At least the Golden State Warriors came away victorious, right? The clarity Steve Kerr and the coaching staff are still looking for from their team was nowhere to be found Wednesday night, though, as a rash of early turnovers and cold three-point shooting nearly contributed to Golden State's most embarrassing loss of the season.
Fortunately, Stephen Curry's individual heroics and starring late-game turns from Jonathan Kuminga and Draymond Green sparked and finished the Warriors' comeback against the rebuilding, shorthanded Portland Trail Blazers. The final buzzer marked Golden State's escape in a hard-earned 106-102 win at Chase Center, the team's final home game before embarking a tough four-game road trip.
Don't be surprised if the Blazers look different at tipoff for Friday's battle with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Why? After watching Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins combine for 20 points on 25 shots and once again playing Kevon Looney for a single second-half stint right out of intermission, Steve Kerr is finally giving public consideration to changing his starting five.
“We may have to think about moving the starting lineup around game to game depending on the matchup,” he said, per Anthony Slater of The Athletic. “I'd still like to get something solid, but we haven't really established anything.”
Warriors' starting five finally subject to lasting change
Two starting spots for the Warriors are etched in stone. Curry and Green aren't going anywhere, obviously, still singular linchpins of their team's identity on offense and defense. They were also the only ingrained starters who played well against the Blazers, the continuation of a troubling season-long trend that's finally coaxed Kerr to at least mull taking action.
Thompson, Wiggins nor Looney has done enough over the first six of 2023-24 to cement their case as no-doubt starters. Looney has already opened two games on the bench in place of Dario Saric, Golden State searching for ways to space the floor offensively and give Curry some breathing room as defenses lay off Green and Thompson and Wiggins struggle.
It bears mentioning that Looney's labors wouldn't be so apparent if not for more stark substandard play from Thompson and Wiggins. The less the former threatens defenses inside the arc and the less the latter strikes fear in the them at all, the harder it's going to be for a non-shooter like Looney to remain effective on offense—especially with Green playing next to him.
Looney's demotion wouldn't be a surprise nor revelatory. He's used to be yo-yoed in and out of the starting five. The same certainly can't be said for Thompson and Wiggins, each of whom were sorely outplayed by Moses Moody, Kuminga and Brandin Podziemski on Wednesday.
All things equal, shifting Wiggins to a reserve role would no doubt be Golden State's preference. Thompson has been prickly about the mere notion of coming off the bench, a thorny dynamic made extra fraught by his uncertain contract status entering free agency this summer. He's not quick enough laterally anymore to check opposing star ball handlers, though, and that's certainly not a job for Curry.
Could that reality mean Thompson is more likely to be moved to the bench than Wiggins? It depends on who Kerr and company are thinking about promoting to the starting lineup.
Moody's an ultra-disruptive help defender who's thrived at times checking quality wings one-on-one, but isn't an on-ball stopper. The Warriors used Kuminga in that role versus the Blazers, siccing him on Anfernee Simons late. They've been hesitant to slot Kuminga at small forward next to Green and another big for years.
Maybe opening with both Kuminga and Dario Saric next to Curry, Green and Thompson could provide the offensive punch and defensive teeth the starting group needs? That's likely a bridge too far for Kerr. A much simpler adjustment: Starting Kuminga rather than Saric for Looney, not ruffling Thompson's feathers or chipping harder away at Wiggins' confidence while further empowering Kuminga in wake of his best game of the season.
Regardless, don't overlook the qualifier in Ker's comments about making a change to the starting five. He only mentioned altering that unit “game to game depending on the matchup,” hardly suggesting some permanent overhaul.
Either way, the Dubs' rotation numbers crunch has arrived even before Gary Payton II returns from injury. No matter what happens with the starters Friday and beyond, Kerr now seems resigned to pushing different buttons and pulling different levers on a nightly basis as the 82-game grind continues.
“Every night's gonna be different with this team. That's what I'm finding out,” he said. “What we need each night seems to be different depending on the matchup, depending on how the game is going.”