The Golden State Warriors defeated the Denver Nuggets 118-116 on Wednesday in their second preseason game of the year. It was far from the dominant performance they made in Portland earlier this week, but they recovered well from a sloppy first quarter to keep the result in limbo before they pulled ahead for good behind a Mychal Mulder three late in the fourth quarter.
Still, as is this case with most preseason games, the result is less important than the trends that emerge from the matchup. Here are the five biggest takeaways from the Warriors victory:
Takeaway #1: Jordan Poole can be effective when his threes are not falling
Jordan Poole backed up his exceptional performance in the first preseason game with another great performance. However, after shooting lights out against Portland, the former first-round pick could not find much success from behind the arc, finishing 1-for-6 from three. Still, Poole finished with 17 points on 14 shots thanks to multiple trips to the free-throw line and 5-for-8 shooting from two.
Despite his flashes from deep, Poole is far from an elite shooter. As Golden State relies more on the young combo guard for consistent offense, it is pivotal for him to find ways to be effective even when his shot is not falling. On Wednesday, he consistently drove to the hoop, beating defenders off the dribble, finishing through contact, and drawing fouls. Not only is that a skill set the Warriors have lacked in recent years, but it is also a recipe for more consistent success.
The Warriors have been searching for an offensive spark when Curry sits ever since Kevin Durant left. Now, they might have that and more. As Poole looked comfortable running the offense and Otto Porter Jr. continued raining threes (he finished 4-for-6 from three with 15 points), it was easy to envision some exciting Warriors rotations, especially when Klay Thompson returns.
The Warriors could start second quarters with Jordan Poole, Klay Thompson, and Otto Porter Jr. on the court. Now that’s an explosive trio while Steph is on the bench.— Marc Delucchi (@maddelucchi) October 7, 2021
Takeaway #2: The Warriors defense will probably be inconsistent
Every team is challenged defensively by Nikola Jokic, but the reigning MVP was far from the only Nuggets player who found easy shots early against the Warriors. The Nuggets were 13-for-16 from two in the first quarter, with 10 of those makes coming inside the paint. Things stabilized as the game went on, but it was a flash of the Warriors’ defensive limitations.
Reading too much into preseason defense is a dangerous game, but Golden State’s roster lacks defensive talent. Besides Draymond Green, it is hard to find a player on the Warriors without questions about their defensive abilities.
Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala were once defining parts of elite defenses, but a combination of aging and injuries make it hard to be confident either one can make a significant impact defensively this season.
Andrew Wiggins was solid last season but comes with a long track record of inconsistency. While he clearly made huge strides last year, Wiggins was lauded more for his improvement than his impact as a defensive player.
As Golden State relies more on below-average defensive players (e.g., Poole), it will be difficult to limit opposing offenses. Barring a prime-level season from Green, the Warriors probably lack the personnel to be a top-10 defense. Instead, they will be hoping to get good enough play to rank in the middle third of the league.
Takeaway #3: The Warriors shooting depth can keep them in games
For most of the first quarter, the Warriors’ played a mistake-laden game, recording five turnovers alongside their soft defense. Yet, after the Nuggets built a 17-point lead, Golden State’s shooting helped them close the gap. Eventually, as Denver’s offense found a little more resistance inside, it was enough to take the lead by halftime.
That’s been true throughout Curry’s career, but the Warriors have relied on Steph’s nuclear outbursts over the past two seasons to do it. Obviously, Curry should provide the bulk of Golden State’s offensive punch this season, but for the first time since Kevin Durant was still on the Warriors, his supporting cast has the potential to
Curry went 4-for-6 from three, highlighted by an 11-point second quarter, but the rest of the Warriors shot 17-for-40 (42.5%) from three. Yes, this team will probably allow a lot of points, but they should have the firepower to remain competitive.
Takeaway #4: Avery Bradley is getting a long look
Of those who have been available for the Warriors' first two preseason games, it looks like head coach Steve Kerr prefers guard Avery Bradley to the other options competing for the final spot on the roster. Bradley has been one of the first players off the bench in each game and is the lone player competing for the 15th spot on the roster who has played in the first half when most starters and key reserves receive the bulk of their minutes.
It’s hard to know how Bradley stacks up against Gary Payton Jr., since Payton is out while he recovers from a hernia, but it looks like Bradley is a tier above the other remaining options (Mychal Mulder, Langston Galloway, and Jordan Bell).
Bradley’s stat sheet was once again underwhelming, recording two points, zero rebounds, zero assists, and zero steals in nearly 16 minutes of action, but evaluating Bradley has always been a bit tricky. He’s never been a big stat-stuffer, and defensive metrics have always been lower on his impact than industry consensus. Perhaps for that very reason, the Warriors are making sure to get as much film from Bradley as they can to help them make their final decision.
Takeaway #5: Health remains of paramount importance
For nearly every NBA fanbase, each season starts with visions about how young players will flourish into stars, new acquisitions will fit into the team’s plans, and veterans will continue to make an impact. Then, for most fanbases, there’s a moment that brings them back to earth, reminding them how hard it is to win a championship in the NBA.
The Warriors have had those sobering moments come before their season even started over the past two years, with Klay Thompson’s injuries in the 2019 NBA Finals and on the day of the 2020 NBA Draft taking the sails out of their seasons before they were underway. This year is different though. While Thompson and center James Wiseman are still rehabbing major injuries, both are expected to be on the court in time for the stretch run.
Thus far, the Warriors’ faithful have seen a lot to believe in without much bad news. In Wednesday’s win, however, they got their first taste of the disappointment a season can bring when highly touted rookie Jonathan Kuminga left the game after tweaking his knee.
Kuminga left the court without a significant event, and all signs point to a minor issue. Hopefully, he can return to the court soon without issue.
Still, few franchises are more aware of how quickly injuries can pile up than the Warriors. A new season almost always brings excitement. It also brings reality. Some players will have great years. Some players will underperform. Some will get hurt. The Warriors are hoping luck will be in their favor this year.