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How Chris Paul, Andrew Wiggins returning from injury impacts Warriors

Golden State is getting two starters back as it attempts to re-discover its championship form.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Sacramento Kings
Golden State Warriors guard Chris Paul talks with forward Andrew Wiggins and guard Stephen Curry during the fourth quarter against the Sacramento Kings at Golden 1 Center.
Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

The Golden State Warriors are likely to get two starters back in their rotation Wednesday when they face the Portland Trail Blazers at Chase Center in San Francisco. Chris Paul and Andrew Wiggins are officially being listed as probable for the contest, so we can say both will suit up with confidence.

The Warriors currently sit at 9-11 on the season, a half-game back of the 10th seed in the Western Conference. Golden State started the season 6-2, but then went on a six-game losing streak. The Trail Blazers aren’t exactly supposed to be a playoff contender, but the Warriors have a three-game stretch against the Thunder, Suns and Clippers immediately following Wednesday’s contest. All those teams are competing for the playoffs, with Phoenix and LA thinking championship or bust. These are the teams the Warriors have to match up, and they’ll need Paul and Wiggins to do so effectively.

The acquisition of Paul in the Jordan Poole trade was met with a lot of skepticism. The Warriors were adding an aging point guard who couldn’t stay healthy late in the season while giving away a volatile, but young talent. Paul has been impressive to start this year though, and has proven a lot of the naysayers wrong. According to basketball-reference.com, three of Golden State’s five most used five-man lineups have a positive point differential. Paul is featured in two of them, including the most effective one. Of the nine two-man lineups for the Warriors featuring a positive point differential, six feature Paul. The top three two-man lineups all have Paul in. The Paul-Wiggins two-man combination is +1.4 in point differential per 100 possessions.

Wiggins has underperformed this season substantially, so getting him back on track is important. The forward averaged 17.7 points per game from 2021-23 with 47/38/66 shooting splits. He’s currently at 12.8 points per game on 43/26/59 splits. Wiggins is in the three worst two-man lineups for the Warriors when it comes to point differential. Golden State went 22-18 without Wiggins during two long stretches where the forward missed time last season. Now, some of those absences coincided with Stephen Curry being out as well. The Warriors were 6-5 in the games Curry missed during Wiggins’ first absence, and 5-2 in seven games Curry missed during Wiggins’ second absence. This would all be fine if Wiggins wasn’t inked to a long-term deal. Golden State is going to have a hard time making roster changes in the new CBA due to restrictions for luxury tax teams, so Wiggins needs to step up or there will be some conversation around his utility.

The Warriors also need to play better at home. They are 4-6 in the Bay Area this year, which is an abomination when you look at what they’ve usually done there. The Warriors were 33-8 last year at home, which was their best mark at home since they went 36-5 in Kevin Durant’s first season with the team. If we take out the horrendous 2019-20 season where the Warriors won just 15 games overall (8-26 at home), Golden State has won 76.3% of its home games since 2016-17. That’s an absurd mark but it has also been consistent. The Warriors have 31 home games left in the season.

Golden State’s best five-man lineup when accounting for volume features Curry, Paul, Wiggins, Klay Thompson and Kevon Looney at a +18.3 point differential per 100 possessions. This, of course, involves putting Draymond Green on the bench. Interestingly enough, the Warriors haven’t used a five-man lineup where Green takes Looney’s spot above. Perhaps head coach Steve Kerr will go there to experiment a bit. A five-man lineup featuring Curry, Green, Thompson, Wiggins and Gary Payton II is +10.3 in 12 minutes played. Paul doesn’t do exactly what Payton II does but it’s worth seeing if the results stay the same.

The 6-13 Trail Blazers won’t necessarily be the best barometer for measuring against. The Warriors are 10.5-point favorites at DraftKings Sportsbook, so this game isn’t expected to be close. While that may allow for experimentation, it’s hard to gain insight. Regardless, the return of Paul and Wiggins should give the Warriors more stability in the starting lineup and brings their best five-man combo back in the rotation.