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ESPN’s Kendra Andrews
“Are you ready, DUB NATION?”
As the lights darkened to reveal the Golden State Warriors’ starting five, the audience erupted in applause.
The names of Draymond Green, Andrew Wiggins, Kevon Looney, and Stephen Curry were called first. Curry’s name is generally released last, but that was not the case on January 9th.
The grand climax was reserved for the shooting guard who had waited 941 days for his name to be called again. Klay Thompson was returned, and the Warriors were once again whole.
It lasted exactly seven seconds.
Green fouled Cleveland Cavaliers’ Darius Garland shortly after the ball was tipped and immediately went to the bench. Green felt calf tightness before to the game, but he wanted to be named to the starting lineup to mark Thompson’s comeback.
Since then, he hasn’t played.
The decision, according to Green and the rest of the squad, was only preventative. There is still no date for his return two months later.
The Warriors have lost seven of their last nine games, falling to 712 games behind the first-place Phoenix Suns and only half a game ahead of the third-place Memphis Grizzlies. They were half a game behind the first-place Phoenix Suns on Jan. 9.
The Warriors’ league-best start has given way to obvious deficiencies on both sides of the floor in those 25 games without Green, as they battle to find consistency, frantically looking for the harmony they were confident would be there once Thompson returned to the court.
For the first time since the 2017-18 season, the Warriors began the season as realistic championship contenders. With 19 games remaining in the regular season, Green’s return seems to be critical to the team’s championship prospects.
Coach Steve Kerr had a straightforward response when asked whether Green is the secret to the Warriors’ success.
Kerr told ESPN, “Yes.” “There is only one Draymond,” says the narrator.
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“He was pushing a lot of things early for [Thompson] to get his flow back, knowing he just had a small amount of time to accomplish it,” Curry said.
Jordan Poole, a third-year guard who began at shooting guard in Thompson’s absence, has had the most difficult time adjusting over the last two months. Poole has been demoted to the bench, although he still starts when Thompson is unavailable.
Poole’s changes, though, go beyond starting vs coming off the bench. During Poole’s several transition periods, there was some anxiety about how he would manage the adjustments, according to ESPN sources.
“The difference isn’t him coming off the bench; it’s the fact that Draymond isn’t in the lineup,” Kerr said. “Take a look at the first half of the season. He wasn’t actually supposed to be our backup point guard. He was surrounded by ball-handling players. He put a lot of emphasis on scoring and shooting. However, because of the injuries we’ve had, Jordan has had to take on playmaking responsibilities, which comes with a lot more responsibility. He can’t simply concentrate on obtaining his points. He’ll have to take command of the team. So I believe it is his injuries that are affecting him.”
Green had the most passes made on the squad, averaging 60.6 per game. Prior to Jan. 9, Curry (49.1) and Poole (39.2) were second and third, respectively. Despite being charged with controlling the offense while Curry isn’t on the court, Poole has only averaged 41.5 points per game since then.
Poole’s 3-point shooting has dropped as a result of his increased playmaking responsibilities. In February, he only shot 25.9%, down from 37 percent in January.
Without Green on the court, Wiggins, who made his first All-Star appearance this season, has witnessed a big decline in his scoring. Wiggins was averaging 18.8 points per game on 48 percent shooting before Green’s injury.
Wiggins, on the other hand, had his lowest average points per game (13.8) since November of his rookie season in February. He had a 41.9 percent field goal percentage and a 36.5 percent three-point percentage.
The Warriors’ learning curve has been accelerated by Green’s absence as they acclimate to their new responsibilities with Thompson back in the lineup.
“Understand that our offense is a bit different, particularly without Draymond for this lengthy time,” Curry added. “In terms of playmaking, being on the ball, and managing that attention, there’s a lot more responsibility.”
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“Everyone’s job is made simpler when Draymond is out there,” Andre Iguodala said. “Draymond is strewn on the floor. Defending 1 through 5, taking charges, blocking shots, every steal, and everything.”
There isn’t a single problem on defense that the Warriors can blame for their deterioration on that end of the floor. Each night is different, according to Kerr, with back cuts one night, transition points the next, and boxouts the following. The Warriors were 23rd in points allowed in the paint during the first two weeks of February, but they were fourth before that.
That, according to Kerr and Curry, is partially due to a lack of communication, which is often headed by Green. Curry also mentioned a lack of physicality, something he believes would be difficult to overcome until the Warriors add more size.
The Warriors are down to one center in Looney without Green and James Wiseman, who hasn’t played since April 2021 due to a right meniscus rupture. Nemanja Bjelica can play small-ball center, but he hasn’t been consistent in the rotation since returning due to back spasms.
Since Green’s previous game, Kerr and the coaching staff have been attempting to put together a winning rotation, but they haven’t been able to do it.
They began by inserting Otto Porter Jr. into Green’s starting lineup. They handed youngster Jonathan Kuminga, the Warriors’ No. 7 overall choice, a chance to start, and he showed the Warriors’ lack of physicality by making a career-high 12 free throws against the Portland Trail Blazers on Feb. 24.
Kerr started Gary Payton II, who earned the team’s 15th roster slot due to his ability to lock down opposing players, in the Warriors’ penultimate game before the All-Star break. Payton had six thefts and a blocked shot against Jokic in the game against the Denver Nuggets.
Payton, who has been Green’s main substitute since the All-Star break, will play a key role in the playoffs, according to Kerr, while Kuminga will most likely be in the rotation.
“You rely on the other elements to keep the boat afloat,” Curry said, “but we’re not going to be anything special with the way we’re made.” “Obviously, [green] is a significant component of it.”
The Warriors chose not to make any trades at the trade deadline, despite their lack of size. They don’t think the solution will be found in the buyout market, either. A healthy Green, Looney, and Wiseman, according to general manager Bob Myers, would improve the Warriors more than anybody else available through trade.
Currently, the Warriors only have one of those three players available, but Wiseman might be back shortly. The 20-year-old center, who is classified as day-to-day, joined the team on its current road trip and took part in three-on-three scrimmages on Monday.
Nonetheless, one Warriors coach told ESPN that Wiseman would be a minor part of the Warriors’ rotation, especially during the playoffs. They want to put him in certain scenarios, but they don’t think he’ll be ready to take on the majority of the job on the ground floor right once. Instead, they want him to focus on being a valuable member of the squad next season.
Green, meanwhile, took part in shooting exercises and 5-on-5 conditioning on Saturday, his first team practice since early January. He also joined the team in Dallas on Wednesday, participating in 3-on-3 scrimmages with Wiseman and Thompson. However, with 19 games remaining in the regular season and the Grizzlies closing in on the No. 2 seed, Green’s return is still uncertain. And the Warriors have yet to find a suitable successor.
The Warriors have found a way to win throughout the season despite losing one or more important players. While Green and the Warriors are hopeful that he’ll be back in time for the playoffs, they’ll have to find out how to get by till then.
“Thinking about how good we might be at full vigor gives me shivers,” Thompson added.
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