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Kurtenbach: What’s wrong with the Warriors? The answer is obvious, but the explanation is complicated

The Warriors came out of the All-Star break on a seven-game winning streak, but after road losses to Portland on Friday and Minnesota on Sunday, the Warriors now are in jeopardy of a bad weekend turning into a real-deal, bonafide losing streak when they play the Lakers Wednesday at Oracle Arena.
The Warriors simply haven’t been the same team over their last two games, and the reason is obvious: Golden State is without Stephen Curry.
And while injuries to Andre Iguodala and David West have played a role in the Warriors’ mini-skid as well, it’s the absence of Curry — the two-time MVP — that looms largest.
“Steph is the system here,” Warriors forward Kevin Durant said after Sunday’s loss to the Timberwolves.
Now, the Warriors are a good team without Curry — they still have three All-Stars, after all — but Durant is right to call Curry the system. It’s a truth that’s been exposed over the last three games.
Because without Curry on the court, the Warriors don’t look anything like the team that has struck fear into the hearts of the rest of the NBA and are the prohibitive favorites to win a third title in four years.
(Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 
No one has taken the absence of Curry harder than Klay Thompson. The other Splash Brother remains a lock-down defender when Curry isn’t playing, but no one benefits more than Thompson from the space that Curry provides by merely being on the court — defenses have to respect Curry from the time he crosses half-court, lest they give him an open shot.
Anyone who has watched the last three Warriors games — Curry was injured in the opening minutes of Thursday’s game against the Spurs — could recognize that things have been different for No. 11 without No. 30 around.
The truth is, that’s been the case all season.
Curry and Thompson often play staggered minutes. They start games together, and they end games together, but Thompson plays a role with the Warriors’ bench units while Curry often rests. They both get roughly the same playing time, but it’s broken up in different ways.
Thompson really, really, really prefers to play alongside Curry, though.
With Curry on the court this season — creating chaos and stretching defenses — Thompson has an offensive rating of 140, per That’s a baffling number, but it makes sense when you see that Thompson has an effective field goal percentage of 66.5 and a true shooting percentage of 67 when Curry is on the floor with him.
With Curry, Thompson is operating with space and defenses can’t focus on him as often — even if Durant is not on the floor with the duo. Thompson gets open looks at the basket, and one of the purest shooters to ever play the game takes full advantage of those opportunities.
Without Curry… well, things change.
Thompson has an offensive rating of 112 and puts up league-average shooting percentages (52.2 EFG, 54 TS) when Curry is not on the court with him this season.
When you start with almost impossibly efficient numbers and then drop down to league average — all because one player isn’t on the court with you — something is up.
The difference is in the number of wide-open shots Thompson is getting. In January and February, 26 and 19 percent of Thompson’s shots of greater than 10 feet, respectively, were considered “wide-open” — meaning that there wasn’t a defender within six feet of him, per the NBA’s player tracking data.
And while, yes, three games is a small sample size, the returns show that Curry’s absence is affecting the amount of wide-open shots Thompson is getting: Since Thursday’s game, Thompson has only taken six wide-open jumpers — 11 percent of his total shot output.
Thompson has missed five of those six wide-open shots — that’s rather inexplicable and shouldn’t be considered sustainable — but the lacking volume of wide-open looks should concern for the Warriors. Thompson is no doubt incendiary, but it should go without saying that it’s easier to score when no one is defending you. Thomspon is a 50 percent overall shooter and 44 percent shooter from behind the arc this season, but those numbers are at 39 percent and 30 percent over the last three games and sit at 44 percent and 38 percent in minutes played without Curry on the floor this season.
It’d be ridiculous to say that Thompson is a byproduct of Curry, but he’s certainly a big beneficiary of the attention his point guard demands.
(AP Photo/John Amis) 
Thompson isn’t the only one struggling without Curry. Durant has been asked to take on a much larger offensive load without Curry in the lineup, and while he lifted the Warriors to victory on Thursday with 14 straight points in the fourth quarter against the Spurs, the kind of one-man offense the Warriors ran against Portland and Minnesota simply wasn’t good enough to overtake those two Western Conference playoff teams.
The Warriors are known for their perceived aversion to isolation basketball (where the offensive team clears out and lets one offense player take on a single defender one-on-one as a “play”), but the Warriors have been running more isolation, particularly with Durant, in Curry’s absence.
It’s hardly a bad idea — Durant is one of the greatest scorers in NBA history and at 7-foot has a nearly unblockable shot.
But the result is hurting the Warriors in two different ways: It means less passing and the ball in Durant’s hands for extended periods of time.
To put it simply, not passing the ball undercuts the Warriors’ chances of offensive success. Now, that’s something that’s up for debate, but I firmly believe moving the ball is not only the most aesthetically pleasing style of basketball, it’s the most successful. The Warriors’ best offensive games have come when they assist on nearly every field goal they make.
Over their last three games, the Warriors are averaging 24 assists per game (juiced by 30 in the Thursday win over the Spurs and perhaps come home cooking of the books) which is six fewer than their season average heading into that game against San Antonio.
The deterioration of the passing numbers bear that downtick in assists: The Warriors are averaging 319 passes per game this season, per, but over the last three games, they’ve only passed the ball an average of 274 times per game. Over the last two games, they’ve averaged fewer than 250 passes.
This is not the Warriors’ offense we’ve come to know and admire. And, simply put, it’s not as cunning, incisive, or dangerous when the ball is relatively stagnant.
(Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 
So much of the Warriors’ offense has run through Durant since Curry went down with his ankle injury, and while giving the ball to No. 35 and letting him go to work seems like a logical offensive gameplan, the stats bear out that it’s better for Golden State to try to manufacture more ball movement and flow, even without Curry on the court. (Easier said than done, but you get the point.)
This season, 20 percent of Durant’s shots have come when he’s held the ball for six or more seconds, but he has only posted a 53.4 effective field goal percentage on those shots, a number slightly better than league average.
The less time Durant touches the ball before he shoots, the better. Forty-two percent of his shots this season have come on touches of two or fewer seconds, and he has a gaudy EFG of 70 on those attempts.
Over the last three games, though, the Warriors have trended the wrong way when it comes to the length of Durant’s touches.
Thirty-one percent of Durant’s shots have come on touches of six-plus seconds since Curry has been out, resulting in a gross and detrimental 41 effective field goal percentage.
And while Durant maintains a high effective field goal percentage for his quick-touch shots (two or fewer seconds) — 68 — only 27 perfect of his shots have been of that ilk over the last three contests. .
That’s math that doesn’t bode well for the Warriors, should Curry continue to miss games, but there aren’t many — if any — alternatives to the current strategy.
After all, on Sunday, the Warriors closed a close game with Durant, Thompson, Draymond Green, Nick Young and Quinn Cook.
No disrespect to Cook or Young, but two of those players are not like the others.
And there were significant periods of time on both Friday and Sunday where the Warriors had only two viable 3-point shooters on the floor, allowing the opposing defense to leave three players open from outside free-throw line — you can overload on Durant and Thompson when the offensively unthreatening Zaza Pachulia, Kevon Looney, and Shaun Livingston are on the floor at the same time.
(Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group) 
Furthermore, the Warriors are finding it difficult to recreate their Curry-free success from earlier in the season — they went 9-2 without Curry in December — because of the lack of Iguodala, in particular.
While Iguodala oftentimes seems like an offensive burden, he does so many small things, particularly when he’s engaged on the defensive side, to swing the game in the Warriors’ favor. And when Golden State was without Curry earlier this season, they relied on excellent defense to lead them to victory.
Green is trying — man, is he ever trying — but it’s hard to get that some kind of lock-down defense when Cook and Young are playing 20-plus minutes a game.
Golden State might have already kissed the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference playoffs goodbye, and there’s no realistic way they fall to No. 3, but it’s clear that the Warriors need Curry — their system — back in the worst way.

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