Golden State at the break: Warriors midseason awards

While the Warriors quartet of All-Stars spends the break in Los Angeles and Steve Kerr surfs in Hawaii — yes, surfing is on the head coach’s holiday to-do list — the time is right to take an inventory of what has and hasn’t worked for the reigning champs.

Golden State staggered into the break and will open up the second half of the season half a game back of the Houston Rockets for the top spot in the Western Conference standings.

In the interim, let’s hand out the midseason awards for those who have starred and those who have missed the mark …

BEST NEWCOMER

Candidates: Jordan Bell, Nick Young and Omri Casspi

The first sign that Jordan Bell was going to be right at home with the Warriors came less than a week into the season. In Bell’s fourth game in the NBA, the ex-Oregon Duck produced one of those polarizing moments that the Warriors specialize in.

With under three minutes to go in the eventual 133-103 rout of the Dallas Mavericks, Bell was out on the break and proceeded to throw the ball off the backboard before completing the two-handed slam — as if he were taking part in the dunk contest, not a blowout.

The bench loved the disrespectful dunk from the swaggering rookie. Kevin Durant, his mouth agape, put his hand to his face in shock.

Acquired from the Chicago Bulls, who sold the rights to the No. 38 pick for $3.5 million, the uber confident and ultra athletic rookie has been the ideal newcomer for the league’s reigning super team. Standing 6-foot-9, Bell has the speed and athleticism to thrive in an increasingly positionless NBA where a big man’s ability to switch onto guards and wings is paramount.

Left ankle inflammation, which has kept Bell sidelined since Jan. 17 put a damper on what has been a promising debut. Bell is set to be re-evaluated after the break, which means the timeline for his return remains murky.

BEST RESERVE

Candidates: David West, Jordan Bell, Andre Iguodala and Nick Young

Amid an underwhelming crop of contenders, David West is the easy call at this spot. Now in his 14th NBA season and the 10th oldest player in the league, the 37-year-old has been an anchor of the second unit that begins the second and fourth quarters. While Kerr constantly shuffles his big-man rotation — at times leading to DNPs for Bell, JaVale McGee, Kevon Looney and even Zaza Pachulia — West is a fixture at the start of the second and the fourth, regardless of the matchup.

West has been money with his mid-range jumper this year and is on the way to setting his career high in field-goal percentage, shooting 61.8 percent.

Then, there’s all his defensive contributions. West averages 1.1 blocks per game — his highest such mark since the 2007-2008 season — all while playing 13.6 minutes per night. The eye test says West remains a physically imposing presence in the post and the advanced numbers say he’s about as defensively sound as it gets. West ranks No. 1 in the NBA in defensive real plus-minus — a stat measuring a player’s average impact on his team’s defense by points allowed per 100 offensive possessions.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Candidates: Andre Iguodala, Patrick McCaw, Shaun Livingston and Klay Thompson

No team faces loftier standards than last year’s champs, which means there’s no shortage of options to choose from in this department.

Klay Thompson is an All Star for the fourth time but he’s made a habit of vanishing — at least offensively — for long stretches of games this season. Already, the Splash Brother has posted four single-digit scoring games. Last year, Thompson did that just twice.

Patrick McCaw has been meek, unable to build off an encouraging rookie season before a wrist fracture put him out of action for at least the next month.

Shaun Livingston, the recipient of a three-year, $24 million deal in the offseason has also been easy to miss out on the floor — both offensively and defensively.

No play better fits the description of “most disappointing” than Andre Iguodala. Inked to a three-year, $48 million pact in the summer, Iguodala, the fifth member of the death lineup has been a liability offensively.

Iguodala’s offensive struggles speak to a larger problem ailing the Warriors: this team lacks fire power off the bench. His field-goal percentage has dropped from 52.8 percent last year to 43.6. His 3-point percentage has plummeted from 36.2 percent to 22.9. Iguodala has made just five 3-pointers since the start of 2018.

The final game of the first half was a microcosm of his season to this point. Iguodala was effective — finishing a team high plus-9 — but also didn’t so much as attempt a shot in 29 minutes.

With Nick Young and Omri Casspi misfiring off the bench, the best hope for the Warriors is that Iguodala, the enigmatic veteran, is pacing himself through the regular season before flipping the postseason switch.

MOST VALUABLE

Candidates: Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green

Picking between Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant is as challenging as it gets.
Curry is a game wrecker who upsets the gravity of the floor. The five-time All Star is a threat to pull up any time he passes midcourt. Durant is a 7-foot extraterrestrial. He’s a relentless and surgical scorer — capable of taking over a contest when the moment calls for it. He’s at his defensive pinnacle, averaging a team high 1.96 blocks.

The numbers don’t make it easy to separate the pair. Curry has the edge in points, assists, steals and plus-minus.

Durant has the advantage in rebounds, blocks, 3-point percentage and field-goal percentage. In such a circumstance, a tiebreaker is needed.

Durant dropped 50 on the Blazers to cap the first half — the most points any Warrior has scored this season. But that wasn’t the definitive performance to this point.

Curry claims that honor.

While the Dubs have stumbled against the best of the best — most notably going 1-4 against the Rockets and the Oklahoma City Thunder — Curry was a genius in their most impressive (and playoff-like) win of year, the club’s 109-105 victory over the Boston Celtics on Jan. 27.

Curry was magical at Oracle Arena, totaling 49 points, sinking eight 3-pointers and delivering a furious 13-point frenzy in the final 1:42.
The Warriors still go as Curry goes and that’s no disrespect to Durant.

Draymond Green finishes a distant third in this category but is worth an honorable mention simply because he does so much. He grabs the most rebounds, dishes the most assists and ranks second in steals and blocks.

Karl Buscheck
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Karl Buscheck

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