SAN FRANCISCO — The picture isn’t pretty: The defending champions have a .500 record after 20 games played. Outsiders might look at their 11th seed standing in the Western Conference and wonder if disappointment and mediocrity will tell the tale of the season.
Their 129-118 win against the third-place Utah Jazz was proof that they’re better than their record.
It’s early, but the Western Conference is tight. The Warriors may be on the bottom of the ranks but are just a handful of wins away from catapulting themselves among the conference leaders.
“I’m not going to get ahead of myself and say we’re at a point where we can start pulling away,” Draymond Green said. “But I definitely think we’re at a point where we’re going to start winning more and more games because we’re starting to play our brand of basketball. As long as we go down that path, we’re going to set ourselves up pretty nicely.
It feels good that, although we did dig ourselves a hole, no one else really separated themselves.”
Some tweaks have the Warriors playing more themselves lately. The 0-8 road record and 3-7 start was tainted by a frenetic search for the proper rotations off the bench — the juggle between young players learning and veteran additions adjusting — and the frantic play that resulted.
But players are settling into their roles, and they’ve won four of their last five games.
Some roles are crystalizing and paying off. James Wiseman is getting his needed reps in Santa Cruz with the G League team. Jonathan Kuminga settling into a simplified role as a defender and cutter. Two-way player Anthony Lamb fills a need for a front-court player who can make the extra pass and shoot when needed.
Most importantly, Green has stepped in to play the non-Steph Curry minutes at the start of the second and fourth quarters to stabilize the bench unit. To facilitate the offense and anchor the defense.
He’s also providing prospective to the younger players — Kuminga, Wiseman, Jordan Poole and Moses Moody, who has been riding the bench — who haven’t had the opportunity to play extended minutes or be afforded the margin for error to make mistakes. Who have absorbed blame when the season started off wrong.
“Curry didn’t feel like he was contributing to winning until his fourth year, Draymond his third,” Kerr said.
“I think we all forget the process. You see the final product with Curry, with Klay Thompson, myself and Wiggins,” he said. “I don’t even think you see it with Jordan Poole yet…I think it’s important for all of us to understand that it takes time, you can’t skip the process you have to go through in order to be good in this league. One of the things I’ve spoken about with the young guys is the tough spot they’re in. Jonathan Kuminga is a seventh pick, Moses Moody is a 14th pick. James Wiseman is a second pick. Those type of guys usually are on teams that suck and they can do whatever they need to do to improve. THat’s not their situation. They’re expected to contribute at a championship level in year one, year two.
“It sucks, because quite frankly, we haven’t won as much so then everything is your fault and it’s all coming down on you, and that’s where we can make sure that we continue to do our job to win games so that their growing pains are not magnified.”
Unfair to the young players or not, the Warriors seem to be on track to finding ways to lessen the blow of mistakes made on the learning curve. Soon, they’ll be able take a breath and look around. The Jazz are among a handful of teams leading the West on shaky ground.
“I think there’s a lot of parity in the West and think it’s going like that because we struggled,” Green said. “In my opinion. I don’t know. I just think there’s a lot of parity. No one has really separated themselves yet, so we’ll just have to see how it continues to play out.”