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Sports >  NBA

Dieter Kurtenbach: Klay Thompson isn’t going to solve all the Warriors’ problems

UPDATED: Sat., March 20, 2021

By Dieter Kurtenbach San Jose Mercury News

Every day, it’s the same refrain.

Yeah, things aren’t going great for the Golden State Warriors this year. Yes, this team is stuck between two stations. And of course, expectations for this season were much higher before they dropped faster than a defender guarding Draymond Green on the perimeter, but just you wait until Klay Thompson is back next year.

I have some bad news for everyone: Thompson isn’t going to fix all of the Warriors’ problems.

Don’t get me wrong, adding Thompson back into the fold will improve the Warriors significantly – he’s Klay Thompson, he’s pretty good – but even if the beloved two-guard jumps back into his two-way dominance after two years away following two catastrophic leg injuries, the Warriors will still have issues.

Ignoring all possible downside for Thompson, adding him to the fold doesn’t take this Warriors team and turn it into a contender.

The Warriors’ problems don’t start with the young players, but the Warriors’ young players are no doubt a problem for the Warriors. While conditions might improve in the coming weeks, it’s going to take the one thing the Warriors’ Core Three doesn’t have – copious amounts of time – to eradicate the inherent issue.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr opted to give his younger player more playing time in the second half of the year and reconfigured his second unit accordingly.

Three games in, that crew – a four-man unit of Kelly Oubre, Nico Mannion, Jordan Poole and James Wiseman (the power forward position is in flux) – has played 23 minutes and has a net rating of negative-40, scoring 100 points per 100 possessions and allowing 140 (heading into Wednesday).

It’s a small sample size, but if you’ve watched them, that galling 140 defensive rating actually seems low.

Who would have thought having a second unit with one established NBA player would prove problematic?

So far, this new second unit handed away games in Thursday’s second-half opener and in Monday’s game against the Lakers. There’s no nice way to reframe that. And there are more such performances to come.

Still, Kerr said he’s going to stick with them. The youngins will learn through experience.

And while that logic makes sense – it’s hard to develop without playing time – it can also be construed as waving a white flag on this season.

The Warriors drafted No. 2 overall last year, and now they’re acting like a team that does that.

This is where folks like to remind you that Thompson is coming back, as if his presence will make these young players that take up half the Warriors’ rotation older, wiser and more viable next season.

The average age of the Warriors’ current second unit is 21. G-League teams aren’t even that young. And if you substitute Eric Paschall (24) for Juan Toscano-Anderson (27) at power forward, it makes the average age 22. (That also happens to improve the team’s net rating, from negative-76 to negative-11.)

What kind of championship contender has that much youth?

None in recent history.

Championships are won by veteran teams – guys who have been through the battles and know what it takes to win. The Warriors should know that as well as anyone. Strength in Numbers, all that jazz.

Last year’s Lakers’ starting lineup had an average age of 30 with some vets coming off the bench. The Raptors’ starting lineup in 2019 had an average age of 28 and boasted a 10-year vet anchoring their second unit. The Warriors’ best lineup in 2018 had an average age of 30 with three long-time veterans (Shaun Livingston, Javale McGee and Nick Young) coming off the bench.

The formula goes back further, but you get the point.

The Warriors might have a championship pedigree with their big three, but it falls off precipitously after that.

A general rule is that NBA players need until they’re 25 to find their role in the league.

If the Warriors maintain their current path, they will have six players that are 25 or younger on next year’s team, plus the possibility of adding another 19-year-old into the fold with the Minnesota Timberwolves’ draft pick.

Unless they want to jettison some of those kids for veteran players – guys who can reliably fill a role on a nightly basis all season and into the summer – that’s a team that’s too young.

Plus, this notion the Warriors have of developing young players while simultaneously contending is mythical. Golden State has the overt goal of wanting to be the next version of the San Antonio Spurs, but the Spurs were never the team the Warriors have imagined them to be.

And any edition that might have been such was from a bygone era of basketball.

Remember: The Spurs lucked into landing Kawhi Leonard – the 15th pick of the draft – as a rookie and even then, they had assistant coach Chip Engelland working with him every day, completely rebuilding his shot. While Leonard was NBA Finals MVP at age 22, that was for his defensive prowess against LeBron James – he averaged 12 points per game that season, jumping to 18 for the NBA Finals. He was also surrounded by a veteran team (bench included) that had a handful of titles, had been the Finals the year before, and, in the case of Tim Duncan, had played 8,000 playoff minutes going into that postseason.

Leonard is also the most important kind of player in the game: a two-way wing.

Thompson might be that when he returns, but will his presence bring out the best in Andrew Wiggins, who predictably disappeared Monday after his best game of the season Sunday?

Perhaps. But that’s a big bet. Wiggins has been in the league for seven years. I think it’s fair to say that we’re past the point of providing the benefit of the doubt.

Thompson might take advantage of all of the gravity that Curry can create, but will his presence stop opposing teams from treating Draymond Green like he’s a center from 1995? Teams are daring Green to shoot, slacking off him at the perimeter or throwing his defender at Curry with increasing confidence. Even Green’s positive shooting nights haven’t deterred opposing defenses. Neither has his passing – he’s seventh in the NBA in assists. Against a good defensive team like the Lakers, who switched nearly everything on Monday, he looked lost, scoring only two points (on three total shots) and turning it over four times.

And can Thompson make Wiseman and Curry work together in the Warriors’ motion offense? Because early returns are jarring. Wiseman isn’t a passer, but he can shoot – the Warriors have never had a center like that next to Curry and it shows. Right now, the Warriors’ net rating is 15 points better when Curry doesn’t play with Wiseman (plus-6.74) than when he does (minus-9). Wiseman is two years away from legally drinking, so it’s unfair to judge him, but he was also presented by the Warriors as a win-now option. That’s clearly not the case, and it’s hard to know when those days will arrive.

Thompson is a great player, and everyone is rooting for him to return and play like his old self next season. The Warriors will no doubt be better with him.

But anyone pushing Thompson as a panacea is ignoring the Warriors’ issues.

They’re not irredeemable, but the presence of one player, even one as great as Thompson, isn’t going to solve them all.

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