5 Golden State Warriors Who Still Need to Step Up
The Golden State Warriors are off their game.
The last time Golden State started this slow (13-4)—remember, relative to its recent excellence—Mark Jackson was head coach and David Lee and Andre Iguodala were both starters (2013-14). In fact, the Dubs dropped four games total over the first 17 contests of the past three campaigns combined.
This isn't a sky-is-falling alarm, or an are-the-Warriors-vulnerable hot take. It's simply an observation that for as great as they've been, they can be even better.
Getting these five players closer to normal production and/or expectations would help Golden State come closer to its typical standard of success.
Patrick McCaw, SG
Patrick McCaw proved last season he doesn't need long to make a splash in the rotation. Only four months after being made the 38th overall pick, the 6'7" swingman received minutes in his rookie-season opener.
One year later, he seemed to be doing the same. Once November opened, head coach Steve Kerr publicly anointed McCaw as the club's backup shooting guard.
"I'm going to be going with Patty," he said, per Bay Area News Group's Mark Medina. "But that doesn't mean I can't change. He's clearly played well and earned it."
But McCaw's grip on the understudy spot has already slipped. He's seventh among Warriors perimeter players—and, most relevant, behind Nick Young—in November minutes and didn't make it off the bench during their recent loss to the Boston Celtics.
At his best, McCaw brings two-way versatility to the wing. Problem is he's rarely been near his peak performance to kick off the campaign. His per-minute production is down almost across the board, and he's the only rotation regular with a negative on-court net rating (minus-0.3 points per 100 possessions).
The 22-year-old will have opportunities to reclaim the backup role, as history says Young's shooting will traverse peaks and valleys. But McCaw must give Golden State a reason to play him.
Even if his best quality is being a jack of all trades, he needs to get closer to mastering a couple.
Nick Young, SG
Like McCaw, Young has had his own chance to stop the backup shooting guard carousel. But his on-again, off-again shooting stroke has kept the competition alive and difficult to decipher.
The early returns on Young's move to Golden State match up almost exactly with expectations.
He was brought in to space the floor, and that's basically all he's done. Nearly 80 percent of his shots have been triples, which he has striped at a career-best 41.3-percent rate. He has never been this active from distance, posting per-36-minute averages of 4.5 threes and 10.9 attempts.
He's also been characteristically quiet across the rest of the box score. He passes less frequently than almost every other rotation guard (9.5 per game, seventh-fewest), and he's tied for the 17th-lowest rebounding percentage (4.7). He averages fewer drives than any other Warriors perimeter player (0.6 per game) and rarely makes an appearance at the charity stripe (nine attempts in 16 games).
But Golden State targeted him as a three-point specialist, so his limitations shouldn't be surprising. The lack of offensive impact, however, could easily be painted as disappointing. This attack loses 2.8 points per 100 possessions when Young is on the floor, and while that may not sound like much, remember it's also tied to a deep defensive decline (9.4 points worse per 100 possessions).
Young arrived as someone potentially capable of extending leads or erasing deficits. Right now, the only hope is that he's able to tread water (plus-5 in 208 minutes).
Zaza Pachulia, C
Zaza Pachulia's first season with the Dubs was solidly unspectacular, or exactly how they wanted it. He stayed in his screen-setting, grunt-working lane and was rewarded with both a season-long starting gig and a one-year, $3.5 million pact to return.
But the low-ceiling center hasn't been as reliable this time around.
His assist percentage is down (from 13.6 to 10.0) while his turnover percentage is way up (19.4 to 27.7). As a result, he's logging his fewest minutes since 2009-10 (14.2) and seeing both his scoring (4.4) and player efficiency rating (11.4) plummet to the third-lowest levels of his career.
His defense, meanwhile, has deteriorated from serviceable to sieve-like. He's surrendering the highest shooting percentage at the rim among centers (69.6), an area in which he's backtracked by a full 13 percent.
This probably isn't a case where he's in danger of losing his prominent role. He's arguably the best screen-setter on the roster, and that's a clearly beneficial asset for the sharp-shooting starters. His 270-pound frame is also built to withstand the punishment Golden State doesn't want to expose its small-ball bigs to before it must.
Still, the Warriors are deep enough at center that they can afford to shorten Pachulia's leash. And to some degree, they already have. His top two outings in terms of minutes played both came in October.
Andre Iguodala, SF
You could lose an afternoon—if not an entire workweek—debating the roles and importance of each player on Golden State's overloaded roster.
Is Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant atop the totem pole? Does Draymond Green's defense or Klay Thompson's spacing mean more to the Warriors' identity? How does one make sense of the traffic jam at center?
You get the idea. Thing is, those discussions typically spare Andre Iguodala. Now entering his fifth season with the Warriors, the 33-year-old's influence is both obvious and significant.
"He's one of our true leaders," Kerr said, per Janie McCauley of the Associated Press. "He brings it every day in practice, he's one of the smartest players I've been around. ... He's irreplaceable for what he brings to us in so many different ways."
But Iguodala's on-court impact is declining at an increasing rate.
His playing time has been coming down slightly each season, but now the rest of his stat sheet is tapering off. He's never averaged fewer points (5.5) or assists (2.9) or shot worse from the field (43.8) or from distance (22.2). This is the least efficient he's been both in terms of PER (10.3) and box plus/minus (minus-0.3).
There's a chance he is pacing himself, as he was similarly slow out of the starting gate last season. But the way Father Time works, one day your switch to engage no longer flips. It's too early to say Iguodala has reached that point, but there's no comfortable way to spin the Dubs faring 12.4 points better per 100 possessions without him so far.
Stephen Curry, PG
If your first inclination is to laugh at Curry's inclusion, you're not alone. The two-time MVP is, after all, pacing the team in points (25.6) and—as per usual—the entire Association in plus/minus (plus-196).
If you think putting Curry on this list proves we have impossibly high standards, you are almost correct. But our standards aren't the issue. Rather, the ones established by the prolific point guard himself are leaving some (possibly greedy) analysts wanting just a little more.
"Relative to the impossibly high bar he set for himself over these last few years, a few gray hairs in his game may be starting to show," Michael Pina wrote for Vice Sports. "... It's more than fair to wonder if what we're currently witnessing can be described as a subtle, irreversible decline."
Curry hasn't been the evolutionary off-the-dribble sniper fans were accustomed to seeing. He has not only severely curtailed his pull-up three-point shooting (4.3 attempts per game, down from 6.4 in 2015-16), he's converting those looks with less regularity (36.2 percent now, 43.0 percent then). He's also struggling against tight coverage (31.4 percent against a defender within four feet, 38.6 percent in 2015-16).
In fact, his entire three-point arsenal appears off-kilter. He's in danger of losing his five-year stranglehold on the three-point crown (57 makes, 19 behind James Harden), and his perimeter percentage is by far the worst of his career (38.3).
Granted, slightly-worse-than-normal Curry is still one of the sport's most potent powers. But both the numbers and eye test tell us this isn't the level of ruthless execution he sustained in recent seasons.