I was about to look really silly.
That’s right, after Sunday night’s brutal 120-92 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, I was ready to proclaim this year’s version of the Golden State Warriors to be an absolute shell of their former selves. And for good reason! They had lost their first two games of the year by a combined 47 points, given up 141 in their opener vs. the Paul George-less Clippers, and failed to score 100 against the similarly Paul George-less Thunder. In neither game did the ever lead. I was ready to get onto this space, and start talking about how Golden State hadn’t just lost Kevin Durant to both injury and free agency, or how it sounds more and more like we won’t see Klay Thompson at all this year. I was also going to talk about how much the losses of Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston really meant to their play on the floor and their locker room. I was going to write about the lack of suitable replacements for all the players they have seen leave their roster and how once the injuries start rolling in, they don’t seem to stop. It was quite the story of doom and gloom.
This was all before Monday night’s match-up with the New Orleans Pelicans. And lo and behold, all those stories of a down-trodden former champion were thrown to the wayside. Following a tweak to their starting lineup and subsequent rotation changes, the Warriors played some inspired basketball. Despite shooting an incredibly startling 13.6% from the field in their first two games, Jordan Poole was thrust into the starting lineup tonight by Steve Kerr. The rookie used this as an opportunity to score more points in this one game (13) than his first two in the league combined (11). The Warriors hit some of the old, traditional hallmarks of their brand of play as well. An 11-0 run in the 2nd quarter stretched their 4 point lead to 15. They had 72 points at half-time and 103 by the end of the 3rd quarter. Draymond Green grinded and facilitated his way to a 16-17-10 triple double. The lead peaked at about 10:30 remaining in the 4th quarter. Warriors 108, Pelicans 79.
And for all of that. For Steph Curry’s 26 points and 11 assists. For the +36 that Draymond Green provided when on the floor. For the move by Kerr to ditch Marquese Chriss in the starting lineup and go straight to a small ball lineup with Green and Glenn Robinson III as the largest starters on the floor I just have one thing to say.
I still don’t think this Warriors team is very good.
Sure, they were on the 2nd night of a back-to-back. This much is true. However, they came into town to play an also win-less Pelicans team without its 1st overall pick in the draft (Zion Williamson), nor its best veteran player (Jrue Holiday).
From the very get-go it was clear the Pelicans were flat. The first four minutes of the game included a 1 of 7 start from the floor for the Pels, and 4 turnovers. The lack of focus and desire was palpable.
Twice the Pelicans had passes stolen off the inbound in this game. They shot 54.5% from the free throw line.
Golden State out-rebounded New Orleans by 20 rebounds, 61-41. 19 of those rebounds were the offensive variety, 8 more than the Pelicans.
With the Warriors sheer lack of size, there is absolutely no excuse to be out-rebounded like that. This team is playing Draymond Green, Marquese Chriss and Eric Paschall as its biggest men on the floor. Green is great, but he is 6 foot 6. Chriss is tall, but had already played himself out of the starting lineup. Eric Paschall is a 6 foot 7 rookie that Bob Myers took in the second round just a few months ago.
And while we are on the subject of size, New Orleans shot 47 threes. Forty-seven! I don’t understand the lack of interest in getting to the rim– getting outscored in points in the paint when you have the bigger players. Yes, threes are a big part of the game today, but so is getting shots around the rim.
I watched this game myself. I saw the play on the court. This was more of a game that New Orleans lost than Golden State won. It was absolutely gift-wrapped.
And that would mean that in a certain way, the Warriors remain win-less. The nervousness about this season still remains with some of their fans, and I totally can understand where that comes from. In that linked article, they are excited about the energy provided by Omari Spellman…
Yes, inevitably they will get some of their size back and contribution from guys like Spellman will be less necessary. Center Willie Cauley-Stein will make his Warriors debut after he returns from injury, and Kevon Looney will return soon as well to fill out their center rotation. Green and Curry will look great on certain nights. Kerr will mix and match new, young players. He will give them chances to learn and grow and they very well may be better for it. And to be completely fair, we really are still just three games in. I am sincerely teetering on the line for this being a hot-take.
Ultimately though, Curry is 31. That’s nothing in LeBron-Years, but for a point guard that’s going to be leaned on more this year than any other year of his career, that can be troubling. D’Angelo Russell may play the same position as Klay Thompson, but he isn’t Thompson. He isn’t even half the defender that Thompson is (well, technically he is: 4.5 Defensive Wins Shares over the last 3 years to Thompson’s 7, but you get the point). Really, he is more KD-lite, getting all the isolation possessions on a team that doesn’t really need isolation possessions unless they are coming from the most prolific scorer in a generation. Green needs to put up a Defensive Player of the Year caliber of a year, and that will mean doing more of what he did tonight and less of the -23 effort he put together Sunday. It will mean providing more for a squad that exited Monday night with the league’s worst Defensive Rating despite the victory. All the other guys? They just have to play replacement-level basketball and hope the above three stay healthy. With that, and only that will the Warriors make the playoffs in a dastardly deep Western Conference.
And what a far cry that sentiment is from one year ago today. 4 non-playoff teams in the West last year appear to have improved their rosters and are looking to vie for playoff spots that don’t really exist for that taking. Can the Warriors lose so much talent and really maintain a playoff-level of basketball both physically and mentally? Does the hangover over 5 straight Finals appearances get to them if they continue to slog out of the gates? At what point do they just punt the season because they are without Thompson and could really stand to benefit from pairing his return with a high draft pick in 2020?
Most importantly, could you imagine having all these questions about the Warriors last season? I sure couldn’t. But here we are.
The mighty have fallen despite last night’s easy indications. They are going to take their time to get their barrings, and perhaps a draft pick, before they stand back up.