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Player grades: Warriors vs. Pelicans

Assessing every Golden State player’s performance from the team’s 130-102 win over New Orleans.

Steph Curry celebrating as he runs down the court past Zion Williamson. Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Well that was a damn fine win. The Golden State Warriors, who did not have a single three-game road winning streak all of last season, and who did not win their third road game of the year until December 18, walloped the previously-unbeaten New Orleans Pelicans on Monday night 130-102, giving them three straight road wins to open the year, and a mighty impressive back-to-back.

It was a performance made all the more impressive by the fact that Klay Thompson and Jonathan Kuminga didn’t play, though that was offset by the fact that Brandon Ingram and Trey Murphy III were out for NOLA.

It’s time to sit at the desk and grade the players, and there won’t be much red pen for this one. As always, players are graded based on my expectations for them, with a “B” grade representing the average performance for that player.

Note: True-shooting percentage (TS) is a measure of scoring efficiency that accounts for threes and free throws. Last year, league-average TS was 58.1%.

Draymond Green

22 minutes, 6 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, 1 block, 1 turnover, 2 fouls, 3-for-8 shooting, 0-for-2 threes, 37.5% TS, +6

My biggest takeaway from Green’s game is that I’m incredibly impressed with his conditioning. In this era of load management, it’s nearly unheard of for a player to return from a lengthy absence and jump straight into a back-to-back. That it was a road back-to-back, that Green is a 33 year old with a decent number of recent injuries, and that he missed all of training camp only makes it more impressive.

And that’s before you remember that it was an ankle injury, so it’s not like he was able to run during all those practices he was missing.

So yeah. Color me impressed.

But Green being in good shape is meaningful beyond him being available for this game. If you pay close attention to the Dubs, you’ve probably noticed a strong correlation between Green’s effort and the team’s prospects. During the team’s 15-win season in 2019-20, Green admitted that he didn’t take the games or his conditioning as seriously as usual, because he knew they wouldn’t be very competitive.

That may be frustrating, but it’s also vital data for us. Dray has very clearly made his conditioning and effort a huge priority, and since he’s not in a contract year, that can only tell us one thing: he thinks the Warriors have a great shot this year.

Which they do.

Oh, and he also played awesome defense on Zion Williamson. He’s still shaking the rust off, but he’s getting close.

Grade: B+
Post-game bonus: Led the team in assists.

Kevon Looney

25 minutes, 8 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 turnover, 2 fouls, 3-for-5 shooting, 2-for-2 free throws, 68.0% TS, +19

This was the epitome of the Looney experience, which is to say it was quietly excellent. He made life miserable for Jonas Valančiūnas, who needed 11 shots (and a pair of free throws) to collect his 11 points, and finished with just six rebounds after being eighth in the Association in boards per game a year ago.

It was also Looney’s best offensive game of the season, as he started to find his rhythm moving the ball, rolling to the right spot, and setting screens. The frontcourt depth means the Dubs may not have to overwork Looney as much as they did the last two years, which could mean he’ll be even more energized on game days.

Grade: A-
Post-game bonus: Led the team in plus/minus.

Andrew Wiggins

20 minutes, 9 points, 3 rebounds, 3 turnovers, 2 fouls, 4-for-8 shooting, 1-for-2 threes, 0-2 free throws, 50.7% TS, +10

There were definitely some good signs for Wiggins in this game, but on the whole it was a continuation of what has been a very difficult start to the season for the 2022 All-Star. The blowout spared us of any conversations about Wiggins and the closing lineup, but it certainly didn’t put him in a position where we’ll expect him to be there for the next close game.

The season is mighty young, and the Warriors are certainly expressing plenty of public faith in Wiggins. But after 102 minutes, he has grabbed just nine rebounds (only one more than rookie guard Brandin Podziemski had in this game alone), is shooting just 15-for-32 on twos, 2-for-11 on threes, and 7-for-12 on free throws, has committed more than three times as many fouls as stonks, and has more than twice as many turnovers as assists.

It’s just been a tough year for him. The good news is that the Warriors don’t need him to be as good as he was in 2021-22, thanks to the emergence of Kuminga and Moses Moody. The bad news (for Wiggins, at least), is that those players might start taking more and more of his minutes.

Grade: C-

Steph Curry

32 minutes, 42 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 3 turnovers, 1 foul, 15-for-22 shooting, 7-for-13 threes, 5-for-7 free throws, 83.7% TS, +13

Four games into the season and the chef has already given us two vintage Curry games. He got things started early in this one, scoring 16 of the team’s first 18 points, with a dazzling array of magical moves.

That was what set the tone in a competitive first quarter, and then he played the role of closer in the second half, coming in after the bench had built a strong lead and providing dagger after dagger.

The result? Another notch in the history books for Curry, who is now 24-for-51 from distance, which sets the NBA record for most threes made through four games in a season.

His scoring is absurd, he’s taking care of the ball, he’s meshing with Paul, and he’s playing solid defense ... and through four games, he’s the MVP of the league.

What more can you ask for from this guy?

Grade: A+
Post-game bonus: Led the team in points.

Moses Moody

21 minutes, 13 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 5-for-8 shooting, 2-for-5 threes, 1-for-1 free throws, 77.0% TS, +18

In a classic Steve Kerr move, Thompson’s absence didn’t open the door for Paul to return to the starting lineup: instead, CP3 will seemingly play the Andre Iguodala role of coming off leading the bench unit regardless of how the other pieces change, though I’d expect him to start anytime that Curry can’t play.

Instead, Moody — who has been phenomenal to start the year — slid into the lineup and continued his excellent play. It’s abundantly clear that he’s improved dramatically as a passer, and hit the weight room. He’s much more disruptive in the paint, and he’s not only making the extra pass with regularity, but making slick and impressive passes, too.

Golden State would probably like a little more rebounding for a wing of his size, but that’s picking nits considering how great his defense was, how much playmaking he did without turning the ball over, and how efficient of a scorer he’s become this year: he’s 7-for-8 from inside the arc, 7-for-17 from outside it, and 4-for-5 from the charity stripe.

Grade: A

Dario Šarić

21 minutes, 6 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block, 2 fouls, 2-for-7 shooting, 1-for-4 threes, 1-for-2 free throws, 38.1% TS, +14

So far, Šarić’s first season in the Bay can be summed up pretty simply.

Shooting: Not so good.
Everything else: Hell yeah.

Considering that he has buttery smooth mechanics and has shot 37.4% from distance over the last six seasons, I’d guess that the Warriors aren’t even remotely worried about an inefficient first week to the season. Instead, they’ll be stoked at his smart decision-making, his rapport with Paul, his better-than-advertised defense, and his ability to mix it up in the paint and grab rebounds.

The Warriors had a staggering 64-39 rebound on the glass in this game, and Šarić nabbing nearly one every other minute was a big part of that.

The shooting will come around. Everything else is awesome.

Grade: B+
Post-game bonus: Led the team in rebounds.

Trayce Jackson-Davis

20 minutes, 13 points, 9 rebounds, 4 blocks, 2 turnovers, 2 fouls, 5-for-9 shooting, 3-for-4 free throws, 60.4% TS, +11

Speaking of rebounding advantages, Golden State nabbed 21 offensive boards, which was nearly as many defensive boards that NOLA had. And no one played a bigger role in that than TJD, who gobbled up seven of them.

Only a post-game adjustment from the scorekeeper kept the team’s second-round pick from recording a double-double in his first bout of extensive playing time, but the performance was enough for him to shed a nickname and gain a hell of a lot of respect.

Kerr’s approach to the Warriors rookies has been to keep them outside of the rotation, but willing to play them when the situation dictates it. Down two rotation players and wanting to not overwork people on a road back-to-back was a situation that warranted TJD playing, and he made a pretty strong case to be in the actual rotation sooner rather than later.

He looks so composed, yet also aggressive when need be. There’s obviously room for growth on defense, but also a ton of potential (four blocks!!!). He’s already showing his smarts, including on a play where he realized he had a mismatch on CJ McCollum, called for the ball, and immediately turned straight to the hoop for an easy bucket.

Right now he looks like an absolute steal. At the very least, it’s already pretty clear that he can step in and play reliable minutes if Looney or Šarić misses a game or is in foul trouble, and that’s absolutely huge.

Grade: A+

Chris Paul

25 minutes, 13 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 1 turnover, 6-for-10 shooting, 1-for-5 threes, 65.0% TS, +17

For years there’s been a general consensus with the Warriors: if they can tread water when Curry is on the bench, they’re inner-circle contenders. If they can’t, they’re not.

What if I told you they have the best bench in the league? That may or may not be true, but it certainly seems like they’re close to it. It’s abundantly clear that the bench is an asset, and that is excellent news.

There are a lot of reasons for that, but Paul is at the top of the list. Through four games in his new digs, he still looks every bit the part of an All-Star, and this time around we even were treated to the midrange game that he’s famous for, as he made all five of his shots inside the arc.

After Curry sat in the first quarter, Paul completely took over, and he did so again in the third quarter. His defense has been wonderful, his leadership and fit have been off the charts, he has 33 assists to just six turnovers, and he’s nabbed eight steals with just three fouls.

Safe to say this experiment is working out very well.

Grade: A

Cory Joseph

5 minutes, 0 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 2 fouls, 0-for-1 shooting, 0-for-1 threes, 0.0% TS, 0 +/-

Joseph played the final five minutes of the game, after the outcome was good and decided. It’s pretty clear that he’s not in the rotation — his only playing time in the first three games was a stint of a few minutes when Curry was in foul trouble, and he was leapfrogged by Podziemski in this one.

He’s still a valuable player to have. A veteran who doesn’t make a lot of mistakes is a good player to stick on the back of the bench, where he can mentor the youngsters, be a good teammate, and fill in when Curry or Paul isn’t available.

But can’t really judge this game.

Grade: Incomplete
Post-game bonus: Tied for the worst plus/minus on the team.

Gary Payton II

20 minutes, 10 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 block, 4 fouls 4-for-10 shooting, 2-for-6 threes, 50.0% TS, +17

Before the game, Kerr said he had to find a way to get more minutes for GPII. Klay and Kuminga’s injuries made that easier tonight than on other nights, and you can easily see why the Dubs’ coach feels that way.

It’s crystal clear that Payton is not the player he was a year ago, when the Warriors re-acquired him and he was not healthy. He’s playing fast, strong, and athletic, and he’s a hyper-versatile weapon who just seems to always make the team better.

Grade: B

Jerome Robinson

5 minutes, 0 points, 2 rebounds, 0-for-2 shooting, 0.0% TS, 0 +/-

With Thompson and Kuminga out, Robinson — on a two-way contract — was activated for the first time this season, and made his Golden State debut. It’s a stark change from last year, when two-way contracts Anthony Lamb and Ty Jerome were critical parts of the rotation early on, and both exhausted their two-way eligibility.

I much prefer it this way, though I’m sure Robinson wishes he were playing more than just occasional garbage time.

Grade: Incomplete
Post-game bonus: Tied for the worst plus/minus on the team.

Lester Quiñones

5 minutes, 5 points, 1 turnover, 2-for-3 shooting, 1-for-2 threes, 83.3% TS, 0 +/-

Quiñones was in the same position as Robinson, being activated for the first time this year due to the team’s injuries. Golden State’s third two-way player, center Usman Garuba was not active.

Loved to see Quiñones knock down some shots. The Warriors really love him, and it’s not hard to see why.

Grade: Incomplete
Post-game bonus: Tied for the worst plus/minus on the team.

Brandin Podziemski

23 minutes, 5 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 turnovers, 4 fouls, 2-for-5 shooting, 0-for-1 threes, 1-for-2 free throws, 42.5% TS, +15

Podziemski made his NBA debut and ... umm ... uhh ... he was awesome?

He not only jumped over Joseph on the depth chart, but was trusted heavily by Kerr with Kuminga and Thompson not available. Podz got onto the court in the first quarter, and played heavy minutes, while looking incredibly comfortable.

The rebounding is pretty clearly A Thing, and not just a funny story. That dude has an amazing eye for the ball, athleticism that goes into hyperdrive when the shot goes, and a fearlessness when mixing it up in the paint.

And don’t let the two assists to two turnovers fool you: he took really good care of the ball, made smart decisions, and set up teammates. He also has shown an ability to beat his man off the dribble and get into the paint, which was a serious pre-draft concern that’s already been alleviated.

There will be bumps and bruises. He had a lot of fouls, as one expects a rookie in their first NBA game to have. But Podziemski did not look even remotely close to being too small for the moment. Like Jackson-Davis, he’ll get on the court when injuries and fouls allow it and, if he keeps playing like this, he’ll use that time to earn his way into the rotation.

It’s only one game, but he looks like the real deal.

If you’ve been following these articles for long, you know that players get an automatic A+ for having their dreams actualized and making an NBA debut. But even if that weren’t the case, Podz would get a damn good grade for this performance.

Grade: A+

Monday’s inactives: Usman Garuba, Jonathan Kuminga, Klay Thompson

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