Steve Kerr

Why Kerr losing patience with starters is what's best for Warriors

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The Warriors broke the seal Tuesday night in Phoenix. Klay Thompson, for the first time ever, was benched down the stretch of a 119-116 loss to the Suns, and he wasn’t alone. 

Thompson showed frustrations on the bench once it was clear he was going to be stuck to the sidelines, and understandably so. He’s a four-time NBA champion. He’s a five-time All-Star who has made two All-NBA teams. He’s one of the greatest shooters of all time, was one of the best two-way players in the game for a stretch, fought his way back from injury hell and, despite his laid back demeanor, Thompson is one of the most competitive players on the Warriors.

But Thompson also has struggled mightily through the Warriors’ first 23 contests, and continued to do so Tuesday night after three days without playing a game. 

“You always want to be out there competing,” Thompson told reporters in Phoenix, via The Athletic’s Anthony Slater. “That’s just facts. Whatever though. It happens. I deserved to be benched. I’ve been playing like crap. Twenty games in. I haven’t caught a good rhythm. But give credit to our bench. They played awesome. Young guys are stepping up.”

The sharpshooter who made a career-high 301 3-pointers last season finished the three-point loss scoring seven points on 2-of-10 shooting and made only one of his eight attempts beyond the arc. Thompson, plus-4, was the lone starter to have a positive plus/minus, though in this case the numbers don’t tell the whole story. 

For a stretch that lasted nearly five minutes in the second quarter, Thompson shared the court alongside Chris Paul, Brandin Podziemski, Jonathan Kuminga and Dario Šarić – all of whom had come off the bench – and the group was a plus-11, outscoring the Suns 15-4. In the fourth quarter, however, Thompson was a minus-3 in 5 minutes and 41 seconds, and missed his only shot attempt, a 3-pointer that Podziemski flew in to secure one of his five offensive rebounds. 

Thompson stepped out of bounds on a bad pass by Steph Curry at the 6:36 mark of the fourth. Kerr sent him to the bench 17 seconds later, replacing him with Podziemski, and Thompson never had his number called the rest of the way. 

Again, he wasn’t alone. Andrew Wiggins didn’t play a single second in the fourth quarter. Neither did Kevon Looney. The Warriors already had lost their starting power forward, Draymond Green, to ejection. Curry was the only starter who played the final 6-plus minutes of the Warriors’ comeback attempt.

“I just felt like tonight I had to play the guys who were playing the best,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “I’ve been really patient in trying to get everyone organized, give guys freedom and space. But tonight did not feel like a night to have a lot of patience.”

Finally. Patience has run its course. Kerr, at least for one night, and after yet another frustrating loss where the bench pushed the Warriors’ lead to 13 points in the second quarter before the starters let it slip away, wasn’t stuck in using Golden State’s 2022 NBA championship as an excuse for extending a leash that’s losing its strength one turnover, one missed shot and one blown defensive assignment at a time. 

Wiggins and Looney each began the second half on the bench. Kuminga and Podziemski joined Curry, Thompson and Green coming out of halftime. Wiggins played a season-low 15 minutes and had as many turnovers (three) as points, going 1 of 7 from the field and 1 of 3 on 3s. Following a 29-point, 10-rebound double-double against the Sacramento Kings on Nov. 28, Wiggins missed two games to right finger soreness from slamming it on a car door. 

Since then, Wiggins has 10 turnovers and eight made shots over the Warriors’ last three games. Thirteen months removed from being the Warriors’ second-best player in the NBA Finals, Wiggins is averaging a career-low 12.1 points on 41.3/27.9/62.7 shooting splits, and his 117.9 defensive rating is the second-worst on the Warriors.

Podziemski was a plus-18 on a night where he scored 20 points and snatched 11 rebounds, giving him his first career double-double. He also totaled five assists, making him the only NBA rookie outside of Victor Wembanyama and Chet Holmgren to have at least 15 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in a game this season. Kuminga was a plus-13 behind 16 points and six rebounds on an efficient 6-of-10 shooting, and Šarić, Looney’s primary backup, was a team-high plus-21 off the bench with 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting and drained two of his four 3-point attempts. 

Looney, meanwhile, was a minus-13 in 11 minutes and hasn’t been able to bring his brand of defensive versatility that has been so valuable in the past. 

Every rotation Kerr has constructed, and every starting lineup as well, no longer can be etched in the ink of a permanent pen. This is No. 2 pencil time, leaving a Sharpie free for Curry to claim. There still are 59 regular-season games remaining on the Warriors’ schedule, and the best way to salvage what’s left is Kerr’s final ounce of patience being left in the past.

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