It is not always easy to determine when the honeymoon ends; affectionate feelings tend to dissipate slowly, for many different reasons, rather than all at once. For the 2022-23 Warriors, it likely came when Draymond Green’s fist connected with Jordan Poole’s jaw. If we limit it to live game action, however, you could probably do worse than “with just under three and a half minutes left in the third quarter against the Magic.”
With Golden State holding a nine-point lead Thursday night, Stephen Curry dribbled the ball on the timeline against Franz Wagner. He looked for a screen from James Wiseman … and he kept looking, as the 7-foot-1 Golden State center selected with the No. 2 pick in the 2020 NBA draft waited on the right elbow.
Steph waves Wiseman over, then becomes demonstrative, jumping around angrily waiting for the younger man to arrive. Orlando fires a quick change, with Wendell Carter Jr. coming out to pick up Curry, so Wiseman slides the screen and cuts to the basket … but turns his back on the game as he begins to dive to the edge, rather than returning his hips and opening up to become a target for Curry to hit on the roll. By the time he is in post position against Wagner, there are 11 seconds left on the shot clock; there is an assist defender (Chuma Okeke) stationed in the corner on the strong side, two feet away from disrupting any pass in; and Curry mishandled the rock, his leg dribbling.
As Steph goes to the corral, Wiseman also becomes demonstrative, shaking his head in apparent frustration – maybe on a miss in the execution of the play call. With little else happening – Poole slowly comes up from the corner, JaMychal Green and Moses Moody swap places on the weak side, no one creates an advantage – Curry just dances over Carter and sets up a step back 3 that hangs on at the edge. Wiseman, who had spun inside looking for an offensive rebounding position, was pushed under the basket by Wagner, who cleaned up the misfire and brought Orlando out on the fast break.
In all honesty: that individual play didn’t cost the Warriors the game or anything. (The Magic didn’t even score here; as rookie bulldozer Paolo Banchero rumbled in transition, Moody beat him from the spot, firing a charge and regaining possession.) Golden State still held the lead — although, at the Unbeknownst to the Dubs, Orlando had just started what would become a groundbreaking 38-14 streak. And even after squandering that advantage, the Warriors still had chances to win late, tying the game in the last minute before some two-way excellence of Jalen Suggs slammed the door, sending the hosts to a 130-129 victory.
Seen in a certain light, however, this game feels like something like the disconnect at the heart of Golden State’s “two timelines” approach made manifest. The frayed patience of a core veteran who won four championships in eight seasons playing a specific brand of basketball the new guys haven’t quite mastered yet; the exasperation of a movement of big lottery youth grappling with the hope that they will become smooth, seamless cogs in someone else’s machine – and do shit now.
The defending champions are 3-6, on a four-game losing streak, with those losses coming to teams with a combined 11-24 record. They rank 25th in points allowed per possession, putting opponents on the free throw line at the league’s highest rate … which is an especially big issue when your offense is closer to league average than top-of-the-pops, especially when the starters hit the bench.
No NBA team has had a greater disparity between their first and second units this season. The Warriors’ starting five – Curry, Green, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and Kevon Looney – was arguably the best lineup in the league, outscoring opponents by 60 points in 109 minutes. And yet, the Warriors, as a team, have has been outclassed by 31 points this season. The chasm is remarkable: Every Warriors starter has a positive plus-minus, and all the reserve is in the red.
That includes Poole, whom Golden State signed to a four-year extension worth up to $140 million before the start of the season, and whose recall to a 2021-22 breakout campaign was extremely hard. The 23-year-old guard’s 3-point and free-throw percentages are down, and his turnover rate is up, which has made him a shaky backup during those vital times when Steph has to sit. Last season, the Warriors scored 111.4 points per 100 possessions when Poole played without Curry, according to Cleaning the Glass — a bit below league average, but solid enough to hold down the fort while the two-time MVP has a break. So far this season, it’s down to just 99.2 points per 100 – worst territory in the league.
If Poole can’t sustain the attack, the second unit’s best chance of staying competitive is to tighten up their defence… which brings us to Wiseman, who now has similar problems to those he had at the start of his rookie season.
Opponents recover more than 35% of their misses when Wiseman is on the ground, an offensive rebound rate above the league-leading Grizzlies’ mark. They don’t pull the rim often, but they pull 68.5% when they do; which includes a scorching 71.4% clip with Wiseman as the closest defender, 78th of 88 players to defend at least 25 close shots this season, according to Second Spectrum. He continues to struggle with his defensive positioning – slouching too far into fall coverage, stepping out of place when he gets level, overzealous for counterfeits, etc. — contributing to a troubling penchant for hacking: Wiseman was called for 6.8 personal fouls per 36 minutes of ground time, the highest rate of any NBA player to log over 100 minutes.
As enticing as his height, athleticism and physical tools are, Wiseman is a 21-year-old player who has – between college, G-League and NBA – played a grand total of 52 games and 1,046 minutes of basketball. since fall 2019, with a pandemic, injuries and a myriad of challenges to overcome along the way. It’s hard to fault a great man with so little experience for not already becoming an effective contributor at the highest level.
But it’s also hard to blame anyone wanting a player to pick before LaMelo Ball – or, if you go to a similar position, a switchable defender like Onyeka Okongwu or a pick-and-roll connector like Obi Toppin – seemed like it. he had a better understanding of how to play the Warriors way. Especially considering that Golden State is trying to defend a championship in a brutally competitive Western Conference and can’t necessarily afford to give its young players the time they need to develop that feel and seasoning without hampering their chances of winning. (In a related story, Jonathan Kuminga, the No. 7 pick in the 2021 draft, has played just 65 minutes this season, with three DNP-CDs.)
“It’s been a tough couple of games for James,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr told reporters. “But I am a believer. I like his talent, his attitude. But there are no shortcuts.
To be clear: None of this is really a surprise. It was the path the Warriors chose when they (prompted in part, perhaps, for fear of adding to an already obscene luxury tax bill) allowed a handful of contributors to the title team of the year. last – Otto Porter Jr., Gary Payton II, Nemanja Bjelica , Juan Toscano-Anderson, Damion Lee – walk in free agency. They decided to throw the kids in the deep end and find out if they could swim. So far, however, the Warriors are drowning in youth minutes…which prompts Kerr to change the lifeguards who are on duty.
“We’re going to have to make some adjustments, make some changes,” Kerr told reporters after the Orlando loss. “We’ve had nine games now. We’ve had a good look at the combinations, so it’s time to try something different. … Everyone will get a chance to play. We have some guys who are dying to get put on the floor. We need to find combinations that click. We’ll discuss that as a staff and we’ll figure that out.”
Obviously, Kerr’s first step in giving everyone a chance to play is to remove most of the guys who are already playing:
Maybe Kuminga will get a second chance and run with it. Maybe a few reinforcements on the wing — a longer look at two-way guard Ty Jerome, the return of Donte DiVincenzo, the eventual debut of Andre Iguodala — help calm things down a bit off the bench. Maybe Poole gets hot from 3, stabilizing the second-unit offense, and everyone gets a little more comfortable in the mixed, veteran and kids groupings. Perhaps everyone – from seasoned veterans to green newcomers – stop messing around so much.
For now, however, the Warriors find themselves in a new and uncomfortable position: with Curry healthy and looking as good as he’s ever looked – averaging 31-7-7, shooting 59% at the inside the arc and 41% beyond – but still no win. You don’t lose a title nine games into the season, but it can be late early in the West. If Kerr can’t find the right combinations or the right buttons to press to get the most out of the old ones, and quickthe frustration and loss may continue to mount — and that post-parade honeymoon will feel like a distant, faded memory.
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