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Helping off the strong-side corner: The Warriors’ poor execution burns them against the Magic

Warriors fail to rack up wins in winnable games.

Golden State Warriors v Orlando Magic Photo by Gary Bassing/NBAE via Getty Images

I don’t want to have to zero in on one particular defensive breakdown, because the fact of the matter is that this game was lost due to several breakdowns. It wasn’t even solely due to the Warriors defense — the Orlando Magic are the second-worst offense in the league (104.0 ORTG), and it largely showed.

But the second-worst offense can still win if their opponent brings out an even worse offensive effort. There’s no question the Warriors are demonstrably worse without Stephen Curry; in 1,209 minutes without Curry on the floor this season, the Warriors have posted a 108.0 ORTG, equivalent to the 25th-ranked offense in the league.

But there was enough of a talent and experience gap even without Curry to make one believe that the Warriors would’ve still pulled one off against the team with the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference.

By the end of the night, however, the execution that usually befits the squad that has the veterans was flashed by the side that has a plethora of inexperience.

But first, the positives: yes, the Warriors offense, especially in the half court (77.6 half-court ORTG, 10th percentile) was once again subpar. With no Curry, the Warriors’ shot creation and on-ball-playmaking depth was lacking. Beyond Jordan Poole, no one else on the team possesses the combination of scoring, passing, and advantage creation that are required to place defenses in compromising situations.

Poole is currently the Warriors’ best source of rim pressure on this team. Almost on a whim, he has the ability to touch the paint and collapse defenses inward. If helpers are late to beat Poole to the spot on time, he has enough finishing chops to score at the rim.

If defenses sell out to stop him, opportunities open up for Poole’s teammates. This weak-side “45” cut by Otto Porter Jr. was made possible by Poole creating an advantage, driving and touching the paint, and drawing attention inward:

Never mind that this was Poole’s first inefficient scoring performance (53.4% True Shooting) since March 1, which was the last time his True Shooting percentage dipped below 60% (48.2% against the Minnesota Timberwolves) — this is the 10th straight game he has scored at least 20 points. His scoring, combined with the threat of him scoring, will be needed with Curry not seeing time on the floor for a while.

Poole isn’t the only one who can provide a consistent stream of rim pressure. Jonathan Kuminga was in foul trouble for the majority of the game, but that was balanced by flashes of his ability to get to the rim and power through defenses with his athleticism and speed.

But at 19-years old, he’s also flashing guile and footwork in the post you rarely see from someone who’s apparently raw and unpolished. Most players, especially young players, try to aggressively bulldoze their way to the rim when their initial move doesn’t work.

Kuminga rarely panics; he doesn’t rush haphazardly when his primary move fails:

Kuminga tries to lure his defender into a jump, but when his man doesn’t bite, Kuminga quickly processes his next move: a step-through that beats his man and gets him an easy layup, all while keeping his pivot foot down.

Together, Poole and Kuminga constituted the Warriors’ best rim-attacking threats. The Warriors have a dearth of big-man roll-gravity threats: James Wiseman continues to be sidelined; Draymond Green is a short-roll threat, but is rarely able — nor willing — to complete his rolls all the way to the rim; Kevon Looney is physically and athletically limited in his capacity to generate any sort of rolling momentum.

Even with his undersized nature, Kuminga being placed as a mobile 4 or a small 5 allows him to set screens for ball handlers. Combining with Poole on high ball screens is an avenue rarely explored — but when it occurs, the results have been largely positive.

The positives from the Warriors’ youth contingent are promising when you consider their growth trajectory. The negatives, on the other hand, were jarring to see — especially when they come from some of the Warriors’ more experienced veterans.

The Warriors defense had trouble containing the Magic at the rim (17-of-22, 77.3%). The lack of rim protection was made more glaring by the Warriors’ failure to contain at the point of attack, as well as losing track of weak-side movers and cutters.

Arguably the most egregious breakdown on defense came during this possession. Watch Andrew Wiggins, who’s defending Franz Wagner on the weak-side corner:

Wiggins has his eyes fully focused on what’s happening on the ball: Gary Payton II trailing Cole Anthony after a pick-and-pop, with Nemanja Bjelica containing the drive. Safe to say both of them have Anthony in a pickle.

But Wiggins’ ball watching has the unfortunate consequence of allowing Wagner to cut baseline. Wiggins has zero eyes on Wagner, and Anthony is suddenly given a release valve that burns the Warriors for two points.

Another mistake from an experienced veteran — an experienced veteran defender, at that — came on this possession:

With a second left on the shot clock, Klay Thompson inexplicably closes out hard on a Wagner desperation heave from way beyond the arc that had absolutely no chance of going in. Just a bad foul from someone who should know better.

But the backbreaking mistake arguably came from someone who should be beyond making basic defensive mistakes.

Not helping off the strong-side corner is a cardinal rule on defense. Giving up a potential two-point shot is better than giving up the easiest three-point look on the floor, especially when you have a two-point lead. Draymond Green — arguably the best defender in the league — should know better than to leave the strong side corner open to help and gamble on a dig.

But that’s exactly what he does here:

Two things can be true with this current Warriors roster:

  1. Without Curry, the Warriors are a different team; this probably won’t be how they’ll look like when Curry returns and everyone is healthy for the playoff run.
  2. Poor execution and process — especially from some of the Warriors’ more battle-hardened veterans — is a concern, especially with the playoffs looming nearby.

The Warriors had two of their easiest opponents in this stretch run against the Magic and the San Antonio Spurs — and lost both of them. Things won’t get any easier going forward.