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Player grades: Warriors vs. Nuggets

Assessing every Golden State player’s performance from the team’s 130-127 loss to Denver.

Kevon Looney high-fiving Steph Curry and Andrew Wiggins. John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Well, I’m at a loss for words. And because I’m at a loss for words, I thus am going to end the article here, because I have no words.

Ugh, fine. I’ll write — briefly — about the Golden State Warriors 130-127 loss to the Denver Nuggets, in which Nikola Jokić drained a contested half-court three at the buzzer to put the bow on Denver overcoming an 18-point Warriors lead in the fourth quarter. It was just the latest in a long line of bizarre, chaotic, and heartbreaking losses that have come to define the season so far.

I shall, begrudgingly, bestow some grades upon the players. As always, grades are based on my expectations for each player, with a “B” grade representing the average performance for that player.

Note: True-shooting percentage (TS) is a scoring efficiency metric that accounts for threes and free throws. Entering Thursday’s games, league-average TS was 58.0%.

Jonathan Kuminga

19 minutes, 16 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 turnover, 1 foul, 5-for-7 shooting, 0-for-1 threes, 6-for-7 free throws, 79.4% TS, +6

After nearly every loss, someone asks me if I can incorporate Steve Kerr and the coaching staff into my grades. I won’t, because I think it’s a futile task — it can be impossible to distinguish the coach’s plan from the players’ execution, and coaches will always look much worse in losses than they look good in wins. There’s a reason that I’m only asked to make this addition when the team loses, and not when they win.

I’m not going to break from that decision, now or ever. I’m not going to grade Kerr.

End of story.

.....

but.

.....

BUT.

If a parallel universe exists where I have this same job and write these same articles except that I do grade Kerr, he gets a bad grade solely for the fact that Kuminga only played 19 minutes, none of which came during the colossal fourth-quarter meltdown.

I usually defend Kerr when it comes to the impossible task of doling out minutes to the many deserving players, but quite frankly, his post-game explanation does not come close to cutting it.

Kuminga set the tone early with a drive-and-dunk on the first possession of the game. He played smart offense and committed defense all game long. His athleticism was absolutely essential against this Denver team.

He was the Warriors second-best player on Thursday, and he sat idly by while the Warriors got outscored 36-20 in the final quarter. I have no further comment.

Grade: A+/deserved better
Post-game bonus: Best plus/minus on the team.

Kevon Looney

22 minutes, 7 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 5 fouls, 3-for-4 shooting, 1-for-1 free throws, 78.8% TS, -2

Looney was reinserted into the starting lineup given the gargantuan — both literally and figuratively — center on the other side of the court. It went pretty well at the beginning, as Looney played good defense an brought some cool things to the offense.

But it definitely faded as the game went on, as Looney stopped contributing on offense and got worked a bit by Jokić.

Grade: C

Chris Paul

30 minutes, 9 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 fouls, 4-for-7 shooting, 1-for-3 threes, 0-for-1 free throws, 60.5% TS, +4

Paul played pretty decently, albeit not particularly notably. I thought his defense was quite solid in this game.

Grade: B-
Post-game bonus: Tied for the team lead in assists.

Steph Curry

35 minutes, 30 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, 2 turnovers, 1 foul, 11-for-23 shooting, 5-for-12 threes, 3-for-3 free throws, 61.7% TS, -1

One of the sadnesses of this season is that fans are starting to associate the year more with Curry’s back-breaking late-game turnovers than with his sheer brilliance the other 47 minutes of the game.

Curry was excellent for so much of this contest, and has been so much better with ball security lately: after averaging 3.4 turnovers in his first 25 games of the year, he has just 2.0 per game over his last seven outings. Yet the lasting image from this game — other than Jokić’s shot — is Curry having the ball in his hands in the final seconds, with a chance to make or create the game-winning shot, and instead whipping an ill-advised one-handed slingshot that never had a chance towards the corner, directly into the hands of Jamal Murray.

Had the Warriors hung on to win, Curry is the one person in the closing lineup who I wouldn’t have really docked for the meltdown. He would have had a great grade. But it’s hard to get that play out of my head. He needs to do better.

Grade: B
Post-game bonus: Led the team in points, tied for the team lead in assists.

Klay Thompson

35 minutes, 24 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, 2 fouls, 9-for-18 shooting, 4-for-10 threes, 2-for-2 free throws, 63.6% TS, -9

For much of the game, Klay was the second scoring option that Curry has so desperately been looking for this year. It was a very solid scoring game for Thompson, who had mostly good shot selection, worked hard off ball, and nabbed a few and-ones as he created contact. I also thought it was a high-quality defensive game for him, so that was great to see.

I want to give him a good grade because he really was having a great game. But I just can’t look past the failures of the closing lineup. Klay played all 12 minutes in the fourth quarter and had two points, with no other number anywhere in the stat sheet.

Grade: B

Dario Šarić

23 minutes, 13 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal, 2 turnovers, 1 foul, 5-for-7 shooting, 1-for-2 threes, 2-for-2 free throws, 82.5% TS, +3

Šarić was the third center to play in this game for the Warriors, which was understandable given that he would seem to be an awful matchup against Jokić. But he ended up being the team’s best option at the position.

It was a high-quality game all over for Šarić, who contributed so much on offense, defense, and the glass. He doesn’t get docked nearly as much as his teammates for his role in the fourth quarter breakdown, half because he plays a smaller role, and half because he assisted on the team’s first four buckets in the quarter.

Grade: A-
Post-game bonus: Led the team in rebounds, tied for the team lead in assists.

Trayce Jackson-Davis

21 minutes, 4 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 turnovers, 4 fouls, 2-for-4 shooting, 50.0% TS, 0 +/-

I think you can place Jackson-Davis’ performance in this game more in the “reasons to be excited about TJD” bin and less in the “reasons the Warriors almost won the game” bin.

He flashed a lot, but also looked like someone who hasn’t played very many NBA games in his career. Which, hey ... wouldn’t ya know.

Grade: B-

Andrew Wiggins

27 minutes, 11 points, 3 rebounds, 1 block, 1 turnover, 2 fouls, 5-for-10 shooting, 1-for-4 threes, 55.0% TS, -14

Wiggins is the player I struggled most to assign a grade to in this game. It’s really, really hard for me to separate his performance from the fact that I thought Kuminga should have been playing in his place in the fourth quarter. It’s not Wiggins’ fault, at all, that he was on the court — quite the opposite, really. It’s also hard to not have that cloud the vision.

For the second straight game, Wiggins had a really strong first quarter. And I thought he played some of the best defense we’ve seen from him this year. It wasn’t a very good team defensive performance, but Wiggins doesn’t deserve the blame for that.

Like the other veterans, he deserves blame for what happened in the fourth quarter. He did score five points, but didn’t record any other stats, and his defense disappeared. Still and all, an encouraging performance from Wiggins.

Grade: B
Post-game bonus: Worst plus/minus on the team.

Brandin Podziemski

28 minutes, 13 points, 2 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, 2 fouls, 5-for-10 shooting, 3-for-4 threes, 65.0% TS, -2

It took me until today to realize that Podziemski reminds me of Brock Purdy. They have similar facial features (if very different styles and hair choices), the same irrational and lovable swagger and confidence, and they’re both substantially better than they have any right to be. All that’s missing is a shared phallic nickname.

If the Warriors ever turn things around, I feel quite confident that Podziemski will be a big reason why. His energy, fearlessness, and selflessness are exactly what the team needs, and you can already see his influence on the veteran players.

Keep doing your thing, Podz.

Grade: A-

Thursday’s DNP-CDs: Cory Joseph, Moses Moody, Lester Quiñones, Jerome Robinson

Thursday’s inactives: Usman Garuba, Draymond Green, Gary Payton II, Gui Santos

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