After the first game, many Warrior fans were already hitting the panic button and getting themselves mentally prepared for another sub-500 season. They played 3 1/2 quarters of very good basketball against a legit contender in the Clippers, until Chris Paul decided to take over, hitting clutch jumper after clutch jumper in the waning minutes of the game. Although the score looked lopsided at the end, anyone watching the entire game and familiar with the Warriors' historic ineptness had to be a little giddy at the sight of good team defense being played and rebound battles being won. Curry AND Ellis had a bad shooting night - this doesn't happen very often. With a typical performance from either of them, the contest would have been much closer and perhaps the outcome different. The new look Clippers are deadly with Paul, Griffin, Billups, Butler, Williams, and Jordan and the Warriors were able to compete with them most of the game despite only having 10 days of training camp to install an entirely new system under a new coaching staff.
Monday night's impressive victory of the East Coast power, Chicago Bulls, confirmed my suspicions that these Warriors are going to be damn good. The starting lineup my be the same, but that's about it. These guys are not your same old Warriors and here's why....
- These Warriors play scrappy defense (16 steals tonight). They remind me of the 'We Believe' team that played a relentless style of D during the playoff run - quick hands, jumping the passing lanes, causing deflections, and wreaking havoc in a frenetic pace.
- They can compete with any team on the boards. Warriors were winning the rebound battle at the half and lost most of it in one possession where the Bulls had 3 offensive rebounds sometime in the 3rd Q. The Bulls were the #1 rebounding team in the NBA and the Warriors hung tough with them. The night before, they out-rebounded a very good front line vs. the Clips 48 to 43.
- They have more shot blockers/changers. McGuire and Rush are good on the perimeter. Udoh, Biedrins, and Brown are great in the paint. Each give the Warriors a different type of defender to run out there whether it be for speed, hustle, length, agility, or strength.
- The bench is deeper than ever. Each position has a capable backup. PG: Smith and Jenkins, SG: Rush and Thompson, SF: Rush and McGuire, PF: Udoh, C: Brown and Udoh. The second unit may be lacking offensively, but they sure can bring it defensively and play well enough to allow the starters to recharge on the bench without any huge swing in point differentials.
- The coaching staff, especially Michael Malone, will have this team playing at a consistently high level come February. Over half the roster is new, yet chemistry is looking good. With more court time and player development (rookies and young players), they will be a very dangerous team.
- It's likely that Curry will miss several games due to his weak ankles, so it's important to rely on tough team defense to keep games close down the stretch. Mark Jackson's rotation pattern is solid - a far cry from piling on 43+ minutes per night on their starters. There is a good balance of offense and defense thanks to the smart (and low cost) additions to the team: Rush, McGuire, Smith, Jenkins, Thompson, Tyler, and Brown (not so cheap, but 1-year deal). Jackson is not afraid to use his bench and understands that he needs to develop the young talent so they can be ready sooner, rather than later. When Curry is out for the game, I expect to see more of Jenkins. I'm glad to see Thompson get a lot of run despite his slow acclimation to the speed of the game. I could only imagine that Tyler is benefiting immensely from daily practices vs. the vets. This bodes well for later in the season.
Although this may be one of the best years for the Warriors to tank and draft, at some point, they need to start winning in order to attract better talent - baby steps into the playoffs, build a winning culture, then build a reputation as a choice destination for the stars. When Mark Jackson was introduced as the new head coach, he proclaimed that they WILL make the playoffs. I'm a believer.