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How Warriors can repeat their offensive success with Klay Thompson

How Warriors can repeat their offensive success with Klay Thompson

CHICAGO — In a strange turn of events, the Warriors’ worst offensive funk of the season has coincided with Klay Thompson’s first games back in more than two years. And, even stranger, they broke out of it with Thompson on the bench.

So, what went right in a 138-96 win Friday against the Chicago Bulls? “Well,” coach Steve Kerr said, cheekily, “That orange ball that we play with, it went into the orange ring and stayed in through the net that’s hanging.”

In some ways, it was that simple. Even against the Bucks, Golden State’s internal analytics showed that by expected field goal percentage, the Warriors should have won by six points in what was a 19-point defeat. Upon reviewing the film, Kerr said the offense had performed better than he originally thought, despite a season-worst shooting game (34.7% from the field).

It’s no secret the Warriors offense, which was once humming along like their NBA-best defense, has experienced some hiccups, even prior to getting Thompson back. They had gone four of the past five games without breaking 100 points (and lost all four).

But against the Bulls, with Thompson watching from the bench, Golden State made its shots from the field at its highest clip of the season (56.4%), scored a season-high in points and turned the ball over only seven times, tied for a season-low.

The Warriors’ primary challenge for the second half of the season is to find a way to replicate that success with all four of their scoring threats operating in unison. By the time the postseason rolls around, Golden State will need to be able to play with Thompson, Steph Curry, Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole together, without detracting from any one of them.

Forget, for a moment, the show-stealing performance from Jonathan Kuminga in the second half of Friday’s win.

The Warriors offense got rolling because Wiggins and Poole found their stroke. With 21 and 22 points, respectively, both players found their most offensive success since Thompson was cleared to play. They also outscored Curry, who somewhat broke out of his slump (19 points, 7-of-15 from the field, 4-of-10 from 3) but wasn’t the catalyst to Golden State’s offensive success.

Golden State Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins, right, goes up for a shot against Chicago Bulls guard Ayo Dosunmu and center Nikola Vucevic during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Chicago, Friday, Jan. 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

With Thompson back in the mix, Kerr has emphasized the need for Golden State’s secondary scorers to stay aggressive as ever on offense. But, in three games with him, that hasn’t really happened.

Wiggins had contributed at least 20 points in five of his past six contests prior to Thompson’s return and, ever since a breakout game early this season against Minnesota, established himself as a consistent threat on the offensive end. Poole had just dropped 32. Yet, neither attempted more than 12 shots or scored more than 16 points in any of the past three games with Thompson.

The difference against the Bulls was immediately noticeable.

The Warriors drew up plays to get open looks on the first three possessions for Otto Porter Jr., then Wiggins, then Poole. Each play ended with the ball falling true from 3-point land. You know, the orange ball fell through that orange ring, and it just kept happening.

“They just have to stay aggressive, that’s all. There’s nothing that we’re doing differently,” Kerr said. “We just want both guys to be super aggressive. The ball went in for both of them at the beginning of the game. That helped them build some momentum and they both had great nights. … But some nights the ball doesn’t go in and you just have to stay aggressive and attacking and that’s the only thing we’re emphasizing.”

The challenge for Poole is keeping up his aggression despite sliding into a bench role. Wiggins must maintain the confidence he’s displayed as a second scoring option even while sharing the court, now, with Curry and Thompson.

Playing with Thompson, Poole said, was “different” but not difficult.

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