Preview: Warriors close the preseason with another shot at beating Kings

Still no Draymond Green or James Wiseman

The Golden State Warriors are headed back into Sacramento to take on the Kings in the final preseason game of this abbreviated offseason. It’s a last chance to iron out some of the kinks before getting launched at full velocity into the jaws of the 2020-2021 season.

While the main roster is taking this Kings game as a final dress rehearsal prior to Tuesday’s opening game against the Milwaukee Bucks, the other end of the roster is fighting for their job.

No Draymond Green or James Wiseman again, but by all accounts, they are both inching closer to a return.

Lots to watch, and plenty of fun to be had with the final low stakes preseason game, so let’s go!

GAME DETAILS

WHO: Golden State Warriors at Sacramento Kings

WHEN: Thursday, December 17th, 2020; 6pm PST

WATCH: ESPN; NBCSBA

Ok, Buddy, Guy.

There is something delightfully quirky about the Sacramento Kings and their fans. It’s hard to tell if it is love, hate, or some weird amalgamation of those two emotions in play when my coworker puts on a crooked smile and just goes, “KAAANGZ!” - but whatever it is, it’s made me love that team.

The “Kangz” are a franchise that has been adrift since the NBA refs allegedly whistled the Los Angeles Lakers to a playoff victory back in 2002, but after doing some painfully overdue contract/roster cleanup, the Kings are finally back with a roster that makes sense, and enough young talent on board to make it work.

So yes, it is funny to me that in the last game, their two best players were a Buddy and a Guy.

For Golden State, the Kings represent a fantastic training opportunity. If the Warriors hope to become a top-10 defense this season, as coach Steve Kerr has alluded to, then there’s plenty of value in getting a shot at stopping the Kings attack without Draymond Green, or the (presumptive) starting center.

Last game out, Buddy Heild (18 points, 5-10 from three), De’Aaron Fox (17 points, 5 assists in 25 minutes), and most surprisingly, Kyle Guy (20 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists in 21 minutes) were the deciding factors.

This time, the Warriors know what’s coming. The problem with the Kings backcourt is that they have so much speed, and now that coach Luke Walton has abandoned his weird idea about slowing the Kings down, they are free to use it. While Stephen Curry, and Kelly Oubre should be able to mostly stay in front of their man, the stakes are extra high right now due to the absence of Draymond Green’s reliable defensive presence.

It’s a fantastic challenge, and since these two teams are playing back-to-back, the element of surprise is gone. The Warriors should be ready for the speedy trio out of Sacramento… should be; especially if they have designs on being a top-10 defense.

Warriors found some things that work, and some that don’t

They say that it’s important to know what you don’t know, and for this roster, Golden State has a whole lot of that. We know Stephen Curry will be elite; beyond that, it’s a roster filled with uncertainty.

Can the starting wings take enough pressure off Curry to matter? Is the team working with a deep bench, or is it just that when no one stands out, everyone looks just about as good?

It’s important to remember though, that in basketball, perfection is a seldom-attained target. All I want to do is root for our guys and hope for the best. We’ve already covered the end of the bench, so now I’d like to devote some space to talking about the top of the Warriors’ rotation.

Working

Eric Paschall recorded 8 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal in the opening preseason game against the Denver Nuggets - and then didn’t play in the previous game. His return will help inject some offensive punch back into the roster, something that was especially evident as a need in the second unit.

Again, no Draymond Green or James Wiseman tonight, which will present a meaningfully softer interior presence; but the return of Paschall will re-inject some of the dangerous athleticism that can serve as a force multiplyer on both ends of the court.

Another frontcourt player, Kevon Looney has looked solid, and his reliability is one of the most endearing traits for Kerr, as he looks for predictibility and stability on a roster with so much unclear. Looney has been every bit of the glue guy that watchers should expect. If nothing else, he’s looking like a lock in that starting center spot, until Wiseman is ready to take it.

Marquese Chriss is looking more and more like he embodies all the good qualities of a “tweener” big man. After going 0-2 from deep against the Nuggets, Chriss popped the Kings with 17 points, helped by his 3 of 4 three-point shooting. As much as Kerr has been preaching a defense-first priority, the dearth of offense outside of Curry is a need that Chriss can help fill - which bodes well for his role this season.

Another pleasant surprise has been Damion Lee. He was the team’s second-best scorer against the Nuggets(12 points in 12 minutes), and followed it up with an impressive injection of energy in the last Kings game.

Sort of working

It’s well documented that I was skeptical about the Andrew Wiggins trade. It’s not that I think he’s bad enough at basketball to hurt the team, but that max contract is a heavy hat to wear. The fact that Wiggins is so smoothly lumped in with Oubre is a bit of a concern, given the relative cost of each player.

The new wings that are playing alongside Curry have been adequate in the first two preseason games, but for the Warriors to truly thrive, they’ve got to ascend to a higher basketball plane.

Wiggins and Oubre haven’t hit their scoring stride yet but they’re comfortably seated in starting roles, play active defense, and probably won’t play the team out of a game. It’s fine, but hard not to notice the Klay Thompson-sized hole at the wings.

The same can be said for Kent “Agent of Chaos” Bazemore (ok, I made up that nickname). After the initial preseason game, it was easy to imagine Bazemore - as well as newcomer, Brad Wanamaker - being the bench. It’s still unlcear how much positive impact he’ll have every night, but remember that Bazemore led all Warriors scorers in that Nuggets game.

Needs some work

All the names mentioned above constitute the team’s regular rotation. Again, no real problems identified so far, just some mild concerns and areas to develop. But above all, without any of the fringe roster candidates, you can see what sort of team Golden State can be this year. Led by Curry’s frenetic and wide-ranging threat of offense, the rest of the team doesn’t need to dominate offensively. Sure, things could be better, but of course we are saying that about a team that is missing their hall of fame shooting guard.

As discussed yesterday, Nico Mannion holds one of the team’s coveted two-way roster spots. If the Warriors retain Mychal Mulder, then that’s it. That’s the roster. So tonight may be the remaining players’ best shot at making an NBA impression.

Prediction

Bounce back (meaningless) game for the Warriors. You can’t let Buddy Guy beat you two times in a row. You just can’t.

Also, one hope: if the Kings over-pressure Curry, it should open the game up a bit for Oubre and Wiggins. The scoring punch out of the starting wings hasn’t impressed (both scored between 8 and 12 points in both preseason games so far) but both are more than capeable of lighting a team up.