent Bazemore’s absence due to quarantine protocols is over, critical bench player Damion Lee remains out with an unknown return date (and condition). The initial timeline of 10-14 days from April 22nd puts today as day 11.

If Oubre is out for the rest of the season too…

These aren’t excuses, more like an explanation of why I’m not personally disappointed if this squad doesn’t push deep into the playoffs.


GAME DETAILS

WHO: Golden State Warriors (32-32) at New Orleans Pelicans (29-35)

WHEN: Monday, May 3rd, 2021 // 4:30 pm PST <— early!

WATCH: NBCSBA; ESPN


Time to chase some wins over these Pelicans!

Though coach Steve Kerr made a point to clarify earlier that the Warriors aren’t “chasing wins” this season, these two upcoming back-to-back games against the 11th seeded Pelicans team that is three games behind the Spurs/Warriors deadlock for 9th/10th place. Win both, and the Warriors not only help themselves, they put the Pelicans away, essentially guarantying Golden State’s trip to the post-season - no matter how brief it may be.

Golden State is just 14-22 on the road this season, and the Pelicans have won four of their last six games. Since this is the first matchup between these two teams this year, and three of the remaining eight games are against these guys, let’s spend some time becoming familiar with the Pelicans.

New Orleans will feature the trio of Brandon Ingram, the electric Zion Williamson, and Warriors’ rumored free agent target, Lonzo Ball. I took the liberty of organizing the scoring, assists, and rebound leaders (note that rebounding excludes Steven Adams, who leads the team with around 9 rebounds per game, but is expected to be out today):

Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson are truly this team’s engine. According to Cleaning the Glass, those two players rank in the top 10% of the NBA’s players at their position in both usage, and points scored per attempt (PSA).

But if I’m Golden State coming in to this game, I’m significantly more worried about containing Williamson than I would be about stopping Ingram.

While both players are deadly, Zion’s efficiency and shot selection are the more lethal of the two - and also the player whose physicality may be a significant problem for what remains of the Warriors frontcourt rotation.

Zion is a beast down low, where he brings a football players body and a basketball player’s ability. He currently shoots 81% of his shots at the rim, where he makes 67% of of them. It’s an outlier shooting profile in the modern NBA, but Williamson is already a terror down low, in just his second season.

Pulling his shot chart, you can see that though there isn’t a whole lot of variety to his game, it doesn’t matter a whole lot because no one is meaningfully slowing him down in the post.

The Warriors, thankfully, do have some defensive options here. Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins are likely to draw assignments against both players, with spot support (and a bunch of doubles, probably) from guys like Kevon Looney and Juan Toscano-Anderson. Remember though that for as big as these guys play, Williamson may be able to simply outmuscle them to his spot, and then foul trouble for a shortened Warriors depth chart could start to become increasingly concerning.

Lonzo Ball is an interesting case too, and one that may be tugging on the heartstrings of those amongst the Dub Nation population as he shows off his basketball IQ against us.

The silver linings in Golden State

Because there are just eight game left in the regular season, I find myself looking forward and back at the same time, like a weird basketball-watching chameleon with their freaky eyes. There’s a lot to not like about this season, which (explanations aside) sucks because Curry has been amazing.

In contrast to the Zion Williamson shot chart above, check out Curry’s well-spread attack so far this season:

At time of writing, Curry leads the NBA in scoring, as well as three-point makes, and total attempts. In a different team environment, he’d be the story of the season this year, but instead his MVP candidacy is in the tank.

Though the team may need to re-work some of the fringes, the core ideas and concepts that have made this team a perennial contender over the past half decade are still in place.

Wiggins has demonstrated a second consecutive season of extremely solid and versatile defense. And while his scoring efficiency isn’t necessarily wowing people, neither is it so bad as to be a significantly meaningful detriment to winning - especially once you factor in his other areas of strength.

Likewise, fringe rotation players like Bazemore and Toscano-Anderson have made a fairly compelling case for further investment, as they’ve steadily climbed their way into coach Kerr’s good graces as the team gets deeper and deeper into the season.

I also stumbled on another silver lining while looking at the Warriors’ statistics today. The biggest question (to me) next season is how much of the Warriors’ offensive woes will Klay Thompson solve, just be being back on the court - in whatever condition. And I think that there is something about this question that points out why the Warriors offense has been as bad as it has, despite the all-time scoring run that Curry has been on.

Because of the Warriors system and priorities, the most frequent shot attempt is a spot up jumper, according to Synergy data. Even with the injury-depleted roster, and injury-related scrambles, the Warriors half court offense has ranked 14th in half court offense this season. Not bad. Far from elite of course, but not too shabby. So what would the return of Thompson fix next season?

Take a look at two different elements that I combined into charts. The top pie chart shows distribution of Warriors’ play types, and the bottom graph shows points per possession.

If spot up shooting is the problem, then at least the Warriors can rest easy knowing that regardless of the rest of what happens, there is a guy slated to return next season that will buoy the Warriors results in this regard.

Right now, the Warriors run 23% of their half court shot attempts off of a spot up shooting opportunity, but convert those opportunities at the 6th-worst efficiency. Next season, I expect there to be another player out there who is more than able to knock down those opportunities at an elite level. Just upping this one aspect will improve the overall offensive impact of this team tremendously.

Predictions

Eight games, eight wins. Let’s close this out strong!