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Why Šarić's recent Warriors decline should open door for TJD

Why Šarić's recent Warriors decline should open door for TJD originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

NBA teams can be reluctant to make even subtle changes when playing well and the Warriors have won five consecutive games, including three straight blowouts on the road.

Why tinker with success?

Because there still is room for improvement. And because there is one adjustment the Warriors absolutely should consider: Judiciously platoon the minutes distributed between Dario Šarić and Trayce Jackson-Davis – and go with whoever is more effective on a given night.

Both played Monday night against the Jazz in Utah, and Jackson-Davis significantly was more productive in Golden State’s 129-107 romp at Delta Center.

After watching the first half from the bench, Jackson-Davis contributed 11 points, on 4-of-4 shooting from the field, with four rebounds and one assist. He played only nine minutes but finished plus-11.

Assistant coach Kenny Atkinson, serving in an interim capacity with head coach Steve Kerr attending the funeral of assistant coach Dejan Milojević in Serbia, noticed the rookie’s impact.

“Trayce gave us a big boost,” Atkinson told reporters in Salt Lake City. “It’s important that we surround those guys with our vets to make sure our lineups are right. Trayce was out there with Draymond (Green), which helps him get in places where he needs to be.”

The Warriors had a 34-26 lead when Šarić entered the game to open the second quarter. With 6:23 left in the half and Golden State’s lead down to one (44-43), Atkinson replaced Šaric with Green. The Warriors outscored Utah 19-12 the rest of the half.

Šarić was scoreless (0-of-3 from the field), with three rebounds and one assist. He finished minus-4 over 12 minutes.

The Warriors have come to realize there are games when Šarić is valuable, and games when he is not. He is a poor defender, consistently targeted in the paint. If he’s not raining triples and making clever passes – he’s capable of both – he’s more of a liability than an asset.

Jackson-Davis, by contrast, tends to bring something helpful each time he takes the floor. He’s a solid lob threat and rebounder, sets decent picks, and is the team’s most efficient rim protector. He had one of Golden State’s four blocks against the Jazz.

Moreover, he’s learning how to play with Stephen Curry, which is essential to get significant minutes with the Warriors. On a night when seven Warriors scored in double figures, led by 26 points from Klay Thompson and 25 from Curry, Klay paused to direct some praise to the rookie.

“Steph makes it look easy, but it’s hard for him to carry the load every single night,” Thompson said on NBC Sports Bay Area’s Warriors Postgame. “It’s great when our whole team steps up.

“Look what Trayce Jackson did. He didn't play the whole first half, and he came in here and was great on defense, on the boards, finishing around the rim.”

The Warriors were nearly two months into the season before the coaching staff was comfortable giving Jackson-Davis anything more than garbage-time minutes. After two appearances in mid-December, he earned a place in the rotation. Stayed there for more than a month.

The past three weeks, however, TJD has been nudged to the outskirts of the rotation. He has two DNPs and has played at least 10 minutes only twice since Jan. 13, and both were in decisive victories.

Platooning Šarić and Jackson-Davis is not simple because they have very different skills. Šarić spaces the floor with his shot, whereas Jackson-Davis spaces the floor vertically. Šarić is the more accomplished passer, but Jackson-Davis does a decent job and is less prone to turnovers.

Then, too, one is a veteran and the other a rookie. Sometimes, that is a determining factor in who plays and who does not.

Šaric has posted a negative plus-minus in nine of his last 11 games, compared to Jackson-Davis submitting positive numbers in five of his last six.

Though there is a place for both, the biggest disparity between the two is on defense, where Jackson-Davis is an appreciably greater presence.

The Warriors have won seven of their last eight games mostly because their defense has gone from one of the worst in the league to one of the best. Their frontcourt defense, with forwards Jonathan Kuminga and Andrew Wiggins joining Green, has become downright nasty.

Leaning into the more productive player always seems logical. With the Warriors playing faster and finding their defensive bite, allowing the two reserve big men to split time, based on effectiveness, seems like a move to explore.

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