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For the first time since 1975, the Warriors played a game in the city of San Francisco (while the Warriors moved to Oakland in 1971, they were forced to play back in the Cow Palace for a Finals game in 1975). It was a mostly empty, definitely ugly, and entirely underwhelming affair. But it was a (preseason) game, and the first one at the Chase Center. The Warriors lost to the Los Angeles Lakers 123-101.
This is going to be weird, for a while
It’s all bizarre; the pomp and circumstance and far-too-polished vibe of the far-too-nice, far-too-new arena; the fresh faces, some of whom are just as new to the Warriors and the NBA as Chase Center; even the little things, like the minor shift in font on the jerseys, reinforces the fact that this is not the Warriors of the past five years.
This isn’t a team we know well, and it’s not going to feel that way for quite some time. For the past three years (and to a less certain extent, the two preceding it), we knew the Warriors as the end-all-be-all titans of the NBA. Anything but a championship was a failure (the most recent Finals loss was an obvious injury disaster). You knew the core group of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston (and more recently, Kevon Looney) would be there.
There was a revolving door of fringe guys, some of whom stuck around for longer than others. But there was that six-man core that you knew would be there.
Only two of them played on Saturday night, and even when Klay Thompson—who was in his warmups on the bench—returns some time in the second half of the season, the other half of that group is gone for good (barring a surprise Andre Iguodala reunion). Get used to seeing plenty of the players below.
The new group is young… and will need some time
Paying attention to stats yields some merit, but not much in the first game of the preseason, so these are general summaries, combining what we’ve seen in the past and in Summer League, and a bit of what we saw on Saturday.
D’Angelo Russell – Ignore the fact that his shooting stats were terrible in the game (4 points, 2-of-9, 0-of-4 from 3-point). He’s going to be tremendous offensively alongside Curry. The question with him will be defense, something which, if it’s improved, isn’t going to show up much in the preseason.
Jordan Poole – His shooting stroke was one of the high points on a fairly low night. He had 17 points, going 5-of-11 from the field and 4-for-9 from 3-point range. One of the most interesting things to watch this season will be who steps up in the backcourt when one or both of Russell and Curry are out. He, Jacob Evans and Damion Lee are all poised to get chunks of time to try and make a contribution, depending on how much the Warriors decide to utilize Alec Burks, a now-veteran shooting guard who did not play tonight due to a tweaked ankle, according to Steve Kerr after the game.
Jacob Evans – Evans’ stroke has fundamentally improved. It’s something we saw in Summer League and it showed up again in the preseason. It remains to be seen if he can be consistent from behind the arc, but he’s clearly got a knack for pulling up from midrange and his ball-handling isn’t as dire as it was last season. He and Poole both have a bit of guile and talent for finishing at the rim, so it will be worth watching if one of them outshines the other early on.
Eric Paschall – Calling him Draymond-lite is a bit lazy in the sense that the comparison could be seen as being made only because the two are on the same team. But their games are freakishly similar, and while Paschall, like Green, is an undersized power forward, he’s much more athletic than Green (at least at their respective stages in their careers) and is a strong rebounder and finisher at the rim. He’s got a bit of a midrange game, and his stroke, while not impressive, is less turtle-shaped than Green’s, which bodes well for him improving in the long term. He scored 11 points with 3 rebounds and an assist and a steal.
Omari Spellman – With all three of the other Warriors centers out (Willie Caulie-Stein with a left foot injury, Kevon Looney with a hamstring strain and Alen Smailagic with an ankle injury), Spellman saw an extended run and looked promising; especially after losing the 40 pounds he’s said he lost in the past three months. He had 6 points and 9 rebounds tonight
Glenn Robinson III – He played 17 minutes and didn’t do much of note. It’ll be between him and Alfonzo McKinnie for the starting small forward spot vacated by Kevin Durant, which is a bit of a downgrade. Eventually, the Warriors will likely move to a small-ball lineup with Klay Thompson at the 3, but until then, it’s McKinnie’s competition to lose.
Damion Lee – Lee was alright and probably has the most to prove after asserting to the media earlier this week that he’d like to not be talked about for his marriage to Sydel-Lee Curry, the sister of Stephen Curry. He was likely unable to secure a guaranteed deal (the Warriors didn’t have the cap room for a 15th) and will probably get as much run as he can before exceeding the parameters of his two-way deal, and may be given a guaranteed deal later in the season. His shooting stroke looked good for the most part, but he doinked one bad shot off the side of the rim.
Marqueese Chriss – Chriss clearly wants to earn a guaranteed contract, and it looks like it’ll probably happen somewhere else. The Warriors have no roster spots or two-way deals available, but he showed tremendous rim-running talent on Saturday, scoring 8 points with 6 rebounds and 4 assists.
The Lakers are weird too, but they’re a contender if their duo is healthy
That’s a lukewarm take at best, to say that the combination of LeBron James and Anthony Davis gives a team championship-contending potential. It’s far from safe to assume that either, or both, for that matter, will stay healthy, and that they’ll make the playoffs as a top half seed while securing significant regular season rest.
The composition of the Lakers’ roster is still extraordinarily suspect. Seeing Dwight Howard trot out with a No. 39 jersey like the “let’s see if he’s got anything left in the tank” player that he’s become felt like a fever dream, and distracted from the fact that James and Davis are teammates, which if even a few guys not also named Kyle Kuzma can score the ball, is about all that matters.
If Davis plays like the MVP-caliber player he briefly reminded us of on Saturday (22 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists in 18 minutes) and James lends him the spotlight, it’s hard to imagine them not challenging at least for the top of the Western Conference.