Stephen Curry will walk thorough the doors of Oracle for the Warriors’ first round matchup. Unfortunately for the Dubs it will be in a designer suit instead of his jersey.
Baring a miraculous recovery, Curry will miss the first round as he continues to rehab his sprained MCL. Despite the April 14th reevaluation, he is to return early as the second round. Meanwhile, the Warriors with a 6-9 record over the past 15 games are still looking for who they are without the Chef.
It’s easy to assume that with three other All-Stars in Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, Golden State wouldn’t miss a beat. However, Curry is the engine of the Warriors’ machine. His gravity and the shots that he creates are such a vital part of what they do offensively. With Curry out, the floor shrinks and the ball movement and motion offense becomes stagnant.
In December, the Warriors were 9-2 on the month without Curry. A big part of that was that they:
- Upped Durant’s usage rate and ran the offense through him
- Locked in on defense
Due to injuries to the other three stars, the Warriors struggled to maintain those two principles that made them so successful four months ago. Even with the three All-Stars back in the line up, it seems as if they are relying on one principle instead of two.
While I agree that the Warriors need to up Durant’s usage and lock in on defense in order to win the first round without Curry, it is more about how the Warriors do it instead of what they do.
Stout defense and modified high usage for Durant is the key in the first round.
Bring the Clamps
For four years, the Warriors have been defined by their offense. When people think of this team, the first thing that comes to their mind is the threes.
But it is the Warriors’ defense that’s more often than not the catalyst for the offense. The Warriors can be down by 16 until a Green block that leads to a Thompson transition three turns the game around.
The only time we’ve seen defensive consistency from this Warriors team was in December after Curry’s ankle sprain that kept him out of action for the month. The team had a 97.7 defensive rating during that time.
Recently, the Warriors’ engagement on defense has waned. In eight quarters, Golden State gave up a total of 252 points. The Pelicans were responsible for 40 of those points in the first quarter of Saturday’s game. This is unacceptable for a championship caliber team.
The Warriors can fix their defensive ills by communicating better and locking down the perimeter. Opponents have been taking advantage of all the open shots that the Warriors have been giving up.
The Warriors have been either leaving players open or getting lost on defense. Tightening up on the perimeter and forcing opponents into tough shots can solve most of Golden State’s problems.
In addition to perimeter defense, the Warriors must hustle for rebounds. Granted, they are at a disadvantage in this area. However, that doesn’t excuse not having hustle and effort.
Against the Pacers, Green didn’t record a single rebound in the first half. The Warriors can’t control their size in the paint but they can fight for 50-50 balls. They can box out and jump.
If they can do that as well as a better job on the perimeter, their defense will improve.
KD as a Point Forward
Obviously, Durant’s usage always cranks up when Curry is out. It’s no secret that this is the offensive strategy without Curry – and rightfully so. Durant’s skill and efficiency is undeniable. His “bag” in ISO situations is virtually unstoppable. However, sometimes Durant stifles the Warriors’ offense.
Golden State is 0-5 when Durant scores high. Granted, four of those games are without Curry and the other is when he has an off night. However, it does not negate the fact that Durant has a nasty habit of resorting to his days in OKC where he forces the issue in ISO to the detriment of the team.
Against the Pacers, Thompson was scoreless in the second half. Why? Because Durant and his ISO-mode forces the rest of the team to stand around, and that is not what the Warriors’ offense is based on.
What will help the Warriors sans Curry is if Durant assumes more of a Point Forward role. In the December game against the Hornets, he recorded a triple double. His 10 assists benefited Thompson and a streaky Nick Young that night.
Of course, Durant got his points. He had 35, but the difference between this 35, the 40 vs the Clippers, the 90 combined points against the Blazers, and the 41 on the Pelicans is the fact that he scored within the context of the system.
Durant can replicate his Hornets game by getting Thompson early looks. Also, he and Green can set high screens for each other for some shots.
In addition to screens, Durant can make his ISOs purposeful. He has a tendency to settle for threes and mid range jumpers when he can attack the basket. It isn’t like most players can guard him. So why not feast in the paint and draw contact?
Bringing it All Together
The Warriors can and should be able to win the first round and get Curry back for the second. This team still have an embarrassment of riches as far as talent is concerned.
With that said, the Warriors, despite their talent, still do not have a huge margin of error with Curry being out. If KD is more playmaker than ISO, their problems on offense will be fixed until they can stretch the floor with Curry in later rounds.
If they fight thought malaise and bring focus and hustle on defense, there is no team that will stop them.