IT IS NOV. 20 AND The Golden State Warriors are in the middle of a surprisingly competitive battle against the 3-13 Houston Rockets. On paper, the Warriors should be running away with this game against a much younger, less experienced, and much happier losing team. At 4:46 in the first quarter, the Warriors make their first substitution. You are 13 plus. They finish the first quarter 40-28. The blowout is on.
Until it isn’t. The Rockets stormed into the second quarter with a 13-0 run. At halftime, the Warriors, who were winless on the road, are four behind. It’s a situation they’ve found themselves in all season – Stephen Curry and the starters build a lead only for the bench to give it up.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his staff head back to the coach’s office in the bowels of the Toyota Center to discuss changes they would need to make for the second half.
With an almost entirely new banking unit from last season, Kerr had tried to remain patient and avoid hasty staffing changes. But now, in this windowless closet of a room adjacent to the visitors’ dressing room, he knows his time is up.
Kerr approaches his employees with an idea—one they had previously discussed but had yet to implement. They had been trying to find ways for their young players to emulate what Draymond Green does on the pitch. Jordan Poole to line up like Green. Communicate defensively like Green. How to set screens like green. But with the Western Conference quickly overtaking them, Kerr knows they can no longer afford an Impressionist. You need Draymond Green.
“All right,” Kerr tells his staff, “we’ve got to put Draymond in that second unit.”
The idea is not without risk. The Warriors’ starting lineup – Green, Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and Kevon Looney – is the most effective lineup in basketball. An interruption could easily backfire.
Instead, the move does far more than stabilize a shaky, losing bank unit. It stabilizes a Warriors season that’s on the brink.
“Nobody does what Draymond does,” Kerr told ESPN. “We’d love to teach that and we’re trying, but Draymond has an innate intelligence for the game, an innate feel for the game that’s on par with any player I’ve ever been with. … You cannot replace Draymond. “
NINE DAYS AFTER After Golden State’s game in Houston, they are back in Texas, this time for a game in Dallas in a Western Conference Finals rematch against the Mavericks. The Warriors have been 3-1 with Draymond Green since the experiment began.
The Warriors would lose this game, but something stands out far more than the bottom line: every Warriors starter has a negative plus minus. And all but one of their benchers have a positive. For the first time this season, the second unit actually put the Warriors in a position to win.
“We couldn’t say that two weeks ago,” Green told ESPN. “We couldn’t get at that.”
The second unit, made up of a group of players who had barely played together, had spent weeks searching for any identity.
Donte DiVincenzo and JaMychal Green were brought to San Francisco over the summer to replace Gary Payton II and Otto Porter Jr. James Wiseman had returned after being sidelined for 18 months with a meniscus injury. Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody were asked to play much larger roles. And after a breakout season, Poole should be in charge of everything.
They wriggled – bad.
In the 16 games prior to the trade — excluding Golden State’s Nov. 4 game in New Orleans, when four of its five starters were rested, and any garbage time — the Warriors had played 261 minutes with two or fewer starters on the ground. In those minutes, Golden State was surpassed by 63 points, a number more identifiable with teams tanking for Victor Wembanyama, according to ESPN Stats & Information’s Matt Williams.
“The beauty of the game,” said Kerr, “is that the five guys have to click and it just took us some time to work our way through different combinations.”
TWO MONTHS AGO, Green was the villain in Golden State after leaked practice footage of an altercation in which he slapped Poole in the face and the ensuing aftermath.
But as of that November game in Houston, he’s the answer to perhaps the Warriors’ biggest problem.
In the nine games since, the most common bench lineup involving Green has included Wiggins, DiVincenzo, Poole and Anthony Lamb. The second most used features are DiVincenzo, Poole and Lamb, with Kuminga for Wiggins. These two lineups each have a plus of 5 in 26 minutes and a plus of 14 in 10 minutes.
The foursome of Green, DiVincenzo, Poole and Lamb have played 47 minutes together since November 20. Over that span, the Warriors are plus-16.4 when those four players share the floor – a stone’s throw from the starting lineup plus-18.7 odds.
“The idea for combos is that you want to get into each group’s comfort zone, which is out there where they can feed each other and find different sets or actions that they like,” Kerr said. “We’ve always been able to do that… it’s just taking longer this year because of the nature of our squad and how our season has started.”
First, and perhaps most importantly, he transformed the dynasty’s worst defenses.
The bench units with greens since November 20 have conceded just 93.8 points per 100 possessions in their 99 minutes combined, almost 17 points more than before November. 20. The Green-Wiggins-DiVincenzo-Poole-Lamb group in particular has choked opponents and allowed an absurd 85.0 points per 100 possessions.
“[My priority has been to] Make sure the unit is defending,” Green said. “As the second unit, it’s not your job to go out and build the lead, it’s your job to maintain the lead. And in any case where the first unit failed to build a lead, your task is to slow down and calm the game. That’s what I’ve been focused on – and trying to help this unit play as much clean basketball as we possibly can.”
The offensive has also picked up its rhythm.
“Earlier in the season when I was the primary playmaker, I was so guarded,” Poole told ESPN. “…With Draymond in there, I can be more aggressive [with scoring]. … Now with the second unit and the rotations we have I know where to go if I need to.”
Green’s time in the second unit also unlocked Kuminga, who has nearly doubled his points per game since Nov. 20, averaging 8.4 points on 52.3% shooting and 4.1 rebounds in 20 minutes per game.
Kerr called Kuminga’s performance against the Mavericks — 14 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks — the best game he’s ever seen. A few weeks later in Utah, the 20-year-old big man delivered a clean block on Jordan Clarkson late in the fourth and drew a foul at the end.
As for the risk? It didn’t materialize. The starting five have played more together since the switch, going from 13.8 minutes per game to 16.3 minutes. Her net efficiency has dropped from plus-25.2 points per 100 possessions to a still absurd plus-18.7 points.
“Take Draymond away [Curry] may not be so harmful [as] It would have been five, six years ago when we really wanted to pound an opponent for a whole quarter with those two,” Kerr said. “Draymond gives us more offensive flow and pace and gets us more organized and Steph is just playing off his wits. As long as those two things happen, we’ll be fine.”
For his part, Green sees his role in two ways.
“Number one trying to slow unit down,” he said. “This session shouldn’t play as fast as the first session, it should be more methodical. There should be more sentences. It should be more patterned movement as opposed to random movement and random attacks. And then number two, and most importantly, make sure the unit defends itself.”
And early returns are promising. The Warriors are 6-4 since the switch, including a seven-point win over the Rockets.
“Draymond has everything to do with the success of our team,” said Kerr. “This guy is just so good at the game, the whole game. He gets it. He sees it on both ends, pushing the ball in transition, his screen shot, sees the ground, and then guards everyone defensively. He gets our boys organized. Draymond is an incredible basketball player.”
https://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/35220140/the-move-saved-golden-state-warriors-season The move that might’ve saved the Golden State Warriors’ season