Preview: Warriors go for two in a row - can they beat the Wizards' league-worst defense?

It was a joyous start to the month of February, as the Golden State Warriors dusted off their old swagger to punish a long lost Cavaliers rival. But the question facing the Warriors now is if they can build on what was probably their finest display of basketball so far this season (the “probably” is a required caveat, given the weaponized dismantling of the fraudulent Houston Rockets on Christmas day).

Up next, Golden State heads into our nation’s capital, where Bradley Beal and the Washington Wizards await.


GAME DETAILS:

WHO: Golden State Warriors (11-39) at Washington Wizards (17-31)

WHERE: Capital One Arena, Washington, DC

WHEN: Monday February 3rd, 2020; 4:00 pm PST

WATCH: NBC Sports Bay Area


The league’s worst offense, versus the league’s worst defense

The Warriors put up a 44 point third quarter against the Cavaliers on Saturday, on their way to 131 points. Now, to be fair, the Cleveland defense is nearly dead last in the NBA, giving up 115 points per 100 possessions. The only team with a worse defensive efficiency? Tonight’s opponent, the Washington Wizards and their 116.3 points allowed.

Unfortunately, Golden State isn’t exactly a surefire offensive explosion, even against the softest target in the league. Without the shooters this offense has become accustomed to having, coach Steve Kerr’s motion based offense has looked like they were rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic than it has looking like a perennial offensive role model of the NBA.

But as our very own Eric Apricot broke down, the Warriors have begun to move D’Angelo Russell off ball. This is an incredibly efficient outcome, and likely will play a pivotal role in solving the Warriors moribund offensive numbers that have defined the current season.

From Apricot’s article, just take a look at the catch and shoot statistic here. For comparison, his current average eFG% overall is 53.0. This is an extremely efficient shot, and one that will only become more available once Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson return to action.

Beyond Russell’s personal improvement, there’s a strategic reason that Kerr touched on recently - with the team’s personnel, it makes a lot of sense to encourage Russell to get open without the basketball. For one, Draymond Green, the sole active member of the Hampton’s Five lineup that has terrorized the NBA for the past decade, absolutely thrives as a playmaking Power Forward. Grabbing a rebound and quickly pushing it up the floor is a huge part of what has made Green so impactful. So when Kevin Durant claps for the ball, for example, it really is a smarter play to just let Green dribble it up across half court and then find a shooter.

Secondly, the spacing and havok that Curry and Thompson create is already known to stretch defenses to the breaking point. Though the team has not been very successful at finding efficient offense this season, it’s not hard to imagine the design problems opponents will have when the team ads Russell to the mix. Add in a couple of heady players - like say, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala - and you are starting to get a glimpse of what the Warriors envisioned as a best case scenario with Russell.

But right now, the more immediate question is if the team has begun to figure things out, or if last game’s 44 point quarter was more a fluke than a recurring feature. They’ve got a weak defense to go against tonight, and some inertia coming in - if Draymond Green is dialed in, and Russell is hitting his shots then Golden State has a good chance at two wins in a row.

The impending trade deadline on Thursday could shake up the Warriors roster

The NBA trade deadline is quickly approaching, and with just a few days left for teams to complete transactions before Thursday’s cutoff, expect Golden State to very much be in the mix.

The Warriors managed to escape from Willie Cauley-Stein’s contract next season, unloading the mundane talent to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for a second round pick (which the Warriors really wanted as they did not have a second round pick in this upcoming offseason).

The common wisdom is that the Warriors are extremely unlikely to make a major move, preferring to hold on to Russell until they’ve seen him alongside the other stars - or get an offer they couldn’t refuse. Because of how many other players are on budget deals, Kevon Looney is the only other player that has a hefty enough deal to drop the team out of range of the repeater tax next season. However, given Looney’s role on the team and his off year, chances are incredibly slim that the Forward ends up playing anywhere else.

So that leaves our functional wing players on reasonable contracts: Glenn Robinson, and Alec Burks. According to Connor Letourneau the team is looking for some salary relief and another second round draft pick, but the market may not be willing to bear that price:

According to my league sources, multiple teams have inquired about Burks. However, the Warriors haven’t liked any offers enough to part with him.

My guess would be that Golden State wants to bring back at least an early second-round pick for Burks. That might be too high of a price for an injury-prone journeyman entering the back end of his prime — even if he’s enjoying a career season.

Of course, some of this math could change quickly. Teams like the Houston Rockets may find themselves in dire need for anyone who can immediately improve their rotation. Burks is having a fantastic year, and teams may get more aggressive when faced with the looming trade deadline.

In a separate question, Letourneau talks a bit about about the wings Burks and Robinson - both of whom have played large roles for the injury-depleted Warriors. An interesting wrinkle in this dance is which strength Golden State will prioritize. Presumably, both have played well enough to earn an invite back next season, but it sounds like the team is more interested in Robinson, a player who has emerged as the team’s primary defensive option at the wing.

Here’s Letourneau, from the same article linked above:

I still think it’s Burks. Though he has provided some much-needed scoring on an injury-thinned team this season, Burks isn’t an ideal fit for the Warriors’ system. He can be a bit of a black hole offensively, and that could be an issue once Golden State gets Thompson and Curry back.

Also, Burks isn’t nearly as good defensively as Robinson. I think that, as long as it makes sense, the Warriors will try to re-sign Robinson this summer.

The “black hole” line is intriguing. As per Cleaning the Glass, Burks has a 24% usage rate while on the court - third on the team behind only Curry and Russell. Looking deeper, you can see that the scoring tradeoff isn’t necessarily as drastic as it may look on first glance.

Assuming that Burks usage rate wouldn’t be sustainable alongside Curry and Russell, Robinson scores at an acceptable replacement rate, while needing the ball significantly less (only 14.7%, nearly the lowest on the team). Basketball Reference has Burks as the superior scorer (26.1 points per 100 possessions), but Robinson is a comfortable tertiary option (19.2 points per 100 possessions) that scores more efficiently (.569 TS% for Robinson, .547 for Burks) and requires a whole lot less time with the ball in his hands.

You’ve got to assume that the team is willing to listen to offers for either player, but if they have a choice, it sounds like the team would prefer to hang on to the superior defender, and count on Curry, Thompson, and potentially Russell to shoulder the lion’s share of offensive responsibilities. Note in particular that if they do hang on to Russell, that’s a roster in dire need of additional defensive resources. Russell could work as a shooting guard on offense, but will probably give older fans painful flashbacks of watching Monta Ellis score 25 while giving up 35 on the other end.

So it isn’t really hard to see why the team would prefer to hang on to Robinson… or maybe they blow it all up?

Of course the Warriors are “listening to pitches” but no one has any idea what will actually happen. I wouldn't think that Bob Myers would be at all interested in someone like Andrew Wiggins for Russell. But Golden State has a way of finding deals that make sense for them - be it a little roster fiddling move, or a major swing this front office has earned my trust.

Just four days left of this chatter so guess away, everyone!