What’s Wrong With the Warriors?
At first glance, the case could easily be made that there is nothing wrong with the Warriors right now. Sure, they lost Kevin Durant for the next several weeks, but everything indicates that he’s expected to be back in the lineup come playoff time. If KD is back, then the Warriors will enter the playoffs as the odds-on favorites to capture their second championship in three seasons.
Over the last few games, though, they haven’t looked totally right. They were always going to struggle a bit without a player of Durant’s caliber on the floor, but we’re so used to this team dominating opponents on a nightly basis that something seems drastically amiss whenever they aren’t firing on all cylinders.
Curry Hasn’t Been the Same
And, over the last couple of games, that has been the case. Stephen Curry, who has seemed legitimately invincible for three years running now, has hit the skids. Over the last 11 games, with Durant healthy for most of them, the two-time defending league MVP is shooting just 40.5 percent from the floor and a ghastly 29 percent from three-point range.
To be honest, Curry hasn’t looked like his old self for the majority of the season. His numbers were always going to take a hit with another high usage player like KD joining the club, but that doesn’t really explain his dip in percentages. After shooting better than 45 percent from long range this season, Steph is down to 39.9 percent thus far in 2016-17.
That’s still a borderline elite shooting number, but, for Steph, it’s highly unusual. This guy has never shot worse than 42.4 percent from deep as a pro, yet here he is lingering in the upper-30s. Hmm.
Curry battled leg injuries during the postseason last year, but there has been no indication whatsoever that the injuries have lingered into this season. He just hasn’t had the same consistency that we’re used to seeing from him. We always tend to take his staggeringly amazing shooting for granted.
On the heels of three consecutive terrible shooting nights – he went just 4-for-31 from three against Philadelphia, Washington and Chicago – Steph seemed to find his stroke a bit on Sunday against the Knicks. Curry surged to a strong second half and finished with a game-high 31 points on 5-for-13 shooting from long range. While that still isn’t the kind of overly efficient night we have gotten used to seeing, perhaps he’s finally broken out of the slump.
Is Depth A Concern?
When you have a four-headed superstar attack like the Warriors do, a lack of depth is rarely cause for much concern. Head coach Steve Kerr has the luxury of having at least two legitimate All-Stars on the floor for all 48 minutes night in and night out, which is a luxury afforded to exactly zero other teams in the entire league.
When one of those players goes down, though, the bench guys are suddenly tasked with stepping it up. Golden State has gotten valuable contributions from their reserves at times this season, but their bench as a whole strikes fear into nobody. While Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston are perfectly serviceable backups, there isn’t another player on this bench that would log serious rotation minutes for any other top contending team.
So, when a hole in the starting lineup is created, that’s potentially problematic. There is still likely enough star power here to keep the boat afloat, but we’ve seen top-heavy teams wear down in the past. Just look at the Clippers. Their top four of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and JJ Redick is as good as just about anyone’s, but they haven’t had the bench to supplement that group in the past. As a result, they exit the playoffs early on an annual basis.
While it helps that guys like Curry and Durant are often provided the luxury to sit out entire fourth quarters because of blowouts fairly often, heavy minutes have a way of catching up with players as the seasons go on. Since KD went down, Curry has played 34, 35 and 37 minutes, respectively. Klay Thompson has played 38, 37 and 37. Draymond Green has played 40, 35 and 40.
Kerr would certainly prefer to limit the minutes of his stars as the playoffs draw closer, but with the Spurs just 2.5 back heading into play Monday, he may not be able to. Clinching the top spot in the Western Conference playoffs is of paramount importance, so Golden State realistically can’t afford to start losing ground.
It’s pretty clear that the bench unit as a whole isn’t capable of winning games on its own. As a result, the Dubs are going to have to lean on their stars to play heavy minutes down the stretch of the season.
Are They In Serious Danger?
When they’re at full strength, this is arguably the best of the Kerr-era Warriors teams. Sure, they won a title in 2015 and won an NBA record 73 regular season games last year, but it’s just hard to say either of those teams was actually better than this 2017 version that includes Kevin Durant.
However, the argument can also be made that the other chief title contenders have also improved. The Cavs, who beat the Warriors in the Finals last June, look even more dangerous if they’re able to get Kevin Love back for the playoffs. This season alone, Cleveland has added the likes of Kyle Korver, Deron Williams and Andrew Bogut to form a supremely talented bench behind their trio of superstars.
The Spurs, somehow, also keep chugging along. Tim Duncan retired, yet San Antonio is very much within striking distance of the top seed in the conference. If the Spurs are able to use the Durant injury to their advantage and overtake the two-time defending conference champs, you have to like their chances in the postseason with home court advantage throughout.
We also can’t sleep on teams like Houston, Utah or Memphis. The Grizzlies have already beaten the Warriors twice this season and have generally proven to be a tough matchup for them over the last couple of seasons. Golden State doesn’t have the bulk on the interior to realistically stop Marc Gasol or Zach Randolph, and they’re the kind of team that can be incredibly tough to oust in the postseason. Utah provides similar matchup problems for Golden State.
General manager Daryl Morey has effectively built his Rockets team into Golden State Lite. They don’t have the superstar names that the Warriors boast, but Morey has surrounded James Harden with a gaggle of elite, three-point slinging role players. If anyone in the league is capable of matching the Warriors three-for-three, it’s that gang of bombardiers down in southeast Texas.
Will the Warriors still make the Finals? Probably. We can talk ourselves into San Antonio, Memphis, Utah or Houston rising up all we want, but the NBA often just comes down to talent in the end. The Warriors have more talent at the top than anyone else, so it’s difficult to imagine them faltering on their way to a third straight Finals appearance.
However, this team is looking far from invincible these days. If they wait too long to truly find their groove again, they could find themselves going home early for a second consecutive season.