Warriors report card: Grades for roster after first quarter of season

Warriors report card: Grades for roster after first quarter of season

This season has been unlike any other the Warriors have experienced. After decades of trying to raise the bar and always failing, they finally achieved that goal over the past seven years – only to have that bar come crashing down in 2019-20.

After embracing the highest of expectations – championship or bust – the Warriors this season are struggling to apply the fundamentals required to win a single game. A devastating series of injuries triggered a collapse that has their record at 4-18, the worst 22-game start since 1987.

Yet there is a report card to complete. It won’t be pretty. Can’t be pretty. Given the composition of the team’s healthy players, we can only attempt to be fair in assessing the strengths and weaknesses of those on the roster.

Players are listed in alphabetical order:

Ky Bowman

After three years at Boston College, Bowman declared himself eligible for the draft after his junior season but went undrafted. When the Warriors signed the 6-foot-1 guard to a two-way contract in July, they expected he would split time between the NBA and G League Santa Cruz.

Injuries to Steph Curry and D’Angelo Russell have forced the Warriors to lean heavily on Bowman to play point guard – even though he possesses the skills of a shooting guard.

Strengths: His effort level. He operates in overdrive, constantly putting pressure on the opposing defense. He’s a legitimate threat from deep, shooting 40.0 percent. His 2.8-1.2 assist-turnover ratio is solid. He is an eager defender.

Weaknesses: His energy often sends him spinning out of control, resulting in turnovers or offensive fouls. His decision-making can be curious, though that’s not unusual for someone who essentially is a point-guard-in-training.

Grade: B.

Alec Burks

The Warriors signed the eight-year veteran in July hoping he could provide scoring off the bench, playing maybe 15-18 minutes per night. Burks sprained an ankle early in training camp, forcing him to miss the entire preseason and the first three games of the regular season.

The 6-6 guard was cleared to play on Oct. 30, the same night Curry was hurt, and has had to shoulder a heavier load than was anticipated.

Strengths: Six games of at least 20 points attest to his scoring ability. Not particularly quick in his movements – he says his ankle still isn’t 100 percent – he uses cleverness and creativity to put the ball in the hoop.

Weaknesses: He has not been efficient, shooting 39.8 percent from the field. Consistency also has been an issue, shooting below 20 percent about as often he shoots over 50 percent.

Grade: C.

Willie Cauley-Stein

Visualizing a center someone in the mold of JaVale McGee, the Warriors recognized Cauley-Stein’s athleticism and signed the 7-footer in July as a starter capable of averaging 25-30 minutes per game.

He arrived in training camp on crutches (midfoot sprain), missed all of preseason and was not cleared to play until Oct. 30.

Strengths: Averaging 22.4 minutes per game, he has been a solid rebounder (6.4 per game). He also has shown more willingness to defend the rim than he had in four years with the Kings, averaging 1.2 blocks per game.

Weaknesses: Perhaps still timid about his foot, WCS doesn’t run the floor as well as expected. He too often attempts one-on-one offensive moves that are beyond his comfort zone, and it shows. He dribbles more than most big men, and it often lead to peril.

Grade: C-.

Marquese Chriss

With Cauley-Stein on the sideline and Kevon Looney best suited for limited minutes, the Warriors sought another big man signed Chriss for precautionary reasons to a non-guaranteed contract a few days before training camp.

Injuries led to opportunity, and the 6-9 Washington product has played more than was initially expected, averaging 18.2 minutes per game. He is now part of a four-man rotation.

Strengths: He’s a willing passer, savvy and often wonderful. He runs the floor well and provides a lob threat.

Weaknesses: His penchant for passing sometimes overtakes his wisdom, resulting in forced passes that often become live-ball turnovers. His court awareness seems to come and go, seemingly engaged on some possessions, seemingly adrift on others – most often on defense.

Grade: C.

Stephen Curry

Curry sustained a fractured hand in the fourth game of the season and is out indefinitely. Curry and the Warriors are hopeful for a return sometime after the All-Star break.

Grade: Incomplete.

Jacob Evans III

Evans sustained a left adductor strain three games into the season and has been sidelined ever since, missing 19 games. He is expected to return this week.

Grade: Incomplete.

Draymond Green

A great defender and galvanizing offensive force, Green has been one of the pillars of the great Warriors teams that spent five seasons rampaging through the NBA. Injuries have restricted him to 13 games this season.

Strengths: Draymond’s impact is both measurable and unquantifiable, but the team tends to operate more smoothly and confidently when he’s in the lineup. He is the leading playmaker (averaging 5.6 assists) and the leading rebounder (6.5).

Weaknesses: Nagging injuries clearly have impacted his ability to defend at his customary level. His 3-point shot still isn’t dropping at a rate that demands respect. Usually good for a 10 or 15 signature games each season, he has had three so far, each in a victory.

Grade: C-plus.

Damion Lee

The Warriors brought Lee back for another season, again on a two-way contract that he signed in July. He has missed exactly half of the games with a non-displaced fracture of his right hand.

Grade: Incomplete.

Kevon Looney

Looney, who has played an increasingly significant role over the past three seasons, signed a three-year contract in July (Year 3 is a player option). Experiencing soreness in his hamstrings early in training camp, he was diagnosed with neuropathy. He has played only two of the first 22 games.

Grade: Incomplete.

Eric Paschall

Paschall was drafted in the second round, No. 41 overall, last June. The 6-6 forward, a Villanova graduate, was perceived as the heir apparent to Green.

Strengths: Paschall has been a revelation, making an impact in training camp and preseason that has carried into the regular season. He’s a terrific scorer (17.3 points per game on 51 percent shooting) who in the team’s current state has been a go-to option. He has emerged as a strong Rookie of the Year candidate.

Weaknesses: NBA power forwards have to rebound, and he has been inconsistent but is starting to trend upward. He can fall into the isolation trap, becoming a ball-stopper, reducing teammates to spectators.

Grade: A-minus.

Jordan Poole

Poole was selected in the first round, No. 28 overall, last June after two years at Michigan. The 6-4 shooting guard entered the NBA as a good shooter with great scoring potential.

Strengths: His effort is consistently high, and he never seems defeated by mishaps that often come with being a rookie.

Weaknesses: His shot, identified as his ticket to the NBA, has been missing for the vast majority of the season. He resists calling it a slump, but any scorer shooting 26.5 percent from the field, including 25.2 percent from deep, over a six-weeks stretch is in a serious rut. Coaches and teammates say it will get better, but it has been abysmal.

Grade: D. (Hey, he’s a rookie.)

Glenn Robinson III

Robinson was signed off the free-agent market to provide a scoring threat off the bench but, again due to injuries, the 6-6 small forward been pushed into a much larger role.

Strengths: He is durable, leading the team in minutes per game and the only player to start every game. He’s shooting 45.1 percent from the field, 38.9 percent from deep.

Weaknesses: His offense runs hot-and-cold, no more likely to score 24 points than to score four. He gets beaten with surprising regularity on defense.

Grade: C.

D’Angelo Russell

He was the team’s big-ticket acquisition over the summer, the response to losing superstar Kevin Durant in free agency. Russell was projected to be a combo guard capable of finding his own offense, much of it through pick-and-roll action.

Injuries have sidelined him for 12 of the team’s 22 games. He is expected to return this week.

Grade: Incomplete.

Alen Smailagic

Drafted in the second round, No. 39 overall, the 6-9 forward was perceived as someone with tremendous upside. He turned 19 in August.

Smailagic sustained a severely sprained right ankle early in training camp and has yet to make his NBA debut. Cleared to play last week, he was assigned to the G-League Santa Cruz Warriors.

Grade: Incomplete.

Omari Spellman

Remembering the impression Spellman made in his pre-draft workout in 2018, the Warriors acquired the 6-8 forward from the Hawks in July in exchange for backup center Damian Jones.

Strengths: Spellman’s energy usually results in production. As his playing time has increased, his shot has improved. He’s a very good rebounder. He has NBA skills, and they are on display.

Weaknesses: He occasionally forces a shot and needs to be more careful with the ball. Initially playing mostly at center, he now gets the majority of his minutes at power forward, where he sometimes struggles with defense.

Grade:: B

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Klay Thompson

Thompson sustained a torn left ACL in Game 6 of the NBA Finals last June and has spent the past few months rehabilitating. Thompson and the Warriors are hopeful for a return sometime after the All-Star break

Grade: Incomplete.

Warriors' Marquese Chriss playing his way into starting opportunity

Warriors' Marquese Chriss playing his way into starting opportunity

Warriors coach Steve Kerr, like all his NBA peers, does not follow strict rules of meritocracy when deciding upon starting lineups. He has to consider roles, balance, spacing and general team chemistry.

So Kerr has to peep beyond the best man, position-by-position, and examine his bench and how it might come together as a unit.

Which is why it’s not so simple for Kerr to make what appears to be the obvious change at center, replacing Willie Cauley-Stein with Marquese Chriss -- even as Chriss is doing all he can to earn a promotion.

If this were a meritocracy alone, yes, Chriss would start. He is outperforming Cauley-Stein in almost every way -- better numbers, higher impact, more positive and productive energy.

Yet Cauley-Stein, who spent four seasons in Sacramento, remains the starter. That was the plan when Willie signed in July. He would slide into the starting vacancy created by the departure of former Kings teammate DeMarcus Cousins.

A sprained foot kept Cauley-Stein on the sideline the entire preseason and the first three games of the regular season. He came off the bench in his Warriors debut, Oct. 30 against the Suns, but has since made 23 consecutive starts. At an even 7-feet, Cauley-Stein has the physical dimensions required to play center. Though not a classic rim protector, he runs the floor well and poses a lob threat.

The Warriors didn’t add Chriss until September on the eve of training camp, and even then it was to a non-guaranteed contract. With Kevon Looney and Cauley-Stein sidelined, they needed big bodies for scrimmaging purposes. Remember the brief stay of Kavion Pippen? Scottie’s nephew? There was a desperation that might linger until Willie was ready.

Well, Willie is back and healthy. Looney returned last week. Pippen is gone. Omari Spellman, who absorbed minutes at center during the first few weeks, has moved mostly to power forward. Chriss, at 6-9, 240 pounds, has been the team’s most assertive and effective center.

Chriss submitted a strong performance Wednesday -- 12 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks, two assists in 24 minutes -- in a loss to the New York Knicks. He followed that with 12 points, 13 rebounds, five assists and two blocks in 23 minutes Friday night in a 114-106 road loss to the Utah Jazz.

“Marquese was fantastic,” Kerr told reporters in Salt Lake City on Friday. “He played a tremendous game. He was all over boards, he had a couple blocked shots, he ran the floor.”

Kerr barely skipped a beat before navigating an issue with an increasingly high profile.

“I also thought Willie made some big plays for us down the stretch defensively,” he added, “protecting the rim. Those guys were really good.

“And it was good to have Loon back, playing his solid minutes for us. Just having that size and that experience.”

In so liberally spreading praise, the coach was being careful not to show favoritism or slight anyone. And, in truth, Cauley-Stein made a difference, blocking three shots.

Willie was scoreless Friday night, going 0-of-4, missing layups and dunks. In addition to the blocks, he had five rebounds and two steals. He had seven points, five rebounds and three blocks Wednesday.

Cauley-Stein’s combined numbers, over 45 minutes, for the last two games: Seven points, 10 rebounds, six blocks, two steals and one assist.

But here is where Kerr should feel at least a modicum of pressure. Chriss’ minutes often parallel those of Spellman and, together, they give the Warriors a detectable bump in energy. Starting Chriss means playing Spellman with Cauley-Stein and, frankly, that’s likely to bring its own challenges.

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Though making the change seems an obvious move to make -- and I’m told Kerr is considering it -- all sides of the issue must be scrutinized. That is happening. It is an ongoing process. And merit does matter.

If it were the only factor, Kerr would be without reasons to keep Chriss out of the starting lineup.

Warriors believe they're headed in right direction despite 5-22 record

Warriors believe they're headed in right direction despite 5-22 record

SALT LAKE CITY - The Warriors have lost a lot in the last six months. 

The most obvious wound is the gutting of its Hall of Fame roster, and the injuries that crippled it. But perhaps the most essential damage to the team's evolution is its most recent struggle: Failing to close out games talent used to be able to overcome. 

In its latest effort -- a 114-106 loss to the Jazz -- the Warriors led for much of the first half before Utah took control in the third quarter. The loss came at a strange time for Golden State as their three All-Stars -- Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry -- were nursing injured back in California and their prized rookie Eric Paschall was in the locker room due to a hip injury. 

Nonetheless, the league's worst team left Vivint Smart Home Arena seeing enough progress to believe they're heading in the right direction, even if the scoreboard says otherwise. 

"There is a lot of good stuff," Warriors coach Steve Kerr admitted. "But you want that to lead to a win and that's coming."

Remnants of Kerr's positivity showed through the first 24 minutes Friday evening. In the first quarter, they held the Jazz to 39 percent from the field, outscoring Utah 14-8 in the paint. By the end of the first half, they built a 56-49 lead, marked by promising plays from its young core. 

Six minutes into the first quarter, 6-foot-8 big man Omari Spellman pulled down a rebound, went the length of the court, bullying his way for a layup to give Golden State a 20-18 lead. A quarter later, center Marquese Chriss blocked Jazz guard Royce O'Neal at the rim, ran the length of the floor and received a pass for an easy dunk on the other end, pushing Golden State's lead to 13. 

Following halftime, the Jazz responded by outscoring the Warriors 37-28 in the third quarter. Bojan Bogdanovic scored 10 of his game-high 32 points over the stretch, as Utah made a run that was all-too-familiar to Golden State. 

"They picked up their pace in the third quarter," Kerr said. "I'm sure they were not happy with their pace in the first half and so they played a great third quarter and put a lot of pressure on us."

Worse, even after the Warriors briefly took a 104-103 lead with just over two minutes left, the Jazz went on an 11-2 run to close the game, underscoring one of the team's biggest problems this season. Through 27 games, the Warriors are among the worst teams in the last five minutes of games. During the timeframe, they're posting a putrid 92.9 offensive rating, with a net rating of -33.6. 

For context, the 2017-18 Warriors -- featuring a healthy Curry, Green, Thompson and Kevin Durant -- posted a 112.2 offensive rating in clutch situations, finishing third in the league, leaving a mark the current battered Warriors are trying to fulfill.  

"I think we can win a lot more games than we have," said Chriss. "We've been in games that we could win and honestly that we should win. People try to say that our team is down and things like that but we're competing with teams that have their full roster. This team is full of fighters and teams that want to win." 

While the team is frustrated, their latest performance comes with a caveat. Clutch performances are built through experience, an attribute the league's third-youngest team has yet to gain. 

"I remember being in this position earlier in my career where you get the taste of winning, but you don't really know how to do it, you may just get lucky that night," said 23-year old guard D'Angelo Russell. "Other teams in the league that are solidified, they find a way to win and those other teams that aren't supposed to win find a way to lose so I think it comes with growth and experience."

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Late Friday evening, just before he left Salt Lake City for a late-night flight back to the Bay Area, recovering from yet another close loss, Kerr made a declaration for his young team, despite optics of the contrary. 

"I like where we're heading," he said. "I really do. I know it might sound crazy because of our record, but I think we're going to start winning some games. I think we're getting better."