As the calendar approaches April, many longtime fans of Northern California basketball are sadly all too familiar with one of the NBA’s greatest traditions: the annual NBA tankathon.
Veterans are rested with suspiciously imaginative maladies, and the stage is turned over to young players trying to figure out their role in the NBA and fringe players trying to get their next contract. Late March and early April is all about evaluating talent, developing players, and yes those ping pong balls.
This year the NBA has decided to do something about it. From next season the lottery odds have been tweaked in an effort to make blatant losing a little less obvious. But as with all tweaks there are unintended consequences. Basketball fans of nine franchises are now engaged in one of the most epic tanking battles of all time.
While Golden State Warriors fans are anxiously awaiting the outcome of one of the tightest battles for the playoffs in recent years, with just five losses separating 3-10 in the Western Conference, every win for Sacramento Kings fans has a sting in the tail.
Tonight felt like a classic tanking battle between two short-handed franchises. True the Warriors were without many of their key players due to an increasingly concerning injury list, and can only tank their way to the 28th pick at best. And of course, their evaluation is really about the playoffs right now.
But what other possible reason is there to get up at 4am on St Patrick’s day to watch a starting lineup of Quinn Cook, Nick Young, Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green, and Zaza Pachulia take on the lowly Sacramento Kings?
So let’s delve into some potential takeaways.
Quinn Cook is a keeper
Bereft of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant, who the hell was going to score the ball tonight? Well the Warriors opened red-hot and Quinn Cook was at the center of it all. He was nailing threes all over the place, hitting mid-range shots, and getting some nice buckets off cuts.
Cook finished with a career high 25 points on a blistering 10-for-13 shooting, four assists, three rebounds, three steals, and several occasions of me wondering whether Fitz was going to break out the old ‘human torch’ metaphor...
In fact it was all very reminiscent of one Ian Clark. He worked his way up from summer league, bounced around a couple of franchises, made full use of the then D-League, before sticking with the Warriors and developing into a valuable role player in last year’s title-winning squad.
Quinn Cook looks to have the same potential. As it stands his two-way contract means that he won’t be eligible for the playoff roster. But really, that needs to change. The Warriors lack shooting and competent guard play. Tonight he proved that he can play in the NBA.
This may have been Omri Casspi’s last Warriors outing
Omri Casspi has had a weird year. Signed to provide competent shooting off the bench, he has steadfastly refused to hoist them up. Instead he has shown off a very impressive cutting game. However on a team with few shooters the floor spacing is too often thrown off.
Casspi was a valuable player early in the season, particularly when Durant was out. He brought movement to the offense and is by all accounts a great team-mate off the court. But then he succumbed to injury and hasn’t quite been the same. The need to create a playoff roster spot for Cook already has him looking precarious.
Tonight things went from bad to worse for Casspi as he sadly sprained his ankle.
Just saw Casspi’s ankle: it’s visibly swollen even with a sock on— Marcus Thompson (@ThompsonScribe) March 17, 2018
By the time he comes back it may be too late to regain a spot in the rotation. And given the Warriors need for bench shooting, Casspi looks like he may be the odd man out.
Kevon Looney may get more playoff minutes than Jordan Bell
In truth, this would be a good move. Jordan Bell is an athletic, rim-running, shot-blocking monster. But he’s young, inexperienced, and far too jumpy. No doubt he will get playoff minutes, and has all the tools to contribute for the Warriors long into the future, but right now Looney looks more trustworthy.
True he may not be as jumpy because he can’t actually jump very high. But against Houston that’s a real quality. In the Warriors one win there this season, Looney was big. His tremendous length, switching ability, and basketball intelligence means Kerr can trust him.
Tonight he had some fantastic plays defensively and was solid in his contributions all over the floor.
Crucially, he played within himself. Bell was not bad, and is still working his way back from his injured ankles, but also had a couple of Draymond Green-esque turnovers in the second quarter that saw him momentarily yanked out of the game.
Who can be trusted in crunch time?
Fingers crossed we won’t see any crunch time in the playoffs without Curry or Durant. But tonight we got a glimpse of that life. Like the previous loss to the Kings without Curry and Durant, the Warriors came up short when it really counted. It was potentially instructive on who can be trusted in a pinch.
It all started so well. First Iguodala pinched the ball in a move reminiscent of his game winning steal against Atlanta a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately Cook was unable to convert the layup, which led to some top quality Twitter shade from the Kings account.
This is probably in the top 2 all-time for chase down blocks at Oracle tbh pic.twitter.com/Jy7gZJ8bqv— Sacramento Kings (@SacramentoKings) March 17, 2018
Then Green swiped away another steal that led to Young getting an and-one on the fast break.
Draymond. Defense. Really. Really. Good. (watch how he directs Quinn to get back to Fox so he can take Skal...) pic.twitter.com/j8MSldMJPf— Drew Shiller (@DrewShiller) March 17, 2018
Cook then scored off an Ian Clark special. Off the ball, he made a sharp backdoor cut to the hoop and thanks to a great pass from Green up top, converted the layup.
Then it all went wrong. A Young airball followed, while Kings rookie De’Aaron Fox nailed a couple of jumpers to take the lead. In between Young got himself called for an offensive foul.
And then! Draymond Green nailed a massive three pointer to tie it up. The Warriors were still in this.
Draymond with the BIG #SPLASH! Tied at 93 with 40 seconds to go..— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) March 17, 2018
Some great defense forced the ball out of Fox’s hands to Buddy Hield, but Young was caught trailing on the play and fouled his man, putting him at the line. Hield split the free throws, putting the Kings up one with 27 second left. The Warriors were in a good position to take the game.
And then! With thirteen seconds left on the shot-clock, down one, Green inexplicably hoisted up a contested long range three. True he had just nailed one, but this was the bad kind of March Madness.
When the NCAA Tournament got you a little too hyped up... pic.twitter.com/h2R3aFehCv— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) March 17, 2018
The ball clanged off the rim, the Kings secured the rebound, Hield hit the free throws, and the Warriors were down three. One more shot to tie.
And there it was. Young open at the top of the key. He let it fly and... it was blocked.
Short-handed as the Warriors were, they could and should have won this game. Green made a really bad decision that cost them, but his stellar play to that point perhaps exonerates him somewhat. Let’s hope it’s a learning moment for him.
Quite agree, Saint Patrick.
The roster balance is not ideal
Nick Young on the other hand could not provide the clutch shooting needed. He may yet come up big in the playoffs, but to date he has not lived up to the billing. With the Warriors over the cap, the taxpayer Mid-Level Exception is the only tool they have, other than low draft picks, to improve the roster. They need consistent performers for that money. Young’s had his moments, but they’ve been few and far between.
Overall though, it was a surprisingly exciting game, and it was great to see Quinn Cook gaining confidence. With the roster imbalanced between guards and forwards, with eight frontcourt players on the roster competing for minutes at two spots, any production from Cook is a real boon. Patrick McCaw remains out and has had a difficult year and that’s it beyond Shaun Livingston.
That roster imbalance is going to hurt a little over the next couple of weeks. Tonight we saw Looney and Green playing the three at times, which is not ideal. But we’ll likely see more of that to avoid running up the minutes and wearing out Iguodala and Livingston.
Embrace the tankathon
It is what it is for now though. All the Warriors can do is play this out, and hope for no more bad news on the injury front. At the very least the young guys will get some run, and there’ll be a few more data points to study when working what to do with the rotation for next season, which in the Warriors’ case is the playoffs.
True they won’t get the ping pong balls, but I think every long-time Warriors fan would trade those in for a decent shot at a championship.
So #DubNation, as the short-handed Warriors play a schedule littered with teams desperate to lose, I share with you my tactic to keep sane over the next few weeks: embrace our old friend, the tankathon.
It’s that or a more traditional St Patrick’s day ritual. Here’s something to get you started.
Who was the Warrior Wonder against the Kings?
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