By now you know the main story of the Golden State Warriors 130-108 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night. Steve Kerr made his first change to the starting lineup since Draymond Green returned, swapping out rookie center James Wiseman for veteran Kevon Looney.
It worked quite well, with the Dubs jumping out to a quick 19-4 start before you’d even popped the top on your first game day brew.
That shouldn’t have been a surprise. Prior to the game, Golden State’s previous starting lineup — Wiseman and Green surrounded by Steph Curry, Kelly Oubre Jr., and Andrew Wiggins — had been almost unbelievably bad, getting outscored by 20.3 points per 100 possessions in 161 minutes.
But with Looney swapped in there? The figure was even more unbelievable, and this time good: the Dubs were outscoring opponents by 55.6 points per 100 possessions, sporting comical (and unsustainable) offensive and defensive ratings of 133.9 and 78.3, respectively. That said, they’d only played 26 minutes together on the season, so those numbers will get drastically less video gamey as the season wears on.
The Dubs added 14 more minutes of that lineup against the Wolves, and the numbers held pretty strong, with the net rating regressing to a still unsustainable and hilarious 51.6.
But it’s worth noting that the Wolves were tailor made for the Warriors to find success, as they entered the game with one of the league’s worst offenses and defenses — and were missing their two top scorers in Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell.
So did Golden State pick the right time to hit a small pause button on Wiseman’s development, and start prioritizing putting the best team on the floor to win games now? There are arguments both ways.
By making the move against a JV team (that they get to play twice in a row, no less), the new starting unit gets time to find rhythm before jumping into the deep end of the pool. After all, as previously mentioned, they had only played 26 minutes together all year — they need some time to find their groove, stellar numbers be damned.
On the other hand, the Warriors still clearly value getting Wiseman run with Curry and Green, and developing him and that lineup for future use.
Steve Kerr on making sure that James Wiseman gets to develop alongside Steph Curry and Draymond Green: "If we hope to be a championship contender in the next couple years, those 3 guys have to learn how to play together."— Brady Klopfer (@BradyKlopferNBA) January 24, 2021
So why not let him feast on as easy matchup? The Warriors kept Wiseman out there on Saturday, against a tremendous Utah Jazz offense and an All-NBA center in Rudy Gobert. Then made the switch against one of the league’s worst offenses and a second-year undrafted center in Naz Reid.
Would the Warriors have jumped out to a 19-4 lead with Wiseman starting? Perhaps not. But he probably would have put up big numbers, and Golden State almost surely would have won regardless. Finding success against a lesser team could speed up the development and comfort with those lineups.
Instead, the Dubs switched to their best lineup when they needed it the least. It’s understandable why they did it, but it would’ve been understandable if they waited a little longer, too.