Ever since the Golden State Warriors acquired veteran point-guard Chris Paul in June, there’s been ongoing speculation regarding the playability of small-ball lineups with the trio of he, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
The Warriors season opener against the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday may have left more questions than answers. They held up relatively well defensively in limiting the Suns to just 108 points, but they struggled to close possessions in giving up 17 offensive rebounds.
While the Golden State Warriors may be giving up something physically, the key to their small-ball lineups will be above the shoulders.
Phoenix’s 27 second-chance points on Tuesday is the most in any of the 16 games through the first three days of the season. Although there were a number of elements that contributed to the loss, the rebounding issue was perhaps most prevalent given the initial questions on the small-ball lineup.
The Warriors may be predisposed to defensive and rebounding issues, yet they shouldn’t and won’t be using their lack of size as a blatant excuse. Nor should they — this is something that can work, but only with full commitment.
When Golden State triumphed in the 2022 NBA Finals 18 months ago, Andrew Wiggins recorded a total of 29 rebounds across the crucial Game 4 and Game 5 victories. That playoff run appeared to redefine the Canadian as a player, with his 7.5 rebounds per game three more than his 4.5 career average.
"“You got to figure out different ways to get the ball, so let me try and get my feet wet, go in there and rebound the ball,” Wiggins said on Andre Iguodala’s Point-Forward podcast. “Especially when we played small in the Memphis series and I had to rebound. I’m in there rebounding and I’m like ‘This ain’t that hard! I can rebound!'”"
It’s that quote that stands out after Wiggins’ one rebound performance against the Suns in the season opener, which included zero defensive boards in over 27 minutes. The 28-year-old has shown the physical ability to be able do it, so it’s really only a mental factor for him.
While Wiggins signified Golden State’s issues against the Suns, he’s far from alone. Stephen Curry and Chris Paul have been good rebounding guards across their career, and have been stout defenders despite their size. While Klay Thompson’s shooting has gone awry through preseason and the opener on Tuesday, he’s one who does appear to be taking more responsibility on the glass.
Ultimately it takes a team-first buy-in from every player on the floor. Failure to do that and you see a game-defining result akin to Tuesday, one where Steve Kerr has no choice but to controversially bench Wiggins for a more vibrant presence in third-year forward Jonathan Kuminga.