Steph Curry is averaging over 29 points per game, the second-highest mark of his career. The stats are similar to his unanimous MVP season. It does not seem to matter – the Warriors are still floundering in ninth place in the Western Conference, barely making the play-in tournament in May.
With him playing, Golden State are 22-20, miraculously over a .500 team. Without him, they have gone 1-7, including a 53-point humiliation at the hands of the Toronto Raptors on Friday night.
Against the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday, with both Curry and Green in the starting line-up, they lost by six. That is no real surprise when Danilo Gallinari and Clint Capela are combining for 49 points and 28 rebounds – superstar numbers – against you. Gallinari was even playing through a sore left Achilles.
It’s often said the stats do not always tell the full story, but in that case, they describe a whole lot of it. The Warriors were +8 in the 37 minutes Steph was on the court, -14 in the 11 they spent without him.
Then there is the issue with fouling. Curry and Green had one between them. The rest of the team had 26 fouls, with 35 points given up by hacking shooters. Excuse it how you will: inexperience, bad officiating or both. You cannot win games playing in that manner, giving up easy points for nothing.
Steph by no means played the perfect game, with 37 points (he has scored 30+ in his last three appearances) coming at the cost of eight turnovers and 3-12 shooting from deep. Green stuffed the stat sheet in multiple categories, posting 11 points, 11 assists, seven rebounds and four steals, while also committing four turnovers himself.
Those giveaways are not surprising given the freewheeling offense Steve Kerr has pushed from day one in the Bay Area. Even less so when you consider who it is Curry and Green are trying to create looks for.
Kelly Oubre Jr is one of the most inconsistent wing players in the league, with shooting percentages that fluctuate wildly from one night to the next. Every time he plays he seems to knock a couple of million off any contract he hoped to achieve as a free agent once the season ends.
Refusing to entertain the idea of coming off the bench next year will not have made him any more of an enticing prospect to other teams around the league either, let alone the Warriors who would have to go into the luxury tax to keep him.
At this point, we can be certain Andrew Wiggins is never going to escape from the shadow of being the 2014 Draft’s number one overall pick. He is a 15 to 20-point per night scorer and not all that much else in this league.
Completely fine if he’s your sixth man or filling out the starting line-up, slightly troubling if he’s your third best player.
James Wiseman has just turned 20 years old and played only three college games for the University of Memphis.
He has shown extraordinary flashes of ability already this season and that is about all you can ask from such a raw prospect – even if going number two overall and an exhilarating debut against the Brooklyn Nets on opening night helped ramp up the expectations ahead of schedule (it is probably a good thing Wiggins is around to advise on that front).
It is no exaggeration to say the rest of the roster is filled with G-League level talent. Against the Hawks the Warriors bench combined for 19 points, compared to 55 points from Atlanta’s reserve unit. Lou Williams went 5-15 from the field and still almost matched their output on his own.
Which is all to say a couple of things. None of this is head coach Kerr’s doing, even as a misguided narrative is beginning to take hold that without a minimum of three superstars in his starting line-up he has no idea what he’s doing. Memories are short. Three titles in four years and a 73-win season in the other, the best in NBA history, speak for themselves. That Warriors dynasty were absurdly talented, it is true, but you do not achieve all that with talent alone.
Nobody was scared of Golden State under Mark Jackson. It took Kerr’s arrival and his implementation of a whirring, three-point heavy, motion offense to elevate Curry, Green, Thompson, (Harrison) Barnes, (Andre) Iguodala and (Shaun) Livingston into champions.
That, and the slightly unnecessary addition of Kevin Durant, it was always going to be easy to point to the talent already being there. As though Kerr was just some guy in a suit, watching greatness take shape of its own accord.
That being said, perhaps there is some level of naivety in Kerr coaching the same sets and patterns with a roster unequipped to meet its lofty demands. Curry is getting double-teamed every time he touches the ball. Green is anchoring a defense on his own. Neither Wiggins or Oubre have the ability to consistently create anything of their own off the dribble. Perhaps a touch more pragmatism is required.
Which finally brings me to Klay Thompson, the second Splash Brother, who should be out there gluing everything together. The guy who makes the game so much easier for everyone else. Stretching the floor beyond the realms of possibility alongside Curry, hounding opponents into submission out on the perimeter with Green. The perfect team-mate. In fact, almost the perfect player in the pace and space era.
You always had the sense that Thompson was so much more than his night-to-night stat line and unholy shooting percentages. Beyond Green’s bark and bite and Curry’s joie de vivre (slowly draining every time he is swamped by four defenders at half-court), it was Thompson’s complete calm and quiet cool that always seemed to set the tone, even during the tough times, however few and far between they used to be.
A great team does not always take on the personality of its best, or even loudest player. Sometimes it just so happens to be the zen dude with a goatee and the sweetest shooting stroke in the league that is the most crucial aspect, taking the edge off of everything else. The fact that he could bomb an opponent out of a game in the space of a quarter on any given night probably helped, too.
Neither Wiggins and Oubre are bad players in a vacuum. But they are not Klay – one of the most devastating shooters in NBA history, a beloved team-mate and serial winner. Without him, the Warriors have lost a little too much of themselves, that effortless combination of size, spacing, shooting and switching that made them tick.
The losses are hitting harder and harder as they stack up. Green can be too emotional for his own good. Curry seems to take each defeat as a personal failing on his part, even if his box score reads 40 points. Basketball fans are all longing for him to return to the court but it’s clear who misses Klay most of all: Steph and Draymond, looking up, and seeing the space where the safest pair of hands in the world used to be.