SAN FRANCISCO – Questions and concerns surrounding the Warriors coming into the 2023-24 NBA season: Will the Chris Paul trade work? Is this team getting too old? Are they athletic enough? Do they have a true No. 2 scorer behind Steph Curry?
Some of those questions still are being answered. If there were one thing the Warriors could confidently lean on going into the season, it was their starting five of Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green and Kevon Looney. There wasn’t a better five-man group in the NBA last season.
That hasn’t quite been the case so far this season.
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Green’s return from a five-game suspension Tuesday night in Sacramento against the Kings gives Steve Kerr every usual starter healthy and at his disposal. There already is plenty on the line against the Warriors’ fellow Northern California rivals, and getting that group to gel is atop Kerr’s to-do list.
“I'd like to get our first group from the last couple of years, now that they're healthy, I'd like to get them some reps together,” Kerr said Monday after practice. “Let's get them back into a groove and then we can figure out the bench rotation from there. So that's kind of how I'm approaching it.”
Injuries and absences held the group to only 27 games played together and 331 minutes last season. But their chemistry was off the charts, producing a 128.0 offensive rating, 106.1 defensive rating and a 21.9 net rating. They had a 2.97 assist to turnover ratio and a 67.0 true shooting percentage.
Look away, the numbers aren’t close to the same thus far in 2023-24.
Golden State Warriors
Injuries, ejections and suspensions have held the group to just 87 minutes playing together in only seven of the Warriors’ first 17 games. The Curry-Thompson-Wiggins-Green-Looney lineup right now has a minus-14.4 net rating. How? Their offensive rating is 112.2, and their defensive rating is an ugly 126.6.
Offensive firepower always has been viewed as the fuel that makes the Warriors go. That’s a natural thought process for a team that has the greatest shooting backcourt of all time, and also featured Kevin Durant for three seasons. Even with Durant in the fold and the decade-plus the Splash Brothers have shared the court, defense is what has unlocked the Warriors. Green believes he immediately can help there, as he often has done in the past.
“I think defensively we’re good, in spurts,” Green said Sunday. “In order to be a good team, a great team, you have to put as close to 48 minutes together as you possibly can. The reality is, nobody does. But if you can put together 36 minutes, it beats 20 minutes.
“The goal is to get as close to 48 minutes of great defense as you possibly can. I don’t think we can be as great as we can be on that side of the ball, and we all have to take on that challenge – individually and collectively.”
Two other areas in need of a fix that Green mentioned are spacing and limiting turnovers. With how much the ball is in his hands, both rest heavily on his shoulders.
The reality is, one starter has played like a star and that’s Curry. Green and Looney have been solid in what they’re asked to do, but both are non-shooters and need Thompson and Wiggins to be on their game around them. They haven’t.
Wiggins’ 11.8 points per game are a career low, and his shooting percentages across the board – overall, 3-point range and the free-throw line – all are the worst of his career. Thompson’s 15.0 points per game are his lowest since his rookie year, and his field-goal percentage and 3-point percentage are career lows. Confidence remains that Wiggins and Thompson can find their shots, but Wiggins’ 118 defensive rating, per Basketball-Reference, and Thompson’s 117 defensive rating, are the two worst on the Warriors.
Kerr maintains he’s choosing patience over worry for the two right now. There also is a fine line that’s being walked across, and the Warriors can’t wait too long for it to break.
“I’m really going to believe in that group and believe in those guys who have accomplished so much for a long time,” Kerr said. “As a coach, it’s just a matter of recognizing if you have to make a change of some sort. When is that juncture? When is that critical time of the season?”
Golden State’s next five games are against the Kings, the Phoenix Suns and three against the Los Angeles Clippers. The Warriors have beaten the Kings twice, once with Green and once without, but Sacramento star De’Aaron Fox also missed one of those games. The Warriors also have lost to the Suns twice, both times without Green, and haven’t faced the new-look Clippers yet.
Green’s return comes at a crucial time for the Warriors, and one where they hope to show their starting five of the last few seasons is still elite at this stage.