Preview: Preseason kickoff game
Warriors kick off the campaign with back-to-back games in Tokyo, the first one in the wee hours
Normally, the first preseason game is against the backdrop of the team settling into their new season and working on incorporating new elements while refreshing old ones. But for the Golden State Warriors and the Washington Wizards and Rui Hachimura, the first two games of this preseason are (at least) half public relations tour and a battle against jetlag.
While the second game comes at a much friendlier time (10am PDT on Saturday) this first game happens to occur in the wee hours of tonight / the painfully early start of Friday. What my nephews used to call “night morning” whenever we had to be out and about before the sun came up. Shown exclusively on NBATV, this first preseason game will be easy to miss if you aren’t paying attention (and/or don’t feel like waking up at 3am). East coast early risers will finally get their revenge for late night west coast games - and hopefully some of our international members will be well served by this unusual game time too.
WHO: Golden State Warriors and Washington Wizards
WHEN: 3am(!) PDT // Friday, September 30th
RADIO: 95.7 the game
What will this game tell us?
Not a whole lot can be proven during a preseason game, but much like Summer League, there will be occasional glimpses that tell us more about the players. While the returning core has nothing left to prove, there are still rotation patterns - and coach Steve Kerr is a big tinkerer in this regard. So let’s take a quick look at some of the question marks around the edges
The downside to doing a trip overseas to start the preseason is that it throws everything out of whack. For NBA players that develop habits around the daily grind of prepping for and playing basketball games, a 12-hour flight and massive jump across multiple time zones is far from ideal. The team understandably looked pretty cooked upon arrival (which is understandable).
With all these considerations weighing on them, in addition to all sorts of media tour responsibilities and sight seeing, there’s a lot more than just basketball going on for the team right now. The return jetlag is going to be a factor as well. When I went to Japan I was advised to stay up as late as possible on my first night back - which I did by playing video games till the wee hours. But it still definitely took me multiple days to get my sleep schedule back to normal.
These are the sorts of extra considerations that aren’t exactly ideal to plop into the middle of a training camp.
The reliability of the young guns
While we can’t expect for total clarity regarding a rotation that is still very much under coach Steve Kerr’s development, there will be ample opportunities for players to shine - or not shine.
The biggest enigma is James Wiseman. After an extremely rocky beginning of his career, there still isn’t a clear answer to what he will become. With a team contract option (for around $12 million) next season, the clock is very much ticking here. Wiseman ticks a lot of boxes for the Warriors’ roster construction, but all of that paperwork is moot if he can’t stay healthy. I’m no doctor, but I am personally on board with how cautious the Warriors have been with the surgically repaired knee. With Kevon Looney shoring up the center spot and Draymond Green hopefully reserved for closing time, there are minutes at center available - and it would be ideal if Wiseman could earn them. I’m still a believer.
The sophomores, Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga are less mysterious. After both had promising rookie campaigns and generally beneficial playoff minutes, the trajectory here is a bit more clear than with Wiseman. But these are humans, and if projecting future development were possible, the draft would be a whole lot easier (but probably also less fun). When Andre Iguodala announced his return for a final season this year, he mentioned during his press conference that he was counting on Moody and Kuminga to play well enough to keep the old vet resting on the bench more often than not. Iguodala is a vocal believer.
Both young players showed potential, and enough current talent to crack the rotation. With some major bench departures and an aging core, the need for continual improvement here isn’t exactly dire - but it is a huge organizational priority. None of this will be fully resolved during the preseason, but keep an eye on these two because you know that Kerr and the rest of his staff are watching everything closely.
The New Guys
With JaMychal Green and Donte DiVincenzo, the Warriors have done another excellent job of identifying low-cost players that should be able to thrive in the Warriors’ system. Both players made early names for themselves as strong defenders, and DiVincenzo was looking like one of the nicer “3 and D” options before running into some knee trouble and then finding himself in a Lion King-esque Shadowlands of the NBA while rehabbing with the Sacramento Kings.
Fully healthy now and eager to prove he belongs, DiVincenzo should be one of Kerr’s most trusted players off the bench.
Similarly, Green is a small ball five that can guard wings as well, and will try to be as close to “bench Looney” as possible. Whether he can manage to be anywhere near as stalwart will only slightly matter, as his real competition for more playing time will be Wiseman and Kuminga. Much like Iguodala, the preferred outcome here is that the Warriors youngsters shine bright enough to demand the lion’s share of minutes - but if there’s a problem, there are a couple of veterans waiting to step in. In the preseason, Kerr will use everyone, but trust is built slowly so these early minutes are not meaningless.
It’s a 3am preseason game, so I think a lot of Dub Nation will miss this one. If you are one of the fortunate ones (or just a crazy enough fan) then please use this as the game thread. All I’m hoping for is some nice highlights, and no injuries! Mostly though, it feels extremely exciting to kick off another season of defending the championship crown. I’m not sure how much longer the core stays on the court together, but man oh man, what a blissful swan song we are being treated to.