The Clippers open the second half of the season Thursday against the Warriors after a week-long All-Star Break. They’re currently 24-14, fourth place in the Western Conference after dropping six of nine before the intermission. For a recap of how the Clippers look at this point, check out the Clips Nation podcast from earlier this week.
For now, we’re going to focus in on LA’s opponent and one-time rival, the Golden State Warriors. To do so, our resident SB Nation Warriors fan Brady Klopfer from Golden State of Mind has kindly agreed to answer a few questions to give us a better picture of how the Warriors are doing at this point in the year. Be sure to check out Golden State of Mind for my take on the Clippers as well.
1. What was the most pleasant surprise of the first half for the Warriors? In that vein, is there anything about the Warriors that you think is a bit overrated?
Brady: I’ve been spending too much time engaging with Warriors Twitter because I can’t for the life of me think of anything about the Warriors that is overrated, because overrated implies that someone thinks highly of it in the first place. And Warriors fans have conditioned me to believe that nothing about this team — save for the never-overrated Steph Curry — is even remotely good.
Jokes aside, the most pleasant surprise has been Kelly Oubre Jr. doing a perfect 180. At the end of January, Oubre was averaging 12.0 points per game while shooting 37.2% from the field and 22.8% from three-point range. If it’s even possible, those numbers made him look better than he was. He looked utterly lost in the Warriors system, incapable of making the right reads. He was never in the right place, never made the right pass, and never capitalized on the team’s read-based offense that should lead to myriad easy buckets for wings.
And then he flipped a switch. Since then, he’s averaged 20.1 points per game while shooting 50.2% from the field and 43.0% from distance. And once again, the stats don’t tell the whole story. Suddenly he looks comfortable in the system and is making the right cuts, finding the right teammates, and getting rewarded with good looks.
As for being overrated, the Warriors defense has spent most of the year in the top 10, and deservedly so. But it seems to be a defense that feasts on bad offenses and gets exposed by good ones. They can be great on that side of the ball, but right now I think the Warriors get far too much credit for their defense. This version of their D would get picked apart by a good offense in a seven-game series.
2. What does the team see its ceiling as for the rest of the season?
Brady: The three-game slide to end the first half of the season put the Warriors a ways away from the non play-in teams, but they still think it’s possible to get into the top six. I think at this point Golden State has given up on the idea of earning home-court advantage, but sliding into the fifth or sixth seed feels like a reasonable ceiling.
When: Thursday, Mar. 11 at 7:00 p.m. PT
Where: Staples Center
How to watch: TNT
Projected Starting Lineups
Clippers (24-14): Patrick Beverley, Paul George, Serge Ibaka, Nicolas Batum, Kawhi Leonard
Warriors (19-18): Stephen Curry, Kelly Oubre Jr., Kevon Looney, Draymond Green, Andrew Wiggins
3. Will the Warriors make anyone available at the deadline?
Brady: I think everyone other than Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson is available, in some form or fashion. Whether it’s realistic or not, the Warriors believe they can win a championship next year, in five years, and in a decade. They’ll make any moves necessary to see that actualize.
James Wiseman would only be traded if it returned a star, as would Andrew Wiggins (for salary-matching reasons). Pretty much anyone else would be quickly included if it facilitated the right trade. With that said, Kelly Oubre Jr. is the only player I can see the team actively shopping, and that’s only if they don’t intend to re-sign him when he reaches free agency at the end of the year.
I don’t expect the Warriors to make a trade at the deadline, or to be the one initiating anything, but they will answer every call and entertain every offer.
4. The NBA is trying really hard to make the Clippers/Lakers rivalry happen. Could you see the Clippers/Warriors rivalry eclipsing that?
Brady: Truthfully, I think it’s more likely that the Warriors simply sidle up next to the L.A. teams to form a rival triumvirate. I see all three of those rivalries as being fairly equal. The Warriors and Clippers are linked from when the Lob City Clips and the upstart Warriors were trying to rise from the ashes of being embarrassing franchises and finally reach the top of the mountain. The Clippers and Lakers are linked by a mutual city. And the Warriors and Lakers are linked by LeBron James.
If the Clippers or Lakers win the championship this year, then the faces of these three franchises will have won every NBA title for a decade. That’s incredible. Assuming full health, I see those as the West’s top three next year, all on fairly even footing, all with legitimate title aspirations. And I think it will feel like a three-team rivalry.
5. Rank the four best players in this game.
Brady: 1. Steph Curry
2. Kevin Durant
3. Draymond Green
4. Klay Thompson
Oh, sorry, wrong year. Jokes aside, this is an easy list for me, though I suspect that many fans on both sides will pretty firmly disagree with me:
1. Steph Curry
2. Kawhi Leonard
3. Paul George
4. Draymond Green
Perhaps it’s homerism, but I do feel that Curry is a bit of a better player than Leonard, especially during the regular season when Kawhi doesn’t seem as engaged defensively (for understandable reasons).
Clippers fans might bristle at my inclusion of Green on this list — who else, though? — but despite his scoring foibles, he’s sixth in the league in assists and one of best defensive players on the planet. Warriors fans might be upset at Green not being above George, but it’s not 2016 anymore. Maybe we’ll get peak Green when Klay Thompson returns, and then we can revisit.
BONUS: Will Draymond Green congratulate Paul Pierce if/when he makes the Hall of Fame?
Brady: Yes. One of the funny and, in my opinion, wonderful things about Draymond Green is that he holds grudges, but doesn’t let them cloud his vision too much.
He still talks openly and angrily about what transpired in the 2016 NBA Finals with LeBron James, yet he and James have become friends and developed a strong relationship. When Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli were on the Warriors, Green would praise them, while also overtly carrying the chip on his shoulder of being selected 35th in the 2012 draft — behind Barnes and Ezeli.
So Green will congratulate Paul Pierce when he makes the Hall of Fame, and it will be honest. He’ll probably praise Pierce’s game, and it will be honest. And then he’ll take a cheap shot at Pierce. And it will be honest.