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For the Warriors, the promise of the future cannot come at the expense of mortgaging the present

These past few games have been a clunky series of events for the Golden State Warriors.

To make things clear, injury and health misfortune has been the cause of their recent struggles. Steph Curry may not see time on the floor until after the turn of the calendar. Andrew Wiggins is on the cusp of returning from an adductor strain, but his presence has been sorely missed. No matter what you think of Donte DiVincenzo and JaMychal Green, they are still live bodies that provide a certain level of NBA competency.

Klay Thompson’s struggles have been well documented, while Jordan Poole’s performances wax and wane. Draymond Green can only do so much as someone who primarily sets the table instead of someone who actively partakes in its goods.

Somewhere along the way, the process that became the formula behind winning a championship was lost. Crunching numbers and caring about extra dollars seem to be important to the organization’s front office and ownership. They are more than entitled to manage their finances and bottom line the best way they see fit — but that doesn’t mean the consequences of such sacrifices won’t be felt.

There was always the risk of the Warriors falling apart in a scenario where Curry sees a significant amount of missed time. He is the team’s lifeblood in more ways than one, a larger-than-life figure that has come to define a team’s rise — one that was once down on its luck for what seemed like perpetuity.

Without Curry, everything seems listless, absent of joy and energy, and — quite frankly — devoid of meaning. No method of analysis — the eye test, the advanced stats, etc. — can provide even a tiny sliver of a silver lining.

Offensive sets lose their juice, which means the Warriors have to work extra hard to generate efficient shots — that is, if possessions haven’t already devolved into late-clock self-creation contests.

The possession above resulted in points, but not without initial struggle. Poole — the only offensive threat deemed as dangerous by the Brooklyn Nets — is being guarded tightly. There is only five seconds left on the shot clock till the Warriors find an exploit in the Nets’ switch-everything scheme: a slip of the split-cut screen by Green.

The numbers speak for themselves. The Warriors have outscored opponents by 7.0 points per 100 possessions during Curry’s 894 minutes on the floor this season. Without him, they’ve been outscored by 12.1 points per 100 possessions. Such a whopping 19.1-points-per-100-possession difference literally spells the difference between the best point differential in the league and the worst.

A 30-7-7 stat line — fueled by a ridiculous 59/43/92 shooting split (2P/3P/FT) — is impossible to replace, let alone replicate. His 66.8 TS% — while taking nearly 12 threes per game — is an unprecedented marriage between scoring volume and scoring efficiency. In terms of estimated plus-minus — a widely accepted all-in-one metric that provides a near-accurate measurement of one’s impact — Curry’s plus-7.7 EPM is bested only by Nikola Jokić (plus-7.9).

In the four games Curry has missed after suffering a left shoulder subluxation, the Warriors have put up the following numbers:

  • 110.0 offensive rating (23rd over the period)
  • 124.8 defensive rating (30th)
  • Minus-14.8 net rating (30th)

For a group that needs its best player on the floor for at least 30-plus minutes per game, the numbers above are a sobering reminder that the Warriors’ success — in the past, present, and in the near future — bank on Curry’s availability. As such, the only timeline the Warriors will ever have to worry about is one that places Curry as its utmost priority.

The other young piece that shined against the Nets — albeit in the face of a large deficit and during garbage time — was Patrick Baldwin Jr., who finished with 17 points on 10 shots, including a 5-of-8 clip on threes.

It’s hard to pass up on Baldwin Jr.’s combination of size, height, and sweet shooting stroke. Such traits make his skill set a premium, with potential for matchup advantages that could put pressure on opposing defenses in all sorts of ways.

It remains to be seen how he will fare defensively against NBA-level competition — he’s seen too few valuable minutes in the NBA to properly assess his staying power on that end — but if he could become a competent defender at his position, there could be no doubt about his ability to contribute in the future, whether as a member of the Warriors or on another team.

Despite these flashes, they still aren’t enough to cover up what has been a tumultuous turn of roster events. The Warriors still have the best five-man lineup in the league: Curry, Thompson, Wiggins, Green, and Kevon Looney are outscoring opponents by 23 points per 100 possessions — the best among 12 five-man lineups with at least 195 minutes tallied.

All lineups other than the starters have struggled mightily: collectively outscored by nearly 4.0 points per 100 possessions.

That speaks to the Warriors’ damaged depth compared to last season, with a veteran bench crew that hasn’t been as sturdy and complementary and a youth plan that has gone awry. With trade season in full gear (in theory, at least) and a trade deadline that is approaching, the Warriors have a choice to make.

Do they continue to plan for a future without a generational talent and arguably a top-10 basketball player of all time? Or do they dangle the future in trade discussions to see if a rebuilding or scuffling team trades veteran NBA-level contributors for a couple of reset buttons?

With Curry and the kind of top-end supporting crew that he has right now, the latter option seems the most logical choice.

Credit: Golden State of Mind

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