The numbers don’t lie: Steph, Klay and Dray’s Golden State Gilded Age is over

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Around 2017, I realized I was behind the curve by using free Pandora. I still kept my account for another few years out of an irrational attachment to it, long after everyone else had matriculated away from Pandora digital radio towards Spotify. That’s how it feels watching Golden State try to counter longer, more skilled, and more athletic floor spacers who can also gobble up space defensively.

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Oklahoma City’s best lineup is rife with pterodactyls who have absurd length accompanied by accurate shooting. Conversely, Golden State has done it for years with a true Napoleon Complex roster. Even their offensive rebounding machine Kevon Looney measures in at only 6-foot-9. The numbers most concerning Golden State aren’t its 10-12 record, lineup’s wingspan measurements, or Klay Thompson’s shooting percentages. It’s the Big 3’s glaring deficiencies. Progress is inevitable and the Big 3 have fallen behind the times. A year ago, they were discovering their gray hairs. Now, Steve Kerr and Warriors brass are throwing Rogaine on their Hall of Fame gray beards in the form of Chris Paul, Moses Moody, and Dario Saric, and telling everyone it’s fine while their follicles thin out.

For the last decade, Golden State’s Gilded Age was upheld by one major component, or rather three pieces, that congealed into a whole. Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson have been constants through all four titles and six Finals appearances. They’re also at risk of becoming the NBA’s Pandora lineup. Looney has been a stalwart in the low post as a screener and rebounder, and they’ve streamed either Harrison Barnes, Kevin Durant or Andrew Wiggins on the wing. Through the years, they were the anchor for a variety of Death Lineups.

In years past, their Big 3 was the pillar upholding the Warriors’ estate. Last season, their starting lineup was the only constant on a roster weighed down by one of the league’s worst benches. For the first time, though, they are the problem, not the solution.

Look no further than Friday night’s loss against the Thunder. Oklahoma City has played Golden State three times this season and each one has come down to the wire. Their second meeting exposed the length advantage Oklahoma City has over Golden State. The Thunder were bailed out by another mental mistake by Green, his second one in three matchups, but that’s only a microcosm of what’s troubled them.

Golden State’s 29 turnovers in the overtime loss were symptomatic of a group that has always had trouble taking care of the ball. Their 16 turnovers a night are fourth-worst in the league behind only San Antonio, Portland, Detroit, and Utah, four of the league’s youngest teams.

To make matters worse, the Big 3 have been outplayed in their minutes together. For the last decade, you could count on Golden State’s trio and their plus-one (Durant, Wiggins, or Barnes) to break the wills of opposing defenses. Those third quarter speed runs are gone as is their Death Lineup’s backbreaking efficiency.

This season, the winds are shifting quickly as lineups featuring Klay Thompson, Steph Curry, and Draymond Green have accumulated a negative net rating for the first time in the Steve Kerr era. When you include Andrew Wiggins’ minutes, their lineup deflates even more after being outscored by approximately three points per 100 possessions to a minus-8.61 when all four are off the floor.

Thompson isn’t shooting well enough to account for being a liability defensively and Green is making knucklehead plays that were excusable when they were obliterating teams still trying to catch up to their tiki-taka on hardwood.

Here’s how Golden State’s Big 3 combinations have fared through the first two months of this season compared to their production since their inaugural title in 2015.

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The early Warriors dynasty was defined by its Strength In Numbers philosophy, but in reality, that bench was propped up by a historic trio that outscored teams by nearly 20 points per 100 possessions. They’ve lost the juice to throttle opposing teams when they hit the accelerator. By 2022, that edge was slashed in half. Between the 2019 Finals and the 2022 postseason, Curry, Green and Thompson played a grand total of 11 regular season minutes together. But when they coalesced in the postseason, they once again uplifted Golden State, but not to the heights they were accustomed to. Instead, the Big 3 received an extra boost from Jordan Poole, Otto Porter, an aging Andre Iguodala, Nemanja Bjelica, and Gary Payton II as elements of the most reliable supporting cast Bob Myers, excluding Kevin Durant, ever paired them with since.

The 2015 and 2018 postseasons were the only times Golden State outscored their opposing lineups in the minutes the Big 3 sat over the course of a postseason. Last season, the Steph, Klay, Dray, Wiggins, and Looney lineup led the league in points allowed per 100 possessions (106.4), efficiency field goal percentage, and points scored (128.5), but their second unit was one of the league’s worst.

Once playoffs roll around, benches shorten and each team leans heavily on the synergy between their stars. Golden State’s starters may not be able to outmuscle opposing teams anymore.

Their 2022 championship is looking more like a last hurrah than anything. Ironically, after last season’s debacle, Golden State has held its own when their Big 3 sat. Their cornerstones just aren’t holding up their end of the bargain. While their offensive output dips, they also manage to match up well enough defensively to account for that dropoff. Two steps forward, three steps back.

At this point in the season, Thompson is on pace to earn a negative on-off rating for the first time since his rookie campaign and he’s shown no signs of escaping this slump. Los Angeles and Miami surging from play-in teams to Finals contenders warped our perception of the regular season, but Golden State is in trouble. Thompson’s demands for a max deal are based on past accomplishments while his future looks bleak.

Changes should be afoot around Curry if their Big 3 isn’t capable of being the glue that keeps Golden State in the B Tier of contenders. Sentiment and nostalgia are worthless currency in the postseason. Especially to an ownership group paying $167 million in luxury tax payments. If the Warriors can’t even rectify their deus ex machina lineup, then this should be their last dance.

As a society, we are advancing technologically faster than ever before. The same can be said for the NBA, which is perpetually in motion. Golden State holding on for a decade is an incredible feat. But all good things must eventually come to an end.

Follow DJ Dunson on X: @cerebralsportex

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