With about 20% of the season complete, it's clear what's working
The Warriors have made huge strides defensively, and Curry is still awesome. The season hasn't been perfect, but there's plenty to like so far
The Golden State Warriors unexpectedly found a pause in their schedule due to a Covid-related game cancellation last night against the Phoenix Suns. The Warriors will spend today and tomorrow practicing ahead of Monday’s battle against the mighty Los Angeles Lakers.
Until then though, let’s check in on the team. The Warriors are nearly one-fifth of the way through their season (17%, to be precise), and though the campaign has been far from smooth, we’ve seen plenty of early returns on what has, and hasn’t, been working.
Normally, I don’t like throwing out the bad data to paint a rosier picture, but given that the team went through training camp and the beginning of the season with an incomplete roster , I think it’s fair to toss out those early destructions at the hands Championship-caliber teams.
Ride the Curry wave
Coming into the season, there was a general consensus that no matter what happened, Stephen Curry would have to play a larger role. Though the first fifth of the year, that checks out. His usage is at 32.2% the third highest of his career, and Curry has taken 246 shot attempts - third most in the NBA. Curry’s 341 total points on the year are second, only behind Bradley Beal.
Facing intense defensive scrutiny, Curry is still managing to get up plenty of shots. Looking a bit closer, it’s clear that Curry can do more. His shooting efficiency is solid, but well off the mark based on his history. Currently, Curry’s True Shooting percentage is the lowest it’s been since 2014 (excluding last season). Oddly, it seems that missing wide open shots is the primary culprit - at least from deep. Interestingly, Curry has taken exactly 32 threes while facing both “tight” coverage, as well as 32 shots categorized as “wide open” by the NBA.
Even with this, Curry is still far and away the guy that carries the team.
Curry is hitting just over 50% of his threes while tightly covered (16 of 32), but only 28% while wide open. That latter number will climb up significantly. Again, throwing out those first two blowouts helps significantly. If we remove the first two games of the season, Curry is averaging 30 points per game, 5.8 assists, 5.9 rebounds, shooting 40.7% from deep (on 11.3 attempts per game), with an elite scoring efficiency (TS% of .636).
Curry is killing it.
WIGGINS AND THE DEFENSE
Another primary concern coming in to the season was the Warriors’ defense. Without the firepower of previous years, the coaching staff started early setting expectations. With head coach Steve Kerr saying during training camp that he believes the Warriors must become a "top-10" defensive team in order to seriously compete:
"I think we're going to be different, just because of the nature of our roster," Kerr said on NBA TV on Friday. "And so a lot of that will have to happen organically. Guys have to play together to feel comfortable with one another, figure out where each one is on the floor. We have to figure out as a coaching staff the best rotations, the best combinations.
"The biggest thing from my standpoint, my staff's standpoint is, we have to become a top-10 defensive team again.
The Warriors are almost there.
Again, toss out those first two games, and the Warriors land 11th in defensive efficiency. Just a whisper outside of 10th place. That’s a major victory for a team that was so late to add their defensive mastermind to the picture.
A big part of this is the Warriors’ new wings: Kelly Oubre and Andrew Wiggins. Wiggins is having the better overall season, by far, but he’s also having a better defensive year than Oubre. We aren’t here to count points against our own team though, so for now, just know that Wiggins is playing at an elite level, defensively.
It’s a huge victory for the Warriors, and Wiggins as well. Defense was the root cause for a lot of the skepticism surrounding Wiggins when the trade to Golden State was first announced. It was objectively true at that time that Wiggins was bad at defense. As 538 wrote just a few years ago, Wiggins was a non-factor. Opponents had a 56.1 eFG% when guarded by Wiggins; those same opponents, unguarded had a 56.4 eFG%.
Now? Wiggins is playing like an elite defender. As per Synergy sports, Wiggins’ defense is now placing him in the upper echelon - he ranks in the 74th percentile overall, and 94th percentile when there’s less than four seconds on the shot clock.
An elite defense felt like a big reach, but with 1/5th of the season completed, it looks like Kerr’s dream will be realized.
Honorable mention: James Wiseman
After playing just three games in his college career, Wiseman was seen as a high risk/ high reward draft pick. In a league that has seen a move away from big centers playing big, important minutes, there were plenty of concerns about the the wisdom of investing so much in a big man.
But, fit matters. The other top players were guards, and it doesn’t make a ton of sense to use your big asset to draft a bench player. So the Warriors snagged Wiseman at #2. Like Draymond Green, he missed all of training camp. And he’s had his share of rookie learning moments.
Still. Maybe it’s the power dunks, or the eurosteps while leading a fast break, but whatever it is, it feels like Wiseman has some of that magical “it” factor. At just 19-years old, there’s plenty of time before this kid’s legacy is cemented, but from the early returns, it’s clear that the potential for greatness is there.
I’ll be back tomorrow with the “not working portion.”
If you’ve been watching these games, you pretty much know what the areas of primary concern are. I teased it a little on Twitter, but we are going to try and put some candy coating on it to make that medicine go down smooth.