After 15 games, the Thunder are 7-8 while the Warriors are 6-9.
Who had that on their 2022-23 NBA bingo card?
Put down your hands, you liars. Nobody could have (1) seen the defending champs start the 12 months 0-8 on the road or (2) SGA turn into Maple Jordan.
Neither trend will last, however the sample size is now sufficiently big for us to formulate some reasonable predictions as to where this season is headed.
Let’s start within the Bay.
Golden State’s struggles
Before the beginning of the season, Golden State was once more among the many favorites to emerge from the Western Conference, and for good reason. Despite the departures of Otto Porter Jr. and Gary Payton II, the Warriors were going to receive a stronger Klay Thompson and higher production from their young players.
Unfortunately, neither has come to fruition
Klay is currently shooting 35% from the sphere and 33% from three, and we haven’t even mentioned probably the most damning stat: in keeping with Anthony Slater, Klay has fewer points (181) than shot attempts (185).
It’s been pretty hard watching him chuck up bricks early within the shot clock, and it looks as if his teammates feel the identical. Just watch Jordan Poole’s response within the clip below.
The excellent news is, we’ve seen Klay struggle along with his shot before. In 2018-19, he made just five of his first 36 attempts from deep before going nuclear and hitting a record 14 threes in a single game. Even after that performance, he continued to shoot under 35% from beyond the arc until the brand new 12 months and still managed to finish the season above 40% (he shot over 45% for the rest of that season).
Nonetheless, probably the most concerning thing about Klay’s game is that he’s currently shooting just 44% on the rim, which is the bottom rate of his profession by a whopping 15%. Interestingly, he shot 74% there last 12 months, so this isn’t related to rust. More alarmingly, only 6% of his shots have come on the rim up to now, even fewer than his career-low 10% last season, which might be as a result of a decline in athleticism each due to age and injury.
So although Klay’s shooting percentage is unsustainably low, it may also be unrealistic to expect him to bounce back to 90% of the player he was pre-injuries. Having him back full-time has also relegated Poole to a bench role, and he’s struggled mightily because the team’s sixth man.
With Poole playing and Steph on the bench, the Warriors have a net rating of -10.5, which is essentially as a result of an anemic 101.8 offensive rating. In those self same minutes last 12 months, Golden State was actually above water with a net rating of +0.3, they usually scored 111.4 points per 100 possessions.
It’s not only a Poole problem, either: the Warriors have a net rating of +7.3 with Steph playing (2nd within the league), which drops to -13.1 with him off, which can be dead last within the league by over two points.
Steph’s workload has also increased. He’s currently running 7.5 pick and rolls per game and scoring 1.33 points per possession — by far the best number amongst players who average over five P&Rs per game. As compared, he ran 7.6 P&Rs a game in 2020-21 when the Warriors relied on him greater than ever (a minimum of within the Steve Kerr era), which is a foul sign considering how deep this current team looks on paper.
With that said, Golden State’s starting lineup of Steph, Klay, Wiggins, Draymond, and Looney have still been gangbusters with a net rating of +21.1, but any lead they construct robotically vanishes when the young players enter the sport. In consequence, James Wiseman has been re-assigned to the G-League while Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody have piled up DNPs.
Even so, the Warriors will bounce back eventually as a result of all their talent and experience. Klay won’t proceed shooting like all the Lakers team and each Donte DiVincenzo and JaMychal Green are smart players who’ll only recover as they get used to Golden State’s unique system. They won’t proceed to be the twenty third ranked defense either, because the Warriors are third within the league in location expected effective field goal percentage.
Ultimately, though, the sample size is large enough to query if Golden State should still be favorites within the West, especially considering the rise of another teams.
Shai’s superstar leap
How about that Canadian kid, eh?
Thus far, SGA is averaging 32.3 points, 5.9 assists, and 4.5 rebounds on 55/40/91 splits. Interestingly, he’s adjusted his shot profile in order that half of his attempts have are available the mid-range while only 12% of his shots have been from deep, which has been halved from last 12 months.
Probably the most remarkable part about Shai, though, is his touch across the rim. He leads the league in drives per game (25.1) and is third in points within the paint (17.1 per game) only behind Giannis and Zion, an incredible feat considering that he’s a guard.
More importantly, Shai is proving that he’s a winning player and never just putting up empty stats on a foul team. He’s had positive on/off numbers ever since arriving in OKC but that is the primary 12 months during which the Thunder are outscoring teams with him on the ground (+3.5 net rating), a reasonably remarkable feat considering the talent level (or lack thereof) around him.
He also got here through within the clutch against the Wizards on Wednesday night by hitting the game-winner, proving that he’s not afraid of the massive moments.
Shai is undoubtedly an All-Star, and will even make an All-NBA team this 12 months. He won’t proceed averaging 30 points on 50/40/90 (Steph’s the one player who’s completed that: once during his unanimous MVP 12 months and the second time is that this current season), but at this point, it’s hard to argue against his case as a franchise player.
Moving forward, I’d only pick Luka and doubtless Ja ahead of him if forced to decide on an under-25 guard to construct around, which raises an interesting query: should the Thunder speed up their timeline? Shai is strictly the form of player teams tank for, and if OKC is confident that Chet may also turn out to be a All-Star level big man, then the Thunder should set their eyes on acquiring a young wing with high upside.
With the variety of picks they’ve, would Sam Presti consider pushing his chips in as a substitute of accumulating more assets? It’s probably a more realistic consequence than anyone could’ve expected before this season, especially considering that the team looks too good to be realistic contenders for Wemby or Scoot.
Unless, after all, reports surface that Sam Presti has been following Shai around before the guard is suddenly forced to miss time as a result of a “mysterious” bout of plantar fasciitis.
Is it time to re-examine the West contenders?
Coming into the 12 months, I considered the Warriors and Clippers to be the 2 sure-fire contenders within the West.
Thus far, that prediction hasn’t aged well.
We’ve already discussed Golden States struggles, but L.A. hasn’t been significantly better. The Clippers currently have the worst offensive rating within the league (not including garbage time) and Kawhi has only appeared in three out of a possible 16 games. At this point, they needs to be renamed the Los Angeles Paper Tigers given the variety of times people (including myself) have talked about how good their roster looks on paper.
Meanwhile, the Blazers surprisingly sit atop the conference at 10-5 and each the Suns and Nuggets are half a game back at 9-5. Portland currently has a top 10 defense but after years during which they ranked towards the underside of the league, there needs to be some skepticism about their current pace.
Phoenix continues to point out that they’re a daily season machine and the final consensus was likely a bit too low on them heading into the 12 months, but Father Time appears to have finally caught as much as CP3 (he’s averaging lower than 10 points per game on 37% shooting) they usually must prove it within the playoffs.
The 2 teams I’m most eager about, though, are the Nuggets and Grizzlies.
Denver has a net rating of +12.8 with their starting five of Murray, KCP, MPJ, Gordon, and Jokic playing, and that improves to a +15.9 with Bruce Brown instead of MPJ. Murray has looked rusty in most of his minutes but it surely typically takes players a number of months to round into form after getting back from an ACL tear. Crucially, MPJ’s back doesn’t appear to be bothering him anymore and he’s shooting 46% from deep while also giving more effort on the defensive end.
Nonetheless, the Nuggets are still being destroyed of their non-Jokic minutes. With the MVP on the bench, Denver has a net rating of -16.2(!!!), which is bad enough to make Sam Hinkie blush. That number will inevitably improve as Murray starts getting more comfortable, but it surely’s still concerning provided that Denver is back to full strength.
Lastly, the Grizzlies are 9-6 even with Jaren Jackson Jr. just getting back from injury. Ja appears to have made one other leap (he’s currently shooting 40% from three) but the most important story has been Desmond Bane, who’s averaging 24.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 4.8 assists on 47/45/91 splits.
Bane’s place amongst basketball’s best shooters is now unquestionable as he’s making just below 4 treys on 8.5 attempts per game, but it surely’s his playmaking that has been probably the most nice surprise. He’s currently assisting on 21.1% of all shots from his teammates while playing, which is within the 93rd percentile of his position and up significantly from 13.6% last 12 months.
Just take a have a look at the next clip where he finds Brandon Clarke on the roll as a substitute of forcing a troublesome shot over Nic Claxton, who’s in good position to potentially block his shot.
One concerning trend, though, is that Memphis has a net rating of -7.3 when Ja is sitting, which is a big dropoff from the bonkers +7.8 that they had last 12 months. On the brilliant side, the predominant wrongdoer of their struggles is a lacklustre defense, which should correct itself with JJJ back.
The one thing we all know of course at this point is that the West is as open and deep as ever, unlike the dynastic Warriors days when everyone knew who was going to the finals.
And as basketball fans, what more can we ask for?
Thanks as at all times for reading and see you next time!