The Warriors are looking for something they took for granted for half a decade.
What is the 2021 Warriors’ identity?
Twelve games in, it’s anyone’s guess.
Yes, that includes Steve Kerr.
The Warriors coach is hardly in panic mode, though — he suggested earlier this season that the first 20 games will be for experimentation. The hope is that the team’s back-to-back, full-strength weekend practices ahead of Monday’s game with the Lakers in Los Angeles will help bring some clarity to the issue.
“We are closer,” Kerr said. “But given the youth and inexperience and the lack of continuity as a group, it’s going to take time.”
And they can’t take much more of it. That 20-game checkpoint is fast approaching.
You can win a random Tuesday night game without an identity — talent will get you far in this league — but not having one would make it nearly impossible for the Warriors to win anything of worth in a few months.
The Dubs’ season is 15 percent over. It’s early, but not that early. And the sooner the Warriors can figure out what they’re about, the sooner they can add refinement and more layers.
It’s not an unprecedented challenge for Kerr and his coaching staff, but it’s been a while since they’ve faced it with serious stakes.
Kerr pointed out Sunday that the team he took over in 2014 already had a defensive identity, established under former head coach Mark Jackson. It’s a point he’s been happy to make countless times before: The principles on defense were there and it allowed the Warriors’ staff to almost immediately start adding wrinkles.
“It took us a few weeks to figure out our offensive identity because we changed some things, but because it was a veteran group, they picked it up pretty quickly … maybe 10 games in, we had an identity on both ends,” Kerr said.
Since then, with the exception of the lost 2019-2020 campaign, the Warriors’ identity has been built-in at the start of the season. The Warriors knew who they were and what they were about.
More than 10 games into the season, it’s obvious that the 2021 Warriors won’t be so fortunate.
“Unlike years past — these last five, six years — you know that every day you have to come with the right mindset and understand the margin for error is very slim,” Steph Curry said. “But when you do execute, you can beat anybody in this league on any given night.”
So are these new Warriors trying to be the dynastic Warriors — without their super-switching, high-IQ defense, and constant-motion offense — or something entirely new?
They’ve tried both routes so far.
Offensively, they started the season trying to be a transition-based offense, but their defense wasn’t near good enough to create enough stops and turnovers. So the Warriors then tried to be a pick-and-roll team with Curry as the primary ball-handler. That worked for a while, but then teams started double-teaming Curry when he crossed half court. In recent games, the Warriors have tried to recapture the half-court magic of years past, with Curry off the ball, running around like crazy, breaking down the connective tissue of the opposing defense.
Defensively, the Warriors have seen similar trial-and-error, booms and busts.
All Kerr is looking for is five players executing — whatever can get all five Warriors “on a string” is what this team will do.
“I don’t really care about who we play,” Kerr said. “It’s all about us and making internal improvement and developing and being able to count on both our offense and defense on a nightly basis.”
“If one guy doesn’t make the rotation defensively, or you give up a wide-open three. If one guy doesn’t run the play and execute, you don’t break down the defense and you’re stuck with a bad shot. That’s all identity is, in my opinion, is getting all five guys on a string with an idea, what we’re trying to accomplish.”
That kind of string theory should start with the Warriors’ starting lineup, but to date, such connectivity seems far-fetched.
Kerr, perhaps moving the goalposts a bit, noted this weekend that the Warriors have only played eight games with Draymond Green, who is central to the team’s identity, particularly on the defensive side.
“One thing we’re trying to do is not jump to conclusions based on small sample sizes. We want to give certain combinations a chance before we abandon them,” Kerr said.
As such, the Warriors will roll out their typical starting lineup for Monday’s game. Kelly Oubre’s tenure as a starter will make it another day, even as Damion Lee — who has shown countless times that he knows where to be and what to do inside the Warriors’ offense — puts pressure on Oubre with his strong play off the bench.
But those days might be numbered.
“Now’s a good time to tinker a little bit. You try to get a feel and go from there,” Kerr said. “That’s where we’re at right now. We’re not solidified with rotations in any way.”
Maybe it clicks for the Warriors this week — Kerr and his staff tinker in the right places and continuity works in others. Maybe it doesn’t.
But these are not issues teams want to still be figuring out in March and April. By then, Curry — who is the epicenter for everything the Dubs are doing on the offensive end — might be worn down.
For now, Curry continues to buy into the process:
“I think we’re all understanding that it’s better than it was two weeks ago, but it can be a lot better two weeks from now,” Curry said.
Contributed by local news sources