“Don’t worry, just wait until the Clippers get healthy and the Warriors start taking things seriously.”
I’ve been saying that for six months, and will probably continue to do so even after both teams are knocked out of the playoffs.
Before the season started, I thought that one of those two teams would come out of the West, which, umm, hasn’t aged too well.
Even so, I don’t think anyone wants to see them in the playoffs — even with their lackluster records — which is why it’s time to talk about these lower-seeded threats in the West.
Let’s start in the Bay.
Jekyll and Hyde: A Warriors tale
Golden State is 29-7 at home this season — not too shabby!
Oh, did I mention that they’re also 7-27 on the road?
It’s been a tale of two seasons for the Warriors since game 1, as they started the year losing nine straight games away from the Chase Centre.
So, what gives? At this point, the team is definitely dealing with some mental hurdles (punching your teammate doesn’t help), but there are also statistical anomalies at play.
Consider this: opponents are only making 32.7% of their threes (lowest league-wide) when playing at Chase, but that skyrockets to 41.4% (second highest) when Golden State’s on the road.
In other words, the Warriors are definitely getting some shooting luck at home, which overcorrects on the road — Golden State is 19th in opponent three-point percentage (36.9%) in total, which is slightly worse than the league average of 36.5%. They’re also around average in terms of number of open threes conceded (17.3 per game, 12th most), so when we factor in the Warriors’ overall numbers, their opponent three point variance doesn’t seem that strange anymore.
Crucially, Golden State has still shown stretches of elite defense on the road, although it doesn’t happen consistently.
Good activity from the Warriors on defense here. Option screens for Kawhi, fakes off the cross comes out the top. Kuminga switches. Clippers again look to put Curry in P&R, nice switch and work to contest late in clock. pic.twitter.com/2AOo4WBH5w
— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) March 16, 2023
Even if their home/road opponent shooting splits were more balanced, though, it’s still surprising that the Warriors are only 36-34. One factor could be the difference between their opponents’ efficient field goal percentage (54.4%, 12th) and their expected percentage based on location (53.3%, 1st). This -1.1% discrepancy is tied for the second-largest negative differential between actual vs expected opponent shooting, so the Warriors’ defense should improve based purely on positive regression.
Jordan Poole’s down season has also contributed to Golden State’s struggles. Last year, his 55.1% eFG% ranked in the 80th percentile among guards, but that has dropped to just 51.3% (40th percentile). Poole’s drop-off is largely due to him taking more inefficient shots: the percentage of his attempts from the mid-range has increased from 25% to 31%, while his threes have decreased from 51% to 45%.
With that said, the Warriors still have the 10th-best net rating at +1.2 thanks to a 115.5 offensive rating (10th) and 114.3 defensive rating (12th). In fact, only three teams are top ten in both categories, and outside of Memphis and Brooklyn, Golden State is the only other team knocking on the door to join that elite group. Considering this and the positive regression that will come defensively, I still think the Warriors can make the finals, and only Denver and Phoenix should be ranked ahead of them in the West.
The L.A. Clippers: still paper tigers?
Raise your hand if you’ve heard this before: the Clippers are great with both Kawhi and PG playing (+7.4 net rating), but they’ve only played in 36 games together this year (just 51% of Clipper games).
We discussed Kawhi’s struggles earlier in the season, but he’s playing like a top-10 player again. Since January 1st, the Klaw has averaged 27.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 3.8 assists on 52.8/48.9/91.6 shooting splits.
Yes, you read that right. He’s shooting 48.9% from three since the new year. More importantly, Kawhi’s suited up in 26 of L.A.’s past 32 games, yet they’ve somehow only gone 16-16 over that span. A better indicator of their play, though, would be evaluating them since the trade deadline, but that paints a similar picture: the Clippers are 6-6 with a -1.5 net rating (19th) on the backs of the 10th-best offense (118.3) but the 26th ranked defense (119.9).
It’s a small sample size, but I do think L.A.’s better than the numbers indicate. For starters, opposing teams are making 39.3% of their threes against them since the deadline (7th highest) on 56.6% eFG% (21st), even though they’re expected to shoot 54.8% (9th) based on location. The Clippers also generally do a good job of contesting shots from deep: opponents only shoot 15.8 wide open threes per game (9th fewest) against L.A. but they’re making them at a 40.6% clip, which is the third highest rate league-wide.
Even if they receive better opposition shooting luck, though, I still don’t buy the Clippers as a true contender. L.A.’s biggest calling card coming into the season was their depth, but many of their role players have declined alarmingly this year — Reggie Jackson and Jonh Wall were so bad that they were replaced by Russell Westbrook, and the only consistent part of Robert Covington’s season has been his ability to rack up DNPs.
Opponents are also shooting better when guarded by Nicolas Batum, Marcus Morris, and Eric Gordon when compared to their season averages, so they’re only fulfilling half of their 3-and-D responsibilities.
It’s gotten so bad that Kawhi’s calling offensive fouls on his own teammates.
Ultimately, I just don’t think this team is deep enough for a deep playoff run, especially considering the checkered health of Kawhi and PG. Outside of those two, the only other players I think are capable of logging heavy minutes are Zubac, Mann, Morris, Powell, and maybe Batum. So while the Warriors should still be considered serious finals threats, an optimistic view of L.A.’s potential is probably a second-round exit, and even that heavily depends on health.
This week, please check out Marilyn’s article on how Bally Sports’ bankruptcy could impact Spurs viewers! It’s definitely an important storyline to follow, especially for every San Antonio fan.
Thanks for reading and take care!