SAN JOSE – After a long afternoon here at the SAP Center, having left my apartment extremely early today in order to beat the traffic to the San Francisco 49ers home game in Santa Clara (which is about two miles from San Jose and 45 miles from San Francisco; maybe they should just call the Niners the Bay Area 49ers now?), the Golden State Warriors eventually got around to playing a preseason game against the Sacramento Kings.
It wound up being an entertaining affair, with the Warriors coming away with a 102-96 win, much to the delight of the sellout crowd. Here are my observations on the game:
— Steve Kerr has gone out of his way before each game to say he’s contemplating different substitution patterns and trying different things, but it’s pretty clear he has a strong idea of what he’s going to do once the regular season starts.
The Warriors have had Kevin Durant come out first in every game; he’s led the second unit in every game; and the nine-man rotation has been the same each time: the starting five of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Durant, Draymond Green and Zaza Pachulia, with backups Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala, David West and Ian Clark. I’m expecting things to look like that, barring injury, into the early portion of the regular season. And, frankly, the only potential change there is swapping out Clark for someone like rookie Pat McCaw.
But all Clark really needs to do is knock down open 3-pointers, which he’ll get in abundance, and going 4-for-7 from 3-point range and scoring 16 points in 17 minutes Thursday is a perfect example of why he’s got a significant leg up on McCaw at this point.
— DeMarcus Cousins showed why he’s one of the best players in the league. He finished with 20 points on 11 shots in 20 minutes, knocking down a pair of 3-pointers, driving by Zaza Pachulia on multiple occasions and generally doing whatever he wanted.
Cousins has his faults, but there’s no denying his talent. And while Pachulia hasn’t looked great at center so far this season for the Warriors, Cousins has the ability to make anyone look shaky when he’s playing like he did Thursday night.
— There have been some murmurings of discontent about the play of Pachulia so far, but I think it’s little more than adjusting to a brand new style of play and team. I’ll be surprised if, in time, he doesn’t settle in nicely into this system. But it is something that, at least so far, bears watching.
— Speaking of the Kings, after watching them today I’m cautiously optimistic about them this season. They aren’t going to become a dominant team in the West, but they have a bunch of solid depth pieces now. I was intrigued that Dave Joerger went with a Kosta Koufos-DeMarcus Cousins starting lineup, and more intrigued by him bringing in Matt Barnes for Koufos as the first sub to play small after that.
The Kings spent much of the first half then playing small, with either Tolliver or Barnes manning the power forward spot to space the floor. Giving Cousins as much room to operate is always a good idea, and should allow the Kings to be versatile at both ends of the floor.
— On another note, Ty Lawson looked to be in fantastic shape. Perhaps being on a non-guaranteed contract and knowing this could be his last shot in the league has him on his best behavior, but he definitely looked like a different person than he did last year. And, at least on this night, he wasn’t bad, finishing with seven points, three assists and two steals in 20 minutes.
Lawson has a long way to go to prove he can still be an effective player in this league, but this looked like an encouraging step in the right direction. With Darren Collison suspended for the first eight games, he’s going to get a chance to prove he can still play right off the bat.
— It also has to be said that Joerger is an upgrade at coach over George Karl from last season. Karl is a terrific coach, and should be in the Hall of Fame, but it was clear things weren’t going to work out nearly from the start of his time in Sacramento. Joerger should improve Sacramento’s defense, and the Kings will hopefully be able to finally enjoy some stability for a change.
— One final Kings point: Willie Cauley-Stein still looks like he’s trying to be something he’s not. At one point, he tried to make a post move, only for it to go quite badly and result in a turnover. He finished the game 0-for-3 from the field and 2-for-4 from the line to go with four fouls, two rebounds, two steals and that turnover.
Before the game, he was working with coaches on his face-up game and shooting jumpers – both of which are fine to work on. But if he wants to become an effective NBA player, here is what he should focus on: setting a hard screen at the top of the key, and then sprinting to the rim. If Cauley-Stein could use his athleticism and size to become a good roll man in the pick-and-roll, then he could start to work on the other parts of his game.
— This game was full of missed opportunities for highlight plays on both sides. At one point, each team attempted alley-oops, only to fail to convert on them. Zaza Pachulia went behind his back on a coast-to-coast drive, only to blow the open layup. Curry had two ridiculous dribble moves, but both ended in misses after the crowd was on its feet and ready to explode.
It made for a wild and entertaining game, if not exactly a well-executed one.
— Something else also bears repeating: the Warriors will be deadly in transition this season. Any time they got on the break in this game with the starting unit out there, it almost always resulted in an open 3-pointer for one of Curry, Thompson or Durant. And, almost always, that resulted in one of those three making said 3-pointer.
It’s become clearer and clearer to me, even through three games, that the only way to beat this team is the one we all expected it would be: play physical, slow the game down, and hammer the boards on both ends. That’s not much of a surprise, though. The question is if anyone will be able to do so without getting annihilated by Golden State if – or when – the Warriors go small. That will be a fascinating chess match to watch all season long.