NBA

Warriors slowly regaining championship form thanks to Klay Thompson’s patience, new role for Draymond Green

SAN FRANCISCO — Since the Golden State Warriors ran roughshod over the NBA landscape in the mid-2010s, one thing has been a certainty: They play fast. Trying to clamp down the brakes on the pace-and-space attack would be akin to holding up a stop sign in front of a bullet train or telling Usain Bolt to take it easy for the first 30 meters of a sprint.

Draymond Green has been the main sparkplug in the speedy, relentless Warriors attack over the years, so it was odd — unimaginable even — for him to utter a mouthful of foreign words following a nationally televised win over the Clippers. When asked about his minutes as the captain of the second unit, a recent rotation change from head coach Steve Kerr, Green blasphemed everything we know about Warriors basketball.

“Number one is trying to slow the unit down,” Green said. “That unit should not play as fast as the first unit. It should be more methodical. It should be more sets. It should be more patterned movements as opposed to random movements and random offense. And so I think for me, it’s just trying to slow that unit down, number one.”

As Polonius said, “Though this be madness, yet there is method in it.”

There were two main culprits in the Warriors’ shockingly underwhelming 3-7 start. First was the defense, which is still finding its way toward the high bar that it’s set over the past decade. The other was the reserve unit, which continually took leads built by the dominant starters, violently slammed them into a dumpster and set them aflame.

It got bad enough that head coach Steve Kerr took drastic measures. As much as possible, he wants Green on the floor with Stephen Curry. Their mystical synergy is apparent to anybody who’s even caught a glimpse of Warriors basketball, and any analytic you can think of backs it up. But in order to solidify the reserve unit, Kerr — after weeks of exhaustive tinkering — decided to separate them … for a little bit, at least. For the last few games, he’s been pulling Green midway through the first quarter, and allowing him to start the second period as the floor leader of the reserves, then following the same pattern in the second half.

Needless to say, it’s worked.

The Warriors have won four of their last five games — the only loss coming via a white-flag acquiescence against the Pelicans in which four of the five starters rested and Kevon Looney played just five minutes. That anomalous blip aside, they’re looking every bit like the dominant force most expected to see coming off a brilliant championship postseason run.

Green’s on/off stats border on laughable over this five-game stretch. The offense has scored 42 (!) more points per 100 possessions with Green on the court, while the defensive rating improves from 118.5 to 102.9. Overall, the Warriors’ net rating is 57.5 points better over the past five games when Green is on the floor. Utterly absurd.

Kerr used to call Andre Iguodala “The Babysitter,” due to his ability to engender poise and calm in whatever lineup he entered. The same title would be appropriate for Green, who is closer to an actual babysitter because of the relative youth of the players now surrounding him in the second unit. Wiggins, who has mirrored Green’s minutes in recent games, is the closest in age to the 32-year-old … and he’s 27.

The most successful reserve lineup has been Green, Wiggins, Jordan Poole, offseason signing Donte DiVincenzo and Anthony Lamb — Golden State’s most recent “where did he come from?” golden nugget who has worked his way into a significant role. The five-man unit has a net rating of plus-47 in 13 minutes. With Green around to handle the majority of the playmaking, Poole is freed up to become more of a scorer — which he certainly knows how to do.

“Draymond has everything to do with our team’s success,” Kerr said after Friday’s win over the Utah Jazz. “This guy is just so good at the game. The entire game — he just gets it. He sees it at both ends.”

Another key to the Warriors’ recent return to form is Klay Thompson. The Splash Brother was open about the pain he felt being criticized during a subpar shooting start to the season and, fortunately for him and the Warriors, things have turned around recently. Like separating Steph and Draymond in the rotation, however, the path to Klay’s success seems counterintuitive.

In order to shoot better, stop shooting.

Of course, it’s not that simple, but Kerr has consistently remarked over the past week about how Thompson’s patience has not only led to individual triumph, but also to a better Warriors offense overall. It started during the team’s home win over the Knicks and has continued during the recent slew of wins. Coming off of pin-downs and staggered screens, Thompson has never been bashful about letting it fly — sometimes to a fault. Passing up a contested shot often leads to more open looks, whether on the same possession or later in the game.

Over his last four games, all Warriors wins, Thompson is averaging 24.8 points on 52/55/80 shooting splits. Compare that to 15.1 points per game on 35/33/81 splits prior to his newfound emphasis on patience.

“They’re not leaving his body. So it’s kind of hard to get clean looks when you know they’re just going to try to take his three away,” Curry said of Thompson. “But over the course of the game, if he keeps making the right play, he keeps staying patient, the game’s gonna come back to him. And then, Klay’s confidence never wavers in terms of being able to knock down shots.”

Figuring out the second unit issues, at least temporarily, and Thompson finding his stroke have helped steer the Warriors out of their early-season tailspin, and it’s brought back the swagger that makes them so dangerous. It’s hard to be cocky when you’re losing, so the recent wins have bolstered their bravado and lightened the mood around the team.

“It just feels more relaxed, and guys are in a better frame of mind,” Kerr said. “I think everything was a little frantic in the early going, when we were kind of searching for some answers.”

Even with all their struggles, the Warriors have absolutely dominated at home — now owners of a 9-1 Chase Center record. To say they’ve struggled on the road would be an understatement of gargantuan proportions. They’re 1-9, with their only win much closer than it should have been against the Houston Rockets.

The veteran Warriors understand how important winning on the road is — both during the year and into the postseason — so the next step toward getting back to contention is picking up some wins away from home. They’ll get their chance with upcoming games in Minnesota and Dallas.

“I think we have a bunch of things to work on, but we are stabilized,” Green said after the Utah win. “We’re starting to play our brand of basketball on both ends of the floor — starting to get guys into a groove that we need in a groove in order for us to win at a high level. So, I think we’re starting to figure it out.”


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