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Steph as decoy is a Warriors recipe for disaster this year

NBC Sports

It’s 36 seconds after tipoff when James Wiseman takes the Warriors’ first shot. He misses. Kelly Oubre Jr. takes the second shot. Misses. Andrew Wiggins takes the third. Misses. Draymond Green takes the fourth. Another miss.

The game is barely two minutes old, the Warriors are trailing Utah 14-0 and coach Steve Kerr wants a timeout.

Out of the timeout Oubre gets an open look and takes his second shot, which goes in. He misses his third shot. Wiggins misses his second shot. Oubre misses a fourth. And a fifth.

The score: Jazz 19, Warriors 2.

It’s nearly five minutes into the game, with the Warriors missing eight of their first nine shots, that their leading scorer and the No. 3 scorer in the NBA takes his first shot. Steph Curry’s 26-foot 3-pointer drops through the net.

Next possession, exactly 30 seconds later, Curry takes the next shot, this one from 29 feet. Splash. Golden State’s shooting slumber is over. The offense is awake and active. The Warriors make nine of their next 11 shots.

Curry scores a game-high 24 points. He passes Hall of Famer Reggie Miller and moves into second place on the NBA list of most 3-pointers in a career. Curry is unable, however, to save the Warriors from themselves.

Moreover, they are trailing by 17 when he is welcomed to join the action. This is one of the stretches when it seems his teammates, Green generally exempt, forget he’s on the floor.

 

How does one make sense of that?

“We do have stuff to figure out, obviously,” Curry said after the 127-108 loss. “I don’t have the answers right now.”

Curry’s usage rate when playing with the starters, according to an ESPN analysis, is 22.0 percent. That’s more typical of a third option. It’s abysmal for the player former teammate Kevin Durant described, during the glory years, as the most important player on the court: “Steph is the offense. The offense is Steph.”

KD is right. Or he used to be.

“We see all the numbers and all the combinations and there's plenty of theories that we could talk about,” Kerr said. “But I'm going to leave that for (media) to assess and figure out. We talk about everything internally, as a coaching staff, and we're well aware of combinations that are working and that aren't. We’re well aware of Steph’s usage rate.”

Yet it’s not unusual that Curry, the designated point guard, goes two or three possessions without the ball.

Or four or five without a shot. Saturday night is the latest example. He spent the first five minutes of the game as a decoy, pulling Utah defenders away from teammates that were not able to exploit openings he created.

“The most disappointing aspect of this game and the last game is the number of times we did not move the ball to the other side of the floor,” Kerr said. “We're attacking a closeout, one or two dribbles, or maybe we're in our offense and we turn the corner and everybody's looking to shoot. The ball's got to move. We have always preached ball movement here.

“We've got to understand that, especially when you're playing against Mitchell Robinson and Rudy Gobert, you've got to look to get the ball swung. You can't just keep attacking the shot blocker or pulling up for mid-range shots. It’s got to be drive-and-kick. That's the name of the game.”

It’s a delicate balance right now. Kerr and his staff want the non-Curry players to shoot when open because that’s how the Curry gravitational pull is supposed to work. They’re open. But seeing everybody except Curry hoisting 3-balls while he runs around so often is counter-productive.

As seen in the opening minutes Saturday night.

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Curry is, of course, polite about the state of the offense. He points out that there have been games when the ball was moving as designed and everybody in the starting lineup benefitted. He blames overall poor defense for the offense being so static the last two games, both losses.

“One side of the floor always kind of dictates what happens on the other side,” he said. “Usually, if you're getting stops and you’re pushing transition, the defense is on their heels. And that's when the ball starts hopping. But it’s when the defense is set every possession and they’re feeling good and their energy is up, that does impact how we play on the offensive end.”

 

Leave it to Draymond to recognize that the Warriors -- offense and defense -- are fast approaching an intersection.

“We’ve got to find an identity,” he said. “Sometimes we move the ball, sometimes we don't. Sometimes we defend, sometimes we don't. We’ve just got to establish an identity of what type of team we’re going to be.

“Are we going to be a ball-movement team? Or are we going to be an iso team?”

Kerr, as he noted, definitely is a proponent of moving the ball. The Warriors at their best move the ball.

There are too many instances, though, when they seem to forget moving the ball to Curry almost always generates production.

As the Warriors make their way through these next few weeks, they’ll discover something about themselves. When Curry is on the ball, he makes things happen. When he is off the ball, he also makes things happen.

Buckle up, folks. We’re about to see how determined Kerr is to stay with this starting lineup and ride out the many rough and ugly stretches in hopes of seeing it come together. 

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