Grant Liffmann

Warriors showing signs of development despite lowly win-loss record

Warriors showing signs of development despite lowly win-loss record

Editor's note: Grant Liffmann (@grantliffmann) is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders, which airs on NBC Sports Bay Area 60 minutes after every game. Each week, Grant will drop his Outsider Observation on the state of the Dubs.

The Warriors are not actively trying to "tank," like some are assuming. The players that are healthy and able to play are competing with maximum effort, as many of the role players and rookies are trying to prove themselves in the NBA.

Despite that, the team is now 2-9 on the season -- good for dead last in the league. On a macro level, their team and individual defense has been poor, and their offense is still trying to find chemistry and an identity.

But that does not mean there hasn't been gradual player and team development. Here are some takeaways from the Warriors' 122-108 loss to the Jazz on Monday night: 

D'Angelo Russell is sharing the ball

We all know that Russell is scoring. He is averaging over 36 points per game over the last four contests, and has set a career-high by scoring over 30 points in four consecutive games. But he also is distributing the ball to his teammates at a higher rate than the start of last season.

During his 2018-19 campaign with the Nets, Russell dished out eight assists only once in the first 16 games of the season. This season, he has accomplished that in four of eight games. As the season went along with Brooklyn, Russell's assists per game rose considerably. Fortunately for the Warriors, he has hit his groove earlier in the year.

With Steph Curry out, the ball will be in Russell's hands nearly every play and he will have the opportunity to help out his teammates. So far he has been doing just that, while also scoring in bunches.

The Warriors centers are improving

The improvements may be small, but as the season has gone along, Warriors centers Willie Cauley-Stein, Marquese Chriss and Omari Spellman have been gradually getting better as they become more familiar with their new team and as their conditioning has progressed. In the loss to the Jazz on Monday night, Cauley-Stein collected 11 rebounds -- the first double-digit rebounding game for a Warriors center this season.

Due to the center-by-committee rotation that coach Steve Kerr has been employing, playing time has limited the opportunity for the three big men to put up big numbers. From a qualitative approach, Cauley-Stein was more active on defense and bouncy on offense against Utah. Chriss has grown more confident with his offensive game around the hoop. Spellman, before his injury, had started to refine his mid-range jumper, and his shot-blocking recently had been a welcome development.

The rotation will change again once Kevon Looney returns, but until then, Kerr has to be pleased with the frontcourt's small improvements.

Jordan Poole's playmaking growing

It has been well chronicled that Poole is struggling with his shot. While he has not lost confidence, it is clear he has slowed down his gunslinger ways and has stopped unconsciously launching from deep.

One thing Poole can improve on is his willingness to simply catch-and-shoot, rather than put the ball on the floor or hesitate. He can model his game after Klay Thompson in that way, so that when the ball swings around the perimeter and ends up in his hands, he should shoot the ball in rhythm -- even if a defender is close by. Poole has the form to be a great long-distance shooter, so launching confidently in rhythm should benefit him.

[RELATED: Warriors' young players refuse to use injuries as an excuse]

In the meantime, while his shot is not falling, Poole is doing other things to be a positive on the court. Against the Thunder last Saturday, Poole dished out six assists, showcasing his playmaking skills. He is a willing passer and has started to drive and kick to open shooters.

Once he begins to drive and finish at the rim more often, the floor will open up even more and allow him to either find teammates or create separation from his defender by keeping them honest.

Young Warriors go to free throw line much more than in past seasons

Young Warriors go to free throw line much more than in past seasons

Editor's note: Grant Liffmann (@grantliffmann) is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders, which airs on NBC Sports Bay Area 60 minutes after every game. Each week, Grant will drop his Outsider Observation on the state of the Dubs.

The Warriors are severely undermanned with the crippling effect of multiple injuries to the team's top players. Despite losing six of eight games, this team currently is playing some inspired and competitive basketball, feeding off the lack of expectations.

While they might be catching their opponents off guard so far, the active healthy Warriors, led by rookies, role players and two-way players, are playing feisty basketball. The team has been pushing the pace, bursting into transition at every opportunity, and competing in a scrappy, aggressive and highly enthusiastic fashion.

How are the young Dubs staying competitive in games thus far? One main reason: They're drawing fouls. 

Entering Thursday, the Warriors are attempting over 27 free throws per game, good for sixth in the NBA. To no surprise, the Rockets lead the league with 30 free throw attempts per game.

This is a massive change from prior seasons under coach Steve Kerr and his past superstar rosters. Traditionally, many would expect that "superstar treatment" of elite players would lead to drawing the most fouls, but for a Warriors team that was so dominant for many years, it was quite the opposite.

Last season, the Warriors ranked 28th in the league with just over 20 attempts per game, which is the same amount Golden State attempted in the 2017-18 season, good for 22nd in the NBA. Without the best long-range shooters in the history of the game, the Warriors now are relying on attacking the rim and forcing the action. 

Trips to the free throw line are great and all, but teams also needs to make them, and the Warriors have been excellent thus far. The Warriors are second in the NBA in free throw percentage, converting over 86 percent. Being at the top of the NBA in this category is no revelation to the team. They were fifth in the league at 80 percent last season, and first in the league in the 2017-18 at nearly 82 percent.

But unlike the last few seasons when historically great free throw shooters like Steph Curry and Kevin Durant led the team in free throws, this season the Warriors are relying on rookies and relatively inexperienced players to convert from the stripe. Eric Paschall has made over 88 percent of his free throws, Damion Lee has converted 85 percent and Jordan Poole is yet to miss one.

[RELATED: Warriors learn lesson in poor third quarter vs. Rockets]

Even the combination of big men -- Willie Cauley-Stein, Omari Spellman and Marquese Chriss -- have combined to hit 86 percent of their free throws.

It's a small sample size, but if the young Warriors can continue to get to the line and make their free throws, then they might be in more close games than many previously thought.

Healthy Warriors roster now looks much more dangerous than expected

Healthy Warriors roster now looks much more dangerous than expected

Editor's note: Grant Liffmann (@grantliffmann) is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders, which airs on NBC Sports Bay Area 60 minutes after every game. Each week, Grant will drop his Outsider Observation on the state of the Dubs.

The Warriors' victory over the Trail Blazers on Monday night at Chase Center could have been one of the most fun and electric early-season games the team has played in quite a few years. With expectations set as low as they have been seen since the start of the decade, the Warriors took Portland by surprise with a fast-paced, high-energy, and ultra-competitive performance.

Led by a group of players that many had written off, or simply were not aware of, the team captivated the fans at Chase Center, bringing the crowd to its feet throughout the thrilling game.

Coming into the season, and especially after the first four shockingly lopsided losses, the storyline surrounding the Warriors was their incredibly thin depth and very inexperienced, injured roster. The narrative around the team was that Steph Curry, Draymond Green and D'Angelo Russell would have to lead a team of misfits, unknowns and rookies to scrap their way into the playoffs.

Once the injuries to those stars, as well as key cog Kevon Looney, started piling up, the team was considered dead in the water. One inspiring win against the Blazers has not changed the fact that the Warriors are severely undermanned and probably destined to sink to the bottom of the standings. But the notion that the roster is void of inspiring talent quickly is being eradicated. In fact, perhaps a fully healthy 2019-20 Warriors team would be a lot more deep and dangerous than most thought.

As training camp concluded, the wing position for the Warriors widely was considered the weakest position group on the team. While Glenn Robinson III was the favorite to stay in the starting role, some argued that by the end of the season, second-round draft pick Eric Paschall eventually could earn a shot at it.

Eventually may come a lot sooner than anyone thought. Paschall has been a revelation, scoring over 23 points per game in the four games in which he has played over 30 minutes. He has dominated each and every defender that has tried to stop him one-on-one, and his growth in his overall game has been tremendous in a short span. It is clear that Paschall is primed to stay in the starting lineup for the remainder of the season, most likely on the wing once Green returns.

That is not to say GR3 has not been a solid contributor in that spot. He's scoring 10 points per game, collecting nearly six rebounds and shooting from 3-point distance at a 35-percent clip. But that type of production is perfectly suited for a bench role, especially with Paschall's emergence.

Damion Lee has become a highly-efficient scorer and underrated all-around player. In the four games in which he has played 25 or more minutes, Lee is averaging nearly 18 points per game, while shooting 55 percent from the field and 60 percent from deep. Mostly known for his long-range catch and shoot abilities, Lee has started to demonstrate his abilities off the dribble and in the mid-range.

Meanwhile, fellow two-way player Ky Bowman has been equally impressive in his new starting role. In his two starts filling in for Russell, Bowman is averaging nearly 18 points per game on 60 percent shooting, to go with six assists and almost six rebounds. His athleticism has been impressive, as well as his ability to attack the rim in transition. He also has been a pest on the defensive end, picking up his opponent far from the basket and delivering on-ball pressure.

The Warriors centers also have started to come into their own. Willie Cauley-Stein, Omari Spellman and Marquese Chriss combined to score 22 points on 9-for-12 shooting, including going 2-of-3 from deep along with 13 rebounds and seven assists against Portland.

Without Looney and Green, the team has been desperate for solid interior play. If Cauley-Stein, Spellman and Chriss can continue to build on their most recent performance, the Warriors will feel much better about their personnel around the rim.

While this is not reality, a hypothetical healthy Warriors roster this season, even without Klay Thompson, now seems a lot deeper than before.

A starting lineup of Curry, Russell, Paschall, Green and Looney could have been formidable. Couple that with a solid bench unit of Cauley-Stein, Robinson, Burks, Lee, Bowman, Poole, Spellman, Chriss and Jacob Evans and the Warriors have something

Speaking in hypotheticals can only go so far, and to be fair, most of the players currently shining would not have had this much opportunity or spotlight had the team been healthy.

[RELATED: Nameless Warriors coming of age after win vs. Blazers]

So when searching for a silver lining for the depletion of the team's stars, it is easy to point to the uniquely quick player development the Warriors are experiencing right now. Would Paschall, Bowman, Lee and others have taken this leap without injuries to the top of the roster? No, probably not. But looking toward the future, perhaps the team is further along in reconstructing the roster than most had previously thought.