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For the Warriors, the promise of the future cannot come at the expense of mortgaging the present

The balancing act was a shaky proposition to begin with. The Warriors may need to admit some missteps were committed.

Golden State Warriors v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

These past few games have been a clunky series of events for the Golden State Warriors.

To make things clear, injury and health misfortune has been the cause of their recent struggles. Steph Curry may not see time on the floor until after the turn of the calendar. Andrew Wiggins is on the cusp of returning from an adductor strain, but his presence has been sorely missed. No matter what you think of Donte DiVincenzo and JaMychal Green, they are still live bodies that provide a certain level of NBA competency.

Klay Thompson’s struggles have been well documented, while Jordan Poole’s performances wax and wane. Draymond Green can only do so much as someone who primarily sets the table instead of someone who actively partakes in its goods.

Somewhere along the way, the process that became the formula behind winning a championship was lost. Crunching numbers and caring about extra dollars seem to be important to the organization’s front office and ownership. They are more than entitled to manage their finances and bottom line the best way they see fit — but that doesn’t mean the consequences of such sacrifices won’t be felt.

There was always the risk of the Warriors falling apart in a scenario where Curry sees a significant amount of missed time. He is the team’s lifeblood in more ways than one, a larger-than-life figure that has come to define a team’s rise — one that was once down on its luck for what seemed like perpetuity.

Without Curry, everything seems listless, absent of joy and energy, and — quite frankly — devoid of meaning. No method of analysis — the eye test, the advanced stats, etc. — can provide even a tiny sliver of a silver lining.

Offensive sets lose their juice, which means the Warriors have to work extra hard to generate efficient shots — that is, if possessions haven’t already devolved into late-clock self-creation contests.

The possession above resulted in points, but not without initial struggle. Poole — the only offensive threat deemed as dangerous by the Brooklyn Nets — is being guarded tightly. There is only five seconds left on the shot clock till the Warriors find an exploit in the Nets’ switch-everything scheme: a slip of the split-cut screen by Green.

The numbers speak for themselves. The Warriors have outscored opponents by 7.0 points per 100 possessions during Curry’s 894 minutes on the floor this season. Without him, they’ve been outscored by 12.1 points per 100 possessions. Such a whopping 19.1-points-per-100-possession difference literally spells the difference between the best point differential in the league and the worst.

A 30-7-7 stat line — fueled by a ridiculous 59/43/92 shooting split (2P/3P/FT) — is impossible to replace, let alone replicate. His 66.8 TS% — while taking nearly 12 threes per game — is an unprecedented marriage between scoring volume and scoring efficiency. In terms of estimated plus-minus — a widely accepted all-in-one metric that provides a near-accurate measurement of one’s impact — Curry’s plus-7.7 EPM is bested only by Nikola Jokić (plus-7.9).

In the four games Curry has missed after suffering a left shoulder subluxation, the Warriors have put up the following numbers:

  • 110.0 offensive rating (23rd over the period)
  • 124.8 defensive rating (30th)
  • Minus-14.8 net rating (30th)

For a group that needs its best player on the floor for at least 30-plus minutes per game, the numbers above are a sobering reminder that the Warriors’ success — in the past, present, and in the near future — bank on Curry’s availability. As such, the only timeline the Warriors will ever have to worry about is one that places Curry as its utmost priority.

Which brings us to the current two-timeline plan and how much of a predicament it’s turned out to be.

James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody, Patrick Baldwin Jr., and Ryan Rollins take up a third of the Warriors’ roster space, but each of them has a varying level of NBA readiness.

Kuminga’s scalability as a wing defender — coupled with his natural athleticism and pop — has garnered him experience and rotation minutes. Moody has seen his share of being rotated in and out of lineups but seems ready to contribute whenever he’s given the opportunity.

Baldwin Jr. and Rollins are rookies — as such, they’re further down the pecking order and seemingly aren’t prepared to see meaningful minutes as NBA-level mainstays.

Wiseman has been one heck of a roller-coaster ride. Injuries and limited college play have held him back from reps and time on the floor. G League reps have helped him see time against bodies — but those haven’t been against NBA-caliber competition.

Another sobering reminder came on this back-to-back New York trip against the Knicks and the Nets: The Warriors are in dire need of NBA-level contributors across the board; by having a significant chunk of their roster occupied by players who may be years away from being NBA-level contributors (some of them years away from being years away), they could be mortgaging the present for a future that may never come.

The possibilities of that future manifesting may be slim, but the flashes were there against the Nets. It’s difficult to mask the stink of a blowout defeat with any sort of perfume, but if there ever were any positives to take from the game, it’s the promise of what their youth could be — if they manage to become consistently competent.

Wiseman finished with 30 points on 12-of-14 shooting. While the Warriors were still outscored by 12 points during his minutes, he showed what he could become as a mobile big man. One thing to like about his performance is how he managed to overpower smaller defenders on backline switches and seals, which took advantage of the Nets’ smaller lineups and propensity to switch ball screens.

Aggression and purpose, or lack thereof, have been two of the biggest criticisms of Wiseman, so it’s nice to see him display the kind of pride that an NBA big man should possess, even if the process behind it wasn’t perfect by any means.

Moody always stays ready to contribute. He finished with 17 points on 11 shots, including a 3-of-5 clip from beyond the arc. He’s currently 29-of-72 on threes for the season — 40.3%. Although that translates to a low-volume output in per-game terms (2.6 threes), it’s enough of a flash to think Moody has potential as a 3-and-D wing specialist.

Being a spot-up threat with occasional movement-shooting chops is paramount whenever an advantage is created. Moody will be counted on to finish those advantages and make sure such efforts aren’t in vain.

The other young piece that shined against the Nets — albeit in the face of a large deficit and during garbage time — was Patrick Baldwin Jr., who finished with 17 points on 10 shots, including a 5-of-8 clip on threes.

It’s hard to pass up on Baldwin Jr.’s combination of size, height, and sweet shooting stroke. Such traits make his skill set a premium, with potential for matchup advantages that could put pressure on opposing defenses in all sorts of ways.

It remains to be seen how he will fare defensively against NBA-level competition — he’s seen too few valuable minutes in the NBA to properly assess his staying power on that end — but if he could become a competent defender at his position, there could be no doubt about his ability to contribute in the future, whether as a member of the Warriors or on another team.

Despite these flashes, they still aren’t enough to cover up what has been a tumultuous turn of roster events. The Warriors still have the best five-man lineup in the league: Curry, Thompson, Wiggins, Green, and Kevon Looney are outscoring opponents by 23 points per 100 possessions — the best among 12 five-man lineups with at least 195 minutes tallied.

All lineups other than the starters have struggled mightily: collectively outscored by nearly 4.0 points per 100 possessions.

That speaks to the Warriors’ damaged depth compared to last season, with a veteran bench crew that hasn’t been as sturdy and complementary and a youth plan that has gone awry. With trade season in full gear (in theory, at least) and a trade deadline that is approaching, the Warriors have a choice to make.

Do they continue to plan for a future without a generational talent and arguably a top-10 basketball player of all time? Or do they dangle the future in trade discussions to see if a rebuilding or scuffling team trades veteran NBA-level contributors for a couple of reset buttons?

With Curry and the kind of top-end supporting crew that he has right now, the latter option seems the most logical choice.

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