For the first time in his five-week NBA career, James Wiseman will take on the path of most rookies. He’ll watch tip-off from the Warriors bench before he steps onto the floor.
After starting the first 16 games this season, Wiseman moves out of the lineup and will be replaced by Kevon Looney when the Warriors face the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night at Chase Center.
The primary reason for the move is to improve the team’s early defense, which has been uneven at best. The move represents a rational approach to a lingering issue.
“You guys have heard me all year talk about trying to establish ourselves as a defensive team,” coach Steve Kerr said 100 minutes before tipoff. “The last two games have been really disappointing defensively, particularly right out of the gate. First quarter, when we give up 41 to the Knicks I think and 38 to Utah.
“So, I’m going to go with my veteran center, my veteran group together. That group happens to be our best defensive five.”
Kerr was slightly off with the numbers in the two games, as the Knicks piled up 40 points in the first quarter last Thursday and the Jazz went for 39 on Saturday.
In both instances, though, the Warriors were abused from distance and in the paint.
Looney in his first start of the season joins guards Stephen Curry and Kelly Oubre Jr., and forwards Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green. That group, in limited minutes, has posted the best defensive rating among all Warriors lineups.
Only once in the last five games have the Warriors led after the first quarter. In the games that Golden State trailed entering the second quarter, the average deficit was 10.8 points.
“The hope is we can get off to a better start just flip-flopping James and Loon, start Loon and bring James off the bench,” said Kerr, who conceded he has heard the chatter about the shortcomings of the starting lineup.
This decision is a direct result of the team’s defensive metrics.
Kerr has been preaching defense from the first day of training camp, setting a goal of being in the top-10 in that category. Though there have been times when the Warriors have put it into practice, the team’s 110.5 defensive rating ranks 19th in the league.
As individuals, Looney’s 109.0 defensive rating is slightly better than Wiseman’s 110.4, but the purpose of the switch is to improve the team defense. Looney’s experience, playing alongside Green and Curry for five seasons, should result in a less explosive but more connected unit.
Kerr said he feels the need to “continue to try to pound home the identity to this group that we have to be a defensive-minded team if we’re going to be any good.”
The coach said he spoke with Wiseman on Monday morning about making the change, adding that this is not a demotion for the rookie but a “subtle change” in hopes of overall improvement and aid his development.
“We’ve got a lot of moving parts,” Kerr said. “We’re trying to develop young players and be a playoff team, be a contender, and we’re trying to do all that at once. Part of that process is going to include occasional changes to lineups, combinations, whatever that means.”