The Warriors, as we all know, struggled through an up-and-down season.
For a variety of reasons, Steph Curry played 56 of 82 games. Andrew Wiggins played 37.
The Sacramento Kings, as we have been told, are one of the great stories of this year’s NBA.
None of their starting five missed more than nine games, and several of those missed games came because of the intricacies of load management.
Golden State led the league in turnovers, and mental images of Curry or Jordan Poole tossing the ball behind their backs into the fourth row are burned into our brains. Dumb turnovers, the kind that would remove a high school JV player from the game immediately, have always been a staple of the Warriors’ game, but this year, new lows have been plumbed.
The Kings led the league in points scored, and were second in shooting percentage (first in two-point percentage).
And after 82 games, Sacramento had won 48. The Warriors? 44.
And of course, now the Warriors are as healthy as they have been all year. Wiggins is back, though it’s hard to imagine he’ll be close to 100% until the next series – if of course there is a next series. Still, 80% of Wiggins is awfully good, and the minutes he plays are minutes Anthony Lamb does not. (Lamb is a good player, and I like his game, but advanced stats do not treat him kindly. The Warriors are -1.2 points when he is on the court as opposed to when he is off; Wiggins is +5.0.)
Of less import is the constant refrain about playoff experience and knowing how to win in postseason. There is some truth to that, but not nearly as much as some would have us believe. Experience matters, but so does talent – and so does youth and explosive athleticism. In the end, the better team wins most seven-game series, and though experience is part of being better, it’s not nearly as a big a part as Draymond Green would like us to believe it is.
For example, no one on the Warriors will consistently be able to stay in front of De’Aaron Fox. He’s going to get to his spots, and he’s going to get to the free-throw line. Fox is 25.
The rest of the King’s lineup is equally young and feisty. The old vet is Harrison Barnes, who’s 30, but next on that list is 26-year-old Domantas Sabonis, the best player you really don’t know very well. Keegan Murray (22) and Kevin Huerter (24) both shoot better than 40% from beyond the arc and Davion Mitchell (24) is a physical and accomplished defender.
Gary Payton, Jr., is also a physical and accomplished defender, but he’s 30. Will his experience offset the very real dropoff in fast-twitch muscles and explosive athleticism that happens to almost everyone between 24 and 30?
That, in a nutshell and expanded to include the entire roster, is the question that will define this series. Is the Warriors’ experience enough to match the Kings’ undoubted advantage in youth and athleticism?
The received wisdom is that it will be enough, and there’s no doubt that having a full week off was huge for Golden State. Still, however, there are no more than two days between any game in the series, and there’s only one day off between games five and six, and games six and seven. This is, no question, an advantage for the younger Kings, as bouncing back from a bruise or minor ankle tweak is easier, and quicker, at age 24 than it is at age 30.
So color me skeptical about the general feeling that the Warriors are heavy favorites in this series. I do think they should be favored, and certainly could win in six games. They haven’t had their lineup together very often and even with all the ups and downs, they were only four games worse than the Kings over an 82-game season.
If it goes all the way to game seven, which would be played in a raucous Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on April 30, Draymond Green would have you believe experience will triumph. But you know, sooner or later, the young lion wins.