Golden State Warriors: 5 Takeaways From Opening Week
The Golden State Warriors have regrouped from an awful season opener, but what have we learned from their first week with Kevin Durant? Here are the five big takeaways.
They were pulverized by 29 on their own floor by their biggest Western Conference rival. They were humbled despite having every motivation for revenge after losing a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals and adding Kevin Durant in free agency. They looked outmatched on both ends of the floor, leading many to question whether the greatest NBA super-team ever assembled was really going to work out.
Opening week overreactions are fun for awhile, but small sample sizes don’t last forever. The Dubs have now won three straight games, and though two of them were unconvincing wins over the lowly New Orleans Pelicans and Phoenix Suns, their third road win of the season over the Portland Trail Blazers was the kind of dominant performance people have been expecting.
There are sure to be many more highs and lows over Golden State’s remaining 78 games, so it’s too soon to draw any lasting takeaways from the first week of NBA action.
What we can do, however, is take a look at both the good and the bad of what we’ve seen thus far, identify areas for improvement and examine where the Dubs have excelled in the most tumultuous 3-1 start to an NBA season in quite some time.
Without further ado, here are the five biggest takeaways from the Golden State Warriors’ first week of the new season.
5. Klay Thompson: Slump? Or Sign Of Things To Come?
The Warriors have uncharacteristically struggled from three-point range so far (more on that in a minute), and at the forefront of those shooting woes has been Klay Thompson.
With the addition of Kevin Durant to an already star-studded starting lineup, it was reasonable to expect sacrifices from everyone to make it work. Thompson, on the other hand, boldly stated he wasn’t “sacrificing s**t” because his game wasn’t going to change.
Thompson’s game hasn’t looked all that different through four games, as he still toes the line between “shooters shoot” and “good God that’s a terrible shot.” However, his numbers have suffered nevertheless.
Klay went 0-7 from 3 to drop to 3/28 for season. Wtf?
— KJ_NBA (@KJ_NBA) November 2, 2016
Through the first week of the season, Thompson is averaging 16.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game, while shooting only 40.9 percent from the field and 3-for-28 from three-point range (10.7 percent). Last year, Klay put up a career-high 22.1 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game on .470/.425/.873 shooting splits.
Thompson hasn’t really had to sacrifice, per se. He’s only taking 0.8 fewer shots and 1.1 fewer threes per game than he did last year. He dropped 28 in the team’s win over NOLA, so more than likely, this is just a random off streak for Thompson. As the league’s second-best three-point shooter, it’s only a matter of time before he gets things going again.
4. Where’s The Three-Point Touch?
Klay Thompson wasn’t the only Warrior wondering where his three-point shot went during the first week of action, however.
After leading the league in three-point efficiency at 41.6 percent in 2015-16 (with their closest competition shooting 37.5 percent from downtown), the Dubs have shot a paltry 29.3 percent from deep, currently ranked 22nd in the association.
Those marks will obviously improve as time goes on and players get more comfortable, but Curry (44.7 percent) is the only one holding up his end of the bargain so far as several players who were very efficient last season have all slumped at the same time:
- Klay Thompson: 42.5% in 2015-16 —> 10.7%
- Draymond Green: 38.8% in 2015-16 —> 30.8%
- Andre Iguodala: 35.1% in 2015-16 —> 22.2%
- Kevin Durant: 38.7% in 2015-16 —> 23.1%
Again, you can expect almost all of those numbers to skyrocket as the season wears on. A four-game sample size makes the percentages look much worse than they are, especially since we know for a fact that Curry, Thompson and Durant are three of the NBA’s most lethal long range shooters.
There are a few other encouraging signs for their three-point attack as well. Last year, the Dubs shot a league-leading 37.5 percent on threes where the closest defender was 2-4 feet away, per NBA.com. So far this year, that number has plummeted to 5-for-25 (20 percent, ranking 20th in the NBA).
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The Warriors also shot an NBA-best 41.9 percent on shots that NBA.com classifies as “open,” with the nearest defender being 4-6 feet away. This year, that number has dropped to 32.3 percent, ranked 17th in the league.
But it’s the “wide open” threes (with the nearest defender being 6+ feet away) where the Dubs have uncharacteristically struggled the most. Last year, they converted a league-best 43.8 percent of such attempts, with such shots constituting 14.1 percent of their offensive frequency.
Through the first four games of 2016-17, despite increasing that frequency to 15.4 percent (meaning they’re getting an even higher quality of three-point looks), the Warriors have shot an abysmal 15-for-54. That 27.8 conversion rate is ranked 28th in the league — after leading all teams in that same category a year ago.
With so much shooting in this starting lineup, you can expect those numbers to drastically improve. Opening night jitters, getting used to new teammates and an almost entirely new bench have probably contributed to such an underwhelming start from downtown, but the quality of looks are as good as they’ve ever been. Sooner or later, those shots will start falling.
3. Bench Still A Work In Progress
Now, Golden State will rely on Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston more than ever in the second unit, in addition to relatively unproven guys like Ian Clark, Patrick McCaw and Kevon Looney and aging veterans like David West and Anderson Varejao.
So far, it’s definitely been a work in progress. While last season’s bench was not a high scoring unit, they did finish third in the association in plus/minus at +1.4. Through four games, the Warriors’ second unit ranks 24th in scoring (27.5 points per game) and 17th in plus/minus (-1.9).
From last night’s game:
GSW starters: 84 points, 29 reb
SAS starters: 75 points, 30 reb
GSW bench: 16 pts, 6 reb
SAS bench: 54 pts, 25 reb
— HoopsHabit (@HoopsHabit) October 26, 2016
That being said, it’s not all bad. Iguodala and Livingston will provide Steve Kerr with two trustworthy options off the bench come playoff time, and if one of West, McCaw or Clark can develop into a reliable reserve over the full season, that will provide the Dubs with a working eight-man rotation.
Clark’s career-high 22 points on 8-of-8 shooting were a positive sign that he could be due for a larger role off the bench, but considering he tallied just eight points on 3-of-14 shooting in the three games prior, it’s too soon to make any definitive declarations just yet.
Per @warriors, Ian Clark the first GSW reserve to take at least eight shots in a game without missing since Chris Mullin in 1996.
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) November 2, 2016
Depth is more useful for winning games in the regular season than it is in the playoffs, as shortened rotations from the Cleveland Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder showed us last year. If Iggy and Livingston can avoid falling off, and guys like Clark, West, McCaw and Looney simply learn how to protect leads, the Dubs will be a very tough team to beat.
2. KD Looks Comfortable
The threes haven’t been falling, Klay Thompson looks out of it early and the bench is still a work in progress. On the bright side though, it’s taken Kevin Durant ZERO time to get comfortable in his new surroundings.
Part of the culture Steve Kerr and the Dubs have created over the last few seasons revolves around playing team basketball and having fun in the process. KD is a bit more on the iso-heavy side, but as one of the most gifted scorers in the game, his presence is an added bonus on the nights with Curry, Thompson and/or Draymond Green are just off.
In his season debut at Oracle Arena, KD was the lone positive, posting 27 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, two blocks and two steals while shooting 11-for-18 from the floor. He started the game 4-for-4 and even threw down a monster dunk for good measure.
Though he hasn’t shot the three-ball well so far (3-for-13), KD followed that performance up with 30 points, 17 rebounds, six assists, two blocks and two steals in a win against the Pelicans.
He carried the Warriors in another road win against the Suns as well, this time putting up 37 points, four rebounds, four assists and four steals while going 10-for-16 from the floor and throwing down the best dunk of his early tenure in Golden State:
Durant added 20 points, five rebounds and four steals on 9-of-16 shooting in a blowout win over the Portland Trail Blazers, and though that game was Stephen Curry‘s show, Durant has been the team’s most consistent player, averaging 28.5 points, 9.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 3.0 steals and 1.5 blocks per game on 57.4 percent shooting.
He leads the team in scoring and steals, he’s shooting 91.7 percent from the foul line and he’s been an absolute terror on the defensive end in Golden State’s small-ball lineups.
There will be an ongoing adjustment period for such a star-studded team, but if anyone was worried Durant would defer to his teammates or come out too passive to avoid stepping on anyone’s toes, his first week in a Warriors uniform quickly put those fears to bed.
1. Dubs Need To Get Back To Defense
People forget this but under Mark Jackson, and even in the first season under Steve Kerr, the Golden State Warriors were a defensively oriented team. In their last season under Jackson, they ranked third in defensive rating, surrendering only 99.9 points per 100 possessions.
In their first season under Kerr — the championship season — they led the league in defensive rating (98.2) despite also ranking second in offensive rating (109.7). In 2015-16 — the infamous 73-win, 3-1 Finals loss season — their offense took center stage, with a defensive rating of 100.9 (fifth) compared to an offensive rating of 112.5 (first).
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In the playoffs, the Dubs’ offensive rating dipped to 108.4, but their defensive rating also dropped to 102.4. In the conference finals it dropped even further to 104.5, and in the Finals, it plummeted to 105.3. The Warriors had gotten away from what made them a powerhouse in the first place, relying on excessively tough shot-making from the Splash Brothers.
Heading into the 2016-17 redemption campaign, defense was a main concern. Golden State’s Lineup of Death, which would now plug Kevin Durant’s all-encompassing wing span, rebounding and rim protection into the mix in Harrison Barnes’ place, was always going to be terrifying.
But could the Warriors defend the rim with Zaza Pachulia taking Andrew Bogut’s place? Would they get enough rebounds after struggling with second chance opportunities during their playoff run? Would they be able to re-establish their roots on the defensive end despite adding even more offensive firepower?
Through their first four games, the Warriors have struggled to find themselves defensively. They gave up 129 points to the Spurs on opening night, another 114 to Anthony Davis and the Pellies, and then another 100 to a very young Suns team. Even in their dominant win in Portland, they gave up 104 points.
So far, the Dubs rank 19th in the NBA in defensive rating at 105.2 points per 100 possessions. The Spurs blowout, the Brow’s explosion and Jake Layman in garbage time have probably skewed those numbers, which would’ve been skewed anyway from such a small sample size.
The point remains, however, that Golden State must rediscover itself on the end of the floor where they first established themselves as legitimate title contenders. If they want to make this super-team work, that’s where they’ll need to get started.