Golden State Warriors basketball is officially back. On Saturday, the Warriors hosted the team that knocked them out of the playoffs in the spring, the Los Angeles Lakers, for the first of five preseason games.
Preseason outcomes don’t really matter at all, but wins are still a lot more fun than losses, and an undefeated season remains on the table as the Dubs cruised to a 125-108 victory.
All eyes were on Chris Paul, who made his Warriors debut. With Draymond Green sidelined by an ankle injury, Steve Kerr has been spared a difficult starting lineup decision for a while, and Paul slid ride into the lineup alongside Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, and Kevon Looney.
The game started sloppy, as one would expect from two teams that hadn’t played a basketball game in many months. But it quickly picked up, with Golden State’s first points coming on the signature fall-away mid-range jumper from Paul.
Paul quickly fit in, and you could immediately see that he’s made some adjustments to his game to fit his new team. He was quick to push the ball ahead to Curry in transition, instead of always running the show by himself. He worked well with his new teammates, and looked comfortable moving off the ball. Traditionally an old-school, pound-the-rock point guard, Paul was making quick passes and helping keep the defense on its toes.
Steve Kerr played the starters together at the beginning of the game and the beginning of the second quarter, and that was all for them. They outscored the Lakers by six points during those 13 minutes, with Paul finishing with six points, four rebounds, and five assists.
It’s only one small sample, but it was certainly an encouraging one, especially in the second quarter when the offense really started flowing, and generated tons of quality looks.
In both of those quarters, the starters were replaced by a bench unit of Gary Payton II, Brandin Podziemski, Moses Moody, Jonathan Kuminga, and Dario Šarić, and that unit showed all kinds of excitement.
Most notable was that Podziemski was getting a lot of run. You can’t read too much into rotations in the preseason, especially with Green and Cory Joseph injured. But Kerr playing the first-rounder so much (he had a game-high 26 minutes) suggests that he’s viewed as a player who could earn a spot in the rotation. And he showed why in this game, with 11 points, five rebounds, four assists, and generally looking smooth, comfortable, and, crucially, showing an ability to beat his man off the dribble.
Šarić, meanwhile, managed to look like the perfect blend between Otto Porter Jr. and Nemanja Bjelica. His defense was more effective than his athleticism might suggest, his decision-making was fantastic, and a 2-for-3 night from beyond the arc led to a lovely line of six points, four rebounds, and three assists.
But Warriors fans were probably keeping their eyes on the team’s third-year players, Moody and Kuminga. And it didn’t take long for Moody to drop one hell of a highlight, showing off the type of pass I didn’t know was in his toolkit.
Moody finished with 15 points, five rebounds, and two assists, and looked a lot more physical and aggressive than in his first two seasons.
But the star emerged, and it was Kuminga, who many are expecting big things from this year. Kuminga played well in the first half, showing a few brilliant moves mixed with some struggles and sloppiness. But in the second half he took off. Both teams emptied their benches at halftime, and by the time the fourth quarter rolled around, it was mostly back-of-the-bench players, and camp invites competing for roster spots.
Kuminga got some play in that quarter, and the message he sent was clear: he is significantly better than a back-of-the-bench player. He ended the game with a game-high 24 points, attacking the rim relentlessly and also shooting an exciting and encouraging 4-for-8 from distance, to go along with eight rebounds, four assists, and two blocks (though he did have five turnovers, one a pass he made to Curry, who was not in the game, which sent the Dubs’ bench into a fit of laughter).
There were other good signs along the way, as the Warriors exacted a modicum of playoff revenge against a Lakers team that was resting LeBron James and Austin Reaves. Thompson, while not efficient, looked healthier and more athletic than at any point last year. Second-round pick Trayce Jackson-Davis didn’t score, but he looked comfortable on both ends of the court, showed off some ball-handling and playmaking skills, and played very strong defense.
It was a good win for the Dubs.