It was the Golden State Warriors’ 122-114 win over the Sacramento Kings that told every bit of the story of Mike Dunleavy making the move that he had to make in the offseason.
When Dunleavy made the bold move of trading Jordan Poole — a championship-proven piece who was not only dynamic, but also young and promising — he did it for several reasons. The Draymond Green punch was, in retrospect, a point of no return for Poole and his relationship with the franchise that drafted and developed him.
That was the off-court reason. But the on-court reason proved to be equally reasonable.
Poole scored and scored in bunches. But too many nights of questionable decision making, ball security that hung on a thin thread, and a clear lack of effort on the defensive end frustrated many to no end. Perhaps Poole was psychologically affected by the preseason debacle, but it was hurting the team to a non-insignificant degree.
Dunleavy felt he had to pull the trigger, but not just for anyone. He went ahead and pulled the trigger for a heated Warriors’ archenemy in Chris Paul — virtually the antithesis to Poole in an assortment of ways.
Age is the most obvious difference — but with it comes battle-hardened experience, a knack for control, and an abhorrence for turning the ball over, especially in crucial moments. Paul could be the floor general on the court, an extra adult in the room on a team where it had too many moments of youthful audacity last season.
Paul’s infamous desire to win is also nothing to scoff at, although the Warriors have been at the forefront of his shortcomings in the playoffs — a grand irony that isn’t lost on many people, especially Warriors fans. But one thing has always been true, especially in the regular season: Paul brings a culture of winning to every team he has played for.
The Warriors know a thing or two (or four) about winning themselves — which makes their union with Paul, at least on a cultural level, a marriage made in heaven.
But concerns about on-court fit were valid. Adding another barely-6-feet guard — especially one who is 38-years old and is past his prime as a defender — to a backcourt with 6-foot-2 Steph Curry was a theoretical recipe for defensive disaster.
But the offensive fit, amid concerns of whether Paul could align himself with the Warriors’ fast-paced motion offense with a lot of moving parts, has been promising. One reason for that is simple: Curry’s willingness to operate off the ball and do all the blue-collar work that superstars of his caliber typically refuse to do.
It was the opening possession that was proof of such:
A set out of 5-out “Delay” action in which Kevon Looney is the initiator up top with action happening on both sides sets Paul up to be the final assist man. Peep at Andrew Wiggins setting the pindown for Paul, who then gets the handoff from Looney. Wiggins then receives a cross-screen for Curry — off the ball and using his pull to set the screen — for him to get deep position underneath the rim.
Paul makes the pass on time, on target, and with just enough oomph to get the ball to Wiggins’ pocket — a trademark skill of the “Point God.”
In Draymond Green’s absence, Paul has been the ultimate substitute as the Warriors’ main distributor because of that skill. He quickly deduces the openings created by those who generate them — such as Curry, who is arguably the ultimate advantage generator in the league.
Paul is the ultimate reader in this read-and-react offense, and almost always reacts accordingly, with little hesitation and a near-zero-mistake track record. He reads the synergistic movement of Wiggins and Curry in the possession above: Curry moving toward him to receive the ball, while Wiggins slips inside at the same time. Curry’s gravity draws Harrison Barnes’ attention long enough for Wiggins to slip past him — and Paul hits him mid-stride.
Paul is the stabilizing force the Warriors needed after last season’s moments of chaos — a weapon they’ve used to their advantage but often failed to get under control. Paul has often shied away from chaos, preferring to get things in order in the half court and making sure his teammates are in the positions he needs them to be in. In two games, Paul has 21 assists against four turnovers — a 5.25 assist/turnover ratio, a testament to his deliberate and precise nature as a passer.
Klay Thompson once said of Paul during the offseason, “Me as a shooter, I’m excited. I just know CP is going to put it right here on the seams, he’s going to set me up nice. I’m going to get a couple extra easy buckets every night.
Which is exactly what Paul did for Thompson against the Kings. On this possession, where Paul finds a moving Thompson around the curl:
And here, where he hits Thompson on the dot while running the Warriors’ patented “Double Loop” set:
In transition, after Moses Moody intercepts a baseline drift pass:
In the Warriors’ favorite end-of-quarter set — “Fist” Ram Exit — in which Thompson cuts inside instead of running off the exit screen to counter the top-lock. Paul reads Thompson’s cut, drives inside, and hits Thompson on the move for the jumper:
And another instance of Paul hitting Thompson on a curl:
Half of Paul’s 12 assists against the Kings were to Thompson alone. But others benefited, as well.
Moody — who scored 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field (2-of-3 on threes) and was a huge boon for the Warriors, who outscored the Kings by 11 points during his 21 minutes of playing time — benefited from Paul’s sound decision making. After snaking his way into the paint and finding himself with no open look at the rim, Paul senses Moody wide open at the top of the arc and delivers the ball with precision:
(An important thing to note: The lineup above — Paul, Moody, Thompson, Jonathan Kuminga, and Trayce Jackson-Davis — was a plus-6 in three minutes and 13 seconds of action against the Kings.)
Dario Šarić, a legitimate pop option at the five, easily gets looks after setting screens for Paul (who worked with Šarić in Phoenix). In “21 Nash” — a variant of the 21 Series/Pistol action where the ball is passed to the wing, after which the initial ball handler and the five set double ball screens for the wing ball handler — Šarić stays put on the perimeter, while Paul gets the switch onto a big. Gary Payton II’s cut draws further attention away from Šarić, who gets a wide-open look:
In “Spain” pick-and-roll action, Paul kicks out to Payton after forcing the low man to help on his paint touch:
While Paul didn’t have an efficient shooting night (10 points on 5-of-12 shooting and 0-of-2 on threes), he displayed flashes of what he can be as a mid-range assassin for the Warriors — who, ironically, know all too well about the consequences of letting Paul get to his sweet spot: the right elbow.
Except that this time, they won’t have to worry about how to stop it:
In certain lineup configurations, Paul will also find himself open driving lanes. Having action run for Curry on one side, with Wiggins and Moody spaced in the corners, was an example of such:
“We all on the same side now,” Paul said after the game. “It’s really dope to be on the side of when you’re driving and guys don’t want to help and you’re getting wide open layups. It’s fun for a guy like me to pass us the ball, with Klay coming off, every time he shoot it I think it’s going in so playing with those guys makes the game a lot easier.”