There are five positions in basketball, but only one of them actually describes what the player at that position is supposed to do.
A small forward isn’t small, and a power forward’s game is rarely ever predicated on power. A point guard points, sure, but only in the literal sense; it isn’t a defining characteristic of the position. And a center is hardly descriptive at all.
But a shooting guard? Well, that one’s easy. A shooting guard shoots. It’s right there in the name.
You’ll notice, however, that the term doesn’t specify the efficacy of said shooting, and that crafty little loophole was on display in Salt Lake City on Wednesday night, when a pair of high-profile shooting guards offered up microcosms of their seasons.
Klay Thompson, off to his slowest start since achieving stardom, shot 3-12, and bricked all four of his shots from beyond the arc, en route to 12 points on 15 shooting possessions. Donovan Mitchell, who has regressed mightily following his dynamic rookie campaign, went 5-26, and 2-11 from distance, needing 29 shooting possessions to net 17 points.
If you weren’t invested in the outcome for the Golden State Warriors or the Utah Jazz (Utah won 108-103, for what it’s worth), that was the story: Shooting guards who could shoot, but only in the strictest sense of the word.
Thompson and Mitchell weren’t merely offering up microcosms of their own seasons, but the seasons of their respective teams as well. Neither Utah nor Golden State have lived up to their lofty preseason expectations, and that was depicted on Wednesday, when the design of the court was more aesthetically pleasing than anything that occurred on it.
Perhaps that was more a sign of inspired defense than lackluster offense - Utah has all the makings of an elite defensive team, the Warriors certainly are one when inspired, and the game featured arguably the league’s two strongest defensive players - but the feckless offense still drives the narrative.
Golden State’s offensive rating in the game was 99.1, which is lower than any team’s season average. Yes, in a game where the Dubs were healthy, and where Steph Curry dropped in 32 points on just 22 shooting possessions, the Warriors managed to score with more impotence than the Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks, or any other lifeless team.
They performed on that end of the court with an enervation befitting a team on the second leg of a back-to-back, or weary from a long road trip; and they were neither of those things.
Low energy, low efficiency, low effort, low output
It wasn’t the world class offensive performance we’re accustomed to, and while Rudy Gobert, Ricky Rubio, and the rest of Utah’s stellar defensive shield deserves a lot of credit, there are myriad fingers to point in Golden State’s direction.
The ball didn’t hop around the perimeter with any enthusiasm, and the team mustered a paltry 18 assists. Curry, usually the offensive instigator, had only three dimes. Kevin Durant, who has shown great improvement in that region as of late, had only two. And the team’s top passer, Draymond Green, accounted for only one.
For much of the game, the ball was stuck. It was passed out of habit, not out of purpose. It rarely succeed, or even attempted to permeate the defense and seek out the efficient spots on the floor.
It was uninspired and unenthusiastic, and ultimately unsuccessful. And it led to shooting nights that were well below expectations. Not only was Thompson 4-12 and 0-4 from deep, but Durant was 10-23, and 2-7 from three-point range. Small sample? Sure, but it’s a season-long trend, due to the team simply not generating the looks found in prior years.
Warriors got some main cogs shooting career lows from 3. Steve Kerr says “it’s not surprising,” blames lack of ball movement. pic.twitter.com/iUtsbBf1rE— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) December 20, 2018
Steph is still Steph
On a night where the Dubs looked both helpless and hapless, there was still the brilliance of Steph Curry. It wasn’t the all-around game he likely would have liked (though his defense was strong all game), but he kept the team around with his shooting, his energy, and his scoring outbursts.
Take away Curry’s contributions, and the team shot 26-74 from the field, and 5-22 from three-point range.
So if you’re looking for silver linings, it could have been a lot worse.