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What will the Golden State Warriors look like without Steph Curry?

What will the Golden State Warriors look like without Steph Curry?
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According to reports, Stephen Curry will be out for about the next month with a shoulder injury. What will the Golden State Warriors look like without him? That’s neither a rhetorical question, nor a setup for a conversation about whether the team should panic about their postseason aspirations. I mean, legitimately, what will the production on the Warriors look like on a game-to-game basis with their MVP unavailable?

Let’s explore.

Every year, in the month before the NBA season, I project the box score production for every rotation-level player in the NBA (note: I’m currently updating those productions once per week for those still interested in drafting new fantasy hoops leagues, now that the fantasy football season is winding down). I use several different techniques in these projections, but when accounting for the absence of a previously high-usage player, one approach is to focus more on which teammates are likely to fill the vacuum of shots, passes and turnovers and extrapolate from that direction. Another approach is to focus more on the minutes played, as in who is most likely to fill those minutes, and how would their previous per-minute production translate to those bigger minutes?

For this Warriors team, minus Steph, I’ll lean on both of those approaches. Curry is 12th in the NBA with a 31.1 Usage Percentage this season, accounting for 20.2 field goal attempts (including 11.6 3-point attempts), 5.2 free throw attempts, 6.8 assists and 3.1 turnovers per game. Those are some pretty big statistical shoes to fill. The teammate who’s most likely to step up as an understudy is honorary third Splash Brother Jordan Poole, another combo guard comfortable with high-volume shooting from deep as well as leading an offense.

At the end of last season, Curry was injured on March 16 and missed most of that game and all of the last 12 games before the playoffs. In those contests, Poole filled in for Curry in a role very similar to what he’ll likely be asked to do this season. In fact, let’s use Poole’s production from that month of action earlier this year as a template for his expected production this time around:

  • Poole: 26.0 PPG (8.4-for-19.6 FG, 4.2-of-11.1 3PG, 5.0-of-5.3 FT), 5.9 APG and 3.2 TO/G; 35.3 MPG

These numbers are very interesting, because they were taken from a previous time period, but they could have very easily been extrapolated using the time- and production-vacuum approaches mentioned above. If you were to take Poole’s per-minute averages from his first 23 games this season, multiply them by 35.3 MPG and increase all his shot attempts by 10%, you would get almost exactly the numbers he averaged in Curry’s absence at the end of last season. As a double-check, that helps convince me that these are very reasonable estimates for Poole for the next month.

Next up, OG Splash Brother Klay Thompson. Thompson was still working his way back into game shape last season when Curry was out, and started this season doing the same. Thus, neither a direct sub of last season’s last month numbers nor an extrapolation based on this entire season are likely to be accurate. But, in the last 10 games that he played even with Curry in the line-up, Thompson has established a level of production more commensurate with his typical value than his season-long averages while playing 33.1 MPG. If we take his averages over that 10-game span, then apply the same 10% increase in his shot attempts across the board, Thompson’s Curry-less offensive projections would be:

  • Thompson: 25.2 PPG (9.0-of-20.0 FG, 5.1-of-11.4 3PG, 2.1-of-2.3 FT), 2.5 APG, 1.4 TO/G, 33.1 MPG

The scoring and 3-pointers might be a tinge aggressive, but it’s within the realm of possibility. I’d likely consider those the best-case scenario numbers, and expect something more in the 23 PPG, 4 3PG range as an average. Thompson still isn’t quite as explosive as he used to be, and without Curry drawing opposing defenses Thompson may not get quite as high a percentage of good looks from deep for the next month. But, he also may get more chances to handle the ball and attack the paint, which could help his shooting percentage slightly but could also come with a slight uptick in turnovers.

Andrew Wiggins is the third already-volume scorer on the Warriors that could be asked for more with Curry out. Wiggins has missed the last five games with a groin strain, and is still listed as out for Friday, but he has been cleared to return to practice and presumably will return well before Curry. Wiggins has scored in double figures in every game this season, but he’s fluctuated between 10 points (most recently in the third game before his injury absence) and 36 points (the game before his injury absence). That fluctuation was largely due to the presence of so many scorers on the Warriors though, and with Curry out he should get more consistent looks. He was playing better as the season progressed, with a solid level established over his last 13 games. Wiggins has averaged more than 20 PPG multiple seasons in his career, and he shoots the 3-pointer more often and more accurately now than he ever has before. Applying the same 10% increase in his shot attempts over his last 13 games as with the guards, Wiggins’ offensive estimates sans Curry would be:

  • Wiggins: 22.3 PPG (8.7-of-16.1 FG, 3.9-of-8.0 3PG, 1.0-of-1.7 FT), 1.7 APG, 1.7 TO/G, 32.4 MPG

Wiggins could also see a slight uptick in rebounds, since Curry hit the glass harder than his guard replacements, putting him around eight boards per game.

Draymond Green is the de facto point guard, often even when Curry plays, but his scoring chops are not worth depending on these days. He could increase his assists in Curry’s absence, though, up over eight per game.

Finally, let’s look at the player most likely to absorb the majority of Curry’s minutes: guard Donte DiVincenzo (available in 97.7% of ESPN leagues). Of the players off the bench that could see an uptick in minutes, including both Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga, DiVincenzo is best suited to earn full-on sixth man minutes akin to Poole’s current 28.4 MPG. DiVincenzo has played minutes on that order several times in his career and should be able to handle them this month. DiVincenzo was injured earlier in the season, and over his last nine games has improved compared to when he first returned. If we estimate 28.4 MPG for him, given his per-minute numbers from the last nine games, his projections for the next month would be:

  • DiVincenzo: 12.3 PPG (4.3-of-10.7 FG, 2.5-of-7.0 3PG, 1.8-of-2.1 FT), 3.1 APG, 2.1 TO/G, 28.4 MPG

Curry is a player that can’t really be replaced. But, while he’s out, the Warriors will redistribute minutes and shots to try to fill that vacuum. This is one exercise in projecting what their new numbers might look like. For those looking to make moves in fantasy leagues, in DFS games, or in the daily props market, hopefully these can act as reasonable touchpoints to help guide your decisions.

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