Warriors preseason opener: Stephen Curry the collaborator, Kelly Oubre Jr.’s defensive potential on display

With the obvious qualification that it was the preseason opener and, in the grand scheme, absolutely meaningless, we got our first glimpse of the new-look Golden State Warriors on Saturday in a 107-105 win over the Denver Nuggets. It goes without saying, this is not the dynastic Warriors of old. But it’s not the dismal Warriors of last season, either. It’s somewhere in the middle, and Saturday’s victory at least provided a launching point to discuss what to expect from Steph Curry and company this season. 

Depending on defense

The Warriors were defensively energetic from the jump, pressuring Denver’s ball handlers and swarming in the paint. Both Kelly Oubre Jr. and Andrew Wiggins were defensively engaged, and Oubre’s energy really stood out. Curry was intent on crowding Jamal Murray’s, too, and was able to cut off penetration without fouling despite playing the Nuggets star tightly. It’s worth noting that Murray appeared to be playing about 60 percent. 

The Warriors don’t figure to be a great half-court offense (unless they just turn things completely over to Curry, which we’ll get to in a second), which means they’ll be highly dependent on getting stops and steals to fuel transition opportunities, where Curry can find open looks and Wiggins and Oubre can take advantage of their athleticism. 

When you add Draymond Green to the mix, Golden State’s perimeter defense has a chance to be top-10ish level, and if James Wiseman and Kevon Looney can add up to something meaningful on the interior, the Warriors could be in pretty good shape. 

Kelly in the corner

Warriors play-by-play man Bob Fitzgerald is going to wear this phrase out quickly, but it’s true: Kelly Oubre is going to get a lot of corner threes, and if he can knock them down at an efficient rate, it will go a long way as a release valve for the pressure that Curry is going to face. Oubre didn’t shoot well on Saturday, 1-of-6 from deep, but the looks were there and they were clean. 

Oubre shot a career-high 35 percent from three last season, but there is some question as to whether he can repeat that. For the Warriors to be a real problem in the West, Oubre not only has to repeat that, he probably has to improve that number to a 37- or 38-percent clip, which he’ll have every opportunity to do in the increased space created by Curry. 

Though the Warriors are synonymous with 3-point shooting, this, again, is not the old Warriors. On Saturday, they shot just 11-of-40 from downtown (27.5 percent), and the starters were 5-of-22. Outside of Curry, who went 2 for 7 from deep and 3 for 10 overall on Saturday, there isn’t a single truly dependable shooter on this Warriors team, meaning guys like Oubre and Wiggins (2 for 6 from three on Saturday), who are capable but not always consistent, are going to need to shoot near their ceilings. 

Curry the collaborator

I’m warning you now: This could be a point of frustration all season long for Warriors fans, many of whom are salivating at the idea of the old Curry returning to his pick-and-roll, shot-hunting ways. Steve Kerr just doesn’t believe in that. Yes, it was the first preseason game, but it’s already tough to stomach Wiggins, Eric Paschall and Wiggins, all shaky ball handlers and pretty basic passers, having so much say in half-court possessions as Curry runs around without the ball. 

Watch a Portland Trail Blazers game, and you’ll see Damian Lillard completely controlling every possession. It is going to be ultra-tempting to beg Kerr to do that with Curry, but patience will be key. Kerr believes that when everyone gets a say on the offensive end, everyone then commits defensively, and there’s a lot of truth in that. 

It’s also going to be a lot easier to double Curry on the ball without Klay Thompson waiting to punish teams with open threes; keeping him moving, in theory, makes him tougher to double, and at the very least keeps the defense’s collective head on a swivel, which, again in theory, opens things up for Wiggins and Oubre to penetrate.

Curry is always going to buy into his role no matter what; he believes, and has proven, that collaborating and dominating don’t have to be mutually exclusive ideas. Warriors fans will have to believe the same and trust the process, particularly in the early going when unfamiliarity is bound to make for some sloppy performances for which Curry going into takeover mode will feel like the quick and obvious fix. 

Encouraging performances

Things started to click for Jordan Poole over the last few months of his rookie season, and the second-year guard came out strong on Saturday with 10 points on a perfect 5 for 5 from the field. He looked confident and smooth, and again, whatever shooting/scoring the Warriors can get from peripheral players is going to help immensely. 

Old friend Kent Bazemore also looked really good, attacking the basket and doing his long, active thing on the defensive end. Bazemore finished with 13 points and five rebounds, and he got to the free-throw line seven times in 18 minutes. Bazemore is going to have to contribute offensively without trying to do too much, which is a fine line. His energy will be the key, as it was on Saturday. 

Finally, raise a glass for Kevon Looney, who played just 20 games last season as injuries kept popping up, starting with a hamstring in training camp and ultimately a torn core muscle that required surgery. Looney posted eight points (on 3-of-5 shooting), six rebounds and three assists on Saturday, and he was moving quite well. 

Whether Looney starts or comes off the bench once Wiseman starts suiting up, he’ll need to play a big role if the Warriors have any chance of competing with the Western Conference’s elite size — which includes Nikola Jokic, who absolutely toyed with the Warriors on Saturday, posting 26 points, 10 boards and five assists on 9-of-11 shooting while appearing to be going roughly half speed, even for him. 

Published: 2020-12-13 05:27:53

Tags: #Warriors #preseason #opener #Stephen #Curry #collaborator #Kelly #Oubre #Jrs #defensive #potential #display

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