The Warriors’ issue isn’t that Steph Curry’s playing time, it’s everyone else’s play when Curry is off the floor.
Welcome, Warriors fans, to the “real NBA” — thrive when your superstar is on the floor, survive when he’s off it.
The Warriors’ 105-100 loss in San Antonio on Monday was arguably the toughest to swallow of this season and, for some Warriors fans, the clearest indication yet that Golden State’s star needs to be on the court more.
I can understand the frustration. Curry played just shy of 36 minutes and scored 32 points Monday, helping the Warriors open up a 14-point first-half lead and a two-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.
That small lead turned into a six-point deficit by the time Curry returned to the game with 5:33 to play. He quickly cut the deficit to two, and then, with less than a minute to play, one, but the Warriors ended up losing after a botched final possession, where Draymond Green tried to be fouled in the act of shooting, despite the fact that he was never fouled. The errant shot sealed the game.
The complaints from fans — at least the ones who show up on my phone — was that Curry should have entered the game earlier. That he should not have taken the full allotment of his fourth-quarter rest, which is typically the first six minutes of the frame.
The issue with that argument is that he didn’t take the full allotment. You could see Curry standing at the scorer’s table, ready to enter the game, with just under seven minutes to play in the quarter.
And it’s not as if Warriors coach Steve Kerr hasn’t played Curry more in fourth quarters this season. There have been a handful of times where Curry has even been on the court to start the quarter.
It happened just a week ago, against Boston. (They lost that game, too, despite Curry playing 38 minutes.)
But the solution to the Warriors’ problems isn’t to overrun that superstar. He’s done his part.
No, it’s to get better play from his supporting cast.
There are only so many minutes you can play Curry, who goes harder than any major-minute player in the NBA when he’s on the court. Per NBA.com, Curry runs 2.57 miles per game — a number only brought down by the efficiency of his movements — and averages a speed of 5.13 miles per hour on offense, the second-best mark in the league, behind Tyler Herro, who never handles the ball.
When Curry is out there, he’s emptying the tank.
And it’s not as if he’s a never-injured tank like LeBron James. Hell, he had an injury scare in Monday’s game.
Curry’s an elite competitor. Of course, he’ll say he wants more minutes, but he and the Warriors had a plan at the beginning of this demolition derby of a season and the Warriors are smart to stick to that plan and not overrun him; lest they lose him for a few weeks (a death sentence to this season) or shorten his prime (there’s never been a player like Curry, so no one has any idea how the next five years should go).
“For me, for our organization, we’re not throwing Steph out there for 40 minutes to chase wins,” Kerr said, noting that the Warriors were on the first end of a back-to-back. “We want Steph to be playing at a high level for many years, so we’re going to stay very disciplined and try to keep him at that 34-, 35-minute mark.”
“I’m into the long game. We’re counting on having Steph here a long time… I’m not interested in grinding through this season.”
Unless you want to see Curry getting “load management” rest nights, this is the smart, prudent compromise.
So instead of trying to find an extra three or four minutes per game, Warriors fans, how about you channel that energy into helping the second unit play better?
In the 12-or-so minutes Curry was not on the floor against the Spurs Monday, the Warriors shot 28 percent from the floor, 18 percent from behind the arc, and turned the ball over seven times.
That’s next-level bad play. Curry, as great and magical as he is, can’t be expected to be a panacea to that.
The common denominators of those lineups were Brad Wanamaker (who is shooting 13 percent from beyond the arc in his last 14 games), Eric Paschall (who is no longer a change-of-pace option with the Warriors always being small), and Andrew Wiggins (who clearly doesn’t like the fast pace of these smallball-only lineups).
It’s redundant to say that the Warriors need more from Kelly Oubre, who is shooting better but is still missing rotations on both ends of the court at a shocking level, or that the Warriors could use a few baskets more from Draymond Green, who has morphed into a wider Ricky Rubio since being made a full-time center.
All this to say that the Warriors need more from the players not named Curry.
Because hasn’t Curry already done enough?
He’s only dragged this island of misfit toys to a .500 record — a mark that would be impossible to reach without him. (Remember last year?)
He’s already giving the Warriors his all on a nightly basis, unlike so many of his superstar brethren.
And while he wants more minutes — there’s no doubt about that — he’s smart enough to trust the plan that he and the Warriors believe will help him stay on the court for a long time to come.
You’d be smart to trust it, too.
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