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Player grades: Warriors vs. Nuggets

Assessing every Golden State player’s performance from the team’s 108-105 loss to Denver.

Close up of Steph Curry with Chris Paul in the foreground. Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

The Golden State Warriors almost pulled off a fantastic upset on Wednesday night, when they took on the defending-champion Denver Nuggets, on the road, sans Draymond Green and Gary Payton II. Instead, they had to settle for an encouraging loss, and the peace of knowing that they get to go home for a while, after playing their last eight games in eight different cities.

Let’s grade the 108-105 loss. It was a highly-encouraging and exciting team performance, but there were certainly a lot of individual performances to critique. As always, grades are based on my expectations for each player. A “B” grade represents the average performance for that player.

Note: True-shooting percentage (TS) is a scoring efficiency metric that accounts for threes and free throws. Entering Wednesday’s games, league-average TS was 57.1%.

Dario Šarić

26 minutes, 4 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 2-for-5 shooting, 0-for-3 threes, 40.0% TS, -12

Šarić filled in for the injured Green, which was understandable if slightly surprising. Given the athleticism of Nuggets power forward Aaron Gordon, I wondered if we might see Jonathan Kuminga, instead.

It definitely wasn’t the best game for Šarić, but he certainly showed so much of why Golden State targeted him this offseason. He just constantly makes the right play, as evidenced by being on the court for more than half a game, without committing a foul or a turnover. And even though he was overmatched by Gordon’s athleticism and Nikola Jokić’s size, he still played a huge role in Golden State winning the rebounding battle.

When his shot isn’t falling, his box scores don’t look that good. But he still had a good game when thrust into a larger role.

Grade: B-
Post-game bonus: Tied for the team lead in rebounds.

Kevon Looney

30 minutes, 10 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, 2 turnovers, 5 fouls, 4-for-4 shooting, 2-for-3 free throws, 94.0% TS, -6

The job that Looney did on Jokić in the first half was nothing short of phenomenal. He forced the two-time MVP into tough, physical shots, and dared him to try and win 25 feet from the hoop instead of in the paint. And he even took it at Jokić on the other end of the court.

You’d love to see fewer fouls, but considering that Looney played his season high in minutes, while defending one of the greatest offensive forces in NBA history in single coverage, that feels like picking nits.

A very, very good game.

Grade: A
Post-game bonus: Tied for the team lead in rebounds and assists.

Andrew Wiggins

29 minutes, 11 points, 5 rebounds, 1 turnover, 3 fouls, 4-for-13 shooting, 0-for-3 threes, 3-for-4 free throws, 37.3% TS, -6

Welp. I’m not entirely sure where the cutoff between “Wiggins is having a tough start to the season” and “we should be really worried about Wiggins” is, but I’m fairly certain we’re on the bridge from the former to the latter.

Wiggins continues to step it up on the glass, which is great to see. He kept a lot of possessions alive even when he didn’t get credit for the rebound, and it was his fourth consecutive game with at least five boards ... after having just 11 rebounds, total, over his first five games. He had some really good defensive possessions, and with Green and Payton out, he played his season high in minutes and found himself in the closing lineup for the first time this year.

But there was certainly a lot more to dislike than to like. He continues to play with zero urgency, settling for shots that amount to a shoulder shrug. While he has had some great on-ball defense at times this year, his overall defensive game is a step behind what we’ve grown accustomed to. 231 minutes into the season and Wiggins still has just six assists and one steal. He’s shooting 38-for-99 from the field, and just 3-for-20 from deep.

There are some bad performances that you don’t worry about. Chris Paul’s poor shooting to start the season strikes me as one of them. I don’t think this is one of them.

Grade: C-

Steph Curry

34 minutes, 23 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, 3 turnovers, 2 fouls, 6-for-17 shooting, 6-for-13 threes, 5-for-5 free throws, 59.9% TS, -10

Curry’s first quarter was one of his worst stretches of the young season, and he was held scoreless. Then he figured things out and turned things on, quickly.

It still just wasn’t a very good Curry game, all things considered. Curry deserves zero blame for missing a game-tying shot in the final seconds, but it did feel emblematic of his game: you expect Curry to make that soft, high-lofted left-handed finger roll, but it was way off. It was an excellent move to get the look, but he just couldn’t finish it off.

Even on his off days, Steph is fantastic. But this felt like more of an off day than perhaps the box score depicts.

Grade: C+
Post-game bonus: Led the team in points, tied for the team lead in assists.

Klay Thompson

32 minutes, 15 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 2 turnovers, 1 foul, 5-for-12 shooting, 2-for-8 threes, 3-for-6 free throws, 51.2% TS, -13

After a hot stretch, Klay’s shooting has gotten a little cold. He’s 6-for-25 from three-point range over his last three outings, and seeing him clank three free throws — his first misses from the charity stripe of the season — was odd.

It wasn’t a particularly good game for Thompson, but I did find it an encouraging one. Seeing him so aggressive on both ends of the court was a joy. He was quick to attack the rim with or without the ball — his six free throws were only one fewer than he had through his first seven games combined. He was equally aggressive on the glass, and I don’t think that rebounding total accurately reflects the work he did.

An encouraging game, but the Warriors do need more, especially with Wiggins and Paul struggling to score.

Grade: C+
Post-game bonus: Worst plus/minus on the team.

Jonathan Kuminga

19 minutes, 10 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 foul, 4-for-12 shooting, 0-for-1 threes, 2-for-2 free throws, 38.8% TS, +9

I really think it’s all about to click for JK. He’s being way more aggressive as a scorer, which certainly looks like something the coaching staff is imploring him to do with Wiggins’ struggles and Jordan Poole’s departure.

So far it’s not particularly working. He’s 11-for-34 over his last three games, and his three-point shot has abandoned him.

But you can see the foundation for it. Right now Kuminga’s game closely resembles my golf game: my shots on the driving range excite me for what could be; my shots in games make me frustrated that I’m not actually executing yet.

I think Kuminga will put it all together and I think it will happen quickly. Until then, there will be some rough games, and he’ll need to find other ways to contribute. Which, in fairness, he did in this game with his rebounding, defense, and playmaking.

Grade: C+
Post-game bonus: Best plus/minus on the team.

Trayce Jackson-Davis

18 minutes, 8 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 4 fouls, 2-for-3 shooting, 4-for-5 free throws, 76.9% TS, +4

He’s not there yet, but Jackson-Davis is rapidly trending towards “time to start finding a way to get him regular minutes” territory. The second-rounder plays with a tremendous combination of calmness and urgency.

You can see the foundation for a great defender, even if he’s not there yet — he’s still out of position or a half-second late with regularity, as evidenced by the four fouls in 18 minutes. But you can see it.

And the offense? Talk about a player with “Warriors” written all over him, and not just because that’s what the jersey says! He has such great instincts, which you see with the timing of his screens and rolls, his aggression in getting to certain spots without the ball, and his vision when playmaking.

There aren’t many rookies that actually help you win games. And there really aren’t a lot of second-round rookies that actually help you win games. I think TJD might be a rarity.

Grade: B

Chris Paul

27 minutes, 9 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, 1 turnover, 2 fouls, 4-for-10 shooting, 1-for-4 threes, 45.0% TS, +5

This was a fun Paul game. It wasn’t his best game as a Warrior, not by any stretch. But there were so many fun elements, including the second straight game in which he showed off his Hall of Fame midrange game.

But what I really loved watching was how he blended his All-Star skills with his leadership. Paul spent much of the game as the elder statesman in a super fun young bench lineup alongside the team’s two rookies and two third-year players. And while in that lineup, you could see him floating between taking over and teaching his young teammates.

There were a few times where he called for Brandin Podziemski to take the ball, and it almost felt like a teacher telling his pupil, “OK, now you try.”

What a joy.

Unfortunately, Paul’s spectacular turnover streak came to an end. After four straight games without turning the ball over, CP3 finally tallied one. Still has just seven on the year, against 66 assists. Yeesh.

Grade: B
Post-game bonus: Tied for the team lead in assists.

Moses Moody

14 minutes, 10 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 4-for-7 shooting, 2-for-3 threes, 71.4% TS, +6

A second straight good game for Moody with increased aggression. I would have liked to see him get more minutes, but it’s understandable given that Denver is a forward and center-heavy team, especially with Jamal Murray out.

Moody is just making things happen. His first quarter was fantastic, and the timing on his cuts should have Kerr doing a happy dance all the way back to San Francisco. He had one of the better defensive efforts on the team, and was the only player other than Curry to have a good night shooting from distance.

Keep at it, Moses.

Grade: A-

Brandin Podziemski

11 minutes, 5 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 fouls, 2-for-3 shooting, 1-for-1 free throws, 72.7% TS, +8

At the risk of being overly reactionary, this was the type of game that should have you very, very, very excited about Podziemski.

How many 20 year old rookies have the creativity mixed with the footwork fundamentals to do stuff like this?

And how many of those players do stuff like that while avoiding the type of mistakes that plague most youngsters? Usually you see moves like that from young players who are taking questionable shots and making suspect passes. But Podz kind of plays like a quiet high-quality veteran role player ... and then he’ll reach deep into his bag and show you why the Warriors reportedly had him on the top 10 of their big board.

Creative and careful is a rare blend in the NBA, and it’s rarer still on a young player. I can’t wait to watch him play some more. But don’t just take it from me, take it from Klay:

Grade: A-

Wednesday’s DNPs: Cory Joseph, Jerome Robinson

Wednesday’s inactives: Usman Garuba, Draymond Green, Gary Payton II, Lester Quiñones, Gui Santos

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