Losing Stephen Curry to injury robs the Golden State Warriors of the engine of their offense. He’s their most potent shooter and pick-and-roll ball-handler, and makes his teammates better like few others in the league.
But the Warriors should be able to play elite defense without him. One could even argue that the Warriors’ defensive ceiling is higher without Steph Curry. It’s difficult to gather much information about the Warriors’ defense this season because of injuries and unfocused play, but when Curry was out with an injury in December, the Warriors maintained the second best defense in the league for the month.
Without Curry, the Warriors can play with more size and length. The tradeoff is usually going to be a lack of shooting, and consequently, spacing issues on offense.
Many of the bench lineups the Warriors have used when Curry sits have been successful. They all include Shaun Livingston, two of the remaining three All-Stars, and a traditional center.
These big lineups are all quite spectacular defensively, providing length and athleticism in bunches, and hopefully have enough shooting and offensive playmaking to succeed. There’s enough of a sample size here to conclude they work. But what about when Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green are all on the floor, when it really counts?
There are a bunch of questions for Coach Steve Kerr to answer: will Quinn Cook continue his recent hot play once the stars return? He’s been the main offensive creator with all the All-Stars absent, but he was quite timid and a little invisible when he was playing with them before they got injured. If he can ride his wave of confidence and work well with the stars, he could be an important cog in the offense — he’s one of the players on the team who can shoot and create for others. He will likely be a defensive liability, but if he helps the offense out and is surrounded by good defenders, he can still be a major positive for the team.
The Warriors’ wing situation has become a lot more promising with Andre Iguodala’s recent resurgence. He finally looks healthy and spry, and is even hitting his shots at a decent rate now. I’m not worried about him in the playoffs. As for Nick Young and Patrick McCaw, neither looks suited for big playoff minutes: Young is the worst defender on the team, and McCaw is invisible offensively.
One interesting decision for Kerr is how he’ll deal with the centers with Steph absent. The Warriors are probably best off going big rather than small due to a lack of decent wings and guards, meaning Kevin Durant and Draymond Green will spend little time at the 5. Thus, there will plenty of minutes to go around.
David West is the best center on the team, a defensive stalwart and mid-range master. Zaza Pachulia is sufficient against big centers, and JaVale McGee injects energy, but it’s unlikely either can be positive players against great opponents. I’m more interested in what Kevon Looney and Jordan Bell bring to the table.
Bell has struggled with injuries lately, but he has the highest upside of any center on the roster because of his athleticism and shot-blocking ability. Earlier in the season, the frontcourt of Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Bell was monstrous defensively. But he lacks playoff experience and needs to regain his confidence after a few lost months.
Meanwhile, Kevon Looney has emerged as one of the Warriors’ best bench players, showing terrific defensive awareness and an improved offensive arsenal in recent games. He’s not a a spectacle like Bell, but his smarts make him likely the better option for the playoffs.
So the best lineup for the Warriors without Steph? It must include Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green. For the last of the five spots, Kerr should rely on a center rather than a wing. In a small sample size, the Warriors have done much better going super big.
Personally, I think the Warriors should go with Looney most often, but West or Bell would likely do just fine. This way, the Warriors could field one of the most terrifying defenses in the league.