If an 0-2 start to the preseason scares you at all, here’s a fun fact: The 2015-16 Golden State Warriors, who opened the season with a 24-game win streak en route to an NBA-record 73 wins, lost 4 of their 7 preseason contests.
Preseason results emphatically do not matter. We know the Warriors are better than the Minnesota Timberwolves, just as we know they’re better than the Denver Nuggets. These games are not meant to highlight the realities of the team, so much as allow them to work on the processes.
The Dubs’ 111-95 loss to the T’Wolves on Wednesday night/Thursday morning was a strong reminder of that. On paper, the Warriors lost handily. In reality, it was a game that saw the squad take a step towards being the regular season team that they intend to be.
Starters find their groove
The Warriors have, quite arguably, the top bench in the league. But we all know the deal: this team is built around their starters. Zaza and the four stars combine to create perhaps the most talented starting lineup in NBA history.
After metaphorically wetting the bed in the preseason opener, where they shot a combined 1-19 from deep, the starters bounced back in a big way. With the fans in China cheering on their every move, the Dubs’ Big 4 went 9-18 from deep, with 19 assists to just 9 turnovers.
Forget the 16 point loss. With Stephen Curry on the court, Golden State outscored the young pups from Minnesota by 8 points. Draymond Green had the same +8, with Zaza Pachulia at +7.
The Dubs jumped out to an early 13-point lead, looking like the team we all know and love. The ball moved around the perimeter effortlessly, and the team weaved between Curry and Klay Thompson rhythm 3s, and Kevin Durant mismatch isolations.
This isn’t to say it was all clean and fun. As in Saturday’s affair against Denver, the Warriors had significant chunks of sloppiness. Passes were at times lackadaisical, and at other times forced.
We know that coach Steve Kerr is none too pleased with Golden State’s at-times lackluster passing. They’ve got two more games, and a handful of practices to start fixing things on that end.
Kerr experiments with bench bigs, with mediocre results
The biggest question for the Warriors this preseason comes at the center position. We know that Pachulia will start, but won’t get a ton of minutes. We know Javale McGee will get lots of minutes when he has a good matchup, and little to none when he doesn’t. And we know what David West does, and does not bring.
What we don’t know is what youngsters Jordan Bell, Damian Jones, and Kevon Looney have to offer, or how much Kerr will trust them. Or, for that matter, how he’ll use them.
Last night’s game gave us a touch of insight and it was . . . well, not at all what I expected. Kerr trotted out a twin tower lineup for a large chunk of the bench minutes, pairing Bell with McGee, and then later with Jones.
Was this to see how a two-center lineup would work? Was it to combat Minnesota’s frontcourt depth? Was it simply to find minutes for the young bigs?
While it was intriguing, it hardly worked. The Dubs were outscored by 8 points in Bell’s 7 minutes, and 17 points in Jones’ 11 minutes.
The newcomers start to fit in
Kerr made an emphasis of getting the Warriors’ two veteran additions, Omri Casspi and Nick Young, playing time with the starters. Casspi - who made his debut after missing the preseason opener - in particular got some play with the starters, and looked fabulous.
The forward was cutting beautifully, and often found himself with open looks around the rim.
Things were not quite as positive for Young. After a rocky debut on Saturday, Young looked a lot more comfortable in the Warriors system Wednesday night, moving without the ball, and passing a little more.
Still, he tended to look lost from time to time, and went into his default isolation mode a little more than Kerr would like. Young clearly has a role on this team, and is growing into it; but if the season started today, I think he’d mostly be relegated to garbage time minutes.
Defense settles in
The Warriors have every intention of leading the league in defense this year. If that’s to happen, they’re going to have to make some improvements.
Still, Wednesday was a huge step up from the opener. The defensive rotations were much quicker and smoother, and actually resembled an NBA defense after Saturday’s pickup game quality.
The Warriors held Karl-Anthony Towns - arguably the best offensive center in the league - to 5-15 shooting, including 3-12 from inside the arc. The help-side defense was there more often than not, but was still abundantly missing from time to time.
Ultimately, the Warriors find themselves exactly where they should be: displaying signs of brilliance, while also having very clear areas that need help. They’ve only been practicing for a week and a half; expecting perfection this time of year is silly.
They still have two games to iron out the rest of the wrinkles, and if the past is any indication, they will.