Warriors

D'Angelo Russell's production will be key to continuing Warriors dynasty

dlousatsi0930.jpg
USATSI

D'Angelo Russell's production will be key to continuing Warriors dynasty

SAN FRANCISCO – As the Warriors embark on their season of mystery, with ifs, hopes and maybes around every corner, no one on the roster embodies this as snugly as D’Angelo Russell.

We know what the best of Stephen Curry looks like and it’s enough to make him the NBA’s first unanimous MVP.

We know what the best of Draymond Green offers, and it’s a 6-foot-7 forward guarding five positions, earning the Defensive Player of the Year award and shooting 39 percent from deep.

We know what the best of Klay Thompson looks like, a one-man scoring cyclone, but there is no knowing when it might be seen again.

Which brings us back to Russell, acquired in July and arriving at training camp as the team’s fourth All-Star and unchallenged X-factor.

If D-Lo is an efficient scorer, galvanizing passer and adequate defender, it will make the Warriors hell to play in the regular season and – assuming a late-season return by Thompson – even more of a monster in the postseason.

If Russell fails in one or more of those areas, the Warriors could find themselves light years away from a top-four seed and fighting like hell to make the playoffs.

The most important on-court element might be the defense. The absence of Thompson -- who is a very good wing defender -- for most of the season, drops a heavy but crucial burden into Russell’s lap. To his credit, Russell on Tuesday dove headlong into those concerns.

“I'm just trying to learn from Draymond as much as I can,” he said Monday. “There's a reason he is who he is. There's a reason that players know him for what they know him for. So, anyway, I can just kind of stay in his bubble and then learn as much as I can from that aspect, I think the sky's the limit.”

There is reason to believe the 23-year-old Russell can be decent on defense. He’s a splendid athlete standing 6-foot-5, with a wingspan listed at 6-10. He also entered the draft at 19 and spent his first four NBA seasons establishing himself on offense, sometimes to the detriment of his defense.

Russell’s impact on defense, then, is less a matter of ability than application. That’s where coaching comes in. That’s also where Green can set the bar. If Draymond accepts the invitation to stay in D’Lo’s ear, it should pay off. It has to, or else opposing guards will be lining up to fatten their stats against the Warriors.

Then there is the passing. Having spent most of his basketball life as a point guard, Russell, is comfortable moving the ball. He posted a career-high 7.0 assists per game with the Nets last season and seems almost anxious to immerse himself into his new team’s passing culture.

“With this style of play that we play with here, the pass is valued,” Russell said. “The pass is what gets a guy the shot. The pass is what keeps the offense flowing. A lot of guys are forced to double-team, so you have to get off of it, and that creates an advantage downhill."

"I think just adding another passer on to the team, myself, it just can help the team. Guys are going to be in the right play to make that happen.”

Said Thompson: “I've been watching D'Angelo for years now, and he's an amazing passer, and I don't think he's played with two shooters like me and Steph.”

That fact is, however, irrelevant until Thompson returns from ACL surgery, and it will be a surprise if that happens before March.

The scoring ability at his age is one of the assets that attracted the Warriors to Russell. He averaged a team-high 21.1 points per game while shooting 36.9 percent beyond the arc last season. He also took 18.7 shots per game, more than any Warrior not named Curry (19.4), but the result was the Nets making the playoffs for the first time since 2015.

Knowing they are scheduled to be the starting backcourt on opening night, Curry and Russell spent some time over the summer getting to know each other. That’s a wholesome start developing a bond that has to stick.

“I know the coaching staff and whatnot have a lot of opportunity to kind of mix and match lineups and try to figure things out as we go, and there's going to be a lot of fine-tuning and testing things out,” Curry said. “But it’s two talented guys that know how to put the ball in the basket, know how to make plays for each other and teammates, and have proven what we can do in this league. And if you have the confidence you can figure it out.”

The Warriors pursued Russell because they lost a tremendous scorer in Kevin Durant and because Curry and Thompson are bookending 30. There is a need to start refreshing the roster with talent, and Russell fills it.

[RELATED: Klay won't reveal where in San Francisco he moved to]

“His team did well, he did well, and we're excited to see how he fits with us,” general manager Bob Myers said. “We think he'll be good, and that process starts (Tuesday).”

The process actually started over the summer, and it was positive. The only way it works once the games matter is if it continues on that path.

Warriors rookie Jordan Poole’s struggles have reached crisis point

Warriors rookie Jordan Poole’s struggles have reached crisis point

What happened to Jordan Poole on Sunday in New Orleans was some of the cruelest fate basketball gods could have laid on a 20-year-old drafted in the first round mostly because of their ability to shoot.

The rookie missed every shot he took. All seven attempts from the field and, in a moment of peak torture, his only free throw.

The first 14 games of Poole’s NBA journey ended with one in which he failed to score a single point in 23 minutes of activity.

Had he made any three or four of those shots, the Warriors likely would have experienced their third victory of the season. Instead, they ended up 108-100 losers to the Pelicans, who for a variety of reasons were about as vulnerable as any team can be.

That loss, like the other 11, can’t be blamed on a single player. The Warriors’ defense was brutalized, with New Orleans scoring exactly half of its total on 3-point shots, many of which came with several feet of open space. The Warriors’ offense was uneven and rhythmless, sometimes too slow and other times too hurried but generally too inefficient.

It’s the offense, though, that Poole was drafted to enhance. As a freshman at the University of Michigan, he earned the nickname “The Microwave,” for his ability heat up quickly and get three or four buckets in a couple minutes. Though some coaches and scouts around the league thought the Warriors may have reached in taking Poole in the first round, No. 28 overall, it was virtually unanimous that he’ll be able to score in the NBA.

Which has a question in that dark cloud over the collective head of the Warriors and their fans: “When?” When will Jordan Poole show everyone that he can blow up a scoreboard?

Poole’s field-goal percentage sits at 27.3 percent, dropping to 26.3 when firing from deep. Worse, it appears to be affecting his confidence.

He is one of three Warriors, along with free-agent signee Glenn Robinson III and undrafted rookie Ky Bowman, to play in all 14 games. Only once has Poole shot better than 50 percent from the field, and only one other time did he do better than 40 percent. Before the 0-of-7 in New Orleans, he was 1-of-8 in a loss to the Celtics and 4-of-15 in a loss to the Lakers.

The Warriors are being patient because their roster is so deeply compromised that they don’t have a choice. Though they have seven players capable of filling minutes at shooting guard, Poole is the only one pure shooter that currently has full use of his hands, arms and legs.

“There is no somebody else right now,” coach Steve Kerr said the other day. “That’s the issue. We’re throwing guys into the fire.”

Poole has started nine games and come off the bench in the other five. As a reserve, he is 6-of-45 (13.3 percent) from the field and 4-of-25 (16 percent) from deep. As a starter, he is 32-of-101 (31.7 percent) and 16-of-54 (29.6).

Which brings us back to the free throw Poole missed with 4:12 left in the first quarter on Sunday. The Pelicans were whistled for a technical foul, and he was selected to shoot the free throw. It was a wise choice insofar as he was 25-of-26 from the line. That was his safe place, the one area of his shooting that he had not deserted him.

It deserted him.

Though It is much too soon to conclude Poole won’t be an effective scorer in the league, it is not unreasonable to wonder if his confidence has dropped from where it was even a few weeks ago. He is more tentative with the ball, sometimes looking to pass when he has enough space to let it fly.

That’s what the Warriors need from him. With Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, D’Angelo Russell and Damion Lee sidelined – and none expected back before December – Poole is their best available pure shooter. Others can score, and second-round pick Eric Paschall is doing so at surprisingly productive rate. But scoring is supposed to be Poole’s specialty.

“He’s going to make shots,” Kerr said the other day. “He’s a great shooter. He’s got to just get comfortable in the league. He’s doing better. Jordan is getting better, working hard at both ends and putting all the work in. He’s a great kid and we’re lucky to have him.”

Poole’s shot is not only missing but doing so in true brick fashion, off to either side. He is perceptive enough to know how badly the Warriors need points, and he likely is pressing. The one thing he’s always had on the court is not there.

[RELATED: Poole not worried about shooting slump]

When Poole goes scoreless on seven shots and misses his free throw, it’s not just a bad game. It’s the nadir of a pattern that is defining the start to his career. His struggle has reached, in the realm of competition, the point of crisis.

No matter how he does over the rest of this season, or the rest of his career, Poole will never forget the strife of his first month and the emptiness that followed his worst game. It will give him something he’ll be eager to bury once and for all.

How Draymond Green is leading Warriors in ‘frustrating,’ injury-plagued season

How Draymond Green is leading Warriors in ‘frustrating,’ injury-plagued season

Draymond Green has been a winner for as long as he can remember.

To maintain that standard, he has used a forceful, unapologetic style, often riding his star Warriors teammates — sometimes to their chagrin — on their way to three NBA titles in five years.

These days, his approach is tamed. With Kevin Durant out of town, a 2-12 start to this season and seven players injured, Green must reconcile himself with a new Warriors era while mentoring a young group.

"It's frustrating," Green recently admitted to NBC Sports Bay Area. "I've never lost at this rate in my life, but I just got to look at the bright side. Just try to make sure that I'm leading these young guys the right way."

Since he entered the league eight seasons ago, Green has unabashedly pried, cursed and grinded teammates in an effort to get the most out of them. There’s no better example of that approach than a year ago, when Green cursed out Durant during an early season loss to the Clippers, calling him out during a nationally televised game.

Green was suspended in the fallout, and his friendship with Durant -- who signed with the Brooklyn Nets in July -- needed repair, further perpetuating a narrative he'd built around the league.

"I thought he was going to be an a—hole," said Marquese Chriss, who joined the Warriors this season. "I'm not going to lie."

Of the eight new Warriors, Chriss might have been the biggest beneficiary of Green's refined approach. Chriss was drafted No. 8 overall by the Kings in 2016 before being sent to the Suns in a draft-night trade. He spent two seasons in Phoenix, before stints in Cleveland and Houston, with some reported character concerns along the way.

"He was immature," former Suns teammate Jared Dudley told NBC Sports Bay Area last month. "But it's not a bad immaturity. He just had to grow up, and they threw him into the fire and sometimes kids aren't ready for that." 

When Chriss signed a non-guaranteed deal with the Warriors in late September, Green had a message for him.

"This is your opportunity to f--k up," the veteran forward said. "You're going to have an opportunity to show yourself. Take advantage of it."

Chriss heeded Green's words, averaging 9.4 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game during the preseason, forcing the Warriors to add him to their cash-strapped roster by cutting Alfonzo McKinnie. But it was Green's defense of the former first-round pick's journey after a preseason loss to the Lakers that earned Chriss' trust.

"[People] always want to blame the kid," Green said that night. "It's not always the kid's fault. He's getting older now, so he's not a kid anymore. But he came into this league as a kid, but it's never the organization's fault. It's always that guy. So I'm happy he's gotten the opportunity to show what he can really do because it's a prime example.”

Chriss' social-media mentions received a notable uptick after Green’s comments, to the point that his mother, Shawntae, reached out to check on her boy, who was grateful for his teammate’s statement.

"To have somebody like that who is willing to take the backlash for saying things like that is pretty dope,” Chriss said.

Green's leadership tendencies remain apparent, but with a twist. In the second half of his team's latest loss Sunday to the Pelicans, he yelled at guard Jordan Poole as he walked off the floor, getting in the rookie's face as he made his point. Toward the end of the conversation, Green tapped the 20-year old's chest in encouragement, displaying his tough-love relationship.

"I can go to him for anything,” Poole said. "If I have any questions or we want to hang out, want to go get food. If I do something wrong, he'll tell me. If I'm doing something good, he'll encourage me. It's just kind of like a big-brother, little-brother relationship."

Added Warriors coach Steve Kerr: “He knows he has to be the guy, and he does a great job of it. He's doing a good job of being patient because these are trying times for our team and for him."

While injuries have all but erased the Warriors’ playoff chances, Green's imprint on the next generation has been evident. Rookie Eric Paschall has averaged 17.3 points and 6.0 rebounds and shot 48 percent from the field over his last five games. With Stephen Curry and All-Star guard D'Angelo Russell out of the lineup with injuries, two-way guard Ky Bowman had 19 points and four assists in 28 minutes in his latest outing. 

"I like them a lot," Green said of the Warriors’ young players. "They're not backing down from anyone. They got a lot to learn, which is to be expected. But one thing you can't really teach is confidence. And they don't lack in that area, which is important for them moving forward in this league."

Green's change in demeanor comes as the Warriors embrace a new chapter. Over his first five seasons, Golden State won 78 percent of its games, capping the best run in NBA history by winning three titles in five NBA Finals appearances. Now, with Durant gone and Curry and Klay Thompson shelved until at least February, Green is aware of his team's new reality.

"It's different," he said. "Because it's like people don't expect us to win, but teams don't play us like they don't expect us to win. Everybody still wants to beat our ass."

Indeed, teams around the league are relishing this new era. After the Warriors’ season-opening loss to the Clippers, LA guard Patrick Beverley boasted to Yahoo! Sports: "Y’all a little different without KD, I see. Uh-huh, y’all cheated long enough. It’s OK. Y’all had a good run. Back to reality.”

Beverley essentially verbalized the league's attitude toward the new Warriors, which amuses Green. 

"We put them down, so they're trying to kick us while we're down too because we've put them down for years," Green said. “But we didn't have to take shots while they were down. We just put them down, so it's a difference."

Green’s push for another title is coming at a cost. Last season, he missed 16 games in the regular season while nursing toe, knee and ankle injuries, forcing him to lose more than 20 pounds by the playoffs. He blamed the rough start on compounding injuries piling up the previous season, which forced him to prioritize rehab over basketball activities during the summer of 2018. He admitted he didn't play pickup until his “Grind Week” -- his invite-only camp at Oakland's Holy Names University -- just prior to the season, something he was able to change entering his eighth NBA campaign.

"This offseason was different because I was healthy,” Green said, “so I was able to be in the gym, get my work in, just kind of typical offseason as opposed to that offseason before I was so beat up." 

The summer also brought a four-year, $100 million commitment from the Warriors. Still, Green hasn't had a clean bill of health through the first month of the season. A torn ligament in his left index finger -- which Green insists is fine -- forced him to sit out five games, begging the question: Could his current contract be his last as a pro? 

"No," Green deadpanned. "I get a lot of nicks and knacks, which part of it just comes from the way I play. But I'm not going to act like I'm just the most beat-up guy. There are guys that have had three, four major surgeries and they say like, ‘Thank God.’ Knock on wood, I've never had a surgery. It's all relative." 

Even in Golden State's current state of peril, there's still hope for the future. Curry and Thompson are expected to be healthy to start next season, reuniting Green with the group that started the Warriors’ run five years ago. Additionally, a $17 million trade exception -- acquired when the Warriors dealt Andre Iguodala to Memphis -- is expected to bolster the team's depth, potentially building another Western Conference contender.

[RELATED: How Draymond, Bowman will be used with D-Lo out]

But for now, Green has his eyes on something different. 

"I take this league one day at a time," Green said. "I'm not sitting here looking forward to next year. Next year will get here soon enough. I'm taking this season one day at a time because I'm trying to get better and trying to improve myself, trying to help these young guys improve. Whenever that time gets here, that time gets there."