So much for taking the year off. With Klay Thompson presumably out for the season and Kevin Durant Brooklyn-bound, the Warriors have reloaded by adding the top restricted free agent on the market in D’Angelo Russell.
This signals the end of Golden State basketball as we know it. At 23 years old and coming off his first All-Star appearance in Brooklyn, Russell is young and dynamic and an incredibly talented attacker. But he’s also completely alien to what the Warriors like to do under coach Steve Kerr.
Russell is a pick-and-roll machine of the highest order. According to Synergy Sports, only Kemba Walker logged more pick-and-rolls than Russell last season, which is a categorical shift from Kerr’s pass-heavy offense, which ranked dead-last in pick-and-roll frequency last season.
In fact, Russell almost used more pick-and-rolls all by himself (920) than the entire Golden State offense last season (995).
By moving Andre Iguodala to Memphis, the Warriors just don’t have enough wing defenders to play Curry and Russell regularly together and expect a top-10 defensive outfit.
Russell, at 6-foot-5 with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, has the length to stay in front of opposing two-guards, but he’s just not physical enough to man the position full-time. He ranked 58th among point guards in defensive real plus-minus last season and only played 13 percent of his minutes at the two-guard position last season, per Cleaning The Glass tracking data. That same Cleaning The Glass intel suggests Russell at the two fared surprisingly well during the regular season, but that his defensive limitations can still be exploited by elite teams.
Case in point: The Nets were outscored by 45 points in 65 minutes this postseason with Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie on the floor, sunk by a defensive rating of 119.9 points per 100 possessions with that duo on the floor, per NBA.com/stats. Yuck.
They’re going to need about 175 percent of Draymond Green if they want to contend next season. I can’t tell whether Draymond Green should spend the entire summer at SoulCycle to stay in shape or whether to hibernate him in a float spa until training camp.
They better hope they score so many points it won’t matter. Russell can play off the ball and knock down open shots, which he’ll surely get playing next to Curry. The Ohio State product made 39.4 percent of his 264 catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts last season, which is right around where Kyle Lowry stood last season (38.3 on 277 attempts) and significantly better than Kemba Walker (34.8 on 233 attempts). Again, with a long frame, Russell can get his shot off better than you’d think.
Despite the defensive issues, you can see Golden State’s thinking here. Iguodala is 35 years old. Russell is 23. The Warriors needed to get younger, and they needed to evolve with 60 percent of their Hamptons Five lineup not being in uniform next season (assuming Thompson is out for the year). But if Thompson returns in time for the playoffs, they have to find a 3-and-D defender to hold down the fort so they don’t overextend Thompson from the jump.
With Thompson and Russell’s max on the books, the Warriors will have no cap space to build out their roster. They’ll have to rely on vet minimums and the mini mid-level exception, which can go up to three years and $18 million total. Thabo Sefolosha, Luc Mbah A Moute and Rodney MacGruder become options on the defensive side. They’ll have to go bargain hunting in the center slot as well. It’s hard seeing DeMarcus Cousins taking the vet minimum at this point in his career. You can probably pack Kevon Looney’s bags as well.
Who starts for this team? You can slot someone like Andrew Bogut at the five next season and trot out Alfonzo McKinnie next to the new big trio of Curry, Russell and Green. That’s not enough to win the title, but they can win 50 games next season if Curry and Green play 75 games together.
But after what Curry and Green have put their bodies through over the last five seasons, would it be wise to expect more than 70 healthy games with those two on the floor? However many minutes they play together, it’ll be essentially uncharted territory. Curry and Green have played only 212 minutes over the last three seasons without any of the Durant, Iguodala and Thompson trio, per pbpstats.com. They’ve outscored opponents by 11.6 points per 100 possessions in that relatively tiny sample size, which shouldn’t be a huge shock with their chemistry.
But that’s with the old offensive system. A player like Russell is a seismic shift from the brand of basketball we’ve come to expect from the Warriors. How he fits in will be one of the great mysteries of the NBA season. Then again, what isn’t a mystery in today’s NBA?