Preview: Steph Curry return looming; Warriors host exciting Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson

They say that where there is evidence, you don’t need faith. And with the Golden State Warriors having their worst season since the late 1990’s, the faith of Dub Nation has been sorely tested this season. But fret not, Warriors fans - Stephen Curry has returned to full practice with the Warriors. Soon we will once again get evidence of greatness delivered to our eyeballs on a nightly basis again, until then though - we are all going to need lots of faith.

Though Curry won’t be back in a game for another week or so, his imminent return will immediately bolster the fortitude of a Golden State roster that has managed a measly 12 wins this season - worst in the NBA.

And they’ll need it.

Zion Williamson is a freak of nature in all of the most complementary ways. Six foot six, and weighing nearly 300 pounds, he’s so quick and bouncy that he defies reasonable expectations of what a human body can do. After cautiously healing from knee surgery (to repair a meniscus tear sustained after just nine minutes played in Summer league), he’s averaging nearly 30 points a night in his first 11 NBA games.


GAME DETAILS

WHO: Golden State Warriors (12-44) vs New Orleans Pelicans (24-32)

WHERE: Chase Center, San Francisco, CA

WHEN: Sunday, February 23rd, 2020; 5:30 pm PST

WATCH: NBC Sports Bay Area, NBA TV


The recrudescence of Splash warfare is imminent

In a lot of ways, the Golden State Warriors have spent this season licking their wounds. Already without Klay Thompson for the entire season, and floundering after a huge departure of talent via free agency and retirement, once Curry went down with a broken hand… that was pretty much it.

As the Warriors have tanked their way to the very bottom of the rankings, Curry has been slowly healing and biding his time. Two surgeries and four months later, it seems the journey back is nearly complet. Now, with just one week remaining before his expected March 1st return, it’s time to start getting excited again about what this team can be.

Yesterday, Curry returned to full contact scrimmage, the final step remaining prior to a return.

This is Curry’s non-shooting hand, but the injury was traumatic enough to cause lingering issues. Even after a return to full health, your body can feel a lot different after surgery - and it sounds like Curry is still experiencing some of this.

As transcribed by Anthony Slater of The Athletic, here’s the Splash Brother talking about his non-splash hand:

“I’m getting used to what the new normal is,” Curry said. “It definitely feels different than the right (hand). But you try to get to the point when you’re playing basketball, you don’t think about it — whether it feels all the way same or not, it doesn’t really matter, as long as I’m not worried about the things I’m trying to do, the strength part of it and how it bounces back the next day after pushing it in contact stuff.

“But to answer your question, it is going to feel different. Anybody who has had surgery knows it takes a long time to get back to true normal. Functionally speaking, where I’m not out there on the court thinking about it, that’s where I’m trying to get it to.”

Warriors roster shuffle continues - meet Dragan Bender

One of the phrases that has stuck with me lately is the Warriors front office calling the high premium on wings in today’s NBA a “market inefficiency.” But on the flip side of that demand curve: big men.

With an extremely top-heavy roster, Golden State has made a habit of scrounging for Centers. From Zaza Pachulia to JaVale McGee, and then this season’s late addition of Marquese Chriss - it’s been an especially fruitful dig through the bargain bin of NBA big men.

Bender will reportedly sign a 10-day contract starting today, which should get him through the Denver Nuggets contest on March 3rd or so.

Picked fourth in the 2016 draft, Bender spent three seasons in Phoenix, averaging 5.3 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 20.3 minutes per game. They let him walk as a free agent, but he couldn’t find his way off the bench in Milwaukee, playing just seven games and bouncing back and forth to the G League, he was cut by the Bucks a couple weeks ago.

But check out some highlights and it’s clear that Bender can play. He shows a nice vision (check out the quick hit on this cut around the 45 second mark), and has legitimate size, with defensive instincts that could be honed by Draymond Green and the Warriors.

The hope here is that the 22-year-old will play better within the Warriors system. Much like Andrew Wiggins and Marquese Chriss, looking better now is nice, but looking better next to the three future Hall of Famers next season is really the end goal here.

Pelicans surging with Zion, pushing towards the 8th seed and into the Rookie of the Year conversation

One of the coolest things in sports is watching young teams develop. After Anthony Davis forced his way out of town, the Pelicans are quickly poised to re-enter the playoff chase with a young lineup full of rapidly developing players.

In the Davis trade, the Pelicans secured the services of Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram two players that the Los Angeles Lakers previously had withheld from most trade talks as they viewed them as developing franchise cornerstones. Now, whether you buy that reality or not, the pairing looks like an ideal fit next to Williamson’s post prowess.

Ball in particular seems to be making a leap - now this may be just a small sample size warning from a good stretch of play, but his play recently has been eye opening. Check out his stats since Christmas:

Ball is averaging 13.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, 8.2 assists and he is shooting 41.6% from the field, 38.7% from 3-point range and 64.0% from the free throw line since Christmas Day. He has racked up three triple-doubles during that span, with a 27-point, 10-rebound, 10-assist, 7-three-point effort against the Rockets serving as probably his greatest achievement to date of his young career.

With Zion Williamson storming out to his strong start, New Orleans is now eying a late push for the Western Conference’s 8th seed. It’s real soft on the underbelly of the West these days, so rookie Williamson leading this team into the playoffs is not out of the question.

Per game, Williamson is averaging 22.4 points (on a very nice .616 TS%), 7.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 0.7 steals. His game is the polar opposite of Curry’s. Where the Warriors weaves his way through defenses to find open spots, Williamson shoulders into the teeth of the defense and punishes them inside. As per basketball reference, Williamson takes 78% of his shot attempts from within three feet of the basket, and converts them on 67.5% efficiency.

So yeah, three are worth more than twos, but if no one can really stop you from getting whatever you want inside, those two point buckets are just fine, thanks.

Prediction: 50-50 toss up game

I’m not sure the Warriors can overcome a Pelicans team that’s fighting for a playoff spot, while their best player chases a Rookie of the Year award - not because he’s forcing anything, but because he is indeed that good.

BUT.

I readily admit to my biased lenses, but it’s hard not to expect some lift to the Warriors morale now that Curry is back on the court and practicing with the team. The Warriors have shown all season long that they’ll fight and compete, and this may be one of those games where the heart is enough to carry a deficient roster to victory.

BUUUUUUT….

[Late edit] No Draymond Green tonight, and maybe no Marquese Chriss.

Tank on, you beautiful train wreck of a season.

Tank on.