“(Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, and Kevon Looney) just didn’t have it,” Kerr said when asked of his decision to bench the aforementioned three in the closing stretches of the game. “I just felt like tonight I had to play the guys who were playing the best. I’ve been really patient and trying to get everybody organized into groups and give guys freedom and space. Tonight did not feel like a night to have a lot of patience. We needed some urgency and that’s why we made the moves.”
Steve Kerr on leaving Klay, Wiggins and Looney on the bench to close the game: “I just felt like tonight I had to play the guys who were playing the best. I’ve been really patient…Tonight did not feel like a night to have a lot of patience.” pic.twitter.com/E21U80cIQ2— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) December 13, 2023
In a night that was representative of what has been ailing the Warriors this season — certain combinations not working, starters being outplayed by the bench, lack of availability from key personnel, and crucial versatility pieces not anywhere close to being versatile — perhaps the one that will capture the headlines the most is Draymond Green getting himself ejected again, and possibly being handed down further punishment by the league.
The Green problem and how it has hurt the Warriors this season will certainly reopen several discussions about just how much it will take for the organization to say enough is enough. But I want to focus on Kerr’s words above, the implications it had on the game, and what the implications may look like moving forward.
There’s a building amount of eye-test evidence to conclude that Wiggins and Looney are doing more harm than good in most of the lineups they’re in — and they’re being backed by the on-off numbers. The Warriors’ defense is allowing 120.4 points per 100 possessions from opponents in Wiggins’ minutes; combined with their offensive output and defensive performance in those minutes, the Warriors have been outscored by 8.2 points per 100 possessions, per PBP Stats.
They’ve been doing marginally better in Looney’s minutes — but still a negative: outscored by 4 points per 100 possessions. But it’s whenever the both of them are paired together on the floor that’s been eye opening — for the worse.
With Wiggins and Looney sharing time together, the Warriors have been outscored by 4.8 points per 100 possessions. That number falls to an obscene 15.9 points per 100 possessions with Wiggins on the floor without Looney; when Wiggins is benched and Looney stays on the floor (the iteration with the fewest number of minutes on the floor), that number becomes a relatively more respectable 1.3 points per 100 minutes — albeit still a negative net rating.
Thompson also deserves to have a bit of the microscope being pointed at him — to a lesser albeit impactful extent.
Thompson had a subpar night against the Suns: 7 points on 2-of-10 shooting (1-of-8 on threes), which belies his plus-minus number at the end of the night: The Warriors actually outscored the Suns by four during his minutes, making him the only starter with a positive plus-minus. But a significant reason of that was due to his inclusion in the bench unit that outscored the Suns by 11 (15-4) in the first five minutes of the second quarter.
The numbers with all three of Thompson, Wiggins, and Looney on the floor this season haven’t been pretty, either: The Warriors have been outscored by 7.2 points per 100 possessions in their minutes together.
Take Wiggins and Looney away from Thompson minutes, however, and the numbers look significantly better — to the point where those minutes become the equivalent of the best point differential in the league:
To be fair to Wiggins and Looney, their minutes together have been a positive when Thompson is on the bench — but that’s with a smaller sample size (111 minutes) compared to when Thompson is on and the two of them are off (180 minutes).
That still doesn’t absolve any one of them — Thompson included — from being examined under a critical lens. While he remains an important part of what the Warriors want to do on offense in terms of drawing two to the ball and generating advantages, creating space, and having another scoring threat on the floor besides Steph Curry (despite not being the ideal secondary scorer the Warriors may need right now due to a variety of factors — questionable shot selection being one of them), Thompson’s off-ball defense has left a lot to be desired.
It was evident from the first possession of the game:
With the Suns running “Rip” DHO action for Bradley Beal to open the game, the switch between Thompson and Curry is crucial — in the sense that the moment the Splash Brothers don’t communicate and execute the switch seamlessly, there will be a man left open. Thompson is late to diagnose the switch onto Beal and finds himself running smack into Jusuf Nurkić’s screen. Beal is left wide open and drills the three.
Even in the previous game against the Oklahoma City Thunder — one where Thompson had a productive offensive outing — he committed an egregious defensive mistake in overtime.
Guarding a deadly three-point shooter in Isaiah Joe in the corner, Thompson loses track of Joe after sagging off of him. Joe runs off a screen by Luguentz Dort — and in an attempt to recover and scramble in desperation, Thompson fouls Joe on a three-point shot:
On Wiggins and Looney: Being supposed pillars and bedrocks on the defensive end shouldn’t allow possessions like this one to happen:
Looney’s rotation into the paint to help — when Wiggins had Josh Okogie’s drive completely handled — is just plain unnecessary. While Moses Moody does his best to “x-out” and rotate toward Chimezie Metu, it was a contest against a taller player — and one that didn’t need to happen, considering that Looney probably should’ve stayed home.
It also doesn’t help that when things shift toward the other end of the floor — with Curry drawing constant attention and seeing fewer open looks coming his way — Wiggins hasn’t been the scoring release valve he has been in the past. The outside shooting has been absent, shooting a career-low 27.9% on threes.
On three-point shots considered “open” (defender 4-6 feet away) and “wide open (defender more than 6 feet away), Wiggins is shooting a combined 17-of-55 — 30.9%:
(To add insult to injury, Looney fouls Nurkić on the rebound attempt, which sends him to the line. This was almost immediately after a bench unit of Chris Paul, Brandin Podziemski, Thompson, Jonathan Kuminga, and Dario Šarić built the aforementioned 11-point lead to start the second quarter.)
If not making open three-pointers was already bad enough as it is, Wiggins also has been leaving shots at the rim on the table. He’s shooting 60% at the rim — 31st percentile among all forwards and on track for his second-worst shooting mark within four feet of the basket. Only his 58% mark at the rim during the 2018-19 season with the Minnesota Timberwolves was worse, per Cleaning The Glass.
Another thing to point out from Wiggins’ shot profile: he’s been taking more shots in the mid-range this season (47% of his shots) compared to last season (38%); the last time he took at least 40% of his shots from the mid-range was five seasons ago, during the 2018-19 season. To make matters worse, he’s making those shots at a 41% clip — 49th percentile among forwards, per Cleaning The Glass.
Wiggins has also tallied more turnovers (42) than assists (24) — the first time he has had an assist-turnover ratio less than one since his sophomore season in 2015-16. Part of it can be attributed to subpar decision making with the ball in his hands, leading to telegraphed passes that are either deflected or outright intercepted:
The other part of that equation is due to a handle that has never looked shakier and less stable, which puts a hamper on his ability to create shots for himself:
To relieve some of the blame being heaped upon Wiggins and Looney, the Warriors’ decision to employ a hard double at the half-court mark against Devin Booker placed them in a difficult position — with Looney having to rotate out onto Nurkić, a 28% shooter from beyond the arc.
The Warriors would rather have Nurkić take the shot instead of Booker, but the fact they put themselves in a position where they have to be in rotation — instead of putting complete faith in Wiggins to defend Booker one-on-one — feels like a commentary on their current belief level in their supposed premier wing stopper:
With Kerr opting to start the second half with Podziemski and Kuminga instead of Wiggins and Looney — and opting to close with them and Thompson on the bench — it may also signal his waning belief levels in three of his most trusted veterans who have done little to warrant trust this season. The conversation on whether Kerr needs to do what’s best for the team and start/close others in their place is growing louder with each negative plus-minus outing and the losses stemming from them.
Green’s potential suspension may make the possibility of sitting Thompson, Wiggins, and/or Looney much harder — but letting players who have been playing well see more minutes on the floor, regardless of their pecking order on the roster, may need to take precedence over seniority and experience accrued.