SAN FRANCISCO — Besides the questions on everybody’s mind these days (“When, Steph, when?” and “When, Klay, when?”), the biggest Warriors mystery on any given night might be: Who steps up next?
Take a look at their top contributors from the past five games, according to the plus-minus metric. In four of them, the player came off the bench, and it was a different face each time.
- Monday vs. Orlando, 126-95 win: Damion Lee (+29, 23 minutes)
- Saturday vs. San Antonio, 112-107 loss: Juan Toscano-Anderson (+24, 32 minutes)
- Friday vs. Phoenix, 118-96 win: Draymond Green (+25, 30 minutes)
- Wednesday at Phoenix, 104-96 loss: Gary Payton II (+17, 15 minutes)
- Sunday at L.A. Clippers, 105-90 win: Otto Porter Jr. (+22, 25 minutes)
Three of those bench contributors — Payton, Lee and Toscano-Anderson — clawed their way from the G League to their current roles with Golden State.
Granted, two of those four games were losses, but that doesn’t dissuade coach Steve Kerr’s enthusiasm about the fight at the end of his roster, something that could play a crucial role facing two sets of back-to-back games on their upcoming road trip.
“It’s been a great dynamic for us. I really like the makeup of the roster,” Kerr said. “We’ve got veteran leadership. We’ve got star guys who’ve won championships and done everything. And we’ve got rookies, some young guys who are trying to figure it out. But the meat of this team, we’ve got a bunch of grinders. When you combine that with Steph and Draymond and Klay, guys that work as hard as they do, it just creates an identity for a team, a competitive identity for a team and a toughness. So I love having guys like that on our team.”
With a 6.1-point margin, the Warriors’ bench is outscoring opponents by more than any other team in the league, and almost twice that of the second-place Knicks (+3.3). Golden State’s 36.9 nightly points from its reserves ranks 12th in the NBA.
“I think we’re one of the deepest teams in the league,” Toscano-Anderson said.
Toscano-Anderson acted as a prime example of the tougher competition for playing time, briefly falling out of the rotation earlier this season before regaining his minutes and playing a key role over the past week.
More important than their depth is their defensive versatility.
“We have a lot of switchable guys, guys who can play 2 through 4, even some small-ball 5,” Toscano-Anderson said. “Our big guys can handle the ball. I can handle the ball. We can switch a lot. I think it’s just the versatility of our team that gives us an advantage.”
Minutes will be harder to come in the immediate and the more distant future.
The Warriors expect to have Andre Iguodala, who has missed 10 games with a sore right knee, available at some point on the road trip. Rookies Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody, who have recently fallen out of the rotation and seen more time with G League Santa Cruz, will also travel with the team.
When the Warriors return home, Klay Thompson could be gearing up to return, setting the stage for more hard decisions for Kerr and Co. when it comes to playing time.
So far, Kerr has been happy to ride the hot hand from game to game.
The Warriors take the NBA’s top-rated defense with them on the five-game East Coast swing, but it will face some specific challenges on the upcoming trip.
- The trip begins against two teams with imposing size: the Philadelphia 76ers, with Joel Emiid (23.9 ppg, 11.3 reb), then the Indiana Pacers and their twin towers, Domantas Sabonis (17.8 ppg, 12.0 reb) and Myles Turner (12.6 ppg, 7.5 reb). Sometimes the Warriors’ small ball plays in their favor, but it can also leave them exposed to talented big men, like Phoenix’s Deandre Ayton showed. Offensively, the Warriors will be attacking the second- and third-best rim-defending teams in the league, according to blocks per game.
- Friday in Boston pits one team adept at drawing fouls against a team that will never be accused of lacking aggression. The Warriors average a league-high 10.0 steals but also foul a rate among the top third of NBA teams. Between Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Dennis Schröder, the Celtics get more points from the stripe than any other team in the NBA (17.7 on 21.6 attempts).
- The most dreaded games are the second legs of back-to-back contests on the road, and the Warriors will have to manage that challenge twice: Tuesday against the Knicks, then Saturday in Toronto. The Raptors, especially, would like to lull Golden State to sleep; they limit opponents to the fewest shot attempts in the league and play at a slower pace than all but one other team.