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Do the Golden State Warriors need to add another player?

What we have learned about the Warriors ‘Strength in Numbers’ after a month of injuries, plus a bonus Bell.

Denver Nuggets v Golden State Warriors
Be afraid. Very afraid.
Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Last week I looked at the rumors that the Golden State Warriors were considering a move to balance out their roster.

But perhaps the better question is whether they actually need another player?

As we’ve all seen the depth of this incredible team has been tested and proven in recent weeks.

First, Kevin Durant missed four out of five games in late November with an ankle injury, then Steph Curry was out for almost all of December.

This recent stretch has helped to shine a light on who definitely needs to be on the court, and where the Warriors might need some help.

Let’s go through what we’ve seen from the last few weeks.

Front court depth

Several players have really risen to the challenge. In particular, Omri Casspi has proven himself to be very reliable, and someone coach Steve Kerr can trust to provide level-headed play.

His perpetual motion is something to behold, always cutting and moving to create passing angles for teammates and layups for himself. This makes him a great complementary piece whoever else is on the floor.

Meanwhile, Jordan Bell has really cemented himself as one of the team’s top bigs.

Any time he steps on the floor he’s been active - blocking shots, grabbing rebounds, dunking hard. But he’s also shown off his passing ability, and even hit a few short jumpers.

He’s done so well that Zach Lowe included him in his recent 10 things I like and don’t like column

Bell brings a speed and switchability on defense no one else in Golden State's misfit crew of centers can approach. He fits on offense as another cagey ball-mover.

Bell’s emergence has sorted out the logjam up front, and has likely encouraged the front office to look at moving one of Javale McGee or Kevon Looney.

Somebody shoot!

There’s still a bit of a juggling act when all the pieces are ready. The biggest challenge remains the back court depth. Inconsistent minutes and an unclear role have not agreed with Pat McCaw, though he has shown some signs recently.

Nick Young though looks like he can step in whenever and fire away. This matters because the Warriors have struggled a bit with lineups containing too many players reluctant to shoot.

Put Andre Iguodala’s 23.3% from three, and general hesitation to shoot, alongside Draymond Green and Shaun Livingston, and that’s three players defenders can help off.

One drawback with Casspi is that even though he can shoot, he really, really loves to cut, which means he sometimes doesn’t quite add the spacing the Warriors perhaps originally envisaged.

So the Warriors need some guys on the floor who will shoot the damn ball. This is something Young has never had a problem with, so while Kerr will undoubtedly juggle things to get McCaw his minutes, we can expect to see plenty of Swaggy threes.

Who’s the back-up point guard?

Alongside the need for a shooter, the Warriors don’t really have a back-up point guard. Livingston has traditionally manned this spot but plays more like a play-making wing.

McCaw, when he’s aggressive, fits that role rather better than a traditional point guard - moving the ball, slashing to the basket and taking open threes.

McCaw needs to up his 3-point percentage from his Iguodala-like 30.6%, but the key thing for now is taking them to get into some sort of rhythm.

Of course the way the Warriors play means they don’t really need a traditional point guard. They like to put multiple players on the floor who can handle the ball and make plays for others.

Whether it’s Green, Bell, Zaza Pachulia, or David West, there’s nearly always a big on the floor who’s a crafty passer. And of course Iguodala, Livingston and McCaw are that sort of play-making wing.

That’s not to mention Durant, who can do everything on the floor and has hovered around five assists a game for over five seasons now.

But without Curry, the Warriors have struggled a bit offensively. That’s completely understandable and normal given he is one of the greatest offensive forces the game has ever seen.

Specifically though, things that Curry does other than rain down three pointers from the clouds include pushing the pace, breaking down the defense and getting into the paint. The Warriors miss all of that when he’s not there.

The Warriors may well have an answer to this question in Quinn Cook, their two-way player.

He’s done pretty well with the main squad, averaging 3.2 points, 1.6 assists in just over ten minutes per game, shooting 44.8% from the field and 35.7% from three.

Cook’s proven in the G-League that he can play that role. It may well be that he ends up taking any spot opened up.

But the front office will likely be on the lookout for any veterans who shake free around the trade deadline who can add some shooting and playmaking to the roster.

Playing without Curry

The Warriors have traditionally struggled quite a bit when playing without Curry. Last season they tried out a range of approaches, including splitting Curry and Durant.

In the end, they settled on keeping those two together and try to tread water with lineups that played at a slower pace, but were effective defensively.

Last year, the back-up lineup with Livingston, Thompson, Iguodala, Green, and West was respectable, with a net rating of +11.7, but the pace was a glacial 93.73 possessions per game. So for the playoffs Livingston was replaced by Ian Clark to provide more shooting.

This year, however that lineup has been much more effective, with a net rating of +28. The offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions) in particular has shot up from 102.1 to 110.8 and the pace has quickened a little to 96.1.

The superb season West is having is undoubtedly a part of this, but also Thompson’s better overall play is helping.

But have the last few weeks of Durant-centered lineups opened up some options again? After all, the Warriors managed to go 9-2 without Curry.

The sample sizes are pretty small but the two most used non-Curry lineups (that aren’t just the starters with Livingston in Curry’s place) are:

  • McCaw, Thompson, Durant, Green, Bell. This group has played 52 minutes over five games and put up an offensive rating of 99.4, a defensive rating of 93.9 (points allowed per 100 possessions), for an overall net rating of +5.5, at a slightly quicker non-Curry pace of 99.13.
  • Livingston, Thompson, Iguodala, Durant, West (aka the ‘long ball’ lineup). They’ve played 44 minutes over seven games and put up an offensive rating of 108.5, a defensive rating of 97.7, for an overall net rating of +10.8, at a pace of 95.59.

Neither of these lineups have been as effective as the two main lineups - the usual starting five with Curry and Durant together (for reference they’re currently putting up a net rating 21.1, at a 104.7 pace), and the slower, defensive minded second unit lineup.

But they’re both more effective than the brutal figures put up by these alternative second units with Young or McCaw in place of Livingston:

  • Young, Thompson, Iguodala, Green, West. This group has played 41 minutes over nine games and put up an offensive rating of 88.7, a defensive rating of 102, for an overall net rating of -13.3.
  • McCaw, Thompson, Iguodala, Green, West (aka ‘somebody shoot’ lineup). This group has played 27 minutes over five games and stank it up with an offensive rating of 85.4 and a defensive rating of 120.3, combining for an eye-gougingly bad net rating of -34.9.

Yeesh. Perhaps it should be called the ‘somebody shoot me’ lineup. Maybe the simple answer to the question of who’s the back-up point guard is simply Shaun Livingston. Anything else right now looks downright ugly. But it shows where the gap is, if there is one.

Given the stats don’t expect to see more Curry-Durant staggering straight away, but it’s undoubtedly helpful that the Warriors have had a good stretch to try out more Durant-centric lineups.

A sidebar on the Hamptons Five

The so-called ‘Hamptons Five’ lineup of Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Durant, Green — that the Warriors use to speed up the game even more — has really struggled this year.

It’s the second-most used lineup of the year so far behind the usual starting five, but has a net rating of -8.6.

The offensive rating has dropped from 122.4 last year to 108.1 this year, which can’t be helped by Iguodala’s shooting struggles mucking up the spacing.

The bigger challenge though is that the defensive rating is a legitimately bad 116.7. For context, the Sacramento Kings are currently last in defensive rating, giving up 110 points per 100 possessions.

I refuse to believe that a lineup with so many great defenders will be worse than the Kings when the playoffs roll around. It’s much more likely that playoff Green and Iguodala ramp things up and it ends up being as deadly as ever when it matters.

The frontcourt of the future

What everyone is really waiting for, though, is what may well turn out to be the nuclear button of a Durant-Green-Bell frontcourt. The mobility, shot blocking, and trash talking potential is genuinely scary.

Kerr’s used this sparingly so far, and they’ve not had much time at all with Curry, but in their limited minutes together they’ve terrorized opponents.

In 90 minutes over ten games with those three on the floor the Warriors have a 111.2 offensive rating, a 84.4 defensive rating, for a total net rating of +26.8.

It’s a really small sample size, and you have to bear in mind that one of the best lineups last year was the starters with a similarly athletic big man in McGee.

But Bell already looks like he has so many more tools in the box. His basketball IQ, switchability and play-making on offense should stand him in good stead.

I can’t wait to see those numbers once Curry’s in the mix and the pace picks up.

Bonus Bell

It’s a long way off but the Warriors may be helped a bit when it comes to keeping that frontcourt together by Bell being a second round pick.

Although he’ll be due for a payday in two years (2019-20 season) rather than after the four years a first round pick gets, he’ll be a restricted free agent limited by the Arenas provision.

I went into some detail on this earlier in the year related to Pat McCaw’s contract situation, and it’s worth checking this post out if you want more detailed information, but the basics are:

  • the Warriors can offer Bell up to the league average salary starting around $8m per year for four years
  • other teams can offer a ‘poison pill’ contract where the first two years are limited to the league average salary, and then the last two years jump to the maximum salary for a player with two years service
  • but the Warriors can match that and even it out to around $16-17m per year (depending on where the cap sits)
  • the team offering a poison pill contract has to have enough space under their cap to afford the average salary of the full contract in the first year (ie the $16-17m), rather than the lower amount (the lower amount of the league average salary)

It’s pricey in a year where decisions will need to be made, but if he develops into the starting center it looks like he might, even the larger figure would likely be good value.

Decisions may well be made a little easier with McCaw currently lowering his value too.

So what have we learned?

The Warriors are well set up in the frontcourt (hopefully for years to come), and have found a nice utility piece in Casspi.

They’ve got some more time with, and data on, non-Curry lineups and solidified their best rotations.

But they could potentially use another shooting, playmaking guard to bolster the second unit.

So it’s worth keeping an eye out for players who fit that bill who may come onto the buyout market in the next couple of months.

All line-up stats courtesy of

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