The NBA family is living with a heavy heart after the passing of Kobe Bryant, one of the most iconic players ever. It’s much too soon to return to business as usual, but the Golden State Warriors will do their best to focus on the game at hand as they travel to Philadelphia, the town where Bryant was born back in 1978.
Expect some sort of recognition for Bryant's legacy this evening, whether it be the now-familiar intentional 24- and 8-second delay to start the game, or a more active moment of silence.
This is the beginning of a lengthy road trip for Golden State, who won’t play at home again until they face the Los Angeles Lakers on February 8th.
For Golden State, they’ve recalled Jacob Evans from the G League, which means he will almost certainly spend the entire road trip with the Warriors.
Alen Smailagić, and Ky Bowman, unfortunately, are both staying with the Sea Dubs in the G League for the time being.
WHO: Golden State Warriors (10-37) at Philadelphia 76ers (30-17)
WHEN: Tuesday January 27, 2020; 4:00 pm PST
WHERE: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
WATCH: NBC Sports Bay Area
Maybe it’s the transient feel of his tenure here - especially following on the heels of Kevin Durant’s tumultuous final season - but very little ink has been spent talking about D’Angelo Russell. He’s leading the team in scoring (23.9 points per game), second in assists (6.3), and has the best scoring efficiency for any non-big (.560 TS%).
Maybe it’s all the losing the team has done, but it’s hard to imagine a single player that could lift this roster over .500. Whatever the cause, Russell has been oddly insulated in his time here, neither beloved nor hated. They say that the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference, and sadly, that word may best describe the fan bases view of Russell.
Let’s take a look at his scoring profile, using the fantastic visualization tool from Positive Residual. Looking at the numbers, Russell is doing most of his damage via above the break three-pointers, and in the midrange - both areas where he converts his shots at an above average rate.
When it comes to assists, Russell is just as impactful. He assists on close to 34% of his teammates shots while on the floor; a value that puts him in the 93rd percentile league wide, as per Cleaning the Glass.
The problem, for me and probably many of you readers as well, has been his defense. While defensive metrics are notoriously tricky, it’s fair to point towards his low steal (0.8 per game) and block (0.3) counts. He also appears in the team’s worst five-man units on both defensive, and net rating, as per NBA.com’s advanced tracking data.
After looking into the stats, I think the most honest answer regarding Russell is “it’s complicated.” His numbers are fairly solid, at least offensively, and it’s hard to pin the Warriors’ defensive struggles on him. But for a max contract player, it does look like there are some significant holes to his game. Any concerns related to this is largely contingent on how well he fits in alongside Stephen Curry when he returns in March.
Philadelphia is going through a bit of an identity crisis. In the modern NBA, you’ll often see player pairings get criticized for lack of size, but in the 76ers case, the concerns are the opposite - with two large players vying for room in and around the rim.
The team currently sits in 6th place in the Eastern Conference, well below expectations. They’ve been without Joel Embiid, who injured his finger back in January, but his return is imminent.
January 27th 2020
In his absence however, it’s hard not to notice that Ben Simmons has been playing as well as he ever has. In Embiid’s absence, Simmons has averaged 21.6 points (65.3 percent shooting), 9.3 rebounds, 7.9 assists (3 turnovers) and 2.3 steals per game, according to the Liberty Ballers blog.
If Simmons can maintain that level of play after Embiid’s return, I expect them to climb significantly higher in the playoff bracket. But even without Embiid, these Sixers should be able to handle a Warriors team that has lost 14 of their last 15 games.