What we learned about the Warriors during their 4-game trip through Texas

Peninsula Premier Admin

All Rudy Gay could do was watch as Stephen Curry’s shot dropped through the net.

As Curry shook, shimmied and splashed, Gay, in a blink, went from within Curry’s personal space to 10 feet away. Knowing there was nothing he could do, he stood dejected in the paint as Curry’s shot crowned a 23-2 run in the third quarter of Tuesday’s 114-91 win over the Spurs in San Antonio.

If Gay didn’t know already, he learned what was made evident during Golden State’s four-game trip: Curry, even on this shorthanded team, is inevitable.

With the win, the Warriors (13-12) are back above .500. Here are four takeaways from the Warriors four-game trip through Texas, which they finished 2-2.

1. Curry belongs in the MVP conversation: Curry, who will turn 33 next month, said after scoring 32 points to beat the Spurs, “I definitely feel the strongest I’ve ever been. I’ve got a lot of energy.” Over his last five games, he’s scored 187 points on 106 shots, made 32 3-pointers and has 27 assists. Compared to other MVP candidates LeBron James, Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid, Curry’s numbers are tops. Yes, the Warriors are only 13-12, but the Nuggets have just 12 wins and that hasn’t stopped people from putting Jokic at the top of their MVP power rankings. Maybe the lack of consideration is due to fatigue — people know what Curry is about.

But he’s impacting the game in new ways, and the attention he demands frees up his new teammates, especially those who screen for Curry. The Warriors are scoring a half dozen times per game when Curry’s screener slips early, dives to the rim and scrambles the defense. Here, Juan Toscano-Anderson rolls to the rim early, San Antonio’s defense — including Keldon Johnson, who ditches Kelly Oubre Jr. in the corner — crashes, and Toscano-Anderson kicks out to Oubre, who drains the 3-pointer.

And here, as Curry curls around a Toscano-Anderson screen, both Spurs defenders lung at Curry, creating an open driving lane.

Another example, where three defenders are drawn to Curry flaring up from the baseline, setting up Oubre for an alley-oop.

Curry’s teammates are figuring out how to play off him and get easy looks, which should help the Warriors win more games (which should help Curry’s MVP chances).

2. More small-ball going forward: With James Wiseman (sprained left wrist) and Kevon Looney (sprained left ankle) out for this trip, Draymond Green played each of the last four games at center — something he had not done in any of the previous games. Green, however, does have experience playing center in small-ball lineups that were the identity of those Finals teams.

He thrived playing center in Texas, and so did the Warriors. According to Cleaning the Glass, the Warriors outscored their opponent by 13.9 points per 100 possessions with Green at center — a mark better than 98% of the NBA’s other centers — versus just three points when Green was at power forward (better than only 48% of power forwards). Though those lineups give up a lot in rebounding, they absolutely blitz opponents with an offensive rating of 127.8.

As Green’s conditioning improves, Kerr will try to find time to play him at center, even when Golden State is fully healthy. It doesn’t need to play small all 48 minutes, but 5-10 minutes per game could be enough to grease the offense.

“We’ve got to find some pockets where we do go small (with Green at center),” Kerr said. “We’ll just have to figure that out.”

Golden State Warriors' Juan Toscano-Anderson runs up the court during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs, Monday, Feb. 8, 2021, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)
Golden State Warriors’ Juan Toscano-Anderson runs up the court during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs, Monday, Feb. 8, 2021, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)

3. Toscano-Anderson should be on the regular roster: If the Warriors gave out a most improved award for this trip, it would go to Toscano-Anderson. Starting at power forward the last four games, he averaged 10 points on 70.8% shooting, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 32.3 minutes per game. Coaches and teammates praised him for his high basketball-IQ and attention to detail. He makes winning plays, like slipping out of screens at the right time, rotating on defense and coming up with important rebounds.

The only problem is that he’s on a two-way contract — a deal that limits him to playing in 50 of 72 possible games with Golden State. To preserve those days, Kerr played Toscano-Anderson in only six of the Warriors’ first 15 games. Now, with Toscano-Anderson emerging as a key part of the rotation, Kerr would like to see him added to the regular roster.

“When that topic comes up, whenever that is, I’ll be all for it,” Kerr said of converting Toscano-Anderson’s two-way status to a 15-man roster spot. “I’m a big fan. I think Juan should be part of our team for many years to come. That’s something that the organization has to decide, and I’m not sure when that will be.”

To make that happen, the Warriors would have to first create a roster spot. They could do that by waiving guard Mychal Mulder (unlikely) or Alen Smailagic. Smailagic, 20, hasn’t played yet this season because of a knee injury, and likely wouldn’t even if he were healthy. Waiving his guaranteed deal would cost the Warriors, but it may be the best way to add Toscano-Anderson. Like they did last year with Damion Lee, though, the Warriors can wait to make a decision until they absolutely have to.

4. They maintain playoff position: Leaving Texas anything worse than 13-12 would have dug the Warriors into a hole in the standings. Instead, they return to San Francisco tied for seventh place with the Nuggets, half a game up on Sacramento and a game ahead of New Orleans. Both of those teams are playing well, but the Warriors have enough to build on that they should maintain their lead.

Below, a full picture of the Western Conference playoff race. (*Denotes teams that would participate in the play-in tournament given their current standing.)

  1. Utah Jazz (19-5)
  2. Los Angeles Lakers (19-6)
  3. LA Clippers (17-8)
  4. Phoenix Suns (14-9)
  5. Portland Trail Blazers (13-10)
  6. San Antonio Spurs (14-11)
  7. Denver Nuggets (12-11)*
  8. Golden State Warriors (13-12)*
  9. Sacramento Kings (12-12)*
  10. New Orleans Pelicans (11-12)*

Contributed by local news sources

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