Draymond Green

How Dubs can best fill Draymond void during indefinite suspension

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Like the unknown length of Draymond Green's indefinite suspension -- which the NBA handed down Wednesday, one day after his ejection for striking Phoenix Suns center Jusuf Nurkic in the face -- countless questions about what this latest incident means for Green and the Warriors abound, both in the present and future.

In pure basketball terms, who will replace Green in the Warriors' starting lineup comes first. So, here are the four different starting lineups that coach Steve Kerr used in the eight games Green has missed so far this season.

The starting five of Chris Paul, Steph Curry, Andrew Wiggins, Klay Thompson and Kevon Looney easily has been the most successful of the four lineups, producing a 15.7 net rating -- 125.5 offensive and 109.8 defensive -- over 85 minutes in 10 games.

Paul started the first four games of Green's recent five-game suspension, for his Nov. 14 chokehold on Minnesota Timberwolves 7-footer Rudy Gobert. The 38-year-old point guard averaged 12.0 points, 9.3 assists, 3.8 rebounds, 1.5 steals and shot 50.0 percent from the field and 57.9 percent on 4.8 3-point attempts per game. But the Warriors also went 1-3 in that span.

Paul was a plus-12 with 15 points, 12 assists, six rebounds and two steals in Golden State’s lone win. Then he was a minus-18 two nights later in just 16-plus minutes before being ejected as a result of his latest Scott Foster altercation.

Moses Moody replaced Paul in the starting lineup for the final game of Green's suspension, a six-point NBA In-Season Tournament win over the struggling San Antonio Spurs. Moody was a minus-6 in 17 minutes, but he scored nine points on a perfect 4-of-4 shooting and added four rebounds. Paul gave the Warriors 10 assists off the bench and was a plus-16.

Jonathan Kuminga feels like the most obvious candidate to fill Green’s slot this time, though, beginning Thursday night against the Los Angeles Clippers. Kuminga was supposed to be out of the rotation when the Warriors beat the Clippers on Nov. 30. The 21-year-old then scored 17 points in the final 23 minutes of a six-point win. Something clicked for him.

Kuminga is providing the necessary force the Warriors need, averaging 15.2 points on 58.8 percent shooting from the field and 47.1 percent on threes, as well as 5.4 rebounds, over 22.6 minutes per game in the last five contests. He's the Warriors' outlier, as the former No. 7 overall draft pick is the ultra-athlete on a team whose core is on the other side of 30.

Placing Kuminga in the starting lineup also has its own domino effect. If he’s a starter, Looney likely isn’t. The two have been on the court together for 81 minutes over 18 games this season, and have a minus-7.9 net rating because of a lowly 99.4 offensive rating and 107.9 defensive rating. However, Kuminga and Dario Saric have a 7.6 net rating in 21 games (274 minutes) together, thanks to a 118.4 offensive rating making up for a 110.8 defensive rating.

Saric was a team-high plus-21 Tuesday night in Phoenix, as he scored 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting. Sure, the 6-foot-10 stretch big has his defensive limitations, but he also has scored in double figures in three consecutive games, 11 of the Warriors' last 13 and 14 total times this season. Saric's 10.9 points per game are his most since his second NBA season (2017-18), and his 46.0 field-goal percentage is the second-best of his career.

The Warriors also have lost all four games in which Saric has started this season.

Moody will continue to be an important part of the Warriors' rotation, and rookie Trayce Jackson-Davis certainly should see his role increase. Jackson-Davis' seven minutes of action Tuesday during the fourth quarter was his most playing time in an NBA game in three weeks.

Without Green, the Warriors will need both front-court athleticism and ball-handling. Kuminga checks the athleticism box. Paul checks the ball-handling box. But so does rookie guard Brandin Podziemski, who also brings the fearlessness the Warriors will miss during Green’s absence. Podziemski and Kuminga have a 15.5 net rating together in 16 games (189 minutes) behind a 118.4 offensive rating and a 102.9 defensive rating.

But trying to get both in the same starting lineup would require a conversation with either Thompson or Wiggins that neither might be ready to hear, and one that Kerr might not be ready to have. Kerr, however, did show a renewed ability to put allegiances aside and stick with the hot hand down the stretch of the Warriors' loss in Phoenix. Thompson didn't close for the first time under Kerr. Wiggins and Looney were relegated to the bench for the entire fourth quarter, and both began the second half on the bench as Podziemski and Kuminga played.

A Paul-Curry-Podziemski-Kuminga-Saric lineup played the final five minutes of the Warriors' three-point loss to the Suns, and was a plus-4, outscoring the Suns 20-16. Kuminga and Podziemski scored the Warriors' final eight points, too.

"As far as ego goes, egos always have to be checked on a team, because it's a team sport, and it's a team made up of individuals,” Green said Tuesday night of Thompson, Wiggins and Looney being on the bench down the stretch.

Green's ego and mental endurance will be tested by his indefinite suspension. Other egos must be checked in order to fill the gaps he will leave behind, and more importantly, for a 10-13 Warriors team to come even remotely close to a road that can get them back on track.

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