The Golden State Warriors appear to be a super team with no Plan B.
Without two of their four all-stars, Golden State has seen its lack of depth exposed during a four-game losing slump — the longest such streak since Steve Kerr took over as head coach in 2014 — and now own a 12-7 record, good enough for the fifth seed in the Western Conference.
Golden State is temporarily without Stephen Curry, who was averaging 29.5 points per game before going down with an adductor injury in a 134-111 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Nov. 8, and Draymond Green, who leads the team in assists (7.2), rebounds (7.5) and steals (1.8) but has been sidelined the past three contests with a toe sprain.
It may seem like a minute problem for a team that has three rings in four years, but the results have shown that this isn’t the same Golden State team of years past. More importantly, this isn’t the same bench of years past.
This isn’t the first time Curry and Green have gone down with injuries, and the squad has relied on the likes of Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson in the past to pick up the slack. Coach Kerr can look to young guard Quinn Cook and forward Jonas Jerebko to fill the holes, while the other half of his juggernaut starting lineup absorbs Curry’s and Green’s stats.
But what happens when all the pieces are put together doesn’t make for the smooth final product Warriors fans have grown accustomed to?
The healthy all-stars have failed to deliver wins for Golden State, even with Durant averaging 28.3 points per game in the last three contests, compared to his 27.2 mark on the season. Thompson’s scoring has also jumped, from 21.6 to 24.6 points per game, but that hasn’t been enough to make up for the team’s lost offensive production.
Golden State’s historically reliable depth pieces — notably Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala — also seem like shells of the players they were in years past. Iguodala averaged 9.8 points per game coming off the bench in his 2014-15 Finals-MVP year, but this year he’s only contributing 4.8 per game. Cook, Jerebko, Damian Jones and Jordan Bell haven’t been able to put up strong offensive numbers, either, averaging a combined 6.1 points per game despite seeing decent minutes each night.
The Warriors’ offensive efficiency rating for the three-game period is the fourth-worst in the league at 96.4, while their 110.9 mark for the season trails only the Milwaukee Bucks. Their shooting percentage was 43 per cent during this period, well below their 49.2 per cent season mark.
Curry’s presence usually drives defences away from the rim and to the perimeter, which contributes to the usually high shooting percentage as the front court is fed high-quality looks under the basket. As Green is one of Golden State’s best rim scorers, this would explain the shot rate decrease.
The Warriors’ woes continue on the defensive side, as they’ve been outscored by 43 points in the past three games, including a 123-95 drubbing against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday. Starting lineups without Green and Curry surrender around 115 points per 100 possessions, while the team’s season average is 109.2.
The price of building a super team in a cap-regulated league is there isn’t always enough leeway to add good complementary pieces. Currently, the Warriors have five players taking up 82.7 per cent of their salary cap — Curry, Thompson, Durant, Green and Iguodala. The remainder of that space is divided between two players on rookie deals, five players on minimum salaries and DeMarcus Cousins‘ one-year contract at the tax-payer mid-level exception.
The concerning situation of the three-time champions raises attention to the importance of building well-rounded teams that go beyond the starting five. The league-leading Toronto Raptors have been a good example of that.
This season, Kawhi Leonard still hasn’t played back-to-back games with the Raptors and Kyle Lowry has been pulled early in games due to injury scares. Missing those all-stars gave way to strong outings by OG Anunoby, Fred VanVleet and recent Eastern Conference player-of-the-week Pascal Siakam.
Though struggling out of the gate this year, the Boston Celtics proved the importance of depth when they found themselves without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward in the playoffs last season. That forced coach Brad Stevens to turn to role players Terry Rozier, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart. The youngsters didn’t miss a beat, and carried the team to the Eastern Conference final. While their past success hasn’t been translated in wins yet this season, these players continue to contribute every night, even after the return of Hayward and Irving.
The Celtics and Raptors have a much more balanced salary situation than the Warriors. Toronto’s five best players take up just 72.2 per cent of their cap space. That kind of foresight may also pay dividends in the future as Danny Green will be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end and, given his contributions to the Raptors thus far, he may be looking for a raise to remain in Toronto.
Far more than just some throw-in in the Leonard trade, Green has become an important piece in the Raptors’ championship pursuit.
As a result, the team can afford to sit Leonard every other night without deeply compromising its court results.
A strongly built foundation of role players is just as important as a team’s superstars. Just two seasons removed from acquiring Durant, it looks like the Warriors are beginning to realize that at last.