What stood out from the Warriors 121-107 victory over the Trail Blazers in their preseason opener?
The Golden State Warriors defeated the Portland Trail Blazers 121-107 in their first preseason game. The offense took flight behind a barrage of three-pointers and controlled the game for most of regulation. Of course, a preseason win does not mean that much in the grand scheme, but it was good to see them firing on all cylinders. Still, the result of a preseason matchup tends to be less critical than the developments it shows.
Here are five takeaways from yesterday’s contest:
Takeaway #1: The Jordan Poole breakout could be on the horizon
No one on either team was more impressive than Jordan Poole on Monday. Poole received the starting nod at shooting guard and played with an unparalleled aggressiveness all game. While Poole’s time in the starting lineup is only expected to last until Klay Thompson is ready to take the court and play 30+ minutes a game, the Michigan alum has his sights on a permanent starting spot.
In 22 minutes, Poole racked up 30 points, five rebounds, five assists, a steal, and two blocks without committing a turnover. Poole showed the ability to take over games in his breakout late last season. However, there was a slight disconnect with the rest of the Warriors’ offense. Poole looked more in sync on Monday and made multiple good reads out of the point.
The Warriors’ faithful have been hoping the franchise could find another star in one of their three recent lottery picks. James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga, and even Moses Moody could become the face of a future dynasty for Golden State. Still, it’s hard to argue that any of them have a better chance than Poole at becoming an All-Star caliber player.
Takeaway #2: Otto Porter Jr. & Nemanja Bjelica look comfortable in the Warriors offense
From Kelly Oubre to Omri Casspi, many proven veterans failed to fit alongside Curry in the Warriors’ movement-centric offense. However, while one preseason game is far from an absolute proof of concept, offseason acquisitions Nemanja Bjelica and Otto Porter Jr. looked very comfortable in head coach Steve Kerr’s offense.
There’s reason to be excited about Porter, but any declarations that he’s back to his pre-injury form are preemptive. Porter looks more athletic than he was last season, but he’ll have to be tested more defensively before anyone should draw any conclusions. Porter had a great game, finishing 4-for-7 from behind the arc with 19 points in just under 18 minutes, but he has always been a great shooter. Even in his bad 2020-21 season, he went 4-for-7 from three in more than 10% of his games.
Caveats aside, Porter always seemed like an easy offensive fit in Golden State. If he’s able to hold up physically, he has the potential to enter Sixth Man of the Year Award conversations and possibly close games for the Warriors.
It took a bit of time for Bjelica to score his first points, but the six-year veteran eventually knocked down a pair of threes, including one from way downtown. It wasn’t Bjelica’s shooting, though, but his passing and off-ball movement that should have fans excited. Bjelica recorded a team-leading six assists in just over 18 minutes and looked like he’d played in Kerr’s offense for years. The big man quietly averaged 4.2 assists per 36 minutes last season, and the way he moved the ball on Monday suggested he might be able to surpass that number this season.
Bjelica’s combination of shooting (38.7% career three-point percentage) and passing prowess is unlike anything the Warriors have had at center since Draymond Green’s 2015-16 season. It might have looked unclear how Bjelica would earn playing time with Green, Kevon Looney, and James Wiseman, all expected to receive plenty of minutes at the five, but Bjelica showed on Monday that he has a skill set that could add another dimension to Kerr’s lineups.
Takeaway #3: This could be the deepest shooting team in Warriors’ history
The Warriors will never have a shooting trio that rivals Curry, Thompon, and Kevin Durant, but that does not mean they cannot have a deeper collection of shooters now. During Durant’s tenure in Golden State, the Warriors front office prioritized defensive-minded players who were comfortable without the ball in their hands. With three of the best shooters in NBA history, few noticed the absence of shooters on the Warriors bench until Durant got injured in the 2019 postseason and subsequently signed with the Brooklyn Nets.
It doesn’t look like that will be the case this season.
The Warriors launched 69 threes against Portland, which would have been the second-most in regular-season history, and connected on 34.8% of their attempts. Kerr told reporters after the game that he expects the Warriors to rely heavily on the three all season, and it’s easy to see why. Just take a look at some of the players in Golden State’s rotation and their career shooting percentages from three-point range:
Stephen Curry: 43.3%
Klay Thompson: 41.9%
Otto Porter Jr.: 40.2%
Juan Toscano-Anderson: 39.1%
Nemanja Bjelica: 38.7%
Damion Lee: 36.4%
Moses Moody 35.8% (NCAA)
Andrew Wiggins: 34.1%
Jordan Poole: 31.6% (35.1% last season)
JTA will probably see his three-point shooting regress this season, but Poole should offer some positive regression to offset those declines. Add in the potential for the Warriors to add another shooter, like Mychal Mulder or Langston Galloway, to fill out their roster, and Golden State could have ten legitimate threats from behind the arc.
Takeaway #4: Do not expect Steve Kerr to push the rookies
Kuminga and Moody could have been the story of tonight’s game, but Kerr opted to play a veteran-heavy rotation, limiting Golden State’s two rookies to roughly 10 minutes apiece in the fourth quarter. Neither played exceptionally well, but more importantly, Kerr signaled the Warriors have no plans to push either player into the rotation before they’re ready. It marked a stark contrast from the organization’s handling of a rookie Wiseman last season.
The Warriors were so excited by Wiseman’s performance in their final preseason practices that they made him their starting center. They fed the hype around the second overall pick, and when Wiseman struggled against NBA competition, the Warriors had to backtrack. Wiseman might not have played better if Golden State waited longer to give him a more prominent role, but he would have had less pressure on him to start his career. It seems like Kerr hopes to avoid making that same mistake with Kuminga and Moody.
Takeaway #5: No one took an early lead for the 15th roster spot
The Warriors’ competition for the final spot on their roster got off to an unexciting start on Monday. Gary Payton Jr. is out with a hernia, which should open the door a little wider for his competition (Mychal Mulder, Avery Bradley, and Langston Galloway). Instead, no one seemed to take advantage of the opportunity.
Bradley received the bulk of his playing time in the first half against the Blazers’ starters and looked like a player on a non-guaranteed contract. Given the offensive lean throughout the roster, Golden State would love for Bradley to rekindle the elite perimeter defense from his past, but that wasn’t on display Monday.
Galloway and Mulder both rely on one skill: shooting. Mulder made his attempts, finishing 3-for-6, while Galloway looked out of control in his limited playing time. Given the shooting already on the roster, one of them probably has to flash another dimension to their game to beat out Bradley or Payton. Unfortunately, neither of them showcased that against Portland.
If principal owner Joe Lacob hopes to leave the 15th roster spot empty to start the season to save some luxury tax money, Bradley, Mulder, and Galloway’s performances made it easier to justify cutting that cost. Granted, if all three of them fail to stand out, it should give Payton another opportunity to lock down the job.