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Mega Preview: the Warriors' season starts tonight
The sky's the limit for a revamped roster with a proven core
In a four month span, the Golden State Warriors went from one of the best teams to ever play in the NBA, to the team with the worst record in the league. It sucked. Two seasons removed from that transition, the core talent that fed the franchise’s rise is poised to lead what could very well be a storybook redemption arc.
They’ve got a newly revamped roster that appears to recapture some of the spacing magic at the heart of Golden State’s offense, while also ensuring enough roster balance on the defensive end.
Much like last season, the Warriors open with a pretty tough one-two punch - opening tonight against the Los Angeles Lakers, then returning to Chase Center on Thursday to host the Clippers. But this time around, it feels a lot more like excitement than dread.
Instead of your regular preview, I’ve tried to highlight how some of the key factors that will define the season are specifically related to tonight’s matchup.
WHO: Golden State Warriors (0-0) at Los Angeles Lakers (0-0)
WHEN: Tuesday, October 19th, 2021 // 7:00pm PST
Re-Splashening the backcourt
After being one of the ten worst offenses last season, the Warriors blasted back into the conversation by posting a top ten offense in the preseason. Watching the league collectively decide to cover Stephen Curry with a Box+1 defense that over-commits to stopping his shot, the Warriors have taken the lessons of the past two seasons to heart.
As always, Curry is the primary threat. He’ll become the NBA’s leading three-point shooter at some point this season, needing “just” 141 more to surpass current record holder, Ray Allen. Averaging 4.3 made threes per game in the preseason, this is a feat that could be accomplished around the time Klay Thompson returns in a couple of months or so. Remember that Curry went a little nuts last year, averaging a career-best 5.3 threes per game (while taking a healthy 12.7 per game)? At that rate, Curry would break the all-time record in his 26th game this season.
Here, I made a chart!
Of course, Curry is so much more than just a three-point-flinging robot, but he may as well be. He hit 42% of them last season, even while bearing a tremendous offensive weight.
But now, the team seems to have seen enough defense-first lineups around Curry. They’ve brought in three high IQ veterans (Igoudala, Otto Porter, and Bjelica), two of whom offer a legitimately dangerous outside shot. But the new look offense has as much to do with who they kept as it does about who the team brought in.
The story of the preseason has been Jordan Poole. He looks bigger, stronger, faster, and just flat out better at basketball - even when compared to his strong run towards the end of last season. Here’s that snapshot, via Marcus Thompson, showing the remarkable improvement Poole showed over the final 36 games last season:
If anything, the trajectory is even better, assuming that Poole’s preseason is any sort of predictor. Now, yes, the collective consciousness of Dub Nation is littered with the scattered dead dreams from guys like Reggie Williams, Anthony Randolph, and others. But for this team, Poole looks to be the least ephemeral.
Part of the strength of the patented Splash Brothers power, is the intermingled impacts you get with not one, but two elite shooters sharing the court. Quietly, the Poole/Curry backcourt put up some extremely elite numbers this preseason.
This will not be a bottom ten offense this season.
And tonight’s opponent, the Los Angeles Lakers are going to be searching for better answers on that end than Kent Bazemore and Russell Westbrook can provide.
This is why coach Steve Kerr was making headlines yesterday talking about not needing Andrew Wiggins to be a scorer. Presuming for a moment that Curry and Poole with collectively prove too much for most teams to defend at the point of attack, the Warriors once again have an initial job punch that is strong enough to force their opponents into recovery mode - and that’s where the cutting and passing of the rest of this roster comes into play.
While the Warriors do not have a rim attacking big man, they’ve got the next best thing: the league’s most prolific three point shooting, attached to the league’s most dangerous backcourt. The Lakers get the first crack at it, but rest assured that opposing scouts are going to need to unearth some old scouting reports, because this is not the same offense they’ve faced in the past two seasons.
Banking on not needing another big
The Warriors have embraced small ball… modified small ball. As our own Eric Apricot highlighted yesterday, there’s a new stretch five in the Golden State. But defensively? It’s a stretch (har har) to think that he Bjelica can hang as the team’s primary post defender against the big big men of the league.
But that’s the neat thing about playing alongside guys like Draymond Green, Juan Toscano-Anderson, and Kevon Looney - you don’t have to always match straight up. Of course, this option isn’t without risk. Especially against a vertical team like the Lakers, Golden State will frequently find itself too small, Ernie.
It’s a question that will help determine how seriously this roster will be taken in a playoff series: how well can the team defend? They very specifically built this roster to emphasize offensive spacing. By bringing in Porter and Bjelica, they’ve found the floor spacing that has been so visibly absent over the past few seasons.
Especially if they are going to play Poole significant minutes, the Warriors should expect some defensive breakdowns. Last season they chose defense-first and regretted it, so for this season’s roster to not engender the same feelings, they cannot excessively bleed on defense.
As Anthony Slater wrote for The Athletic yesterday, the Warriors are very aware that their team had a top-five defense last season, and a bottom-ten offense. Much like they know (well, everyone knows) that you can rely on Curry to carry the offense, so too can you rely on Green to helm your defense. This is the part of Green’s game that makes his value so detached from his shooting percentages; or his point per game. Green isn’t just a tremendous individual defender, he’s also one of the best and most vocal floor leaders on defense.
“I don’t care what you do,” Green said. “If you dribble, pass, shoot, rebound the ball well, whatever, the one thing that must be constant on a winning team is a good defense. You don’t have to be the best defender in the world, but you have to give effort. If you give effort on that side of the floor, then it’s my responsibility to cover where some guys may lack. That’s the makeup of a team. But the one thing you can’t cover for is someone not giving effort.”
James Wiseman, when he returns to action, won’t solve these issues - in fact, he very well could exacerbate them. But the Warriors are leaning into it.
You know that saying about how every problem is an opportunity? Well, Golden State is done worrying about defense at all costs. Brad Wanamaker and Kelly Oubre showed us all last season that there’s a limit. No matter how elite your defense is, without an offensive counterpunch in reserve, there’s a limit to how well your team can be expected to play - especially in a league as rife with offensive weapons as the current NBA.
So the Warriors are hoping that this new roster balance will work. They’re conceding some aspects. This team will once again struggle in the rebounding battles, they’ll concede those high lobs over the top of the defense, and knowingly set out defend size with skill. It’s the sort of strategic judo that they’ll have to win, in order to reach their highest potential.
But it’s a gamble.
Notably, the Warriors organization has left a couple of avenues unexplored. They have not (yet) used their mid-level exception. They very clearly were not interested in a retread with Marquese Chriss; Jordan Bell likewise never seemed to have a real shot here… ok, maybe Bell isn’t the best example.
For a team with so much scrutiny and pressure to maximize the core’s remaining prime years, the organization is really counting on this roster design to work well. They were vocally open to a big trade, but nothing materialized and the team seems to have struck gold twice with rookies Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga - both of whom will be somewhere in the team’s rotation this season, but not high on the depth chart.
The Lakers, as much as any team in the NBA, embodies the inherent risk in Golden State’s rekindled love affair with small ball. With a frontcourt of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, with Dwight Howard playing a key bench role, the Lakers will be applying as much pressure on the rim as any team the Warriors will face this season. Which is why it’s a little extra ironic that Avery Bradley was scooped up so quickly by LA after getting cut by the Warriors just a few days ago.
The Warriors are indicating that as a franchise, they’re comfortable with this roster. That what they have in-house now will be enough to compete for a title.
And at the epicenter of this Warriors’ defensive gamble is Green. Here’s JTA on Green’s approach, and the eventual goal that he’s planning for this season:
“He wakes up every day to win, every day,” Toscano-Anderson says. “Whenever we shoot around, or practice, and he’s talking like, ‘Man, we can’t get to that championship level until we take the steps necessary to get to that.’ And the vision is always championship.”
I am drinking the Kool Aid. Jordan Poole is real, and his campaign for Most Improved Player is something that I am personally very much on board for. On the flip side, I am not a big believer in this current iteration of the Lakers. If injuries are a concern for the Warriors, then I’d imagine that goes double for the geriatric Lakers. But even while fully healthy, there are some very real questions about the viability of the roster that’s been built for James.
So? What say you, Dub Nation HQ? Drop your predictions for the season below.
See you all tonight for game one!!