Warriors

Warriors’ 2021 Complaint Box Overflowing With Delusion

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For the Golden State Warriors, this has been the most frustrating season in quite some time.

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It’s impossible to summarize the maladies inflicted on this squad, both avoidable and unavoidable. Having crushing injuries destroy last season after five-straight Finals berths was understandable.

Maybe everyone involved needed a break.

But now that expectations have returned while results have disappointed, frustration has reached a boiling point. Log on to Twitter at any point while the Dubs are behind on the scoreboard and you’d think they were committing corporate fraud. The complaints are flying at an unprecedented pace, and some have gone off the rails.

Besides the fact that SoKerrtes is a banger of a nickname, telling other adults to grow up on that bird website is the most futile exercise known to man.

Especially when it comes to basketball.

You’re better off telling Draymond Green to be quiet, or asking Kevin Durant to behave himself online.

Couch coaching has become a defining part of Warriors fan culture, and it’s coming to a head with the frustration this season has caused. Though it can be easy to look at these complaints from a binary perspective between the team and the fans, let’s try to address the validity of these gripes one by one.

“Kerr is terrible at his job!”

This is the most headache-inducing, hair-pulling, account-muting argument of them all. And not just because of the take itself, but the responses it elicits. One side insists Kerr is the worst coach alive and has his job due to a litany of non-basketball reasons; the Pro-Kerr camp throws “five finals three rings” around like LeGoatJames reply guys.

Shockingly, he’s somewhere in the middle.

Yes, the rotations have been frustrating and sometimes downright bad. Teams clearly adjust to the inflexible minutes allotment, knowing exactly when Steph will be off the floor. The back of the rotation and who comes in and off the bench can be maddening.

That may be the most obvious and necessary adjustment Kerr has to make, because the “set it and forget it” game-planning just won’t fly in the NBA anymore.

It’s also a very valid complaint to say his offense is antiquated in today’s NBA, and especially without Steph. Sans Curry, the Dubs are the worst offensive team since the advent of the three-point line in 1979. It’s an incredibly complex system for the players to run that doesn’t have the same scare factor to opposing defenses.

They know what’s coming now. Next time LeBron James plays the Warriors, watch him call out every play that’s coming on defense. The playbook is out in the open now, and Kerr has yet to adjust. But until he no longer has Steph Curry, there’s overwhelming evidence that the offense can work at a championship level.

The Warriors defense has also been astounding this year despite the lack of personnel, but that’s got nothing to do with the coaches if you ask Twitter.

What people forget about Kerr is the utterly unique context in which he arrived as a coach. He came in to maximize a savvy, talented roster, and did exactly that. He managed some of the biggest egos in the game on a five-year run that gave him a resume some Hall of Fame coaches envy.

The only man remotely in that stratosphere is his NBA godfather Phil Jackson. Even the Zen Master had his patience tested in lien years before and after his massive title runs. A coach with a bonafide Hall of Fame resume now has to unexpectedly coach up a young, inexperienced roster to fit the Hall of Fame talent that defines this era.

Take a look at Jackson’s (brief) struggles. He had thoroughly proven himself by the middle of his stint with the Lakers. His year-long exit from the team netted them the #1 pick in bonafide scrub Kwame Brown and young talent to surround Kobe Bryant. The results that followed were ugly for Lakers fans on and off the court, and back-to-back first-round exits against the Phoenix Suns made them question everything.

Then, after three grueling years of retooling the roster and offense to fit Kobe, they found themselves in three-straight Finals again.

Point is, there can still be significant reward for waiting out Kerr’s struggle to adapt, and the Warriors would be foolish to let him go.

“Run the pick-and-roll!”

If only it were so simple.

Every night, graphs, stats and comparisons are thrown around about Steph in the pick-and-roll and how little he runs it. X player runs 50 per 100 possessions while Steph runs 32, and Steph is 95th percentile while Player Y is 70th and runs it twice as often.

For the record, I’m glad that advance stats and play categorizing are big parts of fan discourse, and I’m not advocating ignoring it. But throwing around numbers is utterly pointless without context. It’s a basic law of basketball that the more you run a play, the more a defense can adjust, and the less effective it becomes. It’s the same principle that got Kerr’s motion offense in a rut, as years of data have outweighed the element of surprise.

So yes, when Curry runs pick-and-roll, the unexpectedness can often throw off a defense.

In 2016, when Steph ran pick-and-roll, defenses are faced with a choice: let him go 1v1 and suffer, or double team and make the rest of the team score 4v3. When your rollers are Draymond, Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut, it looks beautiful. Those players knew how to execute passes, and were all threatening enough to score.

The current iteration of the Warriors has three main screeners: Draymond, James Wiseman and Kevon Looney. One of them is too inexperienced to set good screens and execute 4v3. One is so limited by injury he can hardly even score on clean rolls. And Draymond, who used to be so deadly on short rolls, can be left completely uncovered without it hurting the defense.

If anything, you can argue Steph doesn’t have the personnel to run adequate PnR, and that’s not on the coach. That’s on the front office. Film always has to be used to match the stats.

“They can’t draft!”

This take always seems to age like milk. In NBA fandom you are judged by your most recent showing, and since 2012 the draft record looks a bit ugly.

But like anything else, it requires context.

Since the famed 2012 draft, the Warriors have had only 11 draft choices, almost a bare minimum. And excluding Wiseman, their picks have been: #28 twice, #30 twice, #38 twice, 39, 41, 48 and 51. Not exactly the belles of the ball.

Though many have tried — and still will — it’s impossible to make a judgment on Wiseman or Mannion at this stage. The need for a binary decision makes all fans sort players into boom or bust categories, and that’s just not how a front office can think.

Of the picks between 2012 and last season, all of them made it to the roster. It sounds small, but the likelihood of a player reaching the league drops off a cliff when you get towards the second round. Players drafted in the late first have a 10-20% chance of never touching the floor in the NBA. That number goes up to over 50% for picks later in the second. Finding rotation-caliber talent that you can justify putting on the NBA roster is a win. Trying to find star talent in this kind of draft range is turning water into wine.

The sexiness factor of the picks is certainly low, but all these players had a part. Jordan Bell had his moments. Kevon Looney has played starter-level basketball at times. Though Eric Paschall has had his struggles this year, he didn’t make an All-Rookie team because of his name. He earned an NBA spot. I won’t even get into how Jordan Poole has exploded into an ultra-valuable piece a year after being written off by the fans.

Yes, there will be some Alen Smailagic and Jacob Evans-type picks. That’s the cost of success. You win big, you draft small. And the Warriors have had their heads above water with suboptimal draft capital for the better part of a decade.

For context on draft pick outcomes, check out this study from 2009 that still holds tons of weight.

“They don’t know how to use Wiseman!”

Serious question: do you?

I don’t. And neither do the Warriors at the moment. After years of foot-dragging, plodding centers, the Dubs now have to figure out how to use a mind-blowingly raw version of David Robinson.

Players who don’t seem to conventionally belong are the hardest to figure out. Giannis spent years in Milwaukee playing on the perimeter before they figured out what to do.

That seemed to work out.

Zion Williamson is suddenly the 270+ pound point guard for New Orleans and he’s functionally unstoppable. Kerr treated Draymond like a 3-and-D player when he arrived on the scene. Things change, sometimes slowly, sometimes overnight.

If you are somehow out on Wiseman as a player because of his play, relish the fact he’s checked every box and more off the court.

What if I just want to be angry?

As one of you, I feel the pain. I get frustrated watching this team on a nightly basis. But it’s the glimmers of potential from Wiseman, the joyful way Steph puts up MVP performances, the smile of Klay on the sidelines that keeps me in the moment and appreciative of what I’m seeing.

All of these issues are rooted in a real problem. Yes, Kerr needs to adjust. No, not all players fit the system right now. Yes, a year of Steph’s prime is wasted. The question is, will the front office view these problems with the same degree of urgency as the fans?

Not a chance. And they shouldn’t. This is a team that plans for the long haul relative to an impulsive, reactionary league. They strike hard and when necessary to revamp the roster instead of throwing the book out every offseason when something doesn’t go exactly to plan.

This management group thrives on the long con, and delivered three banners within eight years of Chris Cohan selling the team. By itself, that is a minor miracle. It’s okay to be frustrated and disappointed by the events of the last two seasons. But losing sight of what makes this team fun is no way to live as a basketball fan.

“Chasing wins” means making shortsighted, desperate moves year in and year out. If that’s what you want, root for the Nets.

Follow us on Twitter @DubsLead for the latest Warriors news and insight. 

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About Charlie Cummings

Warriors writer born and raised in the Bay Area. University of Denver graduate currently living in Denver

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