Curry’s re­turn is the start of more work

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - SPORTS - By Wes Goldberg

SAN FRANCISCO >> There’s a white board in the War­riors’ locker room at Chase Cen­ter that is up­dated with the night’s ro­ta­tions be­fore ev­ery game. For 126 days, it has not in­cluded the name of Steph Curry.

That could change soon as Thurs­day.

Since break­ing a bone in his left hand Oct. 30, Curry has un­der­gone two surg­eries, a metic­u­lous re­hab and sev­eral scrim­mages. Though his re­turn will mark an achieve­ment, it is hardly the end of the process.

For Curry, he’ll not only need to get ac­cus­tomed to play­ing with a left hand that sus­tained nerve dam­age, but he’ll also need to get ac­cus­tomed to play­ing with new team­mates, and los­ing at a rate he hasn’t ex­pe­ri­enced since the dark days of 2011.

Here are some of the big­gest ques­tions the War­riors will face when he re­turns. HOW DOES HE IM­PACT THE START­ING LINEUP? >> In Tues­day’s win against the Den­ver Nuggets, the War­riors used their 32nd dif­fer­ent

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When: Thurs­day, 7:30 p.m. TV/Ra­dio: TNT/95.7 FM

start­ing lineup of this in­jury-plagued sea­son. For Curry to be able to de­velop some chem­istry with his new team­mates, head coach Steve Kerr will have to hope his team can stay healthy enough to es­tab­lish a more con­sis­tent ro­ta­tion.

With Dray­mond Green (left knee sore­ness) and Kevon Looney (hip) side­lined in Den­ver, the War­riors started Damion Lee, My­chal Mul­der, An­drew Wig­gins, Juan Toscano-An­der­son and Mar­quese Chriss. Only two of those play­ers — Wig­gins and Chriss — are locks to start along­side Curry.

It would be sim­ple enough to slot Curry into Mul­der’s spot and Green into Toscano-An­der­son’s, giv­ing the War­riors a start­ing lineup of Curry, Lee, Wig­gins, Green and Chriss. The other op­tion would be to send Lee to the bench and start Toscano-An­der­son — a bet­ter de­fender who has made 42% of his 3-point­ers — who could more closely mimic Klay Thomp­son’s role.

Mean­while, Eric Paschall, who has come off the bench for the last four games de­spite the War­riors hav­ing only eight or nine play­ers avail­able, should con­tinue to play a re­serve role, as well as Jor­dan Poole and Looney.

DOES CURRY FALL BACK INTO HIS COM­FORT ZONE WITH GREEN? >> Of Curry’s 11 as­sisted field goals this sea­son, Green ac­counted for six, more than all of Curry’s other team­mates com­bined.

Though it’s un­der­stand­able that Curry re­lied on Green to start a sea­son with­out pre­vi­ous main­stays like Thomp­son, Kevin Du­rant, An­dre Iguo­dala and Shaun Liv­ingston, an im­por­tant part of the rest of the sea­son is Curry get­ting used to play­ing with 10 play­ers who were not on the 2019-20 ros­ter (and six who were not in Golden State to start the sea­son).

But the sort of chem­istry those guys had was built up over mul­ti­ple sea­sons and ex­tended play­off runs. Af­ter

the War­riors stum­bled out to a 1-2 start, it’s telling that in Curry’s last game against Phoenix, all three of his made field goals in­volved Green, while the rest of his team­mates stood around the perime­ter.

Curry isn’t used to los­ing games, and still isn’t. Yes, the War­riors have the worst record in the league, but Curry has played all the way through only two of those losses.

Kerr and the rest of the War­riors have al­ready ac­cepted that this sea­son is not about win­ning but, rather, devel­op­ment. There will be times Curry needs to es­chew the easy two-man game with Green and in­stead ex­er­cise some kind of cadence with his new team­mates. It will take time, mis­takes and pa­tience.

CAN HE MAKE WIG­GINS BET­TER? >> Of Curry’s new team­mates, none is more im­por­tant to the fu­ture of the War­riors than Wig­gins. The fit be­tween Curry and D’An­gelo Rus­sell wasn’t all bad, but it was forced. The War­riors be­lieve that, by swap­ping Rus­sell for Wig­gins be­fore the trade dead­line, they ac­quired a more nat­u­ral fit with Curry, Thomp­son and Green.

Since ar­riv­ing, Wig­gins has been asked to play en­gaged de­fense, run the floor and hit spot-up jumpers as the War­riors project his role next to their foun­da­tional pieces. That will be his job de­scrip­tion when Curry re­turns.

Specif­i­cally, Wig­gins is an elite off-ball cut­ter with great feel and tim­ing — he scores on cuts at a 79% clip, a mark that ranks in the top 10% of play­ers in the league. He will have even more space to get to the rim when Curry is stretch­ing de­fenses 30 feet away from the bas­ket.

“I scrim­maged with Steph one time al­ready and he made the game fun and easy for ev­ery­body,” Wig­gins said. “So I’m ex­cited.”

De­fen­sively, Wig­gins should also make the game eas­ier for Curry in a way Rus­sell could not. In the last three games, Kerr has slot­ted Wig­gins on the op­po­nent’s point guard, test­ing the 25-year-old’s abil­ity to guard on the ball. If he can keep do­ing that, it will take the pres­sure off Curry to do the same when he re­turns.

RANDY VAZQUEZ — BAY AREA NEWS GROUP

War­riors point guard Stephen Curry, left, does an ex­er­cise while at prac­tice at Kaiser Per­ma­nente Arena in Santa Cruz on Mon­day.

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