Editor’s note: With the NBA season halted over coronavirus concerns, Warriors fans have unanswered questions about the team and how it’s building toward the future. To provide answers, NBC Sports Bay Area will simulate some previously scheduled Warriors games through NBA 2K, mixing video-game results with real-life insights for our coverage team.
With the Warriors stuck in the Western Conference cellar, the remainder of this season was set up as an audition for young players, as well as a case study on how Steph Curry would transition from his wrist injury back into a lineup with a new supporting cast.
According to NBA 2K's simulation of Wednesday night’s game against the Atlanta Hawks at Chase Center, the transition won’t be seamless.
Off the jump, the most glaring projection was that Curry wasn’t the primary ball handler. Instead, Damion Lee, Jordan Poole, Mychal Mulder and Draymond Green took turns bringing the ball up the court
Steve Kerr’s insistence on using Curry off the ball has been a point of contention with many Warriors fans over the years. The coach's strategy is simple: The more Curry, and Klay Thompson, run around the court, the more havoc and chaos the Warriors create for the opposing defense. And while Curry has done exactly that, many naysayers rightfully clamor for him to be the focal point of the Warriors’ offense with the ball in his hands, in order to let him create off the dribble and incite chaos on his own. More of a balance between the two philosophies could fit Golden State’s revamped roster.
That especially will be true if the opposing team defends Curry as the Hawks did in this game simulation. They consistently put one defender, usually Trae Young in isolation, on Curry, and that definitely isn’t the way to defend the Warriors star in reality. More often than not, the opposition puts a bigger, longer defender on Curry, and many times brings up another player to throw a double team, making him pass the ball.
In one fourth-quarter scenario, the Hawks finally put a double team on Curry, which freed up Andrew Wiggins for a wide-open 3-pointer. Wiggins could be one of the biggest beneficiaries of this famous "gravity" and the most obvious focal point for Curry's reintegration into the Warriors’ lineup.
With the simulated Hawks refraining to put extra defensive pressure on Curry, there wasn’t a full depiction of how Wiggins could blossom in the Warriors’ fast-paced, ball-movement offensive scheme. Yet a few plays showed off what actually might happen, including that open 3 on the Curry double team.
One of those plays came in the third quarter, when Marquese Chriss came up to set a high ball screen for Curry. Two defenders jumped out to stop Steph, but he penetrated past the initial wave into the key, eventually drawing away the corner defender to leave Wiggins wide open for a corner 3. Wiggins is a much better shooter when he’s in a catch-and-shoot position, rather than having to consistently create off the dribble.
Wiggins also is a great slasher to the rim, which he wasn’t fully able to show with a less-talented Minnesota Timberwolves squad around him, but he displayed that ability during the fourth quarter of this sim. Lee was stuck in the corner with the ball, but he found an opportunistic Wiggins, who shook free of his defender at the top of the key and cut straight to the rim for an easy dunk.
Over the years, Warriors players such as Harrison Barnes and Kevin Durant greatly benefitted by having great shooters spread around the floor, spacing the defense apart and allowing them to slash straight to the hoop. Wiggins, who scored 15 points on 6-of-15 shooting in this sim, should be the new version of exactly that kind of player.
The Warriors lost by 10 points in the end because of subpar shooting and sloppy play -- something that fans have grown accustomed to this season. However, with Curry’s reintroduction into the lineup, the game automatically was more exciting. He scored 25 points, and shot 10 of 25 from the field and 5 of 14 on 3-pointers, with all marks leading the team. Chriss joined Curry and Wiggins as the only Warriors in double figures with 11 points.
It’s unfortunate that fans might not be able to see Curry and Co. play an actual game for a while and analyze how the Warriors might look in the future, but these sims definitely can help inspire the imagination.