The Golden State Warriors lost Kevon Looney to a sprained ankle during Tuesday’s loss to the Boston Celtics, and it looks like Looney will miss a decent chunk of games. Which leaves the Warriors in a bit of a bizarre predicament: they don’t have a center.
Looney joins James Wiseman (sprained wrist), Marquese Chriss (broken leg), and Alen Smailagić (meniscal tear) in the injured centers club, leaving Draymond Green and Eric Paschall — who both stand just 6’6” — as the closest approximation the Dubs have to a center.
On the surface, Looney’s injury could not have come at a worse time, with Wiseman being shelved just a few days ago. But in reality, the timing is actually pretty good.
The Warriors are spending the next week in Texas, with two games against the reeling Dallas Mavericks followed by two games against the San Antonio Spurs. Both are dangerous teams, but neither has a dominant interior presence at the 5 (where Green and Paschall will have to move up) or the 4 (where a wing will have to slide in).
Let’s start with Dallas. The Mavs start Kristaps Porzingis at center. Porzingis is still a dangerous weapon, even if he’s not the force he was during his All-Star campaign a few years ago. But he can still win a game on his own, as he’s averaged 18.6 points per game with defense that is occasionally quite strong.
But despite being 7’3”, Porzingis is happiest moving away from the hoop. On the year (and prior to Dallas’ Wednesday night game), Porzingis is taking 38.9% of his shots from behind the arc, with another 28.4% from mid-range or long twos. Only 32.7% of his shots have come in the paint, with a decent portion of those coming away from the rim.
Dallas often plays with a four-guard lineup, which certainly helps the Warriors. They occasionally turn to 6’10” power forward Maxi Kleber, but his game is even more perimeter-oriented than Porzingis’: Kleber has attempted 46 shots on the year, and just 11 of them have come inside the three-point line.
Both Porzingis and Kleber are bigs who play offense like wings, but play defense like frontcourt players. That’s exactly what the Warriors are looking for.
San Antonio offers something similar. The Spurs have gone with a four-guard lineup all year long, with DeMar DeRozan — who has spent the bulk of his career playing shooting guard — representing the team at the power forward position, if you can call it that.
DeRozan is having a strong season, but he is emphatically a wing. The Warriors will focus on him, but he’s an assignment than Andrew Wiggins, Kelly Oubre Jr., Kent Bazemore, Juan Toscano-Anderson, and Damion Lee will all feel prepared for.
At the center spot, the Spurs start seven-time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge, who is many games removed from his glory days. Over the years, Aldridge’s game has moved further and further from the hoop, despite his massive frame; he’s attempted more three-pointers in 18 games this year than in his first four seasons combined.
As of Wednesday afternoon, 29.8% of Aldridge’s shot attempts on the year came from three-point range, with a whopping 46.7% coming from mid-range or long twos. That leaves just 23.6% of shots in the paint, with Aldridge attempting just 24 shots at the rim all season, despite playing in 18 games.
Like Porzingis and Kleber, Aldridge may no longer be a traditional big man on offense, but he is on defense. He’s slow and a bit flat footed, and presents copious opportunities for the Dubs to get out and run.
When the Warriors beat the Spurs 121-99 on Jan. 20, Wiseman dominated the matchup, with 20 points on 8-for-11 shooting. Many of those buckets came because Wiseman simply got down the court more quickly than Aldridge did.
The Mavs and Spurs games take the Dubs through the next week, with their next non-Texas game on Thursday, Feb. 11 against Nikola Vucevic and the Orlando Magic. It would be nice if Looney or Wiseman were back for that contest, but the small ball Dubs should be able to hold down the fort until then.