The Warriors lost their preseason opener Saturday night at Citizens Bank Business Park 95-104 to the Los Angeles Lakers in a game dominated by the Lakers new signees and a loud, loose rim. Xavier Henry led the way with 29 points (9-for-14 from the field) and Nick Young added another 17 as the Lakers had their way in this meaningless contest.
Klay Thompson led the way for the Warriors with 26 points (38 MIN) of his own as he — surprisingly — came off the bench. The Warriors shiny new acquisition, Andre Iguodala, finished with an impressive 15 points on 6-for-7 shooting in 21 minutes. Andrew Bogut, while looking fresh and noticeably thinner, grabbed 15 rebounds in 17 minutes.
The result of the game isn’t what matters, it’s what transpires during the game that does. There was plenty to like from Friday night’s matchup and conversely, much to criticize. But all must come with an asterisk: these are the first minutes players in a long, long season. Let’s all relax and take this game with a grain of salt.
With that said, here are three things I observed from the loss:
1) The battle for the final starting spot will be a heated one
I, like many, expected the Warriors to use their normal starting lineup with the exception of Iguodala, who would replace Barnes at the small forward spot. Instead, Mark Jackson had Thompson come off the bench and kept Barnes in the starting lineup. Barnes struggled mightily, taking a 3-for-14 night with seven rebounds and four turnovers in 29 minutes.
Harrison missed from all over the floor tonight with exception of a couple vintage drive and finishes at the rim:
Meanwhile, Thompson impressed with an impressive stat-line and most encouraging: numerous finishes around the rim. The third-year guard from Washington State has been ridiculed for his misses near the rim since last season, forcing the hashtag #KlayUps to become common practice on Twitter each and every time he misses. But, as promised by the man himself, Thompson has worked and improved on this part of his game, displaying nice finishes and decisive moves in the post on Friday night.
A nice spin move leading to an up-and-under, a quick turnaround from midrange and a gliding two handed slam were the highlights from Thompson’s night. His staple, the three-pointer, was non-existent as he shot a measly 2-for-7 from deep as the entire team failed to get anything going from beyond the arc (5-for-21).
Mark Jackson has insisted not to long too much into Barnes starting on Friday night, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Thompson back in the lineup on Monday night. Thompson brings a superior defensive presence and proper spacing while Barnes brings increased athleticism and the ability to draw contact. This is a good problem to have, as the Warriors have two solid options to fill in the final starting spot. At this point I’d lean towards Thompson, but if Barnes shines the remainder of the preseason I can see him sliding into that void.
Either way, this battle will last until the very last preseason game. Whoever is assigned to the bench will receive near-starter minutes anyways as Jackson will use a multitude of lineup combinations depending on the matchup. Healthy competition can only benefit both young players.
As long as Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut are on this team, health will never not be an issue. Whether we think Curry has surpassed any ankle issues or that Bogut is indeed 100% for the first time in years, Warriors fans should know better. Curry looked fresh and quick on his feet as he threw down a one-handed breakaway slam in the first quarter. His shooting touch wasn’t there (2-for-6), but that won’t be an issue.
Bogut, noticeably thinner than last season, was playing as if this was Game 7 of the NBA Finals: hustling for loose balls, battling for rebounds and running up and down the floor. The Warriors have yet to see Bogut at 100% during his short time with the team, and the possibilities are endless if the Aussie can play the majority of the games this season.
David Lee, coming off offseason hip surgery, hasn’t lost a step. In fact, Lee himself looks slightly thinner as well. Draymond Green, not nursing any sort of injury but looking noticeably trimmed down, looked quicker than last season.
Health is a concern for every team in the league, but for a team so reliant on their franchise player’s ankles or their starting center’s elbow, it becomes increasingly pivotal. Curry played 90 total games last season, while Bogut played a combined 44 games. If the Warriors can get a similar amount of games from Curry and 70+ total games from Bogut, this team can be very interesting come April and May. For now, all is well. The Warriors hope it stays that way.
3) The reserves need to find their roles
With the exception of Draymond Green and Kent Bazemore, the Warriors come into the season with a completely new wave of reserves. The loss of Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry are well documented, and Bob Myers did a solid job of replacing those two with numerous role players that seem to have filled every position of need. Will quantity prove better than quality? Only time will tell, but these reserves need to find their role as the season progresses.
Marreese Speights won’t be asked to score much or defend the opposing team’s best big, but he will be asked to rebound. Speights grabbed five rebounds in his short 15 minutes, giving us a glimpse at just what he will provide once the regular season comes around. Toney Douglas, the lost signing of the offseason, handled the second team offense with relative ease. An oft-criticized player in New York, I liked the Douglas signing and believe his defense will become increasingly important as the season progresses. Again, if he knows his role, that prior criticism will be moot.
Jermaine O’Neal, who I’m convinced will never retire for the NBA, opened his stint of minutes with a nice post move. He also committed four fouls, which normally wouldn’t need any explanation during a preseason opener. But, it’s important for this reason: the team has another big body to bruise the opposition and provide much needed physicality to the frontline. He’s neither quick nor a quality defender at this stage in his 17-year career, but another big body down low to compliment Bogut is necessary, especially with Festus Ezeli out for the foreseeable future.
Next up for the Warriors is the Sacramento Kings, who come to Oracle Arena this Monday (10/7).