LOS ANGELES — With four minutes to go in the first quarter of the Golden State Warriors’ 126-93 preseason loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, as they fell behind by double digits, one particularly vocal heckler across from the Warriors bench yelled, “Hey Warriors! You’re done! Your legacy is f*****!”
While Stephen Curry scored 40 points against the Lakers last week in San Francisco, he rested for Golden State’s road preseason finale on Wednesday, a game that underscored the Warriors’ new reality.
In the past, there was enough superstar talent to paper over most deficiencies or absences. While this group — including eight newcomers — can at times be dynamic and even downright exciting, the youth and lack of both shooting and depth are going to be keenly felt, especially if Curry has to miss any time.
“I’m not going to think about that,” said head coach Steve Kerr.
With Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston gone, and Klay Thompson on the shelf until at least mid-February, Golden State is going to struggle to score behind streaky shooters and rookies. On Wednesday, Golden State started 3-of-14 from the field and 1-of-6 from three. The Curry-less Warriors finished 30-for-84 and 7-for-33 from three, despite what wound up as a hot night from D’Angelo Russell (8-of-17 for 23 points, three assists, three rebounds), who at one point hit seven of 11 shots.
“A game like that makes it difficult to evaluate any individual performances,” Kerr said.
As now-Lakers guard Quinn Cook hit a running three on the left wing to start the second quarter, it was a reminder that, at one point last season, Golden State had to start Cook when Curry was injured because he was the only healthy player capable of hitting a spot-up three. The Warriors had just two makes in 12 three-point tries in the first 15 minutes — one from 6-foot-10, 240-pound Marquese Chriss, and one from very streaky first-round pick Jordan Poole, who went 2-for-10 on the night, including 2-of-9 from 3-point range.
Poole’s shooting lines this preseason coming into Wednesday: 5-of-11, 6-of-12 and 3-of-14. That hasn’t changed from the summer.
Kerr acknowledged on Monday that the Warriors are going to have to live with Poole’s hot-and-cold streaks — that’s just who he is at this point — but they can’t depend on Draymond Green to shoot them out of soft spots if Curry is unavailable. Green going 0-for-4 from beyond the arc before halftime and taking 10 shots when no other Warrior took more than eight is not a formula for success, and indeed Golden State was down 26 at the half.
Since the first preseason game, the Warriors haven’t been able to stop the front court duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis — the best front court in the league — and Wednesday was no different, save for the fact that Omari Spellman was out after tweaking his back on Monday, meaning that Golden State’s only two centers were Chriss and Kavion Pippen.
“It’s more challenging due to the amount of injuries that we have,” Green said. “There’s a lot of moving parts. You’ve got three centers out, so your rebounding probably will suffer. But, nothing’s to concerning. You’ve got to get it, and I know the things that we need to improve on.”
Willie Cauley-Stein won’t play until early November, and he’ll give the Warriors a legitimate center when he returns, but behind him is a so-far underwhelming Spellman (traded after his rookie year with the Atlanta Hawks), Kevon Looney — not a true center, and still dealing with a hamstring issue — and 19-year-old Alen Smailagic.
If Golden State — hard capped and with no money to work with under that hard cap, and few tradable assets — can find a way to keep Chriss on the 15-man roster (which, judging by Steve Kerr’s comments this week, is a foregone conclusion), he’s still relatively undersized (he’s more of a power forward than a center). That can work in today’s NBA, Kerr said, especially with Chriss’s athleticism — Chriss hit a one-handed jam to open the game, and five minutes later, hit a 25-foot triple en route to eight points and four boards in 25 minutes — but the fact remains that the Warriors can and will be physically bullied in the post.
Alfonzo McKinnie — who was a capable wing defender off the bench and hit 38.5% of 3-pointers last season — had four boards and five fouls in 17 minutes, and did little else. Given that he’d likely be the casualty if the Warriors keep Chriss, he needed to show more, because it’s looking like Golden State is going to need size more than another wing who can’t shoot consistently.