SAN FRANCISCO — Back home for barely 72 hours between jaunts to the Central Time Zone, coach Steve Kerr did all he could so the Warriors’ stopover at Chase Center, for yet another meeting with the Sacramento Kings, wouldn’t just feel like a visit to another city in the middle of their daunting two-week stretch.
They returned home from a 3-0 road trip through Sacramento, Houston and New Orleans in the wee hours Tuesday morning. They didn’t practice that afternoon or hold shootaround before Wednesday’s contest. And after hosting their playoff foes from a year ago for a 13th time just since the end of last regular season, it’s wheels up to Oklahoma City to visit another four cities before returning home again.
Eight games in eight cities in 13 days.
It’s a stretch that would test the depth of any team, that might have killed last year’s squad, which didn’t win three consecutive road games all season, let alone a stretch that included back-to-backs in a different time zone.
But, as they have proven over the first two weeks of this season, these aren’t last year’s Warriors.
Just look at Steph Curry’s usage, an indicator of perhaps the biggest difference. Whereas the non-Curry minutes last season might as well have been a black hole, they’ve been a net positive so far this season, due in large part to the newly veteran-laden second unit led by Chris Paul and Dario Saric, a pair of offseason additions.
Through four games, Curry has dropped 27, 41, 24 and 42 points. But he has played more than 32 minutes only once.
“Guys don’t just show up on opening night ready to play big minutes. But the last couple years we haven’t really had the luxury of keeping Steph’s minutes down, in particular,” Kerr said. “Especially as it relates to Steph I’d like to keep it closer to that 32 range, if possible. This roster is proving to give me and give our staff that opportunity.”
Kerr’s rotation goes 12 deep. That’s how many players are averaging double-digits in minutes entering Wednesday, with nobody averaging even 32 per game.
Curry, at 31.8 per game entering Wednesday, hasn’t averaged 32 or fewer per game over a full season since 2017-18. He averaged 34.7 per game last season, his highest 2013-14, when he was 25, in his first All-Star campaign.
“That matters,” Kerr said. “That adds up.”
On the second unit, Paul has a pick-and-roll partner in Saric, a former teammate in Phoenix. Brandin Podziemski and Trayce Jackson-Davis are proving to be more polished than any recent rookie. Third-year lottery picks Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody have also taken the necessary steps forward to round out the rotation, while Gary Payton II gives them a lockdown defender they lacked until they reacquired him late last season.
Without Curry on the floor, the Warriors are outscoring their opponents by 29 points per 100 possessions, unheard of for previous Warriors teams.
“Just with Chris (Paul)’s presence, his ability to run the next group that’s out there while Steph’s on the bench, it changes everything,” Kerr said. “If we can keep (Steph’s minutes) closer to 32 this year, I think it’ll bode well for Steph. And I do think this team is more capable of it, just across the board with the veteran experience.”
So, while Kerr described Wednesday’s contest with the Kings, who were missing star guard De’Aaron Fox, “the ultimate trap game,” he was confident that his team was better-equipped to handle it than it was last season, a credit to first-year general manager Mike Dunleavy.
“I think Mike made a determination right away when he got the job that we needed to be more experienced and we needed to add someone like Dario, just like two years ago when we had (Nemanja Bjelica) and Otto Porter,” Kerr said. “I think Mike just read everything beautifully and put together a great roster with the front office.”