Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse for the Golden State Warriors — who had already been on the wrong end of two blowouts in their first week of play and were headed for a third on Wednesday — worse came crashing down onto the floor of the new Chase Center.
In the third quarter, Stephen Curry dribbled to his left in transition, preparing to go in for a layup, when Phoenix Suns center Aron Baynes slid in front of the airborne point guard, causing him to tumble. Baynes then fell down, too, with his weight coming down on Curry’s left hand. The superstar couldn’t move his hand and walked to the locker room, and shortly after running some tests, the Warriors put out the news: Curry’s left hand was broken. He will be out for the foreseeable future.
On the most basic level, the injury is devastating for a struggling team that, until very recently, had it better than any other team these past few seasons — largely because of Curry’s impact. But even now, in the wake of yet another serious injury, there is reason for Golden State to have optimism. Aside from this being a hand injury, as opposed to a foot or a leg one, it happened early enough that the Warriors can gauge whether it’s truly worthwhile to make a concerted effort for a playoff spot. And if it isn’t, they can use the lottery pick they’ll get as a result of this wayward season.
So how hard should Golden State push ahead in Curry’s absence? All-Stars like Draymond Green and D’Angelo Russell are still there. Rotation pieces like Willie Cauley-Stein and Alec Burks just rejoined the lineup, while the Warriors hope that center Kevon Looney — dealing with neuropathy — can return to contribute at some point as well.
But the notion of the Warriors piecing things together without Curry is a difficult one. There is an abundance of young, inexperienced players in the rotation, with coach Steve Kerr repeatedly predicting growing pains. And the club, which already faced enormous pressure to score in bunches because of how porous the Warriors’ last-ranked defense has been, now faces the added challenge of trying to score without the game-breaking player who made its offense hum.
In losing Curry, the Warriors saw their RAPTOR roster rating fall drastically from the low 1600s (in the same range as contenders like the Los Angeles Lakers, Utah Jazz and L.A. Clippers) to a paltry rating of 1415, which leaves the three-time champions better than just five clubs: The Detroit Pistons (without an injured Blake Griffin), the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Atlanta Hawks (without an injured Trae Young), the Charlotte Hornets and the New York Knicks.
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FiveThirtyEight’s NBA prediction model still gives the Warriors a 54 percent chance to make the postseason, but that’s partly a function of not yet knowing how much time he’ll miss. Curry is expected to miss at least two weeks, but based on other players who have had similar injuries in recent years,1 he could be out as long as two months. Our model aims to bridge that gap and account for both ends of the spectrum.
The model projects that Curry’s absence will cost the Warriors about one half win per week he misses. Based on that, the team’s probability of making the playoffs would likely fall beneath 50 percent after he misses five weeks of time, when Golden State is projected to finish with only 43 wins.
With all this in mind, don’t be surprised if, depending on how much time Curry is expected to miss, you hear speculation about Russell being traded, or about Green getting considerable rest. The 1996-97 Spurs, who had picked up 121 wins in the two prior seasons, went 20-62 in the wake of a serious early-season injury to center David Robinson. Doing so landed them in the lottery, which they won, allowing San Antonio to draft someone named Tim Duncan. And in the 22 complete seasons since, the Spurs haven’t missed the playoffs. Even if Golden State owner Joe Lacob dismisses the idea of bottoming out for a year, there’s no doubt that being able to draft another potential star would be hugely beneficial to the Warriors, who have considerable money tied up in future years due to the hefty contracts of Curry, Klay Thompson, Green and Russell.
This isn’t our way of saying a broken hand in October should end Curry’s season. If anything, it’s merely a suggestion that the Warriors — who also have shooting guard Thompson on the mend after his ACL injury — should feel no need to rush back either player for the sake of this season, which has gotten off to a pretty disastrous start. Depending on how Golden State comes out of this process, it could end up extending their dynasty in a way that none of us initially saw coming.
Neil Paine and Jay Boice contributed research.
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