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Warriors-Lakers preseason musings: How Steph Curry and Chris Paul are working on guard-guard actions

An in-depth look at the “21” series/”Pistol” action stuff the two point guards ran with each other.

Los Angeles Lakers v Golden State Warriors Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The one possession that stood out to me during the Golden State Warriors’ 125-108 preseason win over the Los Angeles Lakers wasn’t one where the Warriors scored.

Steph Curry and Chris Paul dominated headlines a couple of days ago due to clips of their workouts together on the practice court. One session involved both of them getting in several reps of guard-guard wing actions.

Curry and Paul didn’t waste any time going to one of those actions they practiced above:

Curry initiates the action — part of the “21” series, named as such because it involves the 2-guard and the 1-guard — by passing to Paul on the wing. Curry typically follows his pass to initiate handoff action with Paul, but instead flares away from the ball. Paul then goes off of the Looney dribble hand-off and gets an open look that just misses.

Suffice to say, Paul won’t be missing looks like that quite often this season.

If that wing action looks familiar to you, it should — because it’s exactly how Curry and Paul practiced it during the first day of training camp:

Curry and Paul’s attempts to develop chemistry is something not a lot of people thought they would see in this lifetime. But Paul’s acquisition by the Warriors this past offseason has made it paramount that two of the greatest point guards of all time combine their collective knowledge and skill sets for the greater good of the team — and for the chances of Curry getting his fifth ring and Paul winning his first to be as high as possible.

The “21” series (also known as “Pistol” action) provides them with a simple but effective template to be involved directly with each other and force defenses to have to make choices against quick-hitting early offense sets.

Curry and Paul tried a few variations of “21” against the Lakers, including this one called “21 Nash.”

Paul throws the ball to Curry on the wing and sets an immediate ball screen, with Looney behind him setting a second ball screen. With Anthony Davis in drop coverage, Curry’s defender has trouble navigating around the screens, giving Curry all the space he needs for the jumper.

Even in transition off of a forced miss, “21” action between Curry and Paul doesn’t have to be a scripted exercise. If they both find themselves on the same side of the floor, they can flow right into guard-guard handoff action that can hit defenses fast and hard:

Defenders not paying attention and failing to dot their i’s and cross their t’s — such as not switching properly or not switching altogether — are going to fall victim to Curry “ghost” screens like the one above.

(For more details on the Curry-Paul practice session and the “21” series, read this article.)

That assist to Curry was one of five total for Paul, to go along with 6 points and 4 rebounds in just under 13 minutes of time on the floor. He displayed on-ball decision making that was to be expected from one of the greatest passers of all time — which is also why his integration within a scheme that seems antithetical to his preferred half-court approach is something to monitor throughout this season.

If this preseason game is of any indication, Paul won’t have any problems balancing his desire for on-ball control and being a cog in the motion-offense machine.

The on-ball-control aspect is important because Paul can virtually serve as a Draymond Green doppelganger when surveying the floor from a high vantage point. He’s able to see subtle screening actions on the periphery, like this flare screen for Andrew Wiggins:

(Also noteworthy: the way Paul puts just enough gusto on his pass to Wiggins to place it perfectly in Wiggins’ shooting pocket.)

The off-ball aspect may involve running Paul off of screens and handoffs to get him downhill and in the paint. Steve Kerr drew up a sideline out-of-bounds set for Paul to do just that:

“Chicago” action — a pindown followed immediately by a DHO — allows Paul to get downhill and touch the paint, which engages Davis and forces him to step up to take away Paul’s drive. This opens the lob to Looney, who’s not the typical athletic lob threat that usually gets partnered up with Paul. But Paul catches Davis’ attention long enough for Looney to gather himself and put the ball in.

The Paul and Looney partnership may not be one that sees heavy minutes during the regular season if Paul does get relegated to a sixth-man role. But in closing lineups and other moments of importance, there’s still the possibility of the two linking up together on two-man screening actions.

Flashes of their partnership occurred during two other possessions on offense. This one involved two seasoned veterans (yes, Looney — despite being only 27 years old — can be considered a seasoned veteran) knowing how to play off of each other with a side cleared and the corner emptied:

And another impromptu empty-corner ball-screen action, initiated by Looney looking for Paul, setting a screen, and freeing Paul up to get to his mid-range comfort zone against drop coverage:

One preseason game is an extremely small sample size — but it’s also the season of overreactions and premature conclusions. As such, let me take the time to state this: Paul is going to fit in quite nicely with this team, at least on the offensive end.

(The defensive side of things — including concerns of lack of size in the backcourt and the fact that Paul’s defensive pedigree might be hampered by his age — is to be determined.)

“Chris is amazing,” Kerr said after the game. “He keeps the game so easy and he’s such a great passer. There’s a pace to the game that is fun to watch as a coach where you just kind of know he’s going to just be making the right play over and over. He understands when we need to pull it back and get into an action or play faster because he understands the rhythm of the game. Chris is amazing, really fun to have him on our side, finally.”

Other musings

Jonathan Kuminga led the team with 24 points on 8-of-14 shooting (4-of-8 on threes), 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 blocks. More than just the scoring, I was impressed by Kuminga’s poise and decision making on some of his buckets and assists.

Linking up with Dario Šarić on “Delay Chicago” action allowed Kuminga to flash his patience downhill against Davis:

Being part of “21 Nash” action also allowed Kuminga to attack a matchup calmly, not forcing the issue and waiting long enough for a teammate to make himself available for the pass.

“I think he’s just playing with the confidence that generally comes when you get to your third year,” Kerr said of Kuminga. “He’s seen everything, he’s feeling the game better. He looks more confident to me out there.”

Šarić also impressed during his time on the floor with the second unit. His feel for the game and ability to space the floor — all in a 6’10” package that makes him the tallest player on the Warriors’ roster — is a combination that might make him the steal of the season.

When slotted at the 5, Šarić will punish big-man defenders whose natural instinct upon transitioning back on defense is to get to the paint:

Above all else, the vision and passing is what should make Warriors fans excited. In a system that places a premium on big-man hubs, Šarić will slot right in and make himself an invaluable connector in second-unit configurations.

“I think Šarić is another guy who helps others.” Kerr said. “The game makes sense when Dario’s out there.”

Another thing that was intriguing: Brandin Podziemski paint touches.

Podziemski displayed a gift for getting into the paint easily and collapsing defenses during Summer League. Whether that would translate to a high-level environment remained to be seen, and it’s still something to monitor if and when he gets minutes against legitimate NBA second-unit defenses.

During this first preseason game, however, Podziemski continued his paint exploits:

“Quick Dribble” — a set that involves a wide screen, “get” action, and double-ball-screen action — gets Podziemski downhill and in a position to use his craft and patience for a bucket.

Double-drag/double-screen-sets will be go-to actions for Podziemski, who has shown a knack for not only getting into the paint almost at will — he almost always makes good decisions off of the paint touches he generates.

When the Warriors run “Quick 55” (a wide screen flowing into double drag/double ball screens), Podziemski rejects the screen, touches the paint, draws low-man help, and whips a skip pass to the corner for the three:

“You could see with Brandin, he knows how to play,” Kerr said. “He’s a count ahead on everything, whether it’s a long rebound, a cut, a pass. He sees the game beautifully. He’s a guy who can really help other people.”

On whether Kerr will have Podziemski as a rotation point guard: “He’s just a guard. I don’t know if he’s a point or a two but he’s just a basketball player. He can definitely handle the ball and run a team. We’ll see where the season takes us but what I like about him is he connects lineups so we could put him out there with just about anybody.”

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