Draymond Green will miss at least the next three Warriors games and potentially more after entering health and safety protocols on Sunday.
Green is the fifth Warriors player and third starter to test positive for Covid-19 in the last 11 days, and while Golden State has managed to fare well with a depleted roster, Green’s absence will stress the team’s depth in new ways.
Warriors head coach Steve Kerr hasn’t announced who will take Green’s place in the starting lineup Tuesday against the Denver Nuggets, but making up for Green’s absence and replacing his production on both ends of the floor will require a group effort.
“He’s one of the best players in the league so he impacts everything we do at both ends of the floor, so it’s a huge loss,” Kerr said Monday. “We’ve got a really deep team, we’ve got a lot of guys who have taken advantage of opportunities this year and that’s what I expect to happen over the next few games or however long Draymond is out.”
With Green unavailable and forward Andrew Wiggins “probable” to return on Tuesday against Denver, here are three things the Warriors should learn while playing without one of their most valuable leaders.
Can anyone guard Nikola Jokić?
A three-time All-Star and one of the NBA’s most dynamic players, Jokić is one of the league’s hardest players to defend because he creates matchup problems against nearly every team.
With back-to-back games against a Warriors team that will be without the Defensive Player of the Year front-runner in Green, there’s little doubt Jokić is eager to take advantage of multiple opportunities to beat up on Golden State.
The Nuggets center is averaging 25.9 points per game, 13.8 rebounds per game and 7.2 assists per game this season and even if the Warriors double Jokić on most possessions, he’s still able to create for himself and his teammates on the offensive end of the floor.
Expect Kerr to use Kevon Looney, Juan Toscano-Anderson, rookie Jonathan Kuminga, Nemanja Bjelica and a handful of others to try to neutralize Jokić, but the reality is the Warriors will likely try to double the Nuggets star as often as possible and force other Denver players to beat them.
“We know it’s a big void with Draymond gone,” Otto Porter Jr. said Monday. “He’s our leader on the defensive end, but I think everybody is going to have to take another step including myself.”‘
Can the Warriors maintain their offensive rhythm?
At this point in his career, it’s no secret that the Warriors offense goes as Stephen Curry goes.
It’s been an excellent formula for success for more than a decade and with Wiggins and Jordan Poole out last week, Curry scored at least 30 points in three straight victories including two over top Western Conference foes, Memphis and Phoenix.
One of the primary challenges the Warriors expect to face with Green sidelined is figuring out who can play the point-forward role he’s handled so well through the years. Green’s vision, elite passing ability and understanding of the Warriors’ offense has played a massive role in the team’s success –and in freeing up Curry– this season and it’s typically harder for Golden State to create open looks when he’s off the floor.
With Green out, the Warriors could lean on 38-year-old Andre Iguodala, who is expected to return Tuesday following a prolonged absence due to knee issues. Aside from Iguodala, expect Wiggins to be asked to help unlock the Warriors’ offense as Golden State may rely more on creating off the dribble in lieu of relying on Green to get the team into its half court sets.
Is Jonathan Kuminga ready to take a step forward?
In an ideal scenario, the 19-year-old lottery pick would see a major uptick in minutes this week and help fill the void on both ends of the floor left by Green.
Kuminga has an impressive skill set and physicality that’s a bit reminiscent of Green when he chooses to be assertive and decisive, but he’s an extraordinarily raw prospect who can’t yet be counted on to provide much-needed consistency.
Against Denver, Kuminga could draw at least a few minutes against Jokić, which would be quite the welcome-to-the-NBA experience for a player who has only appeared in 23 games as a rookie. While defending Jokić is already a difficult task, the Warriors would love to see Kuminga become a more aggressive rebounder as he’s finished with two boards or fewer in eight consecutive games.
It’s unrealistic to expect Kuminga to stand in for Green and hold his own, but he’s coming off one of his most impressive performances of the season as he scored 12 points and went 5-of-6 from the free throw line against Phoenix, which might compel Kerr and his coaching staff to take a longer look at Kuminga this week.