Examining key Warriors role players who are slumping off the bench


Examining key Warriors role players who are slumping off the bench

Editor's note: Grant Liffmann is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders, which airs on NBC Sports Bay Area 90 minutes before each home game and 60 minutes after every game. Each week, Grant will drop his Outsider Observation on the state of the Dubs.

When analyzing the makeup of the Warriors' roster, it is important to remember that there is not a traditional clear delineation when it comes to their "bench." They are built incredibly top heavy, with five All-Star caliber players dominating not only the starting unit, but the lineups after that.

What is commonly called the "second unit" (which normally is comprised of bench players to start the second and fourth quarter), the Warriors instead employ only two bench players alongside three starters. The team relies on the scoring and playmaking of their star players, while simultaneously depending on their bench players to fill in the gaps in very specific roles in order to support the stars.

That is why it is counter-intuitive to judge the Warriors' bench based on traditional statistical indicators such as points, rebounds or assists. Instead, it is important for the Warriors' role players to be as efficient and effective as possible in their limited minutes, both offensively and defensively.

However, a few of the Warriors' key role players have been slumping, and the numbers are not pretty.

Let's take a look at Kevon Looney, Jonas Jerebko and Alfonzo McKinnie.

Kevon Looney

Looney's greatest attribute has been his consistency throughout the season. Sure that is not the sexiest word, "consistent", but it has kept him in Steve Kerr's most trusted rotations. Over the first 53 games played this season, Looney responded to an increase in workload with solid production.

He averaged 21 minutes per game, scoring seven points, grabbing six rebounds, and making shots at a highly efficient 62 percent. When Damian Jones went down with injury, he filled in admirably as the starting center and once DeMarcus Cousins returned, he briefly returned to his consistent play off the bench. 

But recently his numbers have taken a dive, and with that, so has his playing time. Over the last nine games, Looney is playing about 14 minutes per game, scoring about two points, grabbing four rebounds and shooting 42 percent.

Meanwhile, Jordan Bell has emerged as a high-energy addition to the rotation and lately, he has started subbing into the game in spots we have typically seen Looney throughout most of the season. Boogie's minutes have also increased as his conditioning has improved, taking away from Looney's role as well.

The Warriors are counting on Looney returning to form in time for the playoffs, as they will need him to defend teams that rely heavily on ball screens and pick and roll situations such as Houston and Oklahoma City. 

Jonas Jerebko

We have already chronicled how Jonas Jerebko's playing time has decreased with Cousins' return, but in truth, his effectiveness had faltered a bit before Boogie's comeback. Over his first 33 games played this season, Jerebko was fantastic off the bench, attacking the glass and playing with grit the Warriors had missed with the departures of players like Zaza Pachulia and David West. He also was a much needed three-point threat for the team, shooting 39 percent from deep. 

But over the last 24 games, his shot has been inconsistent, making under 28 percent from long range. Jerebko has thrived off of the attention that Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson draw, putting himself in position to space the floor and keep his hands ready to shoot.

In turn, his ability to be a deep threat kept defenses honest, allowing driving lanes for the Warriors' big scorers. But as his shooting became unreliable, so has his impact on the offense. 

Alfonzo McKinnie

The teammate that is in competition for Jerebko's minutes, Alfonzo McKinnie, has also struggled with his shot. In his first 18 games played this season, McKinnie made an outstanding 46 percent of his three-point field goals. Following an injury, "Zo" has not returned to form, hitting only 23 percent of his shots from deep over the last 34 games played. 

For both McKinnie and Jerebko, these slumps are no longer small sample sizes. Perhaps they are having some trouble with their mechanics or adjusting to the mental hurdles of new roles and competition for minutes. But the Warriors will need one, or both, of them to find their shooting stroke so that they can extend the depth of their team and rotations for playoffs.

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In the end, the Warriors do not rely on their "bench" like other teams. In fact, the word to properly describe the accumulation of their role players would be "depth."  A deeper team helps the star players remain fresh and productive. It is up to role players such as Looney, Jerebko and McKinnie to find their groove again so the Warriors can make yet another long playoff run. 

Warriors' Steve Kerr makes odd request of Steph Curry in NBA playoffs

Warriors' Steve Kerr makes odd request of Steph Curry in NBA playoffs

OAKLAND — Steve Kerr’s latest request of Steph Curry is short, simple and initially puzzling: Let ‘em score.

Three words, easily understood, but completely against the competitive instincts of an elite NBA player conditioned to accept defense as an essential part of the game.

Kerr isn’t telling Curry to neglect defense. Rather, the coach is advising his superstar to weigh his overall value to the Warriors in the NBA playoffs against the significance of committing fouls in hopes of preventing two points.

“Sometimes, he just gets in the habit of trying to strip the ball,” Kerr said Tuesday after practice. “So, more than anything, it’s just about trying to get him past that habit. I keep telling him how valuable he is. I’d much rather he just got out of the guy’s way and gave him a layup and kept playing.

“He’s much more valuable than two points. And we’ve got plenty of help; our defense is predicated on help.”

This, in the big picture, makes sense. While the Warriors seek to close out the Clippers in Game 5 of their first-round series Wednesday, advancing likely means getting a dose of potent Houston.

Anyone care to imagine Curry on the bench with foul trouble against the Rockets?

Curry’s impact against Los Angeles was neutralized by foul trouble in Games 3 and 4. Though having him on the bench for long stretches, saddled with foul trouble, is not ideal in this series, it would invite disaster should the Warriors advance and face Houston.

After committing four or more fouls just four times over the final 27 games of the regular season, Curry has been whistled at least that often in every game against LA. Picking up five fouls in Game 3, including his fourth early in the third quarter, limited him to 20 minutes.

So Curry, prior to Game 4, put a message on his shoes, “No Reach” -- a reminder to avoid a tendency that usually is his quickest route to foul trouble.

“I have confidence in my hand-eye coordination and hand speed,” Curry said. “That’s how I get steals usually, by being quick. But that’s how I get fouls, too, so I’ve got to balance both of them.

“The ones I’ve had trouble with in this series are ones that I shouldn’t even be in that situation to begin with. There’s help behind the play. I’m not even involved in the play, really. I’m just kind of lunging at it. That’s just a lack of focus.

“We could nitpick each one of them and understand exactly why. But at the end of the day, I’ve got to continue to stay on the floor on our normal rotations and not foul.”

There was progress in Game 4 insofar as Curry generally avoided reaching. And when he committed his third foul with 4:16 left in the first half, Kerr stayed with him.

Curry rewarded the coach by playing the rest of the half and the entire third quarter without a whistle. He played 35 minutes, committing four fouls.

Moreover, the Warriors won both games.

[RELATED: Beverley explains why he doesn't talk trash to Curry]

“If he’s got a couple fouls already, he should be able to play with those fouls,” Kerr said. “I’ve always trusted him. Since I’ve been here, I’ve generally played him with two fouls in the first half or three in the third quarter. I believe in letting a guy go, letting him play, a star player like that especially. The second half was a great sign that he’s kind of made it past that habit.”

The Warriors would like to think so.

They’d like to believe that building better habits in this series will make them stronger in the next one. History has shown they are strongest with Curry on the floor.

Richard Jefferson offers opinion on Kevin Durant's comments about media

Richard Jefferson offers opinion on Kevin Durant's comments about media

Programming note: Watch the pregame edition of Warriors Outsiders on Wednesday night at 6, streaming live on the MyTeams app.

Richard Jefferson gets paid to talk about basketball and express his opinions.

Over the last couple of years, he hasn't shied away from discussing his feelings about the Warriors and/or Kevin Durant.

On Tuesday, he was a guest on ESPN's show "The Jump" and KD's recent comments about the media was obviously a topic of conversation.

"You go back and look at the history of the game -- Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, the amount of pressure that they had to save this league; Michael Jordan, no player to me has ever had so much weight on his shoulders; then you go forward to Kobe Bryant after the post-Jordan era; then all of a sudden Kobe kind of faded away because LeBron James was in the prime of his career.

"If you want that 'Best player, I'm going to be the guy to hold this league down the next five years' (title), you need to be able to handle this better than how he (Durant) has," Jefferson said. "We need you, the game of basketball needs you to be better at this."

So what did KD say exactly?

“They need me. If I wasn’t a free agent, none of this s--t would go on, right?" the reigning two-time Finals MVP told NBC Sports Bay Area's Logan Murdock. “ None of this speculation about who I am, what’s wrong with my mental, why I’m miserable, why I ain’t happy with life. Nothing.”

Last summer, Durant elected to sign another "1+1" contract with the Warriors in order to maintain flexibility and possess the option to become a free agent again this summer. Ever since, there has been rampant speculation about his future and incessant discussion about his state of mind.

Back in mid-November, Steph Curry said: "With how active our guys are on social media, it’s hard not to see that stuff. But it tests your character, makes you figure out how to compartmentalize stuff. Either you take it as entertainment or you get influenced by it. Whatever you think, however you are in real life, in terms of how impressionable you are, how insecure you might be, how confident in yourself you might be, that’ll all reflect in how you handle it.”

Things boiled over for Durant in early February when the 10-time All-Star broke his silence and lashed out at the media following the Warriors' win over the Spurs.

[RELATEDJerry West believes Warriors' weak point is very obvious]

Jefferson has the utmost respect for KD the basketball player, but believes he needs to tweak his approach to reporters.

"I think he's on the Mount Rushmore of this generation," Jefferson added. "But make no mistake, the game of basketball -- which has provided for me, all of us, all of our families and his -- needs him to be able to handle this better because that's what the title of 'king' means.

"When you are the king, when you are No. 1, that means you have a ton more responsibility that you have to handle or you're not fit for that."

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