BY MASON BISSADA
The 2019-20 season has been one of pain for the Golden State Warriors organization. Its players are feeling this pain physically in the form of broken hands (Stephen Curry), torn ACL’s (Klay Thompson) and shoulder contusions (D’Angelo Russell), and its fans are feeling the pain mentally and emotionally in the form of 32 losses (against only nine wins) at the halfway point of the season. A down year, following three championships and five straight years of Finals appearances, was expected after the departure of Kevin Durant and the loss of Klay Thompson to injury. But no one could’ve predicted a down year of this magnitude. Chalk it up to bad luck, salary cap constraints or intentional losing, but this year has been a harsh reality check for all involved. With all that being said, here is our midseason review for the Warriors after game 41, taking injuries, contract constraints and other painful variables into account.
Statistically, the numbers are as bad as the Warriors record would reflect. While the 20th ranked defense in the NBA (points allowed per 100 possessions) is actually somewhat impressive given their personnel, the 30th ranked offense (points scored per 100) is downright deplorable, though not unexpected. On games where D’Angelo Russell is out and Ky Bowman is sent down to Santa Cruz with the Warriors G-League affiliate (an inconvenient stipulation of Bowman’s two-way contract) the Warriors are forced to trot out lineups with no point guard whatsoever. While Draymond Green might consider himself a floor general, having him or Alec Burks as a primary playmaker isn’t exactly a winning formula. Combine that with the Warriors lack of 3-point spacing (they rank 26th in 3-point percentage at 33.6%) and things start to get really ugly.
Defensively, Golden State does have quarters, if not entire games, where they slow down talented offenses. Throwing out no-point guard lineups means above-average size on the perimeter, and players like Glenn Robinson III and Eric Paschall have punched above their weight in terms of guarding scoring wing-types. Problems arise in terms of rebounding (25th in the league) and rim protection, but there are areas for Golden State to take pride in moving forward.
It’s worth reiterating that the Warriors have been one of the most injury-riddled teams in the league. Beyond its stars, its supporting cast has struggled with various ailments. There have been games where only eight Warriors suited up before tip-off. Perhaps this is good luck in terms of lottery odds and the pursuit of tanking. It is even possible that the Warriors organization has told its players and medical staff to be overly cautious with these injuries. There is no point in rushing someone back if the team has nothing to play for. That being said, the team is probably slightly better than their record would suggest.
Roster Report Card
Statistics: 20.3 PPG, 5 RPG, 6.5 APG, 40.9% FG, 24.3% 3PT, 4 games played.
Stephen Curry breaking his left hand just four games into the season after an embarrassing 1-3 start to the season was essentially adding injury to insult. It was already becoming apparent that the Warriors were no longer a power in the Western Conference and would likely struggle to make the playoffs even with Curry healthy, but at least fans would have someone fun to watch and root for. Regardless of team record, it would’ve been exciting to see Curry attempt 12 three’s a game and attempt to outscore opponents all on his own. Though his hand injury will likely cement the Warriors lottery odds, it’s a shame fans will miss out on the majority of a season from the greatest Warrior of All-Time while in his prime.
Thompson was often the unsung hero of the Warriors dynasty, particularly after Kevin Durant arrived in 2016. But now, with the Warriors in desperate need of any sort of floor spacing and perimeter defense, his absence is felt more than ever. Thompson’s off-ball movement would take a ton of pressure off of D’Angelo Russell and make use of Draymond Green’s court vision. He could also take away the other team’s biggest threat. Thompson has always been the perfect glue guy, and his presence with this rebuilding roster would elevate the play of many of the new young pieces. This is assuming that he is still essentially the same player he was before his ACL tear. It seems, based on all reports, that fans will have to wait until next season to find out if this is still the case.
Statistics: 8.6 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 5.6 APG, 38.7% FG, 27.2% 3PT, 30 games played
As it has been for the entirety of his career, motivation is a key factor when it comes to Draymond Green. And in what situation would Green be any less motivated than the one through which he’s currently suffering ? All of his championship teammates (sans Kevon Looney) are gone or injured, and he is left as the de facto leader of a group of youngsters in a franchise that is not-so-subtly trying to tank. Now, does this excuse his subpar play ? Of course not. Green has been nowhere near his Defensive Player of the Year self on one end and his jumpshot has looked as broken as ever on the other. His passing has remained consistent and his turnover rate has declined slightly despite his increased usage rate, but it’s obvious that he isn’t maximizing his potential. It is worth noting, however, that players like Green are ceiling raisers, not floor raisers. Green is at his best with other long, switchy wings and a plethora of 3-point shooting around him. His help defense and playmaking are better suited for turning a playoff team into a contender, not turning a bad team into a mediocre one.
Statistics: 23.7 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 6 APG, 43.7% FG, 37.1% 3PT, 23 games played
Russell has dealt with various injuries throughout the season (most recently a shoulder contusion that has kept him sidelined for the last six games), but when healthy, he’s done a decent job of providing much needed offense on a team devoid of any shotmaking. In terms of the aforementioned ‘floor-rasier vs. ceiling-raiser’ issue pertaining to Draymond Green, Russell is at the other end of the spectrum. On nights where he has it going, he can turn an otherwise G-League level offense into a passable one that can beat other subpar teams. Defensively, he has shown little improvement from his first four years in the league. He falls asleep when guarding off the ball and cannot fight over a screen when covering pick-and-rolls. Russell the asset is often more interesting than Russell the player, but we’ll get to that later. In terms on-court production Russell is a very good offensive creator who gives a lot of it back on the other end. It is still undecided whether he can contribute to true winning basketball. Northern California readers: think of Kevin Martin’s tenure as a Sacramento King as a good facsimile for Russell’s contributions.
Statistics: 13.6 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1.8 APG, 48.7% FG, 27.6% 3PT, 36 games played
For a time towards the beginning of the season, it looked like Paschall was forcing himself into the Rookie of the Year conversation. He was briefly the Number-1 option on a depleted Warriors team and carrying the load with competence not often seen from second-round picks in their first year. Various injuries to his knee and hip have slowed him down to some extent (this is a trend throughout the roster) but when healthy, Paschall has shown skill beyond his years. Though his 3-point shot is still missing and his playmaking is a work in progress, his scoring from the triple-threat and post positions make him an intriguing offensive player. He has the ever-desirable ‘too big for 3’s and too quick for 4’s’ body type that will serve him well should the rest of his skillset develop.
Statistics: 12.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 2.3 APG, 40.7% FG, 36% 3PT, 26 games played
Since returning from injury, Lee has been one of the two or three best offensive players for the Warriors. He is surprisingly explosive driving to the hoop and has hit his three’s at an above-average clip, two categories in which the Warriors were lacking. Kerr has rewarded Lee with a starting position and General Manager Bob Myers has rewarded him with a multi-year contract extension (Lee was previously the Warriors’ other two-way contract).
Statistics: 7.5 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 2.9 RPG, 41.2% FG, 34.8% 3PT, 36 games played
Bowman’s game screams “energy,” a trait that is often infectious with this team and is the best path to victory for any roster that lacks natural talent. He’s a speedy, athletic point guard that does a decent job of controlling the pace of the game on offense and pestering the opposing team’s point guard on the other end of the floor. While his jumpshot is a bit unreliable and he is hesitant to take three’s as a result, he is an overall positive offensive player. Unfortunately, he’s nearly reached the 45-day limit on his two-way contract. With D’Angelo Russell returning from injury, Bowman is likely to spend the rest of the season in Santa Cruz. Still, he projects as a viable backup point guard to Steph Curry next season.
Glenn Robinson III
Statistics: 12.2 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 1.6 APG, 45.7% FG, 38.6% 3PT, 40 games played
Robinson has been the Warriors’ best two-way player this season. Granted, the bar for that title is low, but that should not diminish his success after a lost season in Detroit last year. His perimeter defense at the 2 and 3 positions has been above average, and he’s the best volume 3-point shooter on the team. He’s also shown primary offensive creation (stepback jumpers, dribble-drive penetration) that he’s never displayed in his career before. Robinson appears to be another “ceiling-raiser” type player that will truly prove his worth when the roster is completely healthy. A Curry/Thompson/Robinson/Paschall/Green pseudo-death-lineup is extremely intriguing.
Statistics: 7.8 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 1.4 APG, 55.5% FG, N/A 3PT, 36 games played
Cauley-Stein was hoped to be the answer for the Warriors at center, or at least share that title with Kevon Looney, but he hasn’t quite lived up to expectations. His rim protection and defensive awareness leave something to be desired, and he is not nearly the switchable force many touted him to be going back to his college days. Offensively, he is posting just a 100.5 offensive rating. His superior athletic ability hasn’t seemed to help him as a roll man working off of D’Angelo Russell or Ky Bowman. Steve Kerr recently benched Cauley-Stein in favor of Omari Spellman, likely due to Cauley-Stein’s lack of floor spacing ability.
Statistics: 7.8 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1 APG, 45.4% FG, 43% 3PT, 38 games played
Spellman has been a bit of an enigma this season. His goal to start the season was to get into playing shape and shed a few pounds (he admitted this himself) and he seems to have achieved that goal as of late. He looks more mobile, and has scored in double-digits in five consecutive games as of January 12th. It is still unclear what Spellman’s position is, as he does not offer any substantial rim protection necessary to play center. Still, he does inject a bit more shooting into lineups that desperately need it. On a team with two more-talented power forwards in Green and Paschall, perhaps Kerr has found a niche for Spellman at center for the time being.
Statistics: 15.8 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 3.1 APG, 41.1% FG, 36.4% 3PT, 38 games played
The fact that Alec Burks is the second-leading scorer on this Warriors team behind Russell is quite indicative of the type of season they’re having. Still Burks has seized a scoring niche that was essentially up for grabs after Curry went down. Though it is often feast or famine with him (he shot 3-17 the other night against the Clippers), his creation is desperately needed on the second unit, where he is essentially the backup point guard (note the career-high in assists per game).
Jacob Evans III
Statistics: 4.7 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 1.1 APG, 31.1% FG, 37% 3PT, 20 games played
Evans has been in and out of Golden State’s rotation, but hasn’t been a positive player when Kerr is forced to play him due to a lack of bodies. His effective field goal percentage of 35.9% is egregious, and his decision making with the ball is unremarkable. He does give effort on the defensive end, but not enough to make up for his lack of offensive ability.
Statistics: 2.6 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 0.4 APG, 34.4% FG, 50% 3PT, 10 games played
Though 10 games is probably a large enough sample size for a letter grade, Looney’s season has been too riddled with injuries to properly evaluate his play. He played hurt, and re-injured himself shortly after. He’s still currently out indefinitely with an abdominal injury that has sidelined him since mid-December. When healthy last season, Looney was a valuable center earning minutes in the NBA Finals. Time will tell if he can return to that form at some point this season.
Statistics: 6.9 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 1.8 APG, 26.3% FG, 24.8% 3PT, 34 games played
Jordan Poole has been one of the worst players in the NBA from a statistical standpoint. He came out of college labeled a shooter, and has missed three out of every four he’s taken this season. He’s undersized for his position defensively, and doesn’t seem to have much awareness when he’s on the court. It might not be entirely his fault, as he’s often been tasked with more than he can handle due to the Warriors injury plague. He shows flashes of intelligent playmaking, but not nearly enough to make up for his poor offensive play. At the end of the day, his shot just isn’t falling, and the sample size is large enough to confirm this is not a fluke or cold streak.
Statistics: 4.6 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 0.6 APG, 53.8% FG, 25% 3PT, 8 games played
Smailagic is still largely a huge question mark. He’s long, lanky and incredibly raw (he’s the only 2000’s baby on the team). His jumpshot is what will determine whether he’s an NBA player, but his body type has the potential to fit a Warriors style offense. He also recently had his ‘”welcome to the NBA” moment when Kawhi Leonard threw down a nasty dunk on his head, so perhaps that moment will catapult his career.
D’Angelo Russell’s short Warriors career has already been riddled with trade rumors. It makes sense. The Warriors are in no position to contend for a playoff spot and Russell is a young, talented player that still hasn’t reached his peak. However, he is also on the first year of a four-year max contract. While this may seem like security to some, it could also seem like handcuffs to others. It also appears that, internally, the Warriors are in no rush to deal the young star. The most recent evidence comes from The Athletic’s Sam Amick, who reported that Golden State is unlikely to move Russell by the trade deadline and a deal involving the Orlando Magic’s Aaron Gordon is a “hard no” on Golden State’s end. It seems that the Warriors want to see what they have with Russell next to their fully-loaded roster before making any rash decisions. There is also the possibility that Golden State could package Russell and their 2020 draft pick for a much bigger fish once the draft lottery order is determined.
In terms of smaller moves, Glenn Robinson III could help a contender with his highly-coveted three-and-D skillset, but it seems unlikely that any team would be willing to give up a first-round pick for him given the other players on the trade market that are ahead of him. Unless the Warriors are blown away by an offer, look for them to keep Robinson and test out his fit next to the Splash Brothers next season.
A Look to the Future
At 9-32, the Warriors currently have the second-worst record in the NBA behind the Atlanta Hawks. This means they currently have the highest chance (14%), along with the Hawks and New York Knicks, at the #1 pick in the 2020 Draft. Whether they admit it or not, everyone in the Warriors organization is aware of these standings and they are going to do everything within the legality of the league to insure that this remains the case. In fact, we may already be seeing a 76ers “process” scenario taking place. Recent videos posted by the Athletic’s Anthony Slater of a Warriors practice show Steph Curry using his left hand during shooting and dribbling drills without any sort of hindrance. This is not to say that Curry is completely healthy at this moment and is out for no reason. However this does come back to the idea of caution. If this were the playoffs, it wouldn’t be unheard of for Curry to return within the next two weeks. Other players with similar injuries have come back far sooner than Curry’s current timetable. But if Golden State is playing for ping pong balls rather than rings, why not let his hand heal to 110% before bringing him back to a depleted roster ? Curry will no doubt help the Warriors win games, and that just isn’t their priority right now. Look for him to return towards the end of February or early March.
Until then, this season will continue to be a “development” year. The young players will continue to play big minutes whether they’ve earned them or not, and Draymond Green will continue to give sad, single-sentence answers to reporters after heart-breaking losses. Perhaps the All-Star break will give the team some much-needed reflection time and they’ll return with a new mindset. Other than that, all eyes are focused on the May 19th draft lottery, when the results of whether there will be any upside to the suffering of Warriors fans will be revealed.