Welcome to morning target practice, where every day of the week you will receive an up-to-date and current column from one of the SI.comNBA writers: Howard Beck on Mondays, Chris Mannix on Tuesdays, Michael Pina on Wednesdays, Chris Herring on Thursdays and Rohan Nadkarni on Fridays.
There has been constant tension in the Warriors’ 2021 season. Klay Thompson’s Achilles injury clouded expectations, and no one really knew what Stephen Curry would look like in December after barely playing the previous year. Curry quickly regained his MVP form, but that only raised more questions. Do the Warriors need to do their best this year without Klay? How does Curry’s best fit with the development of No. 2 pick James Wiseman, who is under additional scrutiny after the success of fellow rookie LaMelo Ball? And what was Steve Kerr’s priority, after upsetting some people earlier in the season after saying he wasn’t “chasing wins”?
One game doesn’t allay worries at Golden State, but the Dubs’ win over the Bulls on Monday did hint at what could finally help unlock this version of the Warriors: the pick-and-roll.
Kerr has been reluctant to rely on mascot action from most teams during his tenure at the Bay. He almost lifts his nose at the play when he could be executing his move offense. This year, that turned out to be a huge challenge, as many times Curry ran off the ball as his score-challenged teammates tried to take over. Wiseman especially seemed lost, and the rosters with him at the start of the season were completely losing.
The Warriors have relied on that action in the past, but usually only during high-leverage moments in the postseason. The Curry-Draymond Green pick-and-roll basically ended the Chris Paul-James Harden partnership in Houston, and for years teams were hampered trying to stop that duo.
Curry has always been an accomplished pick-and-roll player. This season, among players who have appeared in 20 games and executed at least four pick and rolls a night, Curry was second only to Kawhi Leonard in points per possession. in 1.13 coming in on Thursday. (That’s the equivalent of an offensive rating of 113. Currently, Golden State is ranked 22nd in the league with an offensive efficiency of 109.0).
Currently, Curry run-pick-and-roll at just 28.2% of his holdings, hilariously lower than his contemporaries. Trae Young picks and rolls 54.8% of the time he’s on the track. Ja Morant is at 51.6%. Damian Lillard at 48.8%. What those players have in common with Curry, in addition to being point guards, is that none of them are as efficient as Steph at scoring pick-and-roll points.
Against Chicago, Golden State finally went the other direction. Curry didn’t become the Harden of the Rockets era overnight, but according to Synergy, the Warriors took pick-and-rolls on 40.3% of their possessions on Monday, compared to 18, 6% throughout the season. And it helped, his offensive rating for the game was a robust 117.2.
It makes sense why that play could be so useful for the current version of the Dubs. Curry remains a giant in that action due to his ability to shoot from anywhere on the court, and the participation of the 7’1 ”Wiseman makes it nearly impossible for teams to switch. Wiseman also has potential as an actor and pop man. His athleticism allows him to catch balloons at the hoop, while his jumper’s buttery touch means he could become a legitimate three-point threat.
Putting the ball in Curry’s hands seems simple and, frankly, it is. It takes the pressure off Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre to be footholds in a movement-based offense, and it should be even more effective when Thompson returns to the court.
If anything, the fact that the Warriors finally find harmony with the pick-and-roll isn’t the death of a beautiful offense, but it would signal the end of the search for a new death lineup. Golden State has played mostly small this year (with Green at center) out of necessity due to injuries. For years I thought the Warriors would try to recreate that special sauce as long as Steph, Klay, and Dray were on the roster. But if tall screens are the best way to use Wiseman, who is an important piece of the franchise’s future, then it may finally be time for Kerr to fall in love with a style of play that he has always kept at a distance.
Kerr said the right things after the win against Chicago: “We want to continue doing a lot of pick and roll. A big part is [Wiseman] he’s really starting to get comfortable with the moment … that’s the growth we’ve been looking for. I’m very excited about his pick-and-roll play. ”
In a loss to Miami on Thursday, the mounting pains of changing such a central component of the offensive makeup were evident. Curry and Wiseman took zero of their combined 24 shot attempts from their pick-and-roll partnership, thanks in large part to the Heat’s aggressive and moody defense.
Ultimately, whether or not Kerr’s commitment to the two-man Curry-Wiseman game is upheld could end up playing a big role in the Warriors’ future.
More morning shootings
Herring: Nikola Jokić has been the MVP forever
Pina: The Heat are suddenly the team nobody wants to face
Mannix: Giannis is back in the NBA MVP discussion
Beck: Acquisitions are altering the competitive landscape of the NBA
Nadkarni: The Nuggets have stumbled over their future lineup
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.