SAN FRANCISCO — This past Friday, after the fifth of six straight losses, the Golden State Warriors held an afternoon practice that included strategic discussion about their sputtering offense, which had morphed into one of the league’s slowest and least efficient units during this recent rough patch.
“Losing forces you to check yourself and figure out what’s going wrong,” Stephen Curry said.
Chris Paul, according to those present, was one of the more active voices.
“Any time Chris Paul speaks, you must listen,” Klay Thompson said. “Man has been through it all.”
Curry said the overarching theme was crisper, purposeful ball movement. He called some of the Warriors’ recent offensive activity “mindless” while also explaining the urge of a slumping shooter, fighting the desire to hijack the action in an attempt to reverse individual fortune.
“You need that reminder when everybody’s trying hard to get themselves going or make the big shot or have the big moment,” Curry said. “Because we’re all built like that. There’s competitive spirit about us, and sometimes you work a lot harder when you need to work a lot smarter. That practice helped us get there.”
There is a slightly healthier place two games later. The Warriors lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday night but played pretty well. Andrew Wiggins scored 31 points, hit five 3s and broke out of a deep slump with an efficient 12-of-19 night. His looks were within the flow. The Warriors bumbled away the win at a crucial moment but scored 123 against one of the league’s better team defenses. There were signs of offensive growth despite their postgame heartbreak.
The streak-breaker finally came Monday. The Warriors avoided a disaster 0-6 homestand with a 121-116 win over the Houston Rockets, pulling them back to 7-8 on the season. It was harder and closer than it needed to be, but the Warriors controlled and kept Houston down because they continually generated clean looks. They made 21 3s and scored 29, 34, 29 and 29 in the four quarters.
Steve Kerr mentioned a particular first-quarter possession that exemplified what he wants them to be offensively. Here it is. The ball pings from a Wiggins post touch to Paul on the wing to Curry in the corner to a blow-by drive collapsing the defense to a kick out to Wiggins to a corner find of Paul to a catch-and-swing to a wide-open Thompson for 3 on the right wing.
Kerr called that possession beautiful, and his explanation came with a relevant note.
“The ball hit the paint twice,” Kerr said. “It was drive, kick and drive, kick again. That’s the blueprint. But in order for that to happen, Klay has to get off the ball when he’s not open rather than try to beat his guy one-on-one and take a difficult fadeaway. That’s what we’re trying to focus on.”
Thompson hit two 3s in the opening minutes, and it seemed to generate a thirst for more within him. In the season’s first 13 games, Thompson didn’t reach 20 points once, suffering through one of the least productive stretches of his career. He averaged at least 20 points per game in his last seven seasons.
So he started hunting for one of those patented big Klay nights. Here are his fourth and sixth field goal attempts, already fired up before the eight-minute mark of the first quarter. They are isolation post-up fading midrange jumpers over Fred VanVleet, a smaller but bulkier defender who guarded the stagnant action well.
Kerr had a candid night at the podium, particularly in regards to Thompson. He was asked if he sensed a great night from him early after the two 3s.
“He made a couple early and then he immediately took two bad shots,” Kerr said, referring to those two post-ups. “So I did not sense it early. I just reminded him: If you’re not open, just move it. Look at these guys on the team who will get you the ball.”
There was a similar conversation happening about Thompson at this time exactly a year ago. The Warriors coincidentally played the Rockets on Nov. 20 last season as well. It was in Houston. Entering that game, Thompson had shot 36 percent overall and 33 percent from 3 through the first stretch of games — extremely low efficiency on what had been a high volume.
After a particularly bad night in Phoenix, the Warriors had a team meeting that included Draymond Green telling Thompson to curb the more ambitious side of his shot selection. He increased his patience, gained a bit of a rhythm and then exploded on that Nov. 20 night in Houston, finishing with 41 points and 10 made 3s.
A year later, Thompson didn’t duplicate that volcanic showing, but he did take a step forward. Thompson scored 20 points for the first time this season and took shots within the offense, besides those two isolation jumpers against VanVleet in the first quarter.
“Everybody just keeps telling him: ‘If you just move it, you’re going to get it back with this team,’” Kerr said. “And that’s what happened. I thought he was a lot more patient. The quality of his shots was much better.”
Five of Thompson’s seven makes were assisted by Paul, who finished with 12 assists and only one turnover. Paul compared himself to Peyton Manning and Tom Brady postgame, calling himself the quarterback with Curry and Thompson as his elite wide receivers on the outside.
“I actually watched the ‘Redeem Team’ documentary last night, and it was cool to see a young Chris get kind of rookie hazed by his teammates,” Thompson said. “For him to still be here just balling is insane. Makes me respect him so much … It makes your job as a shooting guard so much easier when you have one of the greatest passers to ever play orchestrating out there.”
Klay Thompson asked about reaching 20 points for the first time this season: “I’ve scored more in a quarter than I did tonight.” pic.twitter.com/VFW6mFdBUH
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) November 21, 2023
When asked about his rotation choices pregame, Kerr gave a detailed answer (soundbite below) that reiterated his trust in Thompson to turn his season around. Moses Moody has been performing well when given the opportunity, but his playing time has remained relatively sparse, considering his performance.
While admitting that he’d like to put Moody on the floor more often (which he did against the Rockets, giving him 22 minutes), Kerr said Wiggins and Thompson are partially blocking Moody’s path, and Kerr’s belief in both veterans wouldn’t wane despite the recent struggle.
“I’m really patient,” Kerr said. “I’ve got guys who are championship players. Klay and Wiggs early on have struggled. But I’m of the opinion that we have to show patience. We know what they are. You look at Wiggs the other night, and he looked great. Our patience has been rewarded. I think you will see a different Wiggs from here on, and I think the same thing’s going to happen with Klay.”
Here’s an extended Steve Kerr soundbite on the Warriors’ tricky rotation decisions.
*Believes they have 12 legit rotation players
*On Wiggins/Klay: “I’m really patient. I’ve got guys who are championship players.”
*On Moody: “I think he deserves more playing time.” pic.twitter.com/X4ouuIujjP
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) November 21, 2023
(Photo of Klay Thompson: Noah Graham / NBAE via Getty Images )