DENVER — The Warriors rounded out a tough eight-game trip around the country with a 6-3 record. All three of those losses came down to the wire, and two of their wins came on last-second shots from Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.
Nearly every night after games Curry shares clues about Golden State’s “togetherness” and “competitive spirit” and why he’s excited to see it so early in the season while they’re still ironing out kinks and getting acquainted with the playbook and new faces. But Curry stopped his sentence short Wednesday night when comparing their early road success this year to last year’s woes.
“I’m not going to keep talking about last year,” he said. “I’m gonna stop.”
But last year provides good context for what went wrong then and, now, how things look this year in comparison.
The Warriors play their next six games at home, but here are four takeaways from their first big trip.
Early dividends show that going for an older, smarter team is paying off because this team isn’t beating itself by committing a ton of turnovers. Curry is playing out of his mind, averaging 30 points per game, shooting 47.3% from 3 and 51% from the field playing 32 minutes per game – nearly four minutes below his career average, mostly to preserve his legs over the course of a road-heavy early schedule. A more methodical offense is creating that efficiency. But to get to the next level, the wings will need to show up to take some of the load off him.
Dario Saric is the only other Warrior to have at least 20 points in a game, in a win against the Thunder. Klay Thompson has come closest, scoring 19 and 18 points. Warriors not named Curry are shooting 30% (72-for-237) from 3, which includes Thompson shooting 35% on 7.5 attempts per game — a number in keeping with what he shot during the Kevin Durant years. Thompson is taking a more measured approach to his scoring, especially in the mid-range, but maybe he will take more 3s as the season progresses and the Splash Brothers have a different kind of renaissance.
Another guy that can help is Chris Paul. He is averaging 8.8 points per game shooting 36.5% from the field, a far cry from his career average of 17.9 points per game and 46% from the field. A positive: He’s 10-for-19 from the field in his last two games.
If Wiggins’ shots start falling and he keeps the same aggression defensively and on the boards he had Wednesday against the Nuggets, the Warriors can take flight during this upcoming homestand.
But it’s been a rough start for him — inconsistent rebounding and in a daze on offense. In nine games, the Warriors are minus-48 in the 201 minutes Wiggins has played and plus-91 when he’s off the court. That’s a significant gap, and the Warriors need him to get back to his mean.
A lot of that deficit comes from his lackluster scoring. The same player who made the All-Star Game on the back of a career 3-point shooting season is now shooting 15% from 3. He’s moving away from the 3-point line, but has been missing some easy looks at the rim and taking strange off-balance shots. He’s averaging 10.8 points per game.
Wiggins said after the Cleveland loss he “just needs to get into a rhythm” on offense.
“I just need to keep hooping, don’t think,” he said. “Just go out there and play basketball.”
Steve Kerr has continuously deferred any concern about Wiggins’ struggles.
“The better he is defensively, the more his offense will come,” Kerr said. “Not worried about Wiggs at all. It’s a slow start, he’s got a long track record.”
Just nine games into the season, it’s expected that Kerr would temper concern. But Wiggins played zero minutes in the fourth quarter of the Warriors’ win over Detroit and, save for a Draymond Green-less game in Denver, hasn’t been closing most of their games thus far. Kerr has sometimes opted to go small in the closing lineup – sometimes with Gary Payton II or Paul.
The Warriors need Wiggins and Jonathan Kuminga’s length and athleticism on the wings to challenge opposing teams’ size. It’s early, but it’s imperative that Wiggins snaps out of his daze soon.
The Warriors don’t like to relive last season, but the contrast is too stark to ignore. They completely lost grip of winnable games last year through turnovers and discombobulation, but have reigned in the mistakes this year.
Paul’s 66 assists and just seven turnovers tell the story, but he’s also a fountain of wisdom. He and Green dominate assistant coach Anthony Vereen’s rounds of NBA trivia and he’s sharing his knowledge as a longtime adversary with his new teammates.
In practices, Paul gives perspective on the Warriors’ pet plays because he has played against the Curry/Kerr offense for a decade and knows by heart everything they run based on how his teams defended them.
Paul’s teammates have said he can sometimes reverse engineer their offense. Curry downplayed that concept: “It’s not rocket science,” he said, but emphasized that Paul is an encyclopedia of info on Warriors.
“I would frame it as he is another great mind to tap into when you’re trying to solve puzzles on court,” Curry said. “Offensively and defensively, it’s like stuff that I see or the way that I see it might be different. … He remembers things that worked for him against us. Every game is a puzzle you try to figure out, and we’re both in tune with that.”
A career starter in 18 seasons before this, Paul is still adjusting to life off the bench, but he’s embracing his role as leader of the younger guys who line the second unit he runs. He circles up with them between stoppages to go over little miscommunications and answer questions. He’s a team-high plus-63 in nine games.
“Chris is like a pilot,” Trayce Jackson-Davis said. “He’ll be calling the play, calling for the ball screen when he’s at halfcourt. So he makes the game really easy, being able to dive and make plays off of him. It’s great.”
Added Moses Moody: “He’s talking on the floor, off the floor, always tells you what he’s thinking. “But the underrated skill he has is that he’s a listener, too. He’s not someone who will sit there and talk to you and expect you to go with everything you say. He opens up communication.”
Speaking of Moses…
His 17.6 points per game make him a legitimate scoring threat who has held up the crucial “Non-Steph” minutes. But he has also taken a huge leap defensively from last year.
His 1.4 steals per game ranks third behind Payton and Paul. He has 11 steals total. It’s a stat indicative of his feel in his third NBA season. Moody feels the difference, too.
“It’s just about being able to slow things down and know where you want to send guys and knowing personnel, things that come over time,” Moody said.
“I feel like it was a significant jump because last year had so many highs and lows and how differently it went. With the team camaraderie, things feel better and a lot smoother this year so a lot of that goes into that large jump, but I do feel the difference.”
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