Preview: Golden State is a two-way team; the Pelicans have lost their way
Curry and the Warriors are tough as nails
The Golden State Warriors are a work in progress, but the painting looks pretty so far. They’ve got the #2 draft pick from a year ago working his way back into action over the next few of weeks, and future hall-of-famer Klay Thompson still a couple of months out.
And yet somehow the Warriors have emerged looking like one of the most dangerous teams in the league. A tidal shift has taken place since the injury-ravaged previous season and what was then a discombobulated stumble out of the gate has turned into a confident stride into this new season.
Next up, Golden State welcomes the Zion-less New Orleans Pelicans to Chase Center. The Pelicans are off to a rough 1-8 start but are hoping that Brandon Ingram’s potential return will help them to an invigorating win over a red-hot Warriors team.
WHO: Golden State Warriors (6-1) vs New Orleans Pelicans (1-8)
WHEN: Friday, November 5, 2021 // 7:00pm PST
It’s a weird dichotomy for a team that made their fortune on high octane shooting, but the Warriors have not-so-secretly set the cornerstones of this dynasty on defensive principles. At time of writing, Golden State has turned in the league’s best defensive efficiency, holding opponents to 97.1 points per 100 possessions. Even despite their pedestrian 16th-ranked offense so far, that’s good enough to pull the team up to the third best overall net impact.
A big part of this has been the older, stouter version of Stephen Curry.
Where his defense used to be a big part of what kept him off the court, it’s now one of his strongest areas - which is really saying something when you consider who we are talking about here.
Curry has been as reliable as ever on offense (despite some up and down shooting), averaging [takes a deep breath] 26.7 points, 7.6 rebounds, 6.9 assists, and 1.4 steals per game. It’s a lot. MVP-type stuff. I know that we got here talking about defense, but since rebounding is 20% of the famous Four Factors of basketball, and Curry’s rebound total caught my eye. Curry has always been a strong rebounder - and no, not “for a guard”… just a straight up good rebounder.
According to basketball reference, Curry is pulling down just over 11% of rebounds while on the court, which is the highest rate of his career. Check out the per game rebound leaders. Now, this is heavily influenced by minutes played, but for a player known as much for his shooting as Curry is, this is remarkable:
Another part of what’s working so well is that Golden State’s starting lineup has been one of their best. Last season this wasn’t the case - due to injuries, an uncertain depth chart, and a team that really wasn’t sure what they were or were not. But now, the starting lineup is stable enough to allow for some strategic substitution patters. It’s what’s behind Otto Porter’s irregular minutes, and a big part of how Gary Payton II has found a window to showcase what he can do.
While we all noticed what the bench can do defensively in the last game, ESPN has noticed the bench scoring. Led by Damion Lee, Golden State has discovered that elusive scoring punch off the bench that I’ve been missing since Leandro Barbosa (but Nick Young had some fun flashes):
The Warriors' bench is averaging 37.3 points per game this season, good for fifth in the league. The bench's points-per-game differential is most notable at +4.4, good for second in the NBA, up from +0.5 last season that ranked 12th. And Lee leads the bench with 14.3 points per game, tied for sixth-most in the league.
With a strong point differential for the bench, as well as the starting lineup, the Warriors have made a strong early case for themselves. Much like the team’s duo of Curry and Green, the balance achieved here isn’t without strengths and weaknesses - but because of how those all stack up and protect each other, the whole package is well-rounded.
Meeting the Pelicans
Ooh boy, where to start? The 1-8 Pelicans were one of the darlings of the NBA last season. Though they finished at 31-41, when all systems were firing, it was something to behold. Led by electrifying rising star Zion Williamson and the enticing offensive stylings of Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball, it was a free-flowing fun fest… on offense.
That team finished with one of the worst defenses in the league. Williamson sustained a foot injury that required surgery (and still has him out right now), and with Ball moving to the Chicago Bulls over the offseason, it has left the Pelicans adrift.
Williamson’s foot injury is especially galling given his size. This is the same guy that hurt his knee when his shoe literally ripped apart from the force of one of his moves. There’s some weirdness with his return too. While the first announcement had him expected to be back by the season opener, he has instead missed opening day for the second year of his two year career. Given his body type, and the long history of big guys with foot troubles, it’s a concerning way for one of the league’s most exciting young players to begin his third season in the league.
They’ve got the 24th ranked offense, 28th ranked defense, which ends up resulting in the 3rd worst net rating, via NBA stats. The hope is that Ingram will return from his hip injury that has kept him out of the team’s last three games - but it’s far from certain as the team only upgraded him to questionable yesterday. Reportedly, the final decision isn’t expected until close to game time tonight, but if he can go, it’s going to be a huge boon to New Orleans.
You can get a sense of this team just by glancing at their depth chart. This is a rebuilding team here, with or without Ingram.
It’s the NBA though, so anything can happen tonight!
As I’m writing this on Thursday night, I’ve got just a couple of hours left before heading down to the Ivy Room to see one of my very favorite bands.
This isn’t one of their more raucous numbers, or even the most funny one, but my son loves this song. Funny story: when they wrote it, no one but the author knew it was about a video game, they just thought it was about some generic dude named Steve.