Four reasons the Warriors are wary of the Thunder


Four reasons the Warriors are wary of the Thunder

OAKLAND -- After losing two of three games this season to Houston, the Warriors remain unconcerned. They quietly believe they’d smash the Rockets in the postseason.

Despite a 2-2 season-series draw with Denver, the Warriors feel the same way about the Nuggets. Some of that likely relates to their postseason inexperience, which is a factor that also applies to the Timberwolves.

The Warriors swept the Trail Blazers last April and the Spurs last May and feel nothing would change in the 2018 playoffs.

Oklahoma City is a different beast. The Warriors fear no team, but there is at least an iota of trepidation regarding the Thunder, whose 108-91 thumping of the Warriors on Nov. 22 in Oklahoma City was at the time the most lopsided loss of the season.

Which is why OKC’s first trip to Oakland this season Tuesday night is rather fascinating.

For no fewer than four reasons, it’s likely that no postseason series within the Western Conference would challenge the Warriors as much as one against the Thunder.

Reason No. 1 is that OKC has three players -- Carmelo Anthony, Paul George and Russell Westbrook -- capable of creating their own offense. All three are comfortable in isolation or pick-and-roll, and there is more of each in the postseason.

Reason No. 2 is the Thunder’s defense. OKC has been a top-5 defense all season mostly because 6-foot-7 shooting guard Andre Roberson elite on that end, while 6-9 forward Paul George and 7-foot center Steven Adams are above average.

This factor has been compromised with the season-ending injury Roberson sustained 10 days ago. The Thunder’s defensive rating was 101.8 though Dec. 30. It’s 107.0 since, with Roberson missing 13 of the 18 games. In the five games, for of them losses, since he left the lineup for good, the rating has soared to 108.4.

“When you lose a guy who is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, with that kind of length and mobility, it’s only natural that your defense is going to suffer,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “They’re probably going through a little bit of a spell now where they have to adjust and figure out rotations and that’s never an easy time in the NBA to deal with that.”

OKC is 24-15 when Roberson plays, 6-9 when he doesn’t. The Thunder reportedly are interested in Utah guard Rodney Hood, a solid defender and a much better scorer than Roberson. For now, they’ve turned to 19-year-old Terrence Ferguson, who has struggled. OKC coach Billy Donovan on Monday declined to say who would start at shooting guard against the Warriors.

The absence of Roberson makes the Thunder a bit less imposing, but not enough for the Warriors or any other potential opponent to presume anything.

Which brings us to Reason No. 3: Adams. Relentless in the paint and the league’s best offensive rebounder, he was a problem for the Warriors in the 2016 Western Conference Finals, and he’d be a problem in the ’18 playoffs. Adams is far more athletic than Zaza Pachulia and much bigger than anybody else the Warriors have.

Reason No. 4 is the sideshow that would come with Kevin Durant facing his former team in the postseason. Even if Durant wouldn’t be bothered by it, the Warriors would just as soon skip a subplot that surely would be overheated to the point of exhaustion.

The Warriors don’t put much stock in regular season results. They learned two seasons ago that wins alone are not a good predictor of postseason success. They learned last season that could sweep a team, San Antonio, that clobbered them by 29 on opening night, when they unveiled Durant to the Bay Area audience.

Certain games, though, quicken the collective pulse of the Warriors more than others and OKC has to be one of them. And it comes at a time when the Warriors are trying, and not always succeeding, to shake pre-All-Star-break tedium.

“The excuse we had last week is no longer an excuse,” Kerr said. “We’re going to be in our own beds for the next week. We’ve got great teams coming in. We should feel like this is a week we can take advantage of.”

As the Warriors cast an eye toward April, they also know these next nine weeks matter. That’s plenty of time for them to find the best of themselves, something they’ll need no matter the opponents in the second season.

Mychal Thompson wants Klay to emulate James Harden in one aspect in 2018-19

Mychal Thompson wants Klay to emulate James Harden in one aspect in 2018-19

Klay Thompson is a well-rounded, versatile player. He shot 52.6 percent from 2-point range last season. He shot 44 percent from 3-point range. He made 83.7 percent of his free throws. He averaged 2.5 assists per game. He's the Warriors' best perimeter defender.

There's not a noticeable weakness to his game.

But his father Mychal spoke to the San Francisco Chronicle's Scott Ostler on Saturday to talk about what kind of differences we'll see in Klay will be during the 2018-19 season and he shared the goal he's set for his son.

"I think you'll see a hungrier player. He's going to try to get more versatile, try to get to the basket a little more, more free throws, being more efficient on offense that way. I always tell him, try to make it a goal to shoot eight (free throws) a game. Eight or 10, like James Harden does," Mychal Thompson told Ostler.

Thompson attempted a career low 1.3 free throw attempts last season. His high-water mark was 3.3 free throw attempts per game during the 2014-15 season. By comparison, Harden attempted 10.1 free throw attempts last season and has surpassed 10 attempts per game in five of the last six seasons.

Of course, the elder Thompson was asked about his son's free agency next summer. Klay told the Bay Area News Group on Saturday that he wants to remain with the Warriors for the rest of his career. His father said the same thing at the Thompson Family Foundation's charity golf tournament on Saturday.

“Oh yeah, you can mark it down. Klay’s going to retire in the Warriors’ uniform. He’s going to play at Chase Center (the Warriors’ new arena, opening in 2019), and he’s not going to be at Chase Center as a visiting player, he’s going to be a Warrior for the next seven or eight years," Mychal said according to The Chronicle.

Klay Thompson addresses impending free agency: 'Number one on my list...'

Klay Thompson addresses impending free agency: 'Number one on my list...'

Editor's Note: The above video is from June 6, 2018, after the Warriors beat the Cavs in Game 3 in the NBA Finals.

With the 2018 offseason wrapping up, the talk surrounding the Warriors will shift to next summer's free agency of All-Star shooting guard Klay Thompson.

Thompson and his father Mychal have said several times during the last few months (see above video) that their intention is stay with the Warriors long-term. But that's not stopping speculation that the seven-year veteran may bolt the Warriors following his eighth season.

On Saturday night, Thompson reiterated his desire to remain with the Warriors in an interview with the Bay Area News Group.

“I’ve said it many times before: I would like to be a Warrior for life. Contract negotiations are way down the line. But I think we all have the same interest. I would love to be here for the rest of my career,” Thompson told Mark Medina.

Pressed on the possibility of signing an extension with the Warriors before he hits the open market, Thompson left the door slightly ajar by offering this:

“It’s tough to say. I’d definitely be interested. But at the end of the day, I’m going to be a free agent in 2019. Number one on my list would obviously be to stay with the Warriors,” Thompson told Medina.

Thompson is entering the final season of a four-year, $68.97 million contract. He will make $18,988 million for the 2018-19 season.