NBC Sports

Warriors failing to overachieve when they've needed to most

NBC Sports
Steve Kerr

Steph Curry won’t acknowledge the naked truth about this Warriors team. Nor should he. It’s not in his character. And it’s not something he can change with words or, obviously, through individual performance.

Draymond Green won’t acknowledge it, but there have been moments when it seems he is biting his lip to suppress his natural candor.

Steve Kerr can’t acknowledge it because coaches avoid overt excuses like the third rail.

They’ve all been around the NBA long enough to recognize what a good team looks like. What a great team looks like. They know the look of a marvelous team because they’ve had years of first-hand experience.

And this team, with a 31-32 record, foraging for enough wins to earn a berth in the play-in tournament, AKA the “prize” all teams wish to avoid, is not a good NBA team. The general talent/experience level doesn’t meet the criteria for a top-10 squad. 

The Warriors, who took a 124-116 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday in Minneapolis, have spent all season trying to overachieve and they have failed.

And if it hurts to see that, or hear it, imagine what it’s like for Curry and Green and Kerr to spend the past five months living it -- and knowing they have at least 17 more days.

I asked Curry, a two-time MVP and three years beyond lock status for the Hall of Fame, about staying optimistic amid ongoing mediocrity.

 

“I’m not going to come up on here and show you all the cards,” he said after his 37 points went for naught. “It’s frustrating. You want to win basketball games. We need to figure out what that is, practice, film and put it together in games. We’re not going to talk our way through it.

“It’s on us to figure that out, if we want to make this season mean anything.”

This season always was going to be fraught with barriers to excellence. With five-time All-Star Klay Thompson ruled out three weeks before training camp, the Warriors have only three players familiar with winning. There’s Curry and Green and Kevon Looney, the practically perfect backup big man.

“Those two guys have been through the battles,” Kerr said of Green and Looney, each of whom stretches the definition of big man. “They know what this is about. They’re carrying a heavy load, trying to teach a young team how to win, how to defend, how to gut out possessions and grind them out.”

It’s hard to win while teaching, even harder with a cascade of injuries and pandemic-related interruptions. The vast majority of the players on the roster -- and carry themselves as decent human beings -- are unfamiliar with winning at this level. Some are barely familiar with the NBA. Some probably won’t be in the league next season.

This is how the Warriors lose by 30 at home to a team, the Dallas Mavericks, sitting in a slot they covet. This is how they go to Minnesota two nights later and, in another game of great consequence, get outrebounded by 23.

The Warriors have horses, so to speak, but they are short on genuine thoroughbreds. And with each sign of progress, that deficiency punches a hole in their hopes.

Yet the Warriors are throwing Curry and Green out there and hoping their “championship DNA” will somehow magically transform this squad into something it is not. While the presence of Curry and Green certainly provides an opportunity for others to be their best selves, it’s unrealistic to expect that to result in rousing success.

“We know we’re capable of beating good teams, bad teams, all the way up and down the standings,” Curry said. “But we’re also capable and liable to get beat any given night. We’ve proven both. That’s why we’re damn near .500.”

Which, if you’ve seen them enough, you know that’s about where they belong. And if you remember the preseason predictions. 

RELATED: Steph, Warriors' frustration palpable after bad loss to Wolves

The Sporting News had the Warriors finishing eighth in the Western Conference. Most forecasts had them winning between 35 and 39 games. ESPN had them winning 31.2 games and finishing 14th in the conference. They’ll beat that, but that total is not as comically wrong as it seemed back in December.

I figured this version of the Warriors, if healthy, could win between 40 and 45 games. They can get to 40 if they win all nine games remaining on their schedule.

 

It’s not impossible. But it’s not fair to this roster to think that will happen.

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