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7 Lessons the Warriors have learned before a showdown with the Raptors

7 Lessons the Warriors have learned before a showdown with the Raptors

It’s been a quick 22 games under the Golden State Warriors’ belt in this 2018-19 season, already past the quarter mark as they head into a bar-measuring matchup against the Toronto Raptors, who hold the best record in the NBA.

While the road is still 60 games away from its end point, this team has had plenty to learn about themselves over this small sample size, enough to start bracing for the adjustment process and the fine-tuning that is to come before the start of the playoffs.

Here are seven lessons the Warriors will have to keep present over the course of the season.

Kevin Durant, Warriors

1. Warriors no longer pioneers, but renaissance men

While the Steve Kerr era brought plenty of changes in this team, the most important was the utilization of their unique assets, allowing Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to flat out murder teams from the outside, rapidly becoming the best and most avid 3-point shooting team in the league.

The league has since caught up and tried to emulate the same model, as the Houston Rockets have brought several failed imitations of the once-praised offense with good shooters like James Harden, Chris Paul and Eric Gordon — just not of elite caliber.

Yet the Warriors of today have traded their high volume of 3-point shots for a mid-range revival, as opponents have aggressively closed down on the main suspects.

If the Dubs were once pioneers of today’s spread-out offense, they are the renaissance men of today, shooting the second-most mid-range shots, with the San Antonio Spurs being the only team to shoot more. Still prodigious from the 3-point arc, the biggest crime this team has committed this season is settling for mid-range shots (and sometimes opting for them) instead of taking looks from deep.

Stephen Curry, Warriors

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The Warriors are now a middle-of-the-pack in 3-point rate per Cleaning The Glass, ranking 17th in the league (h/t Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer).

Klay Thompson (34.8 percent) and Kevin Durant (32.3 percent) have struggled from distance to begin the season, which has played a part in this regression — but DeMarcus Cousins’ return should once again help the team find its touch from downtown.

2. Stephen Curry’s dominance from deep

The Warriors’ regression in 3-point shots has been largely due to Curry’s 10-game absence, as taking the most dominant long-range weapon from a team is bound to have a deep effect.

Curry was leading the NBA with 62 made 3-pointers — a mark that astoundingly still ranks eighth in the league, despite missing three weeks of action with a groin injury.

His 5.2 3-pointers made per game are vastly more than Harden, who makes one 3-pointer less per game than his counterpart and was only able to strip Curry from a five-year reign as the NBA’s 3-point king due to his 31 absences last season.

Curry will miss Thursday’s game against the Raptors before returning on Saturday against the Detroit Pistons, hoping to provide the much-needed support through the longest road trip of the season. Even if he’s slow to pick back up on his torrid 3-point pace, his sheer gravity should open up better looks for Durant, Thompson, and other supporting pieces .

3. Kevin Durant’s iso-heavy game comes with its share of headaches

Golden State experienced a rollercoaster of results upon a frail middle of November, not only missing Curry, but now relying on Kevin Durant to do most of the heavy-lifting during that stretch. Draymond Green was also absent in nine of the last 11 games, leaving Durant as the lone capable ballhandler during the bulk of that stretch.

While the passing numbers look good at a glance (6.5 assists per game through the last 10 games), his assist-to-turnover ratio is a mere 1.55. Furthermore his 3-point shooting has suffered due to Curry’s absence and the space he draws, as defenders are forced to guard him several feet beyond the 3-point line, opening up opportunities for Durant and company.

4. Draymond Green’s clear decline

Warriors

Green has far dispelled the thought of a struggle from the perimeter since shooting a bold 38.8 percent from deep in 2015-16, regressing ever since, shooting barely above 30 percent the last two seasons and a baffling 22.2 percent this campaign.

The former Defensive Player of the Year has seen his shot attempts go down this season, and so have his 3-point attempts, but even his 2.1 tries per game are nearly a guaranteed miss by NBA standards, making him nothing but an auxiliary, last-resort type of shooter — often left wide-open by opposing NBA defenses.

What is more pressing is his worrisome health issues, as he showed up to camp out of shape and his injury woes followed him into the regular season, now merely averaging 6.9 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals in his seventh NBA season.

It surely doesn’t bode well for a player hoping to remain with the team once his 2020 free agency period comes around.

5. Kevon Looney’s importance

Kevon Looney, Warriors

While Steve Kerr promised to use a center by committee, early season signs suggested Damian Jones would be the one holding the fort for most nights, but the latter’s inability to keep out of foul trouble often had Kerr going back to the trusty Looney.

In a center logjam of Jones, Looney and Jordan Bell, the UCLA product has proven the only one of the bunch that can play like Kerr wants him to, using his 7-foot-4 wingspan to contain drives to the basket and challenge shots without leaving his feet — a concept that has proven too tough for Jones and Bell.

Looney’s one-year agreement for the minimum has proven a boon for this team, which would otherwise be lost at the center spot without a defensive catalyst in Draymond Green to serve as the paint’s free safety.

6. Jonas, I hardly knew ya

If Jonas Jerebko’s place in the rotation was in question after a poor preseason stint, the Swedish forward quickly put those questions to rest after the first game of the season, going from playing six minutes in the season-opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder to quadruple that against his former team, the Utah Jazz — giving the Warriors a moment to remember with a game-winning tip-in.

Ever since, Jerebko has played double-digit minutes for the Warriors, topping 20 minutes in 12 of the team’s 22 games.

The 31-year-old was expected to play a role similar to Omri Casspi last season, but he’s been a welcome surprise as a stretch-four that has proven to be a willing defender, despite his clear lack of athleticism.

7. The Boogie-man approaches

If losing Curry for 10-plus games wasn’t enough of an audible adjustment, the Warriors will have to make another as they gear for the new year, as DeMarcus Cousins is slated to return after Christmas — forcing Golden State to reconfigure its offense once more.

Boogie got most of his offense started from the post throughout his NBA career, but he will have to morph his game a bit to become a facilitator from that spot, like his frontcourt partner Draymond Green does when operating from the high-post.

A capable shooter, Cousins will also provide another layer of depth to his robust game, giving Golden State another versatile shooting threat from the outside.

The Warriors will have to keep these, among other things in mind as they head deeper into the season. Thursday’s bar-measuring matchup against the Raptors will put more than just a three-game win streak on the line, but also give insight to how prepared this team is to face a challenging squad, even when they’re not at full strength.