The stretch run of the NBA season has officially arrived. With six games left on their regular season schedule, the Golden State Warriors are set to clinch a playoff berth for the second consecutive year, the first time the organization has accomplished the feat since the 1990-92 seasons. With the strength of the remaining teams on their schedule fairly low, the Warriors should ideally finish sixth in the brutal Western Conference standings, matching them up with arch-rival Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the playoffs.
The Warriors have found success this season thanks to the two-headed attack led by the duo affectionately nicknamed “The Splash Brothers.” With their adept ability to bombard opponents from beyond the three-point line, the backcourt of Western Conference All-Star starter Stephen Curry and criminally underrated Klay Thompson have dominated opposing backcourts. While the Splash Brothers have been the primary catalysts to the Warriors’ return to the postseason, have they stockpiled too many minutes? Have the Dubs begun to rely too much on their talented guards?
Stephen Curry is 10th in the league in minutes played per game at 36.5, while Thompson comes in at 17th with 35.9. While the high rankings themselves aren’t the problem (superstars like Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Carmelo Anthony rank ahead of them both), Curry and Thompson are two players who could benefit with more rest.
Steph is the face of the franchise and the leader of this team. That itself puts immense pressure on him. Additionally, he is the point guard, meaning the ball is in his hands for the majority of the time he is on the court. When the Warriors struggle offensively, he tries to carry the load by himself. It is for this reason he ranks among the league leaders in turnovers per game. The acquisition of Steve Blake has alleviated some of the load on his shoulders, as the fewer minutes he is playing per night have improved the quality of his play on the court. In Warrior wins, Steph averages 35.3 minutes with a .474 field goal percentage and a .432 3-point percentage. In Warrior losses, the minutes increase to 38.6 and the percentages drop to .452 and .396. He also averages fewer turnovers in wins than he does in losses (3.1 to 4.8).
Klay Thompson doesn’t carry quite the same amount of pressure that Curry deals with, but he is still one of the most important players on the team. While he averages slightly fewer minutes per game than his counterpart, Thompson is also a huge factor on the defensive end of the court. Over the last two years, he has solidified himself as arguably the best two-way player at his position. All year long he has been a workhorse, often defending the opposing team’s point guard to relieve Curry in addition to being an 18-ppg-scorer on the offensive side of the ball. Like Curry, his minutes to percentage ratios are inversely proportional. In wins, he averages 34.9 minutes per game, with a .463 field goal percentage and a .441 3-point percentage. In losses, he averages 37.6 minutes, a .408 field goal percentage, and a .366 3-point percentage.
When playoff basketball begins, most teams shorten their rotations anyway, so Curry and Thompson will both likely play close to 40 minutes per game. However, as the numbers have proven, both are very reliant on their incredibly shooting ability, an action that requires fresh legs. In Curry’s situation, you would ideally want Steve Blake to come off the bench to handle point guard duties, so Curry can either rest or play off the ball. Klay Thompson doesn’t have the luxury of having such a quality backup behind him, as Jordan Crawford has proven to be a hit-or-miss player. With him, you would want Crawford and/or Harrison Barnes absorbing some of those minutes, though neither has consistently filled that role this year.
It is no coincidence that the league leaders in minutes played are among the league’s brightest stars. Curry and Thompson have realized that with their talents comes great responsibility. But the Warriors will also want their young studs to be as effective as possible, meaning the bench must come up big in the postseason to ensure the Dubs make a deep run in the playoffs.