If history has taught us one truth, one constant in this league that is chock-full of variance, it is that no matter how strong or seemingly invincible one team is, the inevitability of circumstance will allow the league to self-correct itself towards a state of balance.
For five years, the Golden State Warriors and their core of four All-Stars and future Hall-of-Famers paved a path of destruction, much to the glee of Dub Nation but to the consternation of everyone else in the NBA.
But after the Warriors’ loss to the Toronto Raptors in last season’s NBA Finals, that invisible force that lends its hand in balancing the NBA towards parity got to work. In one fell swoop, the Warriors lost Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, and Klay Thompson. At the same time, their rivals in an already strong Western Conference became even stronger: The Utah Jazz added Mike Conley; the Houston Rockets acquired Russell Westbrook; the Los Angeles Lakers added Anthony Davis; and the Los Angeles Clippers swindled the entire league by acquiring not one, but two elite MVP-caliber players in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
While George remains sidelined with a shoulder injury, Leonard and the rest of the Clippers, who retained most of their 8th-seed core from last season, came to Chase Center and spoiled the christening of the Warriors’ new home. As expected, a team full of youth and inexperience displayed glaring flaws on both ends of the floor, flaws that gave way to a 141-122 thrashing by the Clippers. In a sense, this kind of experience was to be expected, given that the Clippers are the clear championship favorites, much like the Warriors have been the previous five years. But it does not make this performance any less bleak and discouraging for Warriors stakeholders everywhere.
Let’s dive into this analysis. But a bit of a warning though — it will paint an ugly picture.
The Warriors’ offensive efficiency
Let’s rewind back to the last five years. The Warriors offense was the cream of the crop, the golden standard of the NBA. Stephen Curry was the poster boy and central figure of the offense, and rightfully so. But as Steve Kerr once mentioned, playmaking and basketball IQ are two of the qualities that defined who the Warriors were offensively. It was shown in the personnel they had at the time: Iguodala, Livingston, Durant, and Draymond Green, all of which possessed those two qualities in spades.
Such playmaking and basketball IQ — combined with all-time offensive juggernauts such as Curry, Durant, and Thompson — made the Warriors into the most efficient offense in the history of the NBA.
With the aforementioned loss of those four crucial pieces, the Warriors now had less personnel who were capable of making good decisions on the floor. They were replaced with an abundance of youth who had yet to develop a consistent feel for the game. Veteran leadership and wisdom were transformed into rookie mistakes. And while the offense will still have its moments — thanks mostly to Curry, D’Angelo Russell, and Green — it might take a noticeable hit in terms of efficiency.
Which brings us to the first notable stat of the night: 115.7, the Warriors’ offensive rating against the Clippers last night.
You might be thinking that this is a pretty good number, matching their 115.0 offensive rating that led the league last season. But we must take into account the 4th quarter garbage time, when the Clippers started the last period with a commanding 24-point lead and could afford to be a bit lax with their defense.
It was a far different story going into halftime. The Warriors were fortunate to be down by only 11 points, but their efficiency on the offensive end left much to be desired, to put it mildly.
Warriors 1st half:— Joe Viray (@JoeViray90) October 25, 2019
Offensive rating: 101.6
Defensive rating: 122.3
(As for that defensive rating at the half ... we’ll go back to that in a bit.)
As expected, Curry led the team in scoring with 23 points, but contributed 8 of the Warriors’ 13 turnovers, a testament to how the Clippers’ perimeter defense made life difficult for the two-time MVP.
While Curry’s most glaring weakness has perhaps been his occasional tendency to be careless with the ball in his hands, it might have been magnified by the necessity of him handling the ball for the majority of the time. During last season, Curry led the team in usage rate (29.2 percent), but not by much — Durant was right behind him at 28.3 percent. For this game, Curry’s usage rate was much higher at 38.9 percent. Yes, a higher usage will afford more opportunities for Curry to create and make plays, but it will also allow more chances for him to turn the ball over, especially against a top defensive team such as the Clippers. It would probably be prudent for Curry — as well as those who surround him on the floor — to take this into account and correct it before it becomes an egregiously regular occurrence.
D’Angelo Russell had his 20 points on a 6-of-16 clip. Despite the inefficient shooting line, Russell’s bread and butter came from his shooting from beyond the arc (4-of-8). In fact, if it wasn’t for Russell’s personal 10-0 run to open the scoring floodgates for the Warriors, the game was in danger of becoming a bloodletting exercise for the Clippers as early as the 1st quarter.
Another positive development on offense for the Warriors was the emergence of Jacob Evans, who scored 14 points off the bench on 5-of-9 shooting from the field, with a 4-of-6 clip from beyond the arc. Evans’ improved shooting stroke was extremely evident, and it will definitely translate into him being an important second-unit presence to support Russell and Green.
Jacob Evans: Four made 3s tonight. He hit four his entire rookie year. May be the only sliver of positivity the Warriors are leaving the arena with tonight.— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) October 25, 2019
As for moving the ball around and creating shots for each other, the Warriors weren’t far off from their league-leading 29.4 assists per game last season. They were able to garner 27 assists with only 13 turnovers (8 of which, as mentioned, were solely from Curry).
But of course, this must all be taken with a grain of salt, due to small sample sizes and — emphasizing once again — the 4th quarter garbage time where the game was at hand and the Clippers’ defense could afford to cruise and be lax.
There are a slew of other problems the team should address on offense going forward. Kerr seems intent on keeping his motion offense intact, throwing in a few new wrinkles that involve playmaking from the elbows (e.g., using HORNS formation — two bigs at the elbows, two wings in the corners, with the ballhander at the top of the arc — to run splits and off-ball actions through the elbows). The Warriors also ran their usual motion weak set, as well as their staple split action from the low post. But with the plethora of youth that is still unproven in terms of assimilating within Kerr’s offense (i.e., they haven’t proven themselves adept at recognizing patterns and making apt decisions based on such patterns), should Kerr try something different? (Maybe, perhaps, a larger sprinkling of pick-and-roll sets?) It’s a question worth asking, and it’ll be interesting to monitor as the season progresses.
As for that defense, though ...
The Warriors’ defensive efficiency
Again, let’s rewind to the previous five years. In addition to being an all-time great offensive team, the Warriors had the ability to play suffocating lockdown defense on their opponents. The personnel that they once had — Iguodala, Durant, Livingston, and Thompson — were comprised of lengthy and wiry players who all possessed the trait of positional interchangeability. That is, they could defend virtually every spot on the floor, switch on any player regardless of their size and speed, and were capable of shutting down multiple offensive possessions in succession.
The zenith of the Warriors defense came during the first three seasons of their dynastic run. While the last two years have had them finishing at 11th in defensive efficiency during the regular season, they had the luxury of being able to turn their defensive switch on during the playoffs, which they did to great effect. But a huge part of that ability to turn the switch on at will was the fact that they had the personnel to do such a thing.
Let’s return to the present reality, which after last night is looking rather bleak and dystopian. The most experienced defenders that are currently on this roster and are available to play — those who have played and experienced the highest level of NBA defense — are Curry, Green, and Kevon Looney. Again, we must go back to that abundance of youth and inexperience among the rest of the roster. These young and unproven talents should not be labeled as bad defenders right away; they need time to develop, more reps, and more minutes on the floor to learn on the job. They should be given that kind of leeway, especially with only one game to work with.
With that said, this Warriors defense was every bit as advertised — and maybe even a bit worse.
Their defensive rating after the game: 136.6 points allowed per 100 possessions.
There’s no way to sugarcoat such an abysmal statistic. The Warriors defense last night against the Clippers was just plain-old bad, and it manifested itself in several ways.
The Warriors surrendered 58 points in the paint against the Clippers, a combination of their mediocre perimeter defense (allowing perimeter players to blow past them with ease) and a glaring lack of rim protection. For comparison’s sake, the Warriors were ranked 6th in opponents’ points in the paint last season, only allowing 47.1 per game. A big part of that was due to the rim protection provided by Durant, whose 7-foot frame and 7-foot-4-inch wingspan allowed him to become an excellent help defender and rim protector.
These Warriors — the ones who were clearly outmatched defensively — were cannon fodder all night long in the paint. Switches were miscommunicated; sometimes, switches failed to manifest at all, resulting in easy buckets to the rim in pick-and-roll situations.
But the lack of interior defense arguably wasn’t even the most glaring defensive travesty of the night.
If you find yourself wandering toward the three-point shooting line of the Clippers on the box score, you’d be best-served covering your eyes: An 18-of-32 clip, good for an astronomical 56.3 percent. While some of this can be attributed to a hot-shooting night, it’s probably safe to say that the Warriors’ lack of urgency and awareness in defending the perimeter were the culprits behind this particularly egregious defensive showing.
This is no longer the Warriors who topped the league in three-point field goal percentage allowed during the 2016-17 season (32.4 percent) and never finished lower than 11th in that category — last night against the Clippers was as much evidence of that fact as there could possibly be. But there are some things to take into consideration.
For one, this is only one game, and it happened to be against arguably the best team in the league as of today. The Clippers are a team blessed with depth, capable of scoring points in bunches as well as preventing their opponents from scoring in turn. What they did to the Warriors last night could very well happen to anyone else.
Second, this is only game one of an 82-game season. The Warriors, full of new and unfamiliar personnel, are still learning to play with each other. Perhaps with a bit more time and seasoning, they will become closer to being an average-rated team. They might never top the league in several metrics, especially in terms of defensive efficiency — but given time to jell, they just might be able to become a fringe playoff squad, and the troubles of last night will eventually progress towards the mean.
When members of GSoM were asked to provide their message and advice to Dub Nation before this upcoming season, they were advised to temper their expectations, to be ready for several down periods, and to enjoy the ride and bask in the feeling of being the underdogs. While last night’s game was far from being enjoyable, there should be solace in the fact that these players are still capable of learning, are currently learning, and — by the time the 82nd game of the season has passed — will have learned valuable lessons and will hopefully become much-improved basketball players.
In a season that will be full of ups and downs, that is the best outcome that every Warriors fan could hope for.
One down, 81 more to go.
Stay Golden, Dub Nation.