After another loss by a score of 108-100, this latest game against the New Orleans Pelicans was more of the same, yet at the same time something entirely novel and quite appalling.
The Golden State Warriors, down to just nine players after an unfortunate series of injury setbacks, are currently the worst team in the league in several metrics. It is more of the same — that “same” being established as early as the first game of this season, where they were blown out by the Los Angeles Clippers. It is no longer that “same” that took the form of daily victories and consistent stat-stuffing performances that were once unprecedented.
These Warriors — a roster full of promise still unfulfilled and promise that has hit an insurmountable ceiling — are now getting everyone used to the feeling of daily setbacks. Those setbacks not only have taken the form of losses, but also have presented themselves as habitual misfortune. The 2019-20 season isn’t even a month old, yet the Warriors’ injury list is already as extensive as that of a team who has been battered by an 82-game barrage of trench warfare: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, D’Angelo Russell, Kevon Looney, Jacob Evans, and Damion Lee; Draymond Green also spent a few games in that list.
Those injuries have taken their toll on the team, with the greatest evidence being the Warriors’ struggles on both ends of the floor. They have been a mediocre offensive team and an extremely terrible defensive team — the worst in terms of defensive rating in all of the NBA. The offense was expected to take a hit without the gravity-bending nature of the greatest shooter of all time, as well as missing the unconscious shooting of his Splash Brother, a close second behind him in shooting prowess. The offensive stats paint a bleak picture, and the latest setback against the Pelicans continued to add dark hues.
Against the Pelicans, the Warriors shot 40.7 percent from the field, along with a ghastly 28 percent mark from beyond the arc. The lack of a consistent source of scoring continues to haunt them, yet they found solace in promising rookie Eric Paschall, who had his second 30-point performance of the season. His 30 points came courtesy of an excellent shooting night, the sole beacon of efficiency in a wild ocean of inefficiency — 10-of-17 shooting from the field and 2-of-4 from beyond the arc, with 7 rebounds and 2 assists.
Paschall continues to display a trait that is rare among many NBA rookies, and even more rare among Warriors rookies: An ability to play well above his experience level. His time in the NBA has amounted to less than a month, yet he plays with the poise and skill of a multi-year veteran. The offensive versatility he has shown is uncanny. Despite a funky form that has its bouts of inconsistency, he has shown that he can expand his range when needed.
He is only shooting 27.3 percent on threes, but with proper fine-tuning, he can become even more of a consistent threat from long range.
“I feel like I’ve been belonging in this league,” Paschall said after the game. “I just try to continue to prove that. A lot of that goes to my teammates and coaches (who have) given me the ability to just go out, play, and have fun.”
“Eric is so strong and powerful and explosive,” Steve Kerr said. “The way the game is played today and the way it’s officiated, he can get to the rim almost anytime he wants. He’s proving to be a really effective player in this league. He fits right in.”
With the Warriors’ point guard depth decimated, Kerr made the decision to start Green at point guard. While that experiment against the Pelicans largely did not yield a fruitful result — Green had 7 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and was a minus-15 on the floor — the Warriors found success in Green’s backup last night. Ky Bowman scored 19 points on 8-of-16 shooting from the field and 3-of-7 shooting from beyond the arc, to go along with 4 assists. He was a spark plug off the bench, helping the Warriors close the gap late in the fourth quarter before the Pelicans snuffed out any hopes of a comeback victory.
Despite being an undrafted rookie on a two-way contract, Bowman has shown several indications of being a legitimate NBA player and being more than capable of holding the fort as a backup point guard. His contract stipulations will eventually force him to spend time with the Santa Cruz Warriors in the G League, and that is a predicament that will need to be addressed, especially if the Warriors continue to be plagued by injuries.
But for now, he is another rookie who has kept the Warriors afloat in several games, including their loss last night. Despite the errant nature of his playing time, Bowman has shown that he can step up whenever the team calls upon his number.
“I don’t think there’s a big adjustment,” Bowman said after the game. “Just showing that I can do it is the biggest thing. ... I just need to be out there to bring it.”
No amount of positive contributions from two promising rookies can mask the multitude of problems the Warriors have had on offense. In addition to the horrible traditional shooting stats they put up against the Pelicans, their advanced shooting metrics added another layer of misery: An effective field-goal percentage of 44.5 percent (the league average being 51.7 percent), and a true-shooting percentage of 49.4 percent (with the team having a 54.1 percent TS% going into the game against the Pelicans).
Their offensive rating against the Pelicans (101.0) proved to be even more dire than their season offensive rating of 105.6 going into last night’s game, a rating that had their offense ranked 20th in efficiency. The Pelicans themselves are riddled by injuries to key personnel, and they are one of the worst defensive teams in the league. To see the Warriors struggle against a defensively-limited team such as the Pelicans shows just how offensively bereft the Warriors have been as of late.
As much as the Pelicans have been a terrible defensive team, the Warriors have been even worse. Going into last night’s game, they were ranked dead last in terms of defensive efficiency, with a rating of 116.0. Such an egregious metric is made possible by a few other stats that do not portray the same defensive juggernaut of years past: An opponent field-goal percentage of .486 (29th in the league); an opponent three-point percentage of .391 (30th in the league); and allowing an average of 53.1 points per game in the paint (28th in the league).
Against the Pelicans, they managed to put up slightly better defensive numbers as compared to their averages: Giving up 36 points in the paint, allowing the Pelicans to shoot 41.6 percent from the field, and garnering a defensive rating of 110.2. In terms of three-point shooting defense, the Warriors were true to their league ranking, allowing the Pelicans to shoot 39.1 percent on an alarming 18-of-46 clip. Perimeter defense has been the one glaring weakness for these Warriors, and they continue to struggle to close out on shooters.
With the Warriors’ schedule not giving them time to breathe — they play the Grizzlies and Mavericks back-to-back on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively — there will be little to no time for them to carefully walk through the finer aspects of running an efficient offense, nor will there be sufficient opportunities for each and every player to improve on their defensive fundamentals, let alone improving defensively as a unit. They will need to learn on the job and be able to take punches on the chin as they are thrown, while at the same time trying their best to punch well above their weight.
But with this latest setback in a season full of multiple setbacks, the nature of the team has changed for better or worse: Better for the Warriors’ chances of developing the future of their organization, but worse for their flourishing brand of winning basketball that has been their trademark for the past five seasons.
This loss against the Pelicans has been more of the same, but one can’t help but be taken aback at how things have turned out so different than they were before.
Fourteen down, 68 more to go.
Stay Golden, Dub Nation.