There are two ways you can look at the Golden State Warriors’ preseason loss in Sacramento on Tuesday: Either it was fun to see Stephen Curry on the court, or, as a Warriors fan, it was terrifying to see him leave it. Curry came out hot and finished with 29 points, shooting 10 for 20 from the field and 5 for 13 from 3-point range. The Warriors were plus-seven in his 28 minutes. They were a disaster when he went to the bench.
For those who watched the game, no, I’m not talking about the garbage fourth-quarter minutes when the scrub Warriors made their collective non-Steph stat sheet look palatable by making a run against the Kings’ scrubs in nearly pulling off a comeback. That’s irrelevant. A handful of guys on the court for those minutes — for both teams — will likely be spending time in the G League this season.
I’m talking about the real minutes, with the real players. Curry had the Warriors cooking early, hitting three of his first four triples as the Warriors assisted on nine of their first 10 buckets. They were moving the ball, playing fast, and Curry’s gravity was doing what it has always done for players who can’t create their own space.
The Warriors were leading 27-18 when Curry took his first rest of the game with 1:42 remaining in the first quarter. The Warriors didn’t score a single point over the next five minutes of game time. Not one point. All told, during Curry’s first eight minutes on the bench, the Warriors scored nine points. Barely one point a minute. Extrapolate that out, and that’s a 54-point showing over the course of a full game without Curry.
Not great, Bob.
This is where I’m obligated to acknowledge that this was, in fact, a preseason game, and also that Draymond Green and rookie James Wiseman didn’t play. It’s true. Preseason games are relatively pointless in terms of predicting regular-season successes or failures, and Green will certainly make this team significantly better. Wiseman will at least help, and the hope is he’ll do more than that in relatively short order.
Either way, Steve Kerr has his hands full in figuring out the non-Curry minutes. The Warriors don’t need to win those minutes. They just need to survive them. If Curry goes to the bench with a small deficit, don’t let it get out of control. If he’s built up a cushion, don’t let all the air out.
To do that, the Warriors need someone, anyone, to create some offense. Kerr will likely stagger Curry and Green, his two best players, so that perhaps Green can keep the defense at a high enough level to keep Golden State afloat while Curry catches his breath. But you have to score some points. On Tuesday, Kerr left Andrew Wiggins on the floor as the top option when Curry went off. It did not go well.
Perhaps Kerr will eventually end up with Wiggins and Kelly Oubre Jr. both having to play the non-Curry minutes, as neither of them can carry a big offensive load on their own. Together or not, Wiggins and Oubre have a big responsibility as the second- and third-best offensive players on this team. They’re making a combined $44 million this season. If Curry is going to feed them most of the game, they have to at least hold their own spoon for 10-15 minutes a night.
Should Kerr end up playing those guys a lot of minutes together, that would leave Curry largely on his own when those two go to the bench, but at least Kerr knows Curry can make pretty much any lineup successful. After all, he did go for 47 in a Finals game that saw Quinn Cook, Alfonzo McKinnie, 34-year-old Andrew Bogut and Jonas Jerebko play a combined 66 minutes.
Still, this is going to be an uphill battle all season long — a battle that could very well define Golden State’s season. On paper, the Warriors still have enough to compete for a playoff spot, at least. They should have a top-10ish defense. They can be really fast, athletic and energetic. They can be a great transition team, so long as they get the stops. But this all goes out the window when Curry goes to the bench. At that point, it’s survival time. Because there’s not much even Curry can do when he gets back on the court if the Warriors are already dead.