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Mailbag: ‘Twas the night before the playoffs

From Andrew Wiggins’ return to the Kings defensive strategies to our favorite memories of the Warriors.

Andrew Wiggins warming up with a blurry Steph Curry in the foreground. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

It’s nearly time for the incredible matchup between the Golden State Warriors and the Sacramento Kings in the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs.

Seemed like a good time for a mailbag. Let’s do it. Thanks to everyone for the great questions.

I called for mailbag questions at the start of the week, and then put it off long enough to have the answers to most of these questions. Since this (really good) question was asked, it’s been reported that Andrew Wiggins will come off the bench for the first game of the series.

It makes sense. Wiggins hasn’t played in over two months, and will be on a mild minutes restriction.

The more interesting question now is when — if at all — Wiggins returns to the lineup. A lot probably depends on how the team performs. Remember what happened last year? The Warriors were once again welcoming a starter back to the lineup for the first game of the playoffs after a lengthy absence. That player? Steph Curry.

Curry came off the bench in limited minutes and the Warriors won. Then he came off the bench in Game 2 for more minutes, and they won. Then he came off the bench in Game 3 for nearly-starters minutes, and they won.

Then in Game 4, with Curry ready to play starters minutes? He still came off the bench, and just played 36 minutes. They lost. And the next game he was back where he belonged in the starting five.

So you can’t pencil Wiggins into the starting lineup once he’s ready to play 36 minutes. If the team is struggling but he’s ready to go, then he probably jumps in. If they’re doing well with Donte DiVincenzo in the lineup then Wiggins will remain the team’s best sixth man since, well ... Curry.

Yes. Next question.

I think Donte DiVincenzo, though it could change from game to game depending on the matchups and how each player is playing.

The Warriors love Gary Payton II, but they’ve always preferred using him as something of a specialist. Even in the games where he looks like a star, the Dubs usually play him 15-20 minutes. DiVincenzo, on the other hand, has been getting starter’s minutes most of the year, and the team really values the shooting and playmaking that he can offer in addition to his tenacious on-ball defense.

GPII could end up winning the Warriors a game — or the series! — with his defense on De’Aaron Fox. But I think DiVincenzo will play more minutes.

This is a fascinating question and honestly, I’m curious to find out.

I think the biggest thing we’ll see from Brown is mixing up coverage schemes. He liked doing that with Golden State’s defense when he was here, and it’s one of the best ways to attack Curry. We’ll see high traps on one possession, box-and-one on the next possession, and top-locking a few possessions later.

I’m guessing we’ll also see Brown employ a defensive strategy that the Warriors have made a living off of since even before he joined their staff: daring mediocre shooters to shoot. Don’t be surprised if they sag 10-15 feet off of Draymond Green, and maybe even dare Jordan Poole and Jonathan Kuminga to shoot threes to keep Curry, DiVincenzo, and Klay Thompson at bay.

I also think we’ll see some possessions with Sacramento putting larger defenders on Curry. Fox and Davion Mitchell, two very good on-ball defenders, will certainly spend plenty of time defending Steph, but don’t be surprised if old friend Harrison Barnes spends some time D’ing him up, too.

Nope. Counting two-way contracts, there are 510 contracts to dole out in the NBA. Eric Paschall didn’t get one of those 510, despite still being eligible for a two-way. If no team in the NBA wanted to sign Paschall to even a two-way deal, why do we think the Warriors could have used him?

Paschall’s rookie season was awesome, but the reality is he’s a mediocre shooter, a very poor playmaker, and an awful defender. The only thing he does close to an NBA level is score in isolation, and A) he doesn’t do that well enough to make an impact, and B) the Warriors don’t need or use that.

This is a fascinating question. First, it’s hard to know how the team values him. He spent most of the year in Steve Kerr’s doghouse, with at least one person who covers the team reporting that the Dubs were looking at packaging him with James Wiseman at the deadline. But he started getting minutes late, and Joe Lacob said in an interview that Kerr loves Moody, which isn’t the type of thing Lacob says just for fun.

His trajectory might change on a different team, but the Warriors likely see him as a mini-Wiggins. He’s played as a three-and-D guy since coming into the league, but the Warriors don’t really use traditional three-and-D guys, which is part of why he hasn’t played much (that and the fact that the “D” in “three-and-D” hasn’t been very good).

If Moody wants to become a part of the core, he needs to be more aggressive. He needs to drive to the hoop more, and attack the glass on both ends of the court. If he does those things, he’ll be a high-quality 20-minute-a-night bench guy.

Ha! I’m sure Kings fans feel they deserve it, but let’s be honest: if the NBA wanted to dictate the outcome of the series, it wouldn’t be so the feel-good Kings could win. It would be so the second-most popular team in the NBA, with the second-most popular player in the NBA could win.

Well, once again I waited long enough to answer the question that I have an easy answer: he won’t get it because he wasn’t one of the three finalists who were announced today.

But to actually get to the heart of the question: Green didn’t bring it enough on defense to win Defensive Player of the Year. The Dubs had just the 12th-best defense in the NBA, per Cleaning the Glass’ garbage-time adjusted defensive rating. The three finalists come from the best defense (Evan Mobley and the Cleveland Cavaliers), the second-best defense (Jaren Jackson Jr. and the Memphis Grizzlies), and the fourth-best defense (Brook Lopez and the Milwaukee Bucks).

As to why he should? Well, I won’t make the case in earnest, because I don’t think he deserves it. Jackson does. But if you want to make the case, it’s simple: Green is still probably the best defensive player alive. He finished fourth in defensive EPM, behind only one starter (the Toronto Raptors OG Anunoby). And that’s with him not bringing it.

Jackson has a case as the best defensive player alive, but I think he’s the only person other than Green that has that case. Dray may not show his defense enough during the regular season, but if you were drafting a defensive player for one meaningful game ... he’d probably be the first pick.

Oh wow, what a great question.

I could dedicate a few thousand words to this, so I’ll try and just answer concisely so I don’t get carried away.

Best playoff moments: to me, two moments stand out: Baron Davis’ dunk on Andrei Kirilenko, and the final minutes of the 2015 NBA Finals. I don’t think I need to explain either of those!

Honorable mention: overcoming the 3-2 deficit against the Houston Rockets/the 0-27 streak; the entire first-round series against the Dallas Mavericks for the We Believe team; and the 21-0 run against the Boston Celtics last year.

Most fun playoff team to watch: I have soft spots for so many of them, but I’ll always turn to the 2014-15 team. There was just magic everywhere with that squad. There’s nothing like winning an unexpected championship. Everything the Dubs touched turned to gold.

Honorable mention: the We Believe Warriors; the 2016-17 team that went 16-1 and may have been the best team in NBA history.

Favorite Warriors memory in general: for me, this one’s easy. Wins are great, highlights are great, and championships are great. But nothing in sports compares to the bonds you make and the memories you build by simply getting to be a fan. I grew up about three hours north of the Bay Area, when the Warriors were bad. When I was in high school they started to get fun and good ... We Believe fun and good, not Steph Curry fun and good. Once we got our licenses, my best friend and I used to buy $8 tickets on StubHub and drive the six hours round trip to sit in the nosebleeds at Oracle Arena and watch Monta Ellis.

I’ll never forget those days. That’s what being a fan is all about.

I’m not saying we gonna be championship, but ... I’m not saying we’re not gonna be championship, either.

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