Full disclosure if you haven’t been watching: The Golden State Warriors have played two legitimately great teams to open their 2020-21 season in the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks. In addition, Draymond Green, who will directly address two of the Warriors’ most desperate needs, hasn’t played in either beating. Weigh those factors as you will.
Having established that, it would be nearly impossible to overstate how bad the Warriors have looked in losing their first two games by a combined 65 points — the second-most lopsided start in NBA history, per ESPN Stats and Info, trailing only the 1987-88 Clippers, who finished 17-65.
“We did not execute much of anything,” Steve Kerr said after Golden State’s 138-99 loss in Milwaukee on Christmas. “It was kind of just scattered and disorganized. I’m disappointed in that and need to take the blame for that.”
Scattered and disorganized is one way to describe it. Another would be to slap a graphic warning on the game film because nobody should be walking into that kind of material without fair warning. Through two games, Kelly Oubre Jr., whom Golden State spent upwards of $40 million, including tax penalties, to acquire in the wake of Klay Thompson’s season-ending injury, has served up a bagel from beyond the arc so far.
Zero for 11.
He’s 4-for-24 from the field overall.
Most of Oubre’s shots haven’t even been close. He had three points on Christmas. And it doesn’t get much better from there. Andrew Wiggins is a paltry 2-for-10 from 3-point land while shooting 29 percent overall, and at times has made dribbling look difficult. Even Steph Curry is laying bricks at 4-for-20 from the outside and 34 percent overall. He was wide open for a catch and shoot on Christmas, and he air-balled.
A familiar frustration is already surfacing as to whether Curry should be handling the ball more and looking to create offense out of pick and roll. Count me among the contingent who believes he should be, as the Warriors no longer have the kinds of passers necessary to maximize his off-ball effect, nor capable enough secondary creators to break the defense down when Curry’s movement gets shut off, which it often does with a few simple off-ball switches.
But there are layers to this debate, namely what the ceiling is on a one-man show and whether Curry even still possesses the ability to consistently create and sink superhuman shots. He hung 47 points on the Raptors in Game 3 of the 2019 Finals with Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson sidelined, proof he still has hero ball in his bag. But he’s 32 years old. He’s been banged up the last few years. He does not appear to have the same kind of burst in small spaces.
There’s also a rhythm factor. Take Damian Lillard, who has basically spent the last year-plus in a pick-and-roll, shot-hunting zone from which he can only see a rim that looks as wide as the ocean. Curry was in that kind of zone once upon a time, running pick and roll on 29 percent of his 2014-15 possessions, when he won his first MVP, and 26 percent of his possessions the next season, when he won his second MVP and knocked down a league-record 402 3-pointers.
Curry’s last healthy regular season, he ran pick and rolls on just 21 percent of his possessions, per Synergy. Forget being in the vicinity of a Lillard or Trae Young, guys who have total authority over their offense; Curry’s 2018-19 pick-and-roll frequency was almost 20 percent lower than his brother Seth.
There is something to be said for not having the same kind of creative feel off the dribble when you haven’t had to play like that in a long time. Curry spent three seasons becoming an off-ball killer while making room for Kevin Durant to dominate whatever isolation possessions the Warriors doled out, and you maybe can’t just turn back the clock four or five years because suddenly the Warriors need you to be who you used to be.
Even if Curry can still be that player, Kerr does not want him to be. He believes as strongly in inclusivity as Mark Jackson did in mismatch isolation, and there is no evidence of either coach backing off their principles. Kerr has had a lot more success with his principles than Jackson did. He’s resting on that record, and he believes the Warriors, particularly Oubre and Wiggins, will come around.
“Kelly’s going to be fine. Andrew’s going to be fine,” Kerr said after the Christmas thrashing. “It will shake out over time.”
Perhaps this is true. Perhaps Green will come back and Curry will have a functional passer at the top of the offense. Maybe the defense, which needs to be top-10ish for the Warriors to have any chance of competing for a playoff spot but has instead more closely resembled a highway onramp through two games, will take a magic turn. It better, because so far the terrible numbers somehow don’t even capture how truly awful the Warriors have been.