SAN FRANCISCO – Stephen Curry has been outstanding. Draymond Green has missed almost half the games. Klay Thompson is confronting the deep end of his career. Chris Paul is the new maestro still discovering the rhymes and rhythms of his orchestra.
And the playing rotations have been as variable as the moods of a kitten.
All of which has the Warriors, sitting uneasily on a 9-11 record, trying to prove that who they were over the first 20 games is not who they’ll be over the next 62.
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There is a multistep plan, according to coach Steve Kerr. Limit turnovers, as usual. Limit fouls, as usual. Defend with energy. And then there is another element, though implementing it asks a lot of this roster.
The Warriors want to run. Push the pace. Keep defenses from setting up half-court shells. Run, run, run.
“We were No. 1 in the league in pace last year and we’re No. 30 right now,” Kerr said.
Kerr is right about last season; the Warriors ran at the fastest pace in the league. He’s wrong about this season, as they are 13th. It’s not bottom tier, but it’s also not top-five, which is where they finished in each of the six seasons that concluded with an appearance in the NBA Finals.
Golden State Warriors
The core of the Warriors – Curry at 35, Green and Thompson each 33 – was much younger during those runs to the Finals. The acquisition of 38-year-old Chris Paul in July boosted the team’s average age but addressed the desire to reduce turnovers.
“We felt we could find some middle ground, find a way to take better care of the ball but still play with pace and find advantages in the game,” Kerr said. “And we’re not finding as many advantages as we should.
“We need to throw the ball ahead more. I see a lot of possessions where guys are catching (the ball) and then dribbling it up, and then you lose your advantage. I really want to see more throw-aheads and more pace and more energy.”
If the Warriors, the third-oldest roster in the league, are to pick up the pace, it surely would benefit their offense. Transition triples from Curry and Thompson have a way of deflating opponents.
Kerr believes it’s possible. Green believes it’s possible.
“I’ve missed seven games, nine if you count the two ejections,” Green said Saturday in Los Angeles, after a 113-112 loss to the Clippers. “I push our pace. That’s one of my roles. I can raise my hand and say that’s all my fault.
“But I also take it upon myself to make sure we get it back there. We’re starting to get it back.”
When it comes to rebound-rip-run, Green might be the best in the league outside of Giannis Antetokounmpo. Where Giannis pushes to finish, Draymond pushes to feed.
“One of the best things he does is, made or missed, he gets the ball out and pushes it ahead – point forward,” Kerr said. “You get Steph and Klay running the wings and it puts a lot of pressure on the defense.
“We need Draymond pushing it, for sure. But we need everybody running the floor. when we have someone running ahead, we have to throw it to them.”
This is a tall ask of these Warriors. The Bucks are the only team in the NBA top-five in pace (fifth) and also among the five oldest (first). The Clippers, No. 2 on the age list, are 22nd in pace. The Suns, No. 4 on the age list, are 27th in pace. The 76ers, with the fifth-eldest roster, are 16th in pace. The Heat, sixth on the age list, are 24th in pace.
And yet the Curry-Green-Thompson Warriors hoping to summon the will and endurance to operate at the speed of 2018. The four-ring vets are high-mileage players, as is Paul. Only Curry consistently performs at a relatively high level beyond 30 minutes per game.
The Warriors have no chance of accomplishing this mission without making liberal use of their younger players. Gary Payton II and Cory Joseph each are 31 with relatively low mileage. Dario Sarić is 29, Andrew Wiggins is 28, Kevon Looney is a high-mileage 27.
The true youngsters – Trayce Jackson-Davis, Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody and Brandin Podziemski – are all between 20 and 24. This group likely will dictate whether the Warriors can pick up the pace on a consistent basis. And Kerr says he believes in all four.
If, somehow, the Warriors successfully pull this off and win enough games to avoid the Play-In Tournament, they will have turned the NBA on its head. They will have offset obvious disadvantages in size and athleticism with energy, execution and fortitude.
At the quarter point of the season, the Warriors have their blueprint and seemed committed to it. Pursuing it with this roster is quite the ambitious task.