Small ball Warriors host Jokic and the big ol' Nuggets
Preseason game two offers Golden State an early chance to see if they can cover one of the league's best big men
You’d be forgiven if you thought Jordan Poole was the story of that first preseason game (30 points in just 22 minutes, plus 5 assists, and 5 rebounds). But the Golden State Warriors’ team effort to open the preseason with a win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday overshadowed any individual performance.
So while Poole is deserving of all the praise and attention heaped on him in the past couple of days, it’s also important to step back a bit and admire the broad spectrum awesomeness that the Warriors just applied.
Andrew Wiggins, a potential holdout that would have been forced to miss all home games? He’s clear after receiving his mandatory vaccination. The supporting cast and newcomers all look as sharp as ever (ok, well maybe not Avery Bradley) and Golden State couldn’t have asked for a more reassuring first preseason game.
Tonight, they open up Chase Center to host the Denver Nuggets for yet another warm up test against a Western Conference playoff team.
WHO: Golden State Warriors (1-0) vs. Denver Nuggets (0-1)
WHEN: Wednesday, October 6, 2021 // 7:00 pm PST
“So anyway, I started blasting”
As many have noted, the Warriors’ 69 three-point attempts were a lot - the second-most ever attempted in an NBA game, and just one shy of tying the record. For the franchise that helped usher in the current “pace and space” era of basketball, it’s fitting that they have finally assembled a roster that will lean into it all the way.
Of course, Stephen Curry remains the engine; but between Poole’s development, and the arrival of Nemanja Bjelica (6 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds, and a block) and Otto Porter (19 points in 18 minutes; 4 rebounds, 2 steals, 4/7 from deep) the Splash Brother has an array of shooters arranged around the edges of his orbit.
Yes, it’s just one (preseason) game, but ask yourself: when was the last time you saw Curry in this position:
As Kerr mentioned in his postgame availability, they weren’t even emphasizing this in training camp, it just happened organically.
“I haven’t said one word to the group about how many 3s we’re trying to take,” Kerr said. “This is not anything I’ve done analytically. We just have a roster with a lot of floor spacing. We’re just moving the ball and getting a lot of good looks.”
Under Kerr, the ball movement has been hammered into the skulls of the team for years. It’s a salient feature of the offense, though the team hasn’t always had the structure needed to fully capitalize on the open looks that are generated. It’s actually one of the areas that is most frustrating for observers at times. After all, why go through all that work when you know the offense would probably be best served by simply letting Curry shoot it?
Sure enough, the shooting wasn’t phenomenal. Rather than try and paraphrase, here’s treasured DNHQ member, Abaddon pointing out that the pace was fast - though the shooting percentages ended up being a bit mundane.
But game-to-game shooting variations are to be expected. I don’t mind the middling overall efficiency - you can fine tune that later via shot selection and prioritization. For now, it’s just about running the offense, taking the open shots, and trying to figure out what Golden State has here.
When I watched this clip below, I was immediately struck by the motion. A frenetic, ceaseless jamboree of free-flowing, poking and prodding basketball that defines Kerr’s offense.
While some players struggled with (or perhaps even resisted) this call for constant motion, watching Poole juke and jive around the defense you can tell that endless movement has been inculcated into him after years of watching Curry tirelessly do the same thing.
I wrote earlier about how the Warriors’ roster this time around is intentionally leaning towards small ball, and the first game of the preseason showed that playing Poole more was part of that calculus. Don’t expect the team to always be this profligate with the three ball, but a trio of Curry, Poole, and Klay Thompson (when he returns) sure seems like a devastating outside array.
This should be fun!
Final roster spot, and bench rotations
Neither of the rookies saw the court in the first half. Instead, Kerr opted for a steady diet of veterans. Via the always excellent, Anthony Slater:
Avery Bradley and Nemanja Bjelica were the first two reserves Kerr’s used on Monday night. Soon after, Otto Porter Jr. and Andre Iguodala entered the game. Later in the first half, Damion Lee and Juan Toscano-Anderson entered the mix.
Nowhere to be seen: Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody. Neither of the lottery rookies entered the game until late in the third quarter. It’s only one preseason game, but the rotational priorities are clear. Kerr is going with veterans over unproven youth. Neither Kuminga nor Moody will be handed regular rotation minutes right away, and James Wiseman will have to earn his role upon return.
“Yeah,” Kerr said. “Jonathan and Moses are so young and they have a bunch of guys ahead of them that have been in this league and know what they’re doing. They’ve got to earn their time. We’ll see how it all plays out.”
To me, the reliance on Bradley was the most surprising. Competing for a minimum salary and the final available spot on the Warriors roster, they’re really hoping that Bradley can emerge to be a reliable rotation player. But first guy off the bench?
Clearly the team is prioritizing guard defense from their backup point guard - and letting players from other positions carry the offense. The recent experiments with Brad Wanamaker, Kent Bazemore and Quinn Cook would seem to support the premise.
Maybe Avery Bradley is the best option for the final roster spot, but regardless, it's interesting to note the institutional priority for a defense-first backup for Curry and his irreplaceable offensive impacts.
We’ll see if this was a one-time experiment, or an indication of a preference as the preseason moves along. Kerr said earlier in the offseason that the 15th roster spot won’t be decided in the first few days, so I expect a lot of tinkering.
But look back up at that list of the bench player rotation and a pattern does emerge. Each time subs were sent in, Kerr pushed out an offensive-minded player alongside someone more known for their defense. With Iguodala and Toscano-Anderson, Kerr already knows he’s got reliable defenders sitting there on the bench. Watch this communication from Toscano-Anderson as he waives the diminutive Chiozza out of the way before ending the fast break with a block (which looks clean to me).
Gary Payton jr. is out of action for a while, but with Bradley getting so much run in game one, the rotations tonight should tell us a bit about the positional battle. Langston Galloway is presumably in the running for the 15th spot, as well as incumbent end of the bench shooter, Mychal Mulder.
So there are some options back there, but judging from game one, Bradley seems to be Kerr's guy.
Catching up with the Nuggets
The Denver Nuggets were looking like one of the new era of perennial Western Conference playoff teams. That is, if they can get healthy. Coming into tonight’s game, they are pretty far from it.
Missing both Will Barton and Jamal Murray hurts a lot. Murray went down with a high profile torn ACL just prior to the playoffs last season, quickly ending their championship hopes; but he’ll be back at some point this year.
Instead of grasping for a replacement, the Nuggets seems to have mostly stood pat - letting star Nikola Jokic carry them. Willing to endure the loss of JaVale McGee and Paul Milsap. Presumably, a little more time for Aaron Gordon to work alongside Jokic ahead of Murray’s return will facilitate a quicker re-entry for a Nuggets team that is balanced on the cusp of greatness… but for now it’s an incomplete team.
It’s preseason, just don’t get hurt!
The only thing that is really worth worrying about at this point is the 15th spot, and watching for any rotation patterns to develop. To me, it feels like Avery Bradley is going to get that last roster spot, unless something wild happens.
Bjelica and Porter are both penciled in as rotation players, and they were brutally effective in their first foray. More of that. Jokic will be putting a lot of defensive pressure on Bjelica - who looked real solid defensively and has a surprisingly good eye for assists.
Poole was absolutely cooking people in the first game. He’s going to make the Denver scouting report now. If he's going to be impactful this year, he’s got to do it through some defensive attention. Looks great so far and I am quietly drinking gallons of koolaid.
In the meantime, let’s all simply enjoy the show!