Can the Warriors compete against the NBA’s best centers?

So far, it’s proven to be one of Golden State’s only weak spots

By John Krolik

Special to The Examiner

The Warriors have one of the league’s best records. They have the best defense in the league. Only the Utah Jazz has a higher rebound rate. Any criticism of how Steve Kerr’s squad is playing can only be called nitpicking.

However, it seems like the Warriors may be susceptible to getting bullied down low by the better big men in the league, some of whom they’ll almost certainly see in the postseason.

In their recent loss to the Nuggets, the Warriors had no answer for the sheer size of the 6-foot-11, 284-pound Nikola Jokic, who struggled from the outside. (Jokic shot 1-8 from outside the paint, including 0-5 from beyond the three-point line.) But he was able to finish the game with 22 points and 19 rebounds, including five offensive boards just by posting up at every opportunity and throwing his weight around.

Granted, Jokic is the reigning league MVP, and the Warriors were without their best defender, Draymond Green, that night.

Still, the Warriors have had some issues with size this season. Former No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton put up 24 points and 11 rebounds when the Suns beat the Warriors Nov. 30, managed to put up a team-high 23 points when the Warriors bounced back to dominate Phoenix in their Dec. 3 rematch and then had 18 points on 8-10 shooting when the Warriors beat the Suns again on Christmas day.

When the Warriors lost to the 76ers on Dec. 11, Joel Embiid led all scorers with 26 points. The Warriors won their season opener against the Lakers, but Anthony Davis was able to score 33 points on 15-26 shooting from the field.

This matters because there’s a good chance the Warriors will have to deal with one of the league’s elite 7-footers come playoff time. Ayton and the Suns could end up seeing the Warriors in the conference finals. The Lakers could easily see Jokic and the Nuggets in the second round. As dysfunctional as Davis and the Lakers are, there’s a good chance they’ll end up in the playoff mix. (Fortunately, Embiid and the 76ers reside in the East.)

And so the Warriors come back to the biggest decision they’ll have to make this regular season: How much playing time should they give 2020 No. 2 overall pick James Wiseman when he gets healthy? Kevon Looney is a perfectly nice player, and understands the Warriors’ complex defensive scheme, but he stands only 6-foot-9 and isn’t a jaw-dropping athlete. The Warriors are obviously more than comfortable playing small with lineups that feature Green at center. He plays above his size better than any player in the league, but he’s still 6-foot-6.

Wiseman is a true 240-pound 7-footer with a 7-foot-6 wingspan and the ability to jump out of the gym, but often looked hopelessly lost on defense last season. This season, while the Warriors have become the NBA’s best defensive team as Wiseman recovers from injury, Golden State’s scheme has gotten much more complex.

Even if Wiseman has been dutifully studying film and doing his best to learn the system while immobile, there’s no real replacement for learning by doing. Wiseman’s learning curve would be steep. But as the old adage goes, you can’t teach height, and the Warriors might need to take a chance with him if they want to be able to hang with the biggest threats (literally speaking) in the league come playoff time.

There is also the chance the front office could look for help from elsewhere, specifically in the form of Myles Turner. The Pacers’ center led the league in blocks last season, currently leads the league in blocks, stands at 6-11 and weighs 250 pounds. He even offers three-point range, with nearly half of his field goal attempts coming from beyond the arc.

The Warriors have some attractive trade assets, specifically Wiseman and Jonathan Kuminga, the latter of whom has looked raw but extremely tantalizing in his time filling in for Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins.

The Warriors’ current roster and defensive philosophy has taken them to the top of the league, but to shore up one of their only potential weaknesses, the team may need to think a little bigger.

John Krolik is a freelance contributor to The Examiner.

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