It was just the opening game for Houston and Golden State, but that doesn’t mean we can’t dish out disjointed thoughts or make hasty predictions for their seasons going forward. Here are a few of our best (worst?) observations and overreactions from opening night.
- Luc Mbah a Moute, Eric Gordon and PJ Tucker are the best bench unit in the NBA
I think it’s safe to say that the contributions of this group was far and away the reason that Houston was able to sneak out a win at Golden State. The trio combined for 58 points while posting raw plus/minus totals of +4, +16 and +20 respectively. That’s a pretty damn impressive opening act.
Each one of these players showcased their uniquely valuable skills as well. Gordon produced his usual flurry of points, showing aggressiveness driving to the basket, and even hammering home a thunderous first half dunk. Tucker’s toughness and tenacity are such a huge boost to a team that needs a versatile player like him to bring those traits. Going 4-of-6 last night from 3 was just icing on the cake. Mbah a Moute, the member of the trio with perhaps the quietest night, basically did everything. Defended, moved the ball, attacked the basket and even sank a couple 3’s.
If this trio can continue to play at a high level like this night and night out while also staying healthy, they might turn the West into a legitimate two-horse race.
- Nick Young is a lock for the Sixth Man Award
Okay, let’s get the obvious out of the way: Nick Young is not going to shoot 89.9 percent from the floor over the course of the season. But despite squashing the notion that Young is going to break NBA records for accuracy, it’s clear to see he’s right at home with this Warriors team. And that shouldn’t be a surprise.
The two best years of Young’s career were his 13-14 and 26-17 seasons in L.A. In the former, Young played under the coach across the sidelines from him last night. Mike D’Antoni -- the person largely responsible for ushering in this new era of basketball. This past year, Young played under the protege (Luke Walton) of his current head coach, Steve Kerr. As you can see, there are some interesting overlaps.
That success is a promising sign considering Young is joining a Warriors team with openings in their rotation. The departures of Ian Clark and Matt Barnes, two players that contributed a shade under 35 minutes per game combined last year (Barnes was only with Golden State for 20 total though), mean there is playing time available for a reliable contributor. With the weapons around him, Young will never have an easier time finding open shots than with his new team. If he consistently gets 20-25 minutes a night, Young might actually put his name in the conversation for that award.
- The Warriors need to sacrifice wins in the name of development
Speaking of the Golden State bench, Young’s emergence as a reliable contributor doesn’t solve all their problems. Three young players -- Patrick McCaw, Jordan Bell and Kevon Looney -- combined for 39 total minutes last night. Naturally, given their age and collective experience, things didn’t always go smoothly.
Given their star power and depth, it’s easy to look at these young players as inconsequential to the team’s success. But as we saw last night with Gordon Hayward’s injury, things can change quickly. If a few key members struggle with their health, this Warriors team may all of sudden be looking at one of those three players to play meaningful minutes in big games. The only way to make sure they are ready for that, is to give them minutes in big games (and all games) like this one against Houston, but that’s a dicey proposition.
Golden State lost by a single point. Looney was -8, McCaw was -9 and Bell was -2. Now the raw plus/minus data from a single game is pretty fickle, but if Kerr had shortened his bench (like D’Antoni is going to do all season), you could argue that this game likely has a different outcome.
That said, these young players, particularly Bell and McCaw, have the potential to be reliable contributors on this team both now and years down the road. But that long term payoff could come at the expense of short term success. It’s a trade off that might be wise for Golden State to make.
- These two teams are going to evolve basketball
At points watching the game, it was hard to focus on the outcome given the frenzy in which the pieces moved around the chessboard. Both teams went full out in switch-happy defenses, causing each other to identify matchups, move to third and fourth counters out of plays and finally just forcing stars to work hard to make shots. It was both breathtaking and overwhelming.
All the lineup combinations and switching forced a generational cocktail of results. There were ISOs straight out of the 1990s, off-ball screens and motion like college basketball in the 80s and a dizzying array of slips and blur screens taking the place of standard pick-and-rolls. Then there was this era’s contribution of positionless basketball, where guards screened for each other in pick-and-rolls while “big men” like Draymond Green handled out of them.
Over the course of this season, you are going to see teams forced to evolve their strategies and lineups in order to cope. Big men will now be forced to slip screens and make both passing and scoring moves after quick catches. Guards will have to find ways to breakdown switches against players with much more speed and length than traditional big men of eras past. Coaches, of course, will be trying to structure this in a coherent fashion to avoid utter chaos.
Although this change has been overtaking the league the past few seasons, having two of the league’s best teams playing this way may send this evolution into overdrive.