In NBA A to Z Diaries, Insiders Sam Amick and Jeff Zillgitt will provide insight, analysis and revelations from around the league in a free-flowing attempt to make sense of this 2016-17 season.
When it comes to NBA experts in today’s media landscape, Jeff Van Gundy is as candid and insightful as they come.
So when the former head coach/ESPN analyst said on Monday that he expected the Golden State Super Villains to sail through this regular season now that Kevin Durant was in the fold, I took notice.
“This idea that it will take awhile for chemistry, I disagree with that.” Van Gundy had said on an ESPN conference call with reporters. “Great players like Durant, they can fit into any team. They know how to play. The players he’s going to play with know how to play.”
Five days later, after the Warriors responded to their season-opening flub against San Antonio (129-100) by downing the New Orleans Pelicans 122-114 at the Smoothie King Center, this was Van Gundy’s less-than-impressed reaction after he spent the evening calling the action in Game No. 2.
“I’m not sure if I’m (the Warriors) I’m feeling that good,” Van Gundy said on the telecast. “I think they have some things to figure out in how they’re going to guard without shot-blocking, (with) their rotation.
“I think after 15 or 20 games you’ll have a better idea if this is a roster that they feel they can win it all with, or if they feel they have to go out and maybe trade some future draft choices to bring in a guy that fortifies their frontcourt…I thought they would come in here and absolutely blow out New Orleans.”
He was hardly alone.
Even with Anthony Davis exuding so much greatness (more on him later), the fact remains that the Warriors had to scratch and claw to beat a team that won 30 games last season, is without core players Tyreke Evans (right knee), Jrue Holiday (who’s tending to his ailing wife), and Quincy Pondexter (left knee), and which also lost scorers Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon to Houston in free agency during the offseason.
This was a baby step for this Warriors group, really, and nothing more. Road games at Phoenix (Sunday) and Portland (Tuesday) are up next, with the Thursday home matchup against Durant’s old Oklahoma City Thunder squad surely circled on Russell Westbrook’s calendar thereafter.
The good news for Golden State coming out of Game No. 2? Bench players actually contributed this time, none more than perennial Sixth Man of the Year candidate Andre Iguodala (nine points, three assists and a plus-16 rating) and 20-year-old small forward Kevon Looney (an impactful seven minutes that resulted in a plus-13 rating). They also held their own on the boards (49-49) after that humbling 55-35 margin against San Antonio, with Durant leading the way (17 in all, to go with a team-high 30 points) and Zaza Pachulia (11 after he had three in the opener) and Draymond Green not far behind (11 boards). It’s worth noting, too, that there was healthier balance in scoring this time around from the Warriors stars (28 points for Klay Thompson, 23 from Steph Curry).
The bad news for the Warriors? On the heels of their bench being shamed by a 54-16 scoring margin against the Spurs, they were outscored by the Pelicans by a 39-23 margin in that department (Dante Cunningham and Lance Stephenson had 15 points apiece for New Orleans) and have yet to have a reserve player score in double digits.
The cost of doing business with Durant was losing players like Andrew Bogut, Mo Speights, Leandro Barbosa, Festus Ezeli and Brandon Rush. Only time will tell if the Warriors can recapture some of that “Strength in Numbers” magic with the likes of David West, Pat McCaw, Ian Clark and all the rest of their 2016-17 reserves.
Poor Anthony Davis
Just process these stat lines for a moment…
Game No. 1 for Davis: 50 points (17 of 31 shooting), 16 rebounds, seven steals, five assists, four blocks in a loss to Denver.
Game No. 2: 45 points (17 of 34 shooting), 17 rebounds, three assists, two blocks, two steals in a loss to Golden State.
According to ESPN’s Stats folks, Davis is the 1st player to score at least 90 points in the first two games of a season since Michael Jordan in 1986 (91). Durant, in other words, is looking like quite the soothsayer for his comment on Friday that Davis was “probably going to lead the league in scoring this year easily.”
It just doesn’t seem right that the fifth-year star doesn’t have more help from his supporting cast right now. What’s more, his Pelicans now get to head for San Antonio on Saturday night for a matchup against those 2-0 Spurs.
NBA A to Z Diary: Assessing the Warriors after Game No. 2 – USA TODAY