The Warriors have now lost four games in a row, and the sentiment is fast approaching Chicken Little levels. Various talking heads and pundits have had their say — the Kevin Durant/Draymond Green feud, the absence of Stephen Curry, the failure of the coaching staff to adjust, and the three-point shooting struggles of Durant and Klay Thompson have all been blamed for the Warriors’ uncharacteristic slump.
There is no question that the Warriors are hurting without Curry and Green. It’s a talking point that has nearly reached “beating a dead horse” levels. The motion offense of the Warriors is clearly not the same without Curry’s gravity and Green’s playmaking — it’s as simple as that. Describing it for those who prefer to process this development through visual culinary imagination, the Warriors’ offense with Curry and Green is an Animal Style burger from In-N-Out; the Warriors’ offense without Curry and Green is a Wendy’s cheeseburger.
Against the Oklahoma City Thunder, offensive stagnation reared its ugly head once again. The Warriors’ offensive rating continued to take a dive — 93.1 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com. For reference, here are their offensive efficiency numbers during the seven games Curry has sat out:
vs. Brooklyn – 124.7
vs. LA Clippers – 103.6
vs. Atlanta – 107.8
vs. Houston – 98.9
vs. Dallas – 107.9
vs. San Antonio – 94.8
vs. Oklahoma City – 93.1
With the exception of their game against the Nets, the Warriors have posted offensive efficiency numbers well below their usual rating of 116.3. While a cause of their problems in offense is great defense being played by their opponents, one can’t help but think that opposing defenses’ jobs are made much easier with no Curry and Green on the floor.
Durant and Thompson do it all by themselves
Take a look at this possession, where Thompson is forced to dribble and isolate for a mid-range miss. The spacing is terrible, with Durant and Cook both occupying the left side. The other two Warriors on the floor — Andre Iguodala and Damian Jones — are non-shooting threats:
It is easy to see how Thompson would easily make this type of shot if the attention wasn’t focused solely on him. But since he is the only perimeter scoring threat besides Durant, opponents are defending him differently off of screens and curling actions. They put a more exerted effort on staying on his hip, running him off the line and forcing him to put up mid-range jumpers or to drive toward the basket.
While Thompson has gone a long way in improving his handle, he is still at his deadliest when he minimizes his dribbling and maximizes his catch-and-shoot opportunities. In the following two possessions, he makes a mid-range jumper and a three-point shot without putting down the ball even once.
While Durant has been forced into a lot of one-on-one isolations lately, he seems to be at his best when he is being aggressive and driving toward the basket, or off of pick-and-rolls where he takes advantage of drop coverages and rises up for the jumper. At his size and length, Durant should take advantage of his ability to score and potentially draw fouls.
At times, Durant tries to play within the system by acting as a playmaker. By all means, Durant is an excellent passer, but against a defense that wants Durant to give up the ball, it plays right into the Thunder’s hands. With multiple lengthy defenders such as Paul George and Steven Adams, passing the ball against the Thunder is like trying to fly a plane through a redwood forest.
Meanwhile, the isolation post-ups continued for Durant, especially with Thompson resting on the bench. Meaningless off-ball movement served as mere distractions that the Thunder defense didn’t bite on, and once these actions ceased, the ball-watching began once more. As usual, the spacing was terrible, with three players packing the left side like a bunch of sardines in a can.
Even with Thompson on the floor, the Warriors find it difficult to get him open while moving off the ball. With Durant on the elbow — and having one of the best perimeter defenders in the league on him — the Thunder have no problem trying to limit Thompson and the supporting cast. As a result, Durant is forced to take matters into his own hands, but an excellent defensive effort from George makes Durant miss badly.
And once again, like a broken record, the Warriors depend on another Durant isolation post-up. The recurring theme of atrocious spacing is present, and Durant forces a tough shot against another excellent defensive effort by George. Stagnation galore.
Strength in Numbers, or Weakness in Support?
With the supporting cast providing little to no assistance against the Thunder, the Warriors’ motto of Strength in Numbers became a toothless declaration, with a meaning that weighs as much as a bird’s feather. With nothing to energize the team, they are playing at what seems like a lethargic pace — and the numbers support it. During their seven games without Curry, the Warriors have played at a pace of 97.5, per NBA.com, which would place them at 28th in the league, just ahead of the Houston Rockets and the Memphis Grizzlies.
The injuries to Curry and Green have also had profound effects on the rotation that the Warriors have had to send out. With a healthy team, the Warriors could afford to have two of their All-Stars on the floor at a time. But being relegated to having two All-Stars has forced the Warriors to stagger their minutes.
During the times where there is only one of either Durant or Thompson on the floor, the Warriors surely miss the presence of former Warriors such as David West and JaVale McGee. The contributions of a grizzled veteran such as West weren’t necessarily flashy or eye-catching, but they provided much-needed stability and versatility. His ability to come off of picks and pop out for mid-range jumpers during scoring droughts was key to keeping the Warriors afloat, while his ability to pass out of the post was a staple of the Warriors’ free-flowing motion offense.
On the other hand, the presence of JaVale McGee on the floor provided quick bursts of energy in the form of a board crasher, a rim protector, and a constant and dangerous lob threat. While his minutes on the floor weren’t significant, he made the most out of what was given him, and more often than not, it was enough to keep the engine alive and strong.
The reality of the situation is that the Warriors don’t have a West or a McGee any more. The departure of such key bench pieces made the necessity of developing young roster players such as Kevon Looney, Damian Jones, and Jordan Bell all the more important.
While Looney played decently against the Thunder, Jones was thrown into the proverbial meat grinder against his much more experienced and accomplished counterpart in Steven Adams. In 21 minutes of play, Jones hauled down a grand total of zero rebounds, which put him at an equal amount of rebounds as the crowd in attendance at Oracle Arena as well as the TV-watching audience.
Digging deeper into the hustle stats, it seemed like it was a matter of effort — or lack thereof — that contributed to Jones’ abysmal rebounding numbers.
Jones only had 5 box out attempts, compared to Looney’s 15. Without context, it would seem like Looney was the one who started over Jones. Adams was bound to have a good rebounding night no matter what, but the statistics seem to support the fact that Looney — despite being smaller than Jones — was better suited to match up against Adams.
While Jones’ difficulty against Adams was a notable story in and of itself, it was but a symptom of a larger problem. Strength in Numbers is a concept that has been proven successful in the past; players such as West, McGee, Zaza Pachulia, Leandro Barbosa, and Marreese Speights have served as pieces of evidence to that claim. But now that the Warriors have a young center rotation — as well as the usual one-two bench punch of Iguodala and Shaun Livingston aging and showing signs of slowing down — the absence of game changing talents such as Curry and Green is all the more pronounced.
It isn’t ideal to have Durant and Thompson be stuck in the mud of stagnation. But with how the roster is built right now — and with the system in place being adhered to amid calls of adjustments and change — the Warriors may have no choice but to stick with what they have.
Curry is returning soon, so that may turn out to be the correct call in the long run.
Nineteen down, 63 more to go.
Stay Golden, Dub Nation.