Four key questions facing the Warriors, starting with Klay Thompson

By John Krolik

By John Krolik

Special to The Examiner

Before the season, we asked four key questions facing the Warriors. Now that we’re 25 games in, and well past the quarter-season mark, let’s revisit.

1. When will Klay Thompson come back, and will he be the same player when he does?

When Thompson does come back, he might be dealing with a far shorter hook than would have been expected at the beginning of the season because the Warriors have been doing so well that making the necessary adjustments to fit a player of Thompson’s caliber could throw off the delicate chemistry that goes toward a team being this good. Then again, this is the same franchise that added Kevin Durant after winning 73 games and coming a minute away from winning back-to-back NBA Finals, and that worked out pretty well.

Jordan Poole is no Klay Thompson, but he’s been doing an admirable job of filling in for him, and the wings off the bench have been doing an exemplary job of picking up the slack. Going into Saturday’s game, Poole was averaging 18 points per game on 34.5% shooting from beyond the arc. He’s making 2.8 three-pointers a game.

In Thompson’s last healthy season, the 2018-19 campaign, he averaged 3.1 made threes per game on 40.2% shooting from deep, which was actually fairly disappointing for him. Thompson has never shot under 40% from beyond the arc in his career. Poole even provides a little more playmaking than the famously dribble-averse Thompson, averaging 3.5 assists per game this season to Thompson’s 2.4 in 2018-19.

However, there’s plenty to suggest the difference between Poole and a healthy Thompson goes much further than the stat sheet would tell you. Poole isn’t the same caliber of defender as Thompson. He also doesn’t have Thompson’s ability to make defenses panic with constant off-ball motion and the threat of a quick catch-and-shoot three off a screen. Thompson, like Steph Curry, opens up multiple opportunities for his teammates every game without so much as touching the ball.

The Warriors have never had a season where they were worse with Thompson on the floor than on the bench, but they’ve been 11.1 points per 100 possessions better with Poole on the bench this season. (This has more to do with how spectacular the bench has been rather than Poole’s deficiencies. The Warriors still outscore their opponents by a whopping 8.6 points per 100 possessions when Poole is on the floor.) Golden State hasn’t needed Thompson so far this season, but in the coming months? They’ll want to rely on the second Splash Brother.

2. What about the kids? (James Wiseman and Jonathan Kuminga)

Wiseman is still recovering from meniscus surgery, and has yet to see the floor this year. It’s very much an open question whether the Warriors will have time to further his development when he does get healthy. The only “good” news for Wiseman is that starting center Kevon Looney, as has been the tradition with the Steve Kerr Warriors, has been the weak link of the starting lineup. Looney has rebounded and defended well, but averages just 5.4 points on 52.3% shooting from the field, which is a very low number for a player who doesn’t shoot threes.

When combined with his abysmal 55.8% free-throw percentage, Looney’s true shooting percentage, 54%, is under the league average of 55.4%. That’s a fairly dire situation for a center who almost never shoots. The Warriors are nine points worse per 100 possessions when he’s on the court, which is again fairly common for centers in the Kerr era, who generally just keep the court warm until Kerr can unleash one of his smaller “death lineups.”

Still, it’s hard for Warriors fans not to salivate over the possibility of Wiseman, who has all the potential in the world as a rebounder and shot-blocker and could give the starting lineup a true offensive weapon at the center position. That’s a luxury the Warriors haven’t enjoyed in quite a while. Wiseman definitely went through severe growing pains in his rookie season. It remains to be seen whether the Warriors are willing to wait for him to adjust to the speed of the NBA game, but the potential of what the 2020 No. 2 overall pick could bring to the Warriors if things “click” for him is definitely worth dreaming about.

As for Kuminga, it’s fairly clear this will be a “redshirt year” of sorts for him. He’s very talented but very raw, and has been relegated to garbage-time minutes thus far. I don’t see that changing this season.

3. Will Draymond Green find his shot again?

The answer? No. But Green has fully embraced his new reality. He is averaging just 30.4% on three-point shots, an abysmal 58.2% from the line, and averaging only 8 points per game. He’s finally fully abandoned the three-pointer, and the impact on his game has been a positive one. Since the 2013-14 season, between 31.5% and 43% of Green’s shots have come from beyond the arc. This season, only 16.4% of his shots have come from deep.

As a result, Green is shooting a career-high 55% from the field. His 58.8% True Shooting is also a career-high. Green has also come up with some crafty ways to punish defenses who sag off him and dare him to shoot. His favorite move? Flip the ball to a perimeter shooter, set an on-ball screen for the shooter’s man and leave the defender who was sagging off of Green horribly out of position to contest the shot.

4. Will the Warriors make a move?

In many ways, this goes back to the question about Golden State developing its recent high draft picks. The Warriors have a lot of young talent who might not do much for them this season, and teams who don’t have deep playoff runs in mind might very well trade some players who could help the Warriors with their immediate goals. The most recent trade rumors involve one with the Pacers for frontcourt players Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis (or possibly just Turner) for a package featuring Wiseman and/or Kuminga. But the NBA trade deadline can get wacky, so don’t count out any possibilities.

John Krolik is a freelance contributor to The Examiner.

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