How Warriors can overcome Draymond's five-game suspension originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area
Seven of the Warriors’ first 17 games this season will be without a 33-year-old, 6-foot-6 point-center who signed a four-year, $100 million contract four months ago. Of the nine games Draymond Green has played this season, he has been ejected twice – once in the third quarter of a loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and then again two games later, 103 seconds into a loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Green’s most recent act got him a five-game suspension, the NBA announced Wednesday. The timing … well, it isn’t great.
The Warriors have lost four straight games, and Green isn’t the only star sidelined right now. Steph Curry was off to a historic start to begin the season, but he’s about to miss his second straight game due to right knee soreness. The issue is deemed to be minor, though the Warriors aren’t going to rush Curry. He has been the whole operation and losing him long term isn’t worth any risks.
Curry doesn’t have any structural damage to his knee and he will be re-evaluated later this week, the Warriors announced Wednesday.
Starting Thursday, the Warriors will be without Green, and Curry for at least one game, against the Oklahoma City Thunder in two straight games before playing the Houston Rockets, the Phoenix Suns on the road and then Victor Wembanyama and the San Antonio Spurs at Chase Center for an In-Season Tournament game. The only way to replace Green and ease his loss is how the Warriors nearly beat the Minnesota Timberwolves Tuesday night without Curry, Green or Klay Thompson.
Strength In Numbers asserted itself as an immediate response to Green and Thompson’s ejections. Nine players scored in the first half and 10 total for the game. Chris Paul, starting for an injured Curry, stuffed the box score like Green routinely does. He finished with 15 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals.
But Paul also turned the ball over a season-high four times and was a minus-9 in a three-point loss. Green himself said Sunday night after the Warriors’ loss to the Timberwolves that the offense's struggles come down to being unorganized, and that rests on him and Paul’s shoulders.
“We’re not doing a great job of getting organized,” Green said. “I’ve got to do a better job of making sure we’re getting into some things. Chris got to do a better job. We both need to do a better job of getting us into things. When Steph’s got it going, he's just moving and going. It’s on us to realize that and learn how to also use him when he’s got it going to get other guys looks as well.”
Paul in his first eight games as a Warrior turned the ball over a total of six times and had a streak of four straight games without a turnover. In the last four games, all Warriors losses, Paul has 10 turnovers.
That’s the luxury of having a Hall of Fame backup point guard, though.
He’s still averaging 7.0 assists, only 1.3 turnovers and has a 5.3 assist-to-turnover ratio at 38 years old. Paul scored just one point the first time the Warriors played the Thunder, a 141-139 Curry buzzer-beating win, but also had 13 assists and no turnovers. His smarts and control of the offense are sure to be counted on even more while Green can’t suit up.
So will somebody bringing a spark to a team in the midst of a losing streak and with a .500 record at 6-6. Both in spurts early in the season and Tuesday night in his biggest opportunity yet, Brandin Podziemski has been able to jolt the veteran Warriors. The rookie replaced an ejected Green and gave Golden State an immediate boost, scoring nine points at all three levels in the first quarter.
Podziemski played 39 minutes off the bench, and became the first Warrior outside of Curry to score more than 20 points in a game this season. He ended at a career-high 23 points on 9-of-18 shooting. Podziemski also added seven rebounds, five assists and one steal that led to a buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of the third quarter. The 20-year-old rookie isn’t coming out of the rotation, Steve Kerr said Tuesday night, nor should he – with or without Curry and Green.
And how Podziemski views his games is how the Warriors will try and patch up any holes during Green’s suspension.
“I look at myself like a spare tire,” Podziemski said Tuesday. “Whenever something is wrong with the tire, I just go in and fix it. Whatever coach asks me, that is what I have to do.”
Even the eldest Warrior knows the important elements Podziemski brings when he’s on the floor, and is confident playing alongside him. Another Warriors rookie, Trayce Jackson-Davis, should see his role increase as well and has taken advantage of his opportunities thus far. Paul has been impressed, too.
“It’s great, man,” Paul said Tuesday night after playing a lot with Podziemski. “BP, we talk a lot during the game. His energy is contagious. It’s another ballhandler that’s out there that’s able to attack and defend.
“We talk about it all the time, we don’t have some regular rookies. We got some rooks who pay attention, know what they’re doing. To be on a team like this, this early in the season playing valuable minutes in big games, it’s only going to be good for the long haul.”
Dario Saric later Tuesday night became the third Warrior this season to score more than 20 points in a game, scoring a season-high 21. Saric started in place of center Kevon Looney, who grabbed 12 rebounds off the bench. The Warriors’ offense needs Saric’s spacing right now. He also is averaging 6.6 rebounds, the second-most of his career and Saric had four assists in Green’s latest ejection.
But for the Warriors, the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference entering Thursday, to survive when they don’t have Green is counting on the same players they needed more from at times last season.
They need Klay to finally go off for a game, or a few, and have his shot when Curry isn’t around. Thompson is yet to have a 20-point game and is shooting 34.2 percent on 3-pointers. They need Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody to find their consistency in their third year as pros. Neither played three minutes in the fourth quarter of a short-handed loss. They also need Andrew Wiggins to be a lock-down defender and at least reliable on offense. He has been next to nothing offensively and has a 115.5 defensive rating.
The Warriors over the next five games will rely on everyone from rookies to vets until they’re whole again. Following the footsteps of their first-round draft pick, one spare tire at a time, might be their best bet for the moment.