5 Things We Learned from Golden State Warriors' Home Opener
After a stunning opening video montage and player introductions filled with fireworks, pyrotechnics and lasers, sixth man Brandon Rush’s nasty first-quarter knee injury sucked the air out of Oracle arena and cast a pall over much of the evening. The game went on—albeit with a gloomy air hanging in the smoky rafters.
With Rush’s injury clearly on their minds, the Warriors scrapped hard against a superior Memphis Grizzlies team, ultimately falling 104-94.
It was a gritty game, and the Warriors definitely put forth real effort, but issues with lineups, blown defensive assignments and, most of all, offensive stagnation resulted in defeat.
Nonetheless, there was plenty to learn from the Warriors’ home opener, both good and bad. Going forward, the Dubs’ first game at Oracle provides a pretty solid case study in exactly what the team is doing right. More important, is what they’re doing wrong.
Using the game to look ahead at the issues facing the Warriors this season, let’s break down the five things we learned from Golden State’s home opener.
Andrew Bogut Means Everything
Never mind the ugly plus-minus figure from opening night. Andrew Bogut means everything to the Warriors. That’s more of a consession of what we already knew than something we’ve just learned.
Bogut is the only Warrior who consistently makes a difference on the defensive end.
Even though he’s clearly having some mobility issues as he continues to recover from his fractured left ankle, Bogut is still the Warriors’ most talkative, active and properly positioned defender.
In the above highlight, Bogut recovers to emphatically stuff Marc Gasol’s shot, but what you don’t see is the charge Bogut took about three seconds afterward. Bogut then took another on the next possession.
It was just a flash of what a fully healthy Bogut will be able to do for the Warriors’ defense, but it showed enough to confirm that he’s the real key to this team going forward.
Against teams like Memphis, with real size up front, Bogut simply cannot be off the floor for long—especially if coach Mark Jackson is going to insist on continuing to pair the undersized, defensively challenged duo of Carl Landry and David Lee in the frontcourt.
As long as Bogut remains on his November schedule of 20-minute limits, the Warriors are going to struggle up front.
Opposing Small Forwards Are Going to Be a Problem
Rudy Gay is a heck of a player. Against the Warriors on opening night, he looked like a Hall of Famer. Consistently able to get wherever he wanted on the court, Gay took over the game in stretches as the smaller Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson took turns trying to slow him down.
The real story here, of course, is the loss of Brandon Rush. Rush, who went down in the first quarter with a gruesome knee injury, was the Warriors’ best perimeter defender—especially against larger wings like Gay.
As long he’s out—most preliminary guesses project a lengthy absence—the top defensive responsibility on the wing will probably fall to Barnes.
For a rookie who’s clearly struggling to keep up with the pace of the NBA game in the early going, that’s a tall order.
Looking ahead, the Warriors are going to be especially vulnerable against large, athletic wings like Gay unless Barnes, Thompson or Jefferson steps up to meet the challenge.
Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson Must Do More Than Score
Not only will Harrison Barnes have to pick up the defensive slack with Brandon Rush out, he’ll also have to find ways to affect the game that don’t involve scoring.
Against Memphis, Barnes tallied eight points in 23 minutes, but other than a single assist, he didn’t register any other positive statistics—we’re leaving his five fouls and two turnovers out.
There’s no question he’s got the size to be a factor on the boards, so a zero-rebound game—especially one in which the Warriors desperately needed help on the glass—just won’t cut it.
Jackson has had a pretty short leash with Barnes in the early going, largely because of a penchant for getting lost on defense.
However, if he doesn’t make an effort to rebound or create for his teammates, it might become a problem big enough to warrant more minutes for Richard Jefferson (shudder).
All of the above also applies to Klay Thompson.
Thompson is a far more dangerous offensive option than Barnes is (or probably ever will be), but he’s just as guilty of disappearing for long stretches of action as the rookie. Thompson did notch five assists in the Dubs’ opener, but they came on designed plays to get Stephen Curry open shots. Thompson didn’t create any of them.
Thompson will also be expected to slide over to the small forward position more with Rush sidelined, so he’s going to have to find a way to rebound, too.
The Warriors' pair of young wings can't just be empty scorers going forward. They must do more.
Carl Landry Should Play Ahead of David Lee
The Golden State Warriors shot just 17 free throws in their home opener.
That’s the result of the Dubs’ offensive predictability and their lack of a player capable of beating his man off the dribble to create scattered situations where fouls occur. For a tutorial on how to do that, just watch the game tape of Memphis' Mike Conley from the opener.
By shooting 12 of his team’s paltry 17 foul shots, Carl Landry proved that he, alone, is capable of causing trouble in one-on-one situations for the Dubs; and that makes him a better option than David Lee.
David Lee is a skilled offensive player, but his points tend to be created by others.
Lee can hit an open mid-range shot and is a decent option on the pick-and-roll (if the Warriors would ever run one, we’d see that), but he’s nothing like Landry when it comes to shot creation.
In just 23 minutes (Lee played 35), Landry made half his shots, pulled down six rebounds to Lee’s seven and scored a fantastically efficient 20 points. He was the Warriors’ obvious go-to option down the stretch, repeatedly scoring or drawing fouls on whichever Memphis big man had the misfortune of trying to cover him.
By the way, Lee didn’t shoot a single free throw.
The opener made it blatantly obvious that Landry does all the things the Warriors need on offense—and can’t get from anyone else. He scores easily in one-on-one situations and draws a ton of fouls. Lee doesn’t do those things.
Mark Jackson said in his postgame press conference that he’d consider playing Landry over Lee in fourth quarters (something he didn’t do against Memphis, by the way) if it became obvious that Landry was the better option.
Well, Mark, that’s been pretty obvious for a while now, hasn’t it?
Landry needs to play ahead of Lee. It’s as simple as that.
Jarrett Jack Is Going to Be a Lot More Important Than We Thought
The most important thing we learned from the Warriors’ home opener was that Jarrett Jack is going to play a ton, one way or the other.
After Rush went down and Barnes didn’t prove up to the challenge of contributing, the Warriors went with a Jack-Curry backcourt and slid Thompson over to the 3.
The result, though still the product of Jackon’s ridiculously predictable pindown screen offense, was a handful of open shots for Stephen Curry, who continued to prove he is probably a better offensive player when he’s moved off the ball.
Curry dropped 26 points on 10-of-20 shooting and hit six of his ten three-point attempts against Memphis, with Jack running the point for most of Curry’s hot streak.
It’s clear that Curry struggles mightily as a point guard when pressured in the half court.
What’s also becoming obvious is that he may not be the best option to handle the ball if the Warriors are going to play a slower-paced offensive style. He’s a good creator in scattered, up-and-down situations, but the skills a point guard needs in half-court sets (the ability to penetrate, split pick-and-roll defenses and draw fouls) simply aren’t in Curry’s repertoire.
Jack does those things better than Curry, which is fine, because it allows Curry to do what he does best: shoot the ball off the catch.
Going forward, the Warriors need to move Curry off the ball as much as possible. So not only will Jack be Curry's backup, but he'll also probably end up playing alongside him, too. For the sake of the Warriors' offensive efficiency, both guys need to be on the floor.