Steve Kerr sat down in front of the computer screen and tried to spin the kind of positivity that has been hard to feel throughout 2020. After watching his young team grind through an underwhelming 116-106 win over an undermanned Detroit Pistons squad on Tuesday night, the basketball lifer tried to let the numbers do the talking.
“I think coming into this trip when the season schedule came out, we all looked at it and we all thought if we could go 2-2 that’d be a really successful trip,” Kerr said, during a video conference with reporters. “Especially given the length of our offseason and everything going on with our team. Draymond [Green] being out, Draymond missing camp, all that. So I think we all feel great, we’re excited to get home. And our confidence level should be rising because we’re starting to see the type of team that we should be.”
Kerr spoke with the kind of paternal optimism rarely needed throughout the Golden State Warriors glory years. And it’s a noticeable shift in tenor that underscores exactly what the group learned during its first road trip of the season. The days of just being able to roll the ball out and expect the Warriors to overwhelm anyone in their path are long gone.
It’s a change that was already starting to take place at the beginning of last season but was stifled when Stephen Curry broke his hand in the fifth game. It’s a realization of just how much the Warriors miss Klay Thompson and a reminder that Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston are not going to be able to ride in and save the day.
Sure, the Warriors are 2-2, but Kerr knows better than anyone in the organization that all wins are not created equal.
After getting blown out by East powerhouses Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks in the first two games of the season, the Warriors needed a Damion Lee winner to beat the lowly Chicago Bulls on Sunday night. The Warriors needed 17 fourth-quarter points from Andrew Wiggins to beat a bad Detroit Pistons team that shot 15-for-50 from the field in the first half (30%) and still led at halftime — while playing without Blake Griffin (concussion protocol) in the second half.
After nine months off, and four games into a condensed season, what do we really know about a group that is still learning about itself?
Starting with Wiseman
Any conversation about the positives starts with rookie center James Wiseman. The 19-year-old continued to impress his teammates and coaches throughout the trip, showing an offensive versatility that few expected this early after the Warriors selected him with the No. 2 pick in the 2020 draft.
“He’s just a kid and he’s just learning,” Kerr said. “It’s just amazing to watch someone that young with so little experience at the college level, no summer league, no training camp, to see how poised he is, how much he wants to learn, how much he listens without feeling criticized or judged. He’s beyond his years from a maturity standpoint.”
He also appears to be beyond his years from a skills standpoint. Wiseman still has plenty to learn, especially in how to avoid picking up cheap fouls, but his talent is overwhelming. When a reporter mistakenly used Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s name to ask Curry about a coast-to-coast dunk Wiseman made, Curry couldn’t help but see the same resemblance.
“It did look like a Giannis-type situation,” Curry said. “You’re right.”
The Warriors are confident that Wiseman will continue to improve and get even better, which is a scary thought for the rest of the league, especially as Green continues to tutor the young prodigy on the defensive end.
Knocking out Oubre’s first jumper
Aside from Wiseman’s emergence, and the familiar (albeit occasional) Curry hot streak, the negatives far outweigh the positives for a Warriors group that has question marks up and down the roster. The biggest one being new shooting guard Kelly Oubre Jr.
After going 0-for-17 from beyond the arc to start the year, Oubre proceeded to knock down his first three of Monday’s game — then proceeded to miss his next three attempts. He comes into Friday’s contest against the Portland Trail Blazers 1-for-22 from beyond the arc.
Curry said he’s been encouraging Oubre to continue shooting and Kerr is confident that Oubre will get back on track. But the Golden State offense can’t function correctly without Oubre shooting at a higher clip — soon. As was the case throughout the trip, Kerr tried to stay positive while describing Oubre after Tuesday’s game.
“You just want to get that one out of the way,” Kerr said. “I told Kelly the other day, Klay’s had at least two seasons, maybe three where he’s started out 5-for-30 something and just couldn’t buy one. And then the games keep coming, you finally have a good game, and then you sort of end up kind of where you should in terms of your shooting percentage and all that.”
Compounding Oubre’s struggles was the fact that Wiggins was shooting almost as poorly coming into Monday’s game — going just 16-for-49 from the field prior to a 27-point outburst against the Pistons.
The good news for Kerr and the Warriors is that Wiggins had the best stretch of his brief Warriors career in the fourth quarter — carrying his new team as Curry got some rest. But the bad news is that the inconsistency shown on this trip served as a reminder to many in the Warriors organization who hoped a change in scenery would serve Wiggins well, that he looks a lot like the player that drove so many in the Minnesota Timberwolves organization crazy with his up and down play.
As many Timberwolves coaches did before him, Kerr tried to look at the bright side while discussing Wiggins’ performance.
“I think what I like about Andrew is that he’s sort of accustomed to what comes in this league,” Kerr said. “In terms of scrutiny, criticism. He doesn’t seem to be bothered by it. He’s been around the block a few times now and the most important thing in this league when you get that kind of criticism or judgement or scrutiny is just to stay poised and keep playing. And Andrew has figured that out. So I don’t think all the talk, I don’t think it bothered him too much.”
Not quite ‘Strength in Numbers’
Aside from Oubre and Wiggins’ struggles, one of the things that should bother Kerr more than anything after this trip is that still doesn’t have a feel for who he can trust from his bench.
After years of being able to count on players like Iguodala, Livingston, David West and Zaza Pachulia, Kerr is left to wonder what he will get each night. Brad Wanamaker, Eric Paschall, Kevon Looney, Mychal Mulder and Lee all showed some promise at times, but they also cast doubt.
Veteran small forward Kent Bazemore went from being viewed as a trusted piece of a new bench to seemingly out of the rotation in a week. Juan Toscano-Anderson, who was waived and re-signed to a two-way contract. gave Kerr some nice minutes and was even inserted into the starting lineup. But it’s fair to wonder if he will be able to have the same kind of impact once teams start scouting him more. Center Marquese Chriss was going to play; now he is recovering from a season-threatening leg injury suffered in practice on this road trip.
Getting Green back will alleviate some fears and calm down a defense that struggled to stay in front of everybody at times, but his return shouldn’t be viewed as some kind of magical cure-all. Same goes for Curry’s brilliance, which will be put to the test all year as he sees more bodies than ever headed his way.
The Warriors are hopeful that they will get a respite in the next couple weeks with a seven-game homestand — becoming the last team in the league to host a game. But for all the positivity Kerr and his players tried to spin after the first week of games, it was Curry who offered one of the biggest doses of reality, while trying to spin positive one more time.
“It’s kind of weird,” Curry said. “I don’t feel like there’s much homecourt advantage, having been on the road. But being in our home space, obviously our routine and being around our family, hopefully that will be a positive for us.”