The Warriors moved to 5-1 on the preseason after last night’s 101-97 comeback win over Portland in the Rose Garden. Following are thoughts and analysis on the win, highlighted by Steph Curry’s almost-injury and the Harrison Barnes/Brandon Rush battle for a starting spot.
- My tenure as a Warriors World blogger got off to an inauspicious beginning. Steph Curry rolled his oft-injured and surgically repaired right ankle midway through the second quarter when Portland’s Wesley Matthews kicked the inside of his heel from behind while trying for a steal. Curry walked gingerly off the floor immediately afterward and never returned to action, though at one point later in the game it looked as if he told Mark Jackson he was healthy enough to play. Jackson supported that and quelled the concerns of Warriors fans everywhere after the game, though, telling reporters, “He’s fine. He wanted to go back in the game.” So while this looks like the smallest of blips in the radar for Curry and Golden State, that his ankle remains so susceptible to injury is obviously a cause for concern. The play in question was a strange one, and it’s easy to think that only a player with Curry’s fragile, fragile ankle would have sustained any injury at all. In the little chance you thought Curry would get through this season with a completely clean bill of health, last night’s game was a stern reminder of just how unlikely that is.
- Though the score didn’t necessarily show it, the Warriors got off to an awesome start offensively last night. Curry was in complete control from the opening tip, orchestrating Golden State’s half-court sets to perfection. He looked especially good in the pick and roll (with David Lee or Festus Ezeli), probing the defense as an opposing big retreated and his man tried to recover before looking weak-side or hitting a floater. His timing with Klay Thompson was impressive, too; on several occasions early Curry passed to Thompson in unison as the latter came off a pin-down or curl, resulting in easy jumpers. As someone watching the Warriors intently and focusing on the little things for the first time, Curry supported the notion – which was at one point in question – that he’s got the skills and moxie to run a team.
- Harrison Barnes was mostly invisible last night, finishing with six points (2-5 FG, 2-3 3PT), one rebound, one assist, and one steal in 25 minutes. But those modest numbers aren’t the biggest cause for concern; much more so was his overall lack of comfort and aggression on offense. He was simply going through the motions early in the first quarter, watching with Ezeli as Curry, Thompson, and David Lee played what was essentially three-on-five. Sensing his apathy, Jackson and Curry cleared out space for an isolation on the left block-extended a few minutes in. The result wasn’t pretty: Barnes tried to back his man down, had the ball knocked away, then awkwardly fired a mid-range jumper that missed. Not the best indicator of a plus one-on-one scorer. He settled in later in the game ultimately proving mostly inconsequential, but his performance did nothing to support his case for a spot in the starting five. Though, again, this was my first time really analyzing and diagnosing GS this season, I can’t help but think he’d be a better fit with the second unit where he has more offensive freedom. It’s tough to justify him being extra aggressive offensively with Curry, Thompson, Lee, and (ultimately) Bogut on the floor; bringing him off the bench would alleviate that concern.
- Which brings us to Brandon Rush. He was fantastic in pretty much all facets last night, playing his typically stellar defense, hitting two three-pointers, and finishing well in transition. He had 16 points (6-9 FG, 2-5 3PT) and four rebounds in 26 minutes and even got to the rim on a pick-and-roll in the halfcourt. It will be interesting to see what Jackson does with the rotation if he and Barnes continue their respective play. I’ve thought Rush was a better fit with the starters since the draft and last night’s game definitely confirmed that theory.
- All that said, it remains painfully clear that the offense goes to hell when Rush and Barnes are on the floor together. Neither has the feel, handle, or confidence to come close to replicating what Thompson does as a sh0t-maker/creator, and in Rush’s case, at least, that’s something that won’t change. If Barnes doesn’t get more comfortable with his handle or precise in his movements, this could be a problem that plagues the Warriors all season. The acquisition of Jarrett Jack should help things, though; he and Curry will in all likelihood man the backcourt together a lot this season.
- It’s a disservice to Lee’s performance that it’s taken this long to mention him in length. He was aggressive and productive from the very beginning last night, hitting a jumper on the opening possession and finishing with 24 points (10-17FG), eight rebounds, and four assists. He guarded LaMarcus Aldridge on the other end and did an admirable job for the most part, talking through pick-and-rolls and doing his best to challenge shots. His lack of length proved predictably problematic against a player like Aldridge, but that’s an issue the Warriors hopefully won’t have to worry about in the regular season; checking scoring bigs with size will be Bogut’s role, and it’s one he’s damn good at. Almost forgot – Lee might have the best off-hand in the league. Watching his ambidextrous work in the painted area is a sight to behold.
- This team, by the way, will look completely different on both ends with Bogut on the floor. He might be the league’s most underrated defender (he’s a genius covering PNRs and a great shot-blocker) and is almost equally valuable on the other end as a post-up or pick-and-roll option. He’s a very, very good passer too, a trait especially valuable on a team like the Warriors that has so many lethal outside shooters.
- Jack continued his awesome pre-season play, contributing nine points (4-8 FG, 1-3 3PT), four rebounds, nine assists, and three steals in 31 minutes. Performances like this one will no doubt ease the concern of Jackson and his staff whenever Curry inevitably misses action due to injury. Jack enjoyed the best season of his career last year in New Orleans and seems primed for a similar campaign in his initial run with Golden State. And as previously mentioned, pairing him in the backcourt with a healthy Curry will be a nice change-up to get the latter some time working off the ball.
- Aside from the game’s first several minutes, the Warriors lack of offensive execution was troubling. Far too many times things got bogged down and possessions ended with an isolation for Lee or Carl Landry in the post. That’s certainly not a bad option some of the time, but one would prefer more off-ball movement from those not directly involved in the play and creativity in general from Golden State in the long run. Curry’s absence contributed to that stagnance and GS obviously played some lineups they won’t in the regular season, though, so this isn’t a huge cause of concern. Still, it was strange to watch a NBA team that lacked such offensive activity.