1. GS Struggles: The Warriors are still the top seed in the West but, after several blowout losses at home and a relatively blah SRS (4.02 which is only third in the conference), there are signs of problems. The Warriors are still the top offense in the NBA but the clearest team problem is defense. The Warriors slipped from a top 5 defense to 11th last season. This trend line has slipped even further this year (16th).
Where does the slippage lie? The frontcourt still has solid numbers but the Warriors backcourt has rated quite negative. Klay Thompson has consistently ranked in -2 BPM range the last few years (this is not consistent with the eye test that shows Thompson to be a good defender). Now, Steph Curry’s defense has gone from a slight positive to a pronounced problem over the last few years:
With two guards slowing down a bit defensively, the Warriors could really use a young active guard to give Curry and Thompson a break come playoff time when they need to slow down Russell Westbrook, James Harden, or other players of that ilk.
Though the Warriors’ offense is still the best in the NBA, there are some weaknesses on that end too. Draymond Green has cratered offensively this year (.475 TS% versus career .533%). Green has rarely been a great three-point shooter (2015-16 being the notable exception) but he is shooting an execrable .224% this year from three (He had shot about .305% the last two seasons), even though his three attempts have been at their lowest rate since his rookie season.
The even more notable issue is Thompson, who has fallen from a career .416% career three-point shooter to a shockingly low .337% so far this season. Thompson isn’t likely to shoot this poorly all season but his advanced stats have also slowly deflated each season since 2014-15. This decline does not bode well for Thompson’s stated desire for a huge new contract. Given Thompson’s weaknesses, the Warriors would probably be better served to deal him while his perceived value is pretty high (a la the Lakers dealing Norm Nixon while he still perceived a star).
If the Warriors do nothing, the team will likely still get hot and still be odds on favorites to win a title. Nevertheless, there is risk and another title is not destined (they probably would’ve lost to Houston but for Chris Paul’s injury)and GS should start shaking up the core to deal with the defense issue, as well as the looming contract demands of many of the major players.
2. D-Rose Is Back? This week, after a great game against his old Bulls, Derrick Rose was serenaded with the old “MVP” chant he heard back in 2010-11. Rose’s resurgence this season has been the feel-good story of the season, with many players and former players expressing particular happiness with his recovery from years of injury and struggle. Rose has played well enough this season so far and rightly taken the starting role from Jeff Teague. Still, a deeper look at the numbers show Rose cannot sustain this pace. Take a look at his stats from this season versus his roundly panned season with the Knicks in 2016-17 (Rose barely played in 2017-18):
-2016-17: 32.5 mpg, 18.0 ppg, .471 FG%, .217 3FG%, 3.8 rpg, 4.4 apg, 2.3 topg, 17.0 PER, .068 WS/48, -1.9 BPM, 0.0 VORP
-2018-19: 29.5 mpg, 18.7 ppg, .489 FG%, .455 3FG%, 2.8 rpg, 4.7 apg, 1.8 topg, 19.7 PER, .119 WS/48, 0.4 BPM, 0.6 VORP
Rose has passed and held onto the ball a little better, though he hasn’t rebounded or got to the line as much. The key difference, though, is obvious. Rose is somehow shooting at the rate of Steph Curry from three. Rose is a career .308% from three and has not previously shot better than .332% from three in a full-season (Rose’s struggles from three in New York were partially a result of the team telling him not to shoot that shot. He took less than on shot per game in 2016-17).
It is possible that Rose has found a new skill at age-30 that he never previously exhibited. More likely, this is a random hot streak and he will cool down at some point this year. I don’t mean to throw too much cold water on Rose’s return to starter caliber point but a decline is probably coming. Even the 2016-17 version of Rose was a bona fide NBA player but his MVP (and All-Star days) are unfortunately gone.