Warriors midseason report: Roster out of step with current NBA originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
SAN FRANCISCO – The superpowers of Stephen Curry and Draymond Green were for years enough for the Warriors to bully the NBA. With Curry demolishing defenses and Green wrecking offenses, the league was at their mercy.
Precisely halfway through their fourth championship defense in the last nine seasons, the Warriors are discovering those days are over. They are, as Klay Thompson is fond of saying, in the past like a ponytail.
Riding the same formula into battle against a league adjusting its strategies, the Warriors’ 20-21 record illustrates their difficulty navigating the new NBA. Coach Steve Kerr, his staff and the players are discovering that today’s league is a different beast. Their first 41 games have been a tour of humility.
The next 41 games, and any that come in the postseason, will determine whether the Warriors can decipher what they have yet to solve.
The source of their troubles is their roster, constructed differently than most others because Curry and Green are such unique talents.
Green’s versatility has allowed them to roll out a 6-foot-6 center and prosper at both ends. Curry’s offensive gravity has allowed the Warriors to stay with non-scorers Kevon Looney and Green and somehow thrive with a “three-out” system.
It’s Curry, Thompson and Andrew Wiggins on the perimeter, spacing the floor, leaving non-scorers Draymond and Loon on Throwback Island.
Which is at odds with the most obvious trend in basketball. Offenses, certainly those in the NBA, have in recent years made a hard shift toward four- and five-out systems — with four or five players capable of firing from distance.
And on the better teams, the non-shooters can finish at the rim. Neither Green nor Looney does that well. They’re terrific screeners with high intellect, and they know how to best unlock the shooters.
“It’s a shooter’s league, more than ever,” one Western Conference executive told NBC Sports Bay Area. “Teams are spreading the floor, stretching defenses, shooting 3s and piling up points. It’s hard to guard four shooters, and it’s a lot harder to guard five. Look the scoring. It’s up across the board.
“Golden State’s problem is that (its) best lineup has only three shooters. It’s four when (Jordan) Poole is on the floor, but that’s been hit and miss. Three shooters were enough before, probably because two of them were Steph and Klay. Now? It’s something you rarely see.”
The Celtics, who lead the Eastern Conference, play four or five. They deploy four out with center Robert Williams, whose defense offsets his lack of shooting range. When Al Horford replaces Williams, Boston has five shooters that demand defensive coverage.
Boston’s 117.1 offensive rating is tied for No. 1 in the NBA. The other team? Denver, which has been at or near the top of the Western Conference standings for a month and is looking like Golden State’s biggest challenge. The Warriors’ offensive rating this season? 112.3, good for 19th in the NBA.
The Nuggets are particularly scary because they can put center Nikola Jokić at the top of the arc, where he can shoot the 3 (37.5 percent on low volume) or carve a defense with his spectacular passing to four very capable shooters. Jokić leads the league offensive rating (123.1) and four teammates — Aaron Gordon, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., in order — join him in the top 10.
The NBA’s No. 3 offense, the Utah Jazz, routinely plays four out. Same with the No. 4 Kings and the No. 5 Brooklyn Nets, who have in Kevin Durant the league’s most offensively gifted stretch 4.
“Last year, the Warriors had veterans who seemed to know how to play in Kerr’s system,” an Eastern Conference scout said. “(Otto) Porter was good for them. I think they got lucky with [Gary Payton II] because I don’t think anybody saw him making such an impact. They had just enough to win it all.
“This team does not have the same chemistry or the same wisdom. Too many young guys. Very young. Their shooting is inconsistent and they’re not doing much else.”
The Warriors signed Porter 18 months ago to be their stretch 4. They had to manage his achy feet, but it worked. They signed JaMychal Green last summer, hoping for similar production, but he hasn’t delivered much and has been out since Dec. 18 with a non-COVID illness and infection.
The Warriors won 18 of their first 20 games last season and were 30-11 at midseason, having recorded two seven-game win streaks while losing consecutive games only twice and never losing three in a row.
This season? The Warriors have lost back-to-back games 10 times. Only once have they won more than three straight games.
“Last year felt different from the beginning, with the way we were built,” Kerr told NBC Sports Bay Area. “The edge that we had last year, starting the season, was a bigger chip on our shoulder because we hadn’t made the playoffs in two years. We got a great start.
“This year, things didn’t exactly go swimmingly in camp (overseas trip). It didn’t feel like we were ready to go physically, emotionally, or spiritually like we were last year – for a number of factors.”
The Warriors have been victims of season sweeps by the surprising Indiana Pacers, the lowly Orlando Magic and the lowlier Detroit Pistons. Golden State concluded the first half of the season with a blistering loss to a Phoenix Suns team missing four starters and its top two reserves.
While other teams were chasing long, rangy shooters in the draft, the Warriors chose to use their three recent lottery picks on a project center (James Wiseman), an electric athlete (Jonathan Kuminga) and a wing with two-way potential (Moses Moody). All three entered the NBA as teenagers with thin resumés.
“Bet the (Warriors) wish they would have taken Wagner,” the West executive said, referring to Franz Wagner of the Magic. “He’s 6-9, 6-10. You have to guard his 3. But he’s a high-IQ player who understands offense and really pass it. No doubt he’d be in their rotation.”
For the record, Wagner – who had some fans within the Chase Center offices – went No. 8 overall in 2021, right after Golden State chose Kuminga, who has the physique of a small forward but doesn’t shoot well enough to stretch the floor.
Rookie Patrick Baldwin Jr. shows promise as a youngster who might push the Warriors toward the rest of the league. A natural stretch 4 at 6-foot-10, he possesses the high basketball IQ that was the hallmark of Golden State’s greatest teams. He turned 20 in November and is not ready to make a consistent impact.
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So, the Warriors wade into the second half, beginning Friday at San Antonio, which is 14th place in the 15-team West. They have 28 days until the trade deadline, three months until the playoffs.
Until there is a move, and there almost certainly will be, these Warriors will carry on as they have for years, going only as far as Curry and Green can take them.