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The Golden Breakdown: A bench mob showcase, and a reflection on how fortunate the Warriors franchise really is

With Stephen Curry injured early in a meaningless game, the Warriors’ bench stepped up big during a night dominated by the fallout of inept management and poor decision making.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Dedicated fanbases often experience events — both good and bad — as a collective, sort of like a hive mind where everyone’s thoughts and feelings are interconnected, and Dub Nation is no different. When the team wins games, everyone is obviously happy and thrilled; when the team inexplicably loses, there is the “sky is falling” mentality that everyone seems to espouse.

But perhaps the most terrifying feeling that collectively puts fear and induces premature ventricular contractions is seeing Stephen Curry fall down every time he drives to the basket, gets bumped, or is otherwise physically compromised. With two of the team’s five All-Stars being given rest, Curry was among the three who were given time to virtually scrimmage with the rest of the supporting cast against the hapless New Orleans Pelicans.

It didn’t take long for those premature ventricular contractions to once again force Warriors fans’ hearts to skip a collective beat.

Fortunately, the Warriors ruled Curry’s untimely injury as a “mild foot sprain,” which will most definitely rule him out of today’s regular season finale against the Memphis Grizzlies.

With Curry being sealed away into the Warriors’ proverbial safe and locked away until Game 1 of the first round, it was up to DeMarcus Cousins, Draymond Green, and the rest of the Warriors’ supporting cast to eke out an academic victory over the Pelicans, who were without several of their key players including their franchise superstar, Anthony Davis.

It was an opportunity for the Warriors’ bench mob to shine, and they took full advantage. Scoring a season-high 65 bench points, a squad that instilled doubts among fans and pundits for most of the year showed what they were capable of when given the chance.

Quinn continues to cook

Quinn Cook has been on a recent shooting hot streak. The player once touted to be the reliable back-up to an injured Curry — which was the explicit reason for the Warriors converting his two-way contract to a guaranteed NBA contract last season — has spent most of this season struggling to find the form he displayed during the 2017-18 season’s stretch run.

But in similar fashion to how he grabbed the back-up point guard duties by the neck last season, Cook has a newfound confidence in himself and his abilities. Over the last 6 games, Cook is averaging 14.3 points on a shooting split of .603/.542/.750, with a true-shooting percentage (TS%) of 72 percent.

Observing Cook’s play as of late, it’s hard not to notice how there is more of a bounce in his step. Whereas he was hesitant and all over the place during most of the early part of the season as well as during the midpoint, Cook looks more controlled and more calm, with his decision making improving immensely.

But it is his confidence in going up for shots that has been the most marked visual improvement. In 23 minutes of action against the Pelicans, he scored 19 points on a 7-of-12 shooting clip (58.3 percent), with a 2-of-3 clip from three-point range (66.7 percent). Using his quickness and agility, he used screens to his advantage, breaking free of his defender often to knock down wide-open jumpers, while also driving inside a few times and showing his ability to finish at the rim.

Damion Lee fills in as the representative for the Splash Family

Curry’s brother-in-law — currently on a two-way contract — has played in 31 games for the Warriors this season. Once touted to be a favorite for the vacant 15th spot on the roster, it would seem like he is going to be looked over in favor of Andrew Bogut, who will provide much-needed back-up center duties against the gauntlet of giants in the Western Conference.

Chances are that Lee won’t be on the playoff roster — but it won’t be due to lack of effort. He has proven to be a deadly knockdown shooter, living up to his reputation as another sniper who has recently been incorporated into a family known for their propensity to rarely miss the mark.

The sample size is relatively small, but it is still telling — in 31 games played, Lee is shooting 40.6 percent from three-point range on 2.1 attempts per game, which is around the same number of attempts as Andre Iguodala. Granted, Iguodala is more of a regular presence in the rotation, is considered a more crucial member of the roster, and is much more of a defensive asset than Lee — but it is quite interesting that Lee was able to contribute a relatively considerable amount of shooting off the bench with the limited time that was given to him.

In 26 minutes of action against the Pelicans, Lee scored 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting (53.8 percent), with a 4-of-7 clip from beyond the arc (57.1 percent).

With Lee virtually taking on the Klay Thompson role for the evening, the Warriors ran a couple of Thompson plays for him, consisting mostly of pin-downs that allowed Lee to knock down catch-and-shoot threes, as well as curling off of screens to pull up for mid-range jumpers. He also took advantage of several defensive breakdowns by the Pelicans, who on several occasions forgot all about Lee and let him walk up to uncontested wide-open looks.

Jacob Evans is showing signs of promise

The recent youth movement of the Warriors has hit a bit of a snag. Patrick McCaw, the 38th overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft who was traded by the Milwaukee Bucks to the Warriors for cash considerations, inexplicably forced his way out of a favorable situation. Jordan Bell, the 38th pick in the 2017 NBA draft who was traded by the Chicago Bulls to the Warriors for cash considerations, has been a huge question mark, specifically pertaining to his focus, dedication, and apparent lack of maturity.

(With that said, Bell did have a good showing against the Pelicans by hauling down 6 rebounds and scoring 10 points, 2 of which came courtesy of an eye-catching putback dunk that was easily the highlight of the night.)

Jacob Evans, the 28th pick in the 2018 NBA draft, was expected to be an immediate contributor. While Evans wasn’t expected to be a bona fide 6th man off the bench, the Warriors envisioned him being a serviceable two-way player who could provide much-needed depth on the wings.

Upon playing in the Summer League, Evans’ shot looked broken. Upon being called up for actual NBA minutes, he often looked like a deer in headlights — his jumper continued to falter, and the defensive acumen and instincts that were expected from him weren’t there.

Evans — who was drafted by the Warriors because it was assumed that spending 3 years with the University of Cincinnati made him NBA-ready — was apparently anything but ready for the bright and unforgiving lights of the NBA.

So for most of the season, Evans was relegated to the G League, where he could spend time refining his game on both ends of the floor.

With Thompson and Durant resting for this largely meaningless game, Evans was called up and given the start by Steve Kerr, providing him with the opportunity to show signs of improvement.

In 36 minutes of action against the Pelicans, Evans finished the night with 11 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists, on a shooting clip of 5-of-10 (50 percent), and knocking down 1 three out of 4 attempts (25 percent). Evans’ jumper looked much better this time around — even his misses looked promising, with most of them being in line and rimming out.

Defensively, Evans also looked much better. Garnering 3 steals and blocking 2 shots, he showed energy and activity on that end of the floor — and for one night, his potential for being a disruptive wing presence on defense stood out.

As many of you probably already know, Magic Johnson unexpectedly stepped down from his front office position with the Los Angeles Lakers. The now former President of Basketball Operations for the Lakers stated that “he wanted to be free to congratulate players such as Russell Westbrook when he hit the 20-20-20 mark,” and that “he couldn’t be himself.”

This isn’t a joke, folks — Johnson actually said those words.

All of this was said during a 40-minute reflection session by Johnson with the media, which took place before the Lakers’ game against the Portland Trail Blazers. It was a bizarre spectacle, and it added another chapter — perhaps the cherry to top it all off — on a season that has largely exposed the ineffectiveness of the Lakers’ front office, particularly the ineptitude displayed by Johnson and Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka.

After committing several mistakes that contributed to the Lakers’ total disaster of a season — signing players who didn’t mesh with LeBron James to one-year deals, throwing head coach Luke Walton under the bus and setting him up to be the fall guy for all of the Lakers’ troubles, and bungling the attempt to trade for Anthony Davis and alienating the locker room in the process — Johnson wasn’t man enough to admit to his mistakes, learn from them, and to move on and try to do better the next time around. Instead, he ran with his tail between his legs and bolted out of an already-burning ship.

So why do I bring this up? I just wanted to contrast this with the current organizational culture of the Warriors — and how fortunate Dub Nation is to have leaders at the top who are of sound mind, are shrewd and effective operators, and are mindful of when to step in and take control, and when to step back and let coaches and players do their jobs.

I spent a considerable amount of time during my last breakdown reflecting on how thankful I was to have experienced Oracle Arena, and also thankful to have seen the rise of the Warriors from irrelevance to the top of the NBA pecking order. The coaches and the players were a huge part of that rise to the top — but none of it would’ve been possible if Joe Lacob and Bob Myers weren’t around to formulate and orchestrate the moves that got them Klay Thompson and Draymond Green through the draft, convincing Kevin Durant to come and sign with the Warriors, and putting their faith and trust in Steve Kerr to guide the team to multiple championships.

So I say this with the utmost sincerity — I am thankful to have leaders in ownership and the front office who know what they are doing, and who genuinely have the organization’s best interests in mind.

The results speak for themselves — 7 straight playoff berths, three championships in four years, and an opportunity to win another Larry O’Brien trophy.

It sure is a good feeling to be sitting at the top, doesn’t it?

Eighty-one down, 1 more to go.

Stay Golden, Dub Nation.

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