Warriors need for Steph has never been greater than now originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay area
SAN FRANCISCO – Defending NBA champions caught in a vortex of mediocrity, the Warriors are desperately trying to save their season and the first step toward that is painfully obvious.
Their need for the offensive presence of Stephen Curry has never been greater than now.
Getting Curry back in the starting lineup can’t come soon enough. Though he is listed as “questionable” on the official NBA injury report for Tuesday night’s game against the Suns, the belief within the organization is that the two-time NBA MVP will be available for the first time 27 days.
Curry won’t be a complete cure for all that ails Golden State’s offense, but he immediately addresses the most acute issue: Dehydration, particularly in the fourth quarter.
Even while winning five of seven games during the homestand that ends Tuesday, it was Golden State’s defense, especially in the fourth quarter (NBA-best 95.3 defensive rating for the seven games), that found paths to victory.
Meanwhile, the offense was profoundly substandard, with its 111.2 rating 22nd among the 30 teams. In the fourth quarter, that number falls to 102.3, ranking 28th.
“We’re having a lot of possessions where we’re going stagnant,” coach Steve Kerr said Monday after practice. “We’re not getting a ‘dive man.’ Or we’re ‘five out’ on the perimeter. And just pass, pass, pass, without anybody setting a screen and diving to the rim and pulling the defense in.”
This weakness was abundantly clear in recent games, certainly during the 115-101 loss to Orlando on Saturday, when the Warriors scored 19 points on 6-of-22 shooting in the fourth quarter. After reviewing the video, the coaching staff spent much of practice Monday focusing on executing possessions.
“You get slippage at times like these,” Kerr said, noting that practices are rare at this point of the season. “So, you go through the fundamentals. Everything is important. Being in the right spot, just being a little further and deeper, into the corner, gives the spacing that allows a play to happen. If that breaks down, everything breaks down.”
The confidence of Golden State’s offense gets a massive boost from Curry, whose unique magnetism bends defenses his way and automatically creates room for his teammates. Much of Klay Thompson’s production during his career comes from his ability to exploit this effect. Andrew Wiggins got in on the action last season and found another level this season before he was injured five weeks ago.
Curry, Thompson and Wiggins will be on the floor in the fourth quarter of any game still within reach of either team. They’ll joined by Draymond Green. It will be up to Kerr to decide whether to the fifth player is Jordan Poole, Kevon Looney or Donte DiVincenzo.
Though the fourth quarter is where most games are decided, and where Curry’s absence most diminishes the Warriors, his presence influences the offense from opening tip to final buzzer. Among starters playing at least 25 games this season, he ranks 11th in individual offensive rating (118.9). Next among the Warriors is Thompson, tied for 25th at 117.0.
No member of the Warriors outside the Curry-Thompson-Wiggins-Green-Looney starting lineup is among the top 250 among all players in offensive rating – which shines a harsh light on the bench.
Much like the return of Wiggins on Saturday shifted Donte DiVincenzo back to the bench, the return of Curry will send Poole to the bench. As rotations change, so do dynamics, but the Warriors will again have considerably more firepower behind the starters.
To look at the entirety of this roster is to know and accept that it has the slimmest margin of error among the Golden State six teams that have reached the NBA Finals over the previous eight seasons. Without Curry, the margin was squeezed to bursting.
For not only were the Warriors piling up empty possessions, they also were erratic and without rhythm, five guys trying to play and think and coalesce at the same time. That might fly at the Y or on the playground. Not in the NBA.
There have been hundreds of occasions when the catalyst that is Steph Curry was the only firewall between the Warriors and defeat. Few players in NBA history have done it as well.
With a 20-20 record, the Warriors are hanging in the balance. More pulseless losses – they’re 0-4 against the Magic and the Pistons, for crying out loud – will further erode their championship credibility.
Curry’s value to the Warriors, always high, is outright mesospheric as it relates to their needs for the rest of this season.