Listening to coach Steve Kerr’s answers on the subject, it was pretty clear that the reason Willie Cauley-Stein had such a death grip on the Golden State Warriors starting Center position is that he was the only player on the roster would could be considered a “legitimate big.”
Now, whether you agree with the philosophy or not, there’s clearly some wisdom in ensuring that you are fielding a balanced roster, right?
Like subbing in Anderson Varejao in the 2016 NBA Finals when Leandro Barbosa was causing havoc, Kerr has a history of getting stung when his desire to stay with a traditional solution has an opportunity cost of taking a more impactful player off the court.
Now finally, the team has made a trade that will force Kerr to do what he has been reluctant to do all season: embrace Nellie ball.
Without Cauley-Stein, Marquese Chriss becomes the “big man” on the roster. At just 6’9” though, this roster is going to be at an inherent disadvantage when it comes to facing the behemoths of the league - but it’s not as if Cauley-Stein was stemming much damage anyways.
As Anthony Slater wrote last week for The Athletic, the Warriors had been getting lit up recently by opposing bigs:
• Jonas Valanciunas put up an eye-popping 31 points and 19 rebounds against them last week.• Hassan Whiteside had 17 points, 21 rebounds and blocked just about everything in sight (six total) on Monday in Portland.• Rudy Gobert dominated his way to 17 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks in the first half on Wednesday, before cruising in the second half of the blowout, minimizing what could’ve been a mega stat line.
• Jonas Valanciunas put up an eye-popping 31 points and 19 rebounds against them last week.
• Hassan Whiteside had 17 points, 21 rebounds and blocked just about everything in sight (six total) on Monday in Portland.
• Rudy Gobert dominated his way to 17 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks in the first half on Wednesday, before cruising in the second half of the blowout, minimizing what could’ve been a mega stat line.
Before we move on though, I want to point out some of the things that Cauley-Stein was adept at. You’ll notice a theme here (defense):
He's fantastic at steals, it's a low total (1.1 per game), but his steal rate is in the 96th percentile for Centers
He's our best shot blocker, per 36. With Chriss a very close second.
He also features heavily in most of our top five man units, sorted by defensive rating
The Warriors only have TWO 5 man units that have played more than 35 minutes and have a net positive impact. WCS is in both of them
So the Warriors lost one of their defensive anchors, but at the time of writing, Golden State’s defensive efficiency was only ranked 25th in the league - so it’s not like we’ve tossed out the defining characteristic of this team anyways. As twitter user Krishna Narsu showed us the other day, the Warriors already have an identified wing player who can serve as the primary defender on our oppositions #1 offensive player.
In other words, sure, we may struggle against bigs, but most teams don’t heavily feature a Center in their offense anyways.
Krishna Narsu @knarsu3
January 25th 2020
So, what would a team without a true Center look like for these Warriors?
Well, for one, it should, theoretically, open up the offense - which is dead last in the NBA at time of writing: just 103.4 points per 100 possessions.
And even if it doesn’t, at least it will be fun to see!
First of all, I would strongly suggest bringing up Ky Bowman. Though he only has three days left on his two-way contract, the Warriors now have room to convert that to a full NBA deal.
January 26th 2020
As one Reddit user pointed out, D’Angelo Russell has the highest shooting percentage among players who take at least 9.5 threes per game:
Joining him, Glenn Robinson is shooting 39% from deep, which is the 69th percentile amongst all wing players (nice), as per Cleaning the Glass. And as we’ve pointed out previously, one of the players who will most directly benefit from the Cauley-Stein Trade, Omari Spellman is a 43% shooter from outside (though he tends to take significantly less attempts).
That’s an extremely tough to guard lineup. Mix in one other guy like Alec Burks, and you’ve got a squad that Don Nelson would be proud to run with.
The offense is struggling, the defense is struggling. There’s no good reason not to try something a little dramatic, especially given the personnel we have available.
It’s time to embrace Nellie ball, Mr. Kerr.