Warriors

Steph Curry injury latest reminder of Warriors' unfamiliar position

Steph Curry injury latest reminder of Warriors' unfamiliar position

SAN FRANCISCO -- Steph Curry, the Warriors' crown jewel, walked onto a makeshift podium in the bowels of Chase Center under unusual circumstances Monday night. 

Sporting a metal cast, the guard -- who broke his left-hand two weeks ago -- assured that he'd be back in Golden State's lineup by "early spring." 

What wasn't said was easily understood. Curry and fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson (left ACL rehabilitation) are both out until at least February, and the two-time MVP's presence at the podium was the latest reminder that these Warriors -- clad with youth and inexperience -- are playing in a time of transition rather than one defined by championship aspirations.

The revelation initially came four months ago when Kevin Durant tore his Achilles tendon in Game 5 of the NBA Finals before signing with the Brooklyn Nets in free agency. It was confirmed when Thompson tore his ACL a game later. The Warriors' truth was put off temporarily when they acquired D'Angelo Russell, Willie Cauley Stein and Alec Burks this offseason to build around a roster of unproven talent. 

In the last 10 days, five players have missed games due to injury, including Thompson and Curry. Additionally, Draymond Green didn't travel with the team on the current road trip to treat a torn ligament in his left index finger. Of the nine active players in Wednesday night's loss to the Houston Rockets, just seven were on guaranteed contracts.

Entering Monday, the Warriors -- four months removed from winning the Western Conference title -- were tied for the NBA's worst record. 

"It's tough to see guys go down," Curry admitted Monday. "I don't know if its any more than years past or the types of injuries and all that type of stuff. It's tough but it is a part of the game and I think at some point everybody goes through a little something, whether its short-term or long-term injury, but for the most part you just try to keep your head up and be as positive as you can." 

Fortunately for the Warriors, there have been some positive signs this season.

On Nov. 2, Golden State held the Charlotte Hornets -- the league's best 3-point shooting team -- to just 17.2 percent from beyond the arc and took a brief lead with just over a minute left in regulation. A week ago, the Warriors beat the Portland Trail Blazers, limiting guard CJ McCollum to just 37 percent from the field. Over a three-game stretch, rookie Eric Paschall is averaging 26.0 points and 7.7 rebounds per game while shooting 51 percent from the field.

"I love the fight,"  Curry said. "You're not going to just sit and be okay with losing and whatever the narrative is, they're out there fighting every single night and if you keep the right mentality and perspective, it's the best thing in the world for a rookie to come in and for a young player to come in and have this opportunity to just play every night and get thrown into the fire." 

This season is new territory for Curry and the Warriors. Over his first five seasons in Golden State, coach Steve Kerr won 78 percent of his games, overseeing one of the best runs in NBA history and winning three titles. During that time, Curry played in 87 percent of the Warriors' regular-season games. 

Even when Curry and Thompson return, the team will be prioritizing development over championship aspirations. With the team currently pressed against the hard cap, there are little answers to improve the roster until next summer. 

"I can't stand losing," Warriors coach Steve Kerr admitted last week. "I'm also a realist and I understand the job at hand. Organizationally, we're trying to bring this young group ahead, forward, so that we can really build the depth of our roster and we know eventually Steph and Klay and Draymond are gonna be back."

[RELATED: Steph takes jab at MJ for 'not a Hall of Famer yet' comment]

As he closed his presser, Curry was reminded of a tweet he sent 10 years ago, promising he'd "figure things out" with the then-cellar-dwelling Warriors. Now, after an expected transition year, he'll be expected to deliver once more. 

"It's been a great journey," Curry said. "It's not over yet."

R.J. Hampton, LaMelo Ball making case to be Warriors' draft selection

R.J. Hampton, LaMelo Ball making case to be Warriors' draft selection

The Warriors are going to have a very high draft pick. That much seems obvious. What's less obvious is which prospects they might be zeroing in on as the missing piece of Golden State's next championship pursuit.

Some prospects like Memphis' James Wiseman, Georgia's Anthony Edwards and North Carolina's Cole Anthony are all stateside -- Golden State doesn't have to send scouts very far to get a glimpse of any of them.

Two other highly-rated prospects, however, require a far greater trek to evaluate them in person, as 18-year-olds LaMelo Ball and R.J. Hampton currently play in the NBL, Australia's top basketball league. Both players elected to go overseas for their final year of basketball before entering the NBA draft, rather than enroll in a collegiate program or join the G League.

Liam Santamaria is a writer and broadcaster for the NBL, and whereas the Warriors likely haven't had a ton of opportunities to see Ball and Hampton firsthand, Santamaria has had no such issues. So far, he has been blown away by what he has seen from the two young prospects.

"I've been not just impressed with the way they've played and the improvement that they've shown in their game over the course of the season thus far in Australia," Santamaria told NBC Sports Bay Area, "but also just how they've handled themselves on the court with their teammates, in the heat of battle in a professional situation like this."

The two phenoms currently find themselves in quite different scenarios. Ball, playing for the Illawarra Hawks, has far less talent around him than Hampton does on the New Zealand Breakers, where he plays alongside the likes of former NBA players, McDonald's All-Americans and foreign league MVPs. Consequently, Ball fittingly has the rock in his hands more often than Hampton does, which helps explains why Ball's stats are so comparatively eye-popping.

"While he hasn't been putting up the same kind of stat sheet-stuffing performances as LaMelo, I think he's actually been equally as impressive," Santamaria said of Hampton.

Both Ball and Hampton project as guards at the NBA level, but they're different kinds of players.

Ball has a knack for highlight-reel plays, but still needs to round out his game.

"He's obviously a phenomenally talented playmaker, and his feel for the game is incredible," Santamaria described Ball. "And we knew that coming in, but his game still is for the most part pretty raw."

Specifically, Ball's shooting mechanics and defense remain works in progress.

"When he arrived here in Australia and started playing, it looked like he'd never really been taught much of anything about how to defend," Santamaria recalled. "The fundamentals of 1-on-1 containment defense, but also fundamental concepts of playing defense off the ball, five guys defending as one ... just team defensive concepts. And that for me is the area that I think has probably undergone the most rapid improvement because he was almost nonexistent as a defender when he first stepped on Australian shores. Now you can see him taking some big strides in that regard. He's much more engaged at that end of the floor."

Hampton, on the other hand, is more refined at this stage of his young career and has what Santamaria described as better fundamentals than Ball currently possesses. 

"R.J. looks to me like he's a sure-fire certain thing, in terms of panning out to be a really productive pro," Santamaria summarized. "He has a great combination of size, length, athleticism, explosive quickness and basketball IQ."

As Ball and Hampton go through the draft process, they inevitably will be compared to other NBA stars, past and present. Santamaria has already begun that process.

"There's an element of Jason Kidd, for me," he said of Ball's comparison. "Where he just looks like he's got that thing on a string and makes those passes and plays look so easy." 

Santamaria added that Ball particularly reminds him of Kidd when handling the ball in the open court. Ironically, his comparison for Hampton involved another guard who has proven to be exceptional in the open court.

"He doesn't have the kind of strength and the kind of muscular frame yet that [Russell] Westbrook has, but when he gets that ball in the backcourt and starts pounding it, his head's on a swivel offensively and he's super quick attacking, putting heat on the rim," Santamaria said of Hampton. "In those situations, I see elements of Westbrook in his game. If he can become a little stronger and bounce off physicality like Westbrook does, I think that comparison might become more obvious over time."

As such, if the Warriors choose to draft another guard -- which seems unlikely, considering the presence of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, not to mention D'Angelo Russell -- it would appear they have a couple of fantastic prospects to choose from. If they come anywhere close to living up to Santamaria's lofty comparisons, they almost assuredly will have been worth the high draft selection.

[RELATED: Top NBA draft prospect LaMelo Ball is a big fan of Steph]

So, if push comes to shove, which one should the Warriors choose?

In formulating his answer, Santamaria mentioned yet another NBA MVP.

"Well, Bob Myers -- it depends if he's ready to swing for the fences, because LaMelo Ball is that swing-for-the-fences pick," he said. "Somebody's going to be brave enough to do it. I'm certainly not going to say he's going to be an NBA MVP at any point, but Giannis Antetokounmpo was a swing-for-the-fences pick a few years ago that a lot of teams decided they didn't want to or didn't have the courage to take. The Bucks did, and they have reaped the rewards. I think LaMelo Ball is going to fall into that category a little bit as well.

"If Myers and the organization have the courage to swing that bat, then he could very well be a home run."

The Warriors have long been expected to pursue Antetokounmpo if and when he hits free agency. There's no one quite like the Greek Freak, but perhaps Golden State ends up with its own version of him.

Warriors follow Draymond Green's lead in willing team to win vs. Bulls

Warriors follow Draymond Green's lead in willing team to win vs. Bulls

Throughout his career, Draymond Green simultaneously has been Golden State's emotional leader and one of its best players. 

On teams featuring Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant, Green consistently was the team's emotional heartbeat, occasionally willing his squads to unforeseen victories in standout performances that didn't necessarily reflect on the stat sheet. 

The latest example of Green's impact came in the last 12 minutes of Friday's 100-98 win over the Bulls, when he passed, defended and guided the Warriors to their fifth win of the season. 

A glimpse of Green's impact came four seconds before the final frame began when Golden State coach Steve Kerr substituted Green for Jordan Poole. On the next play, Green switched onto Bulls guard Coby White, forcing an off-balance miss. Four minutes into the fourth quarter -- with Golden State down 89-84 -- he successfully contested a Tomas Satoransky jump shot, leading to a fastbreak opportunity. Four minutes later, Green received a pass from guard D'Angelo Russell, drove the lane and found center Willie Cauley Stein for a dunk. With a minute left and the game tied at 98, he found Glenn Robinson III for another lob dunk to help seal the victory. 

Green -- who finished with nine points, five rebounds and four steals -- was responsible for 10 of the team's 23 fourth-quarter points, helping the Warriors outscore Chicago by eight points in the final frame. 

"Our defensive pressure picked up," Green explained after the win. "I think down the stretch in games, you have to do that. There have been games this year where teams have put pressure on us and we didn't respond well. I think tonight we were the aggressors and it worked out in our favor."

"He made great plays down the stretch," Robinson said of Green. "He got down on the floor for loose balls. He got us going, his talk, his communication. You always want a player like that the floor, directing things."

Green's performance came at a particular time of peril for Golden State. With Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson out of the lineup, the Warriors are one of the league's worst teams. In their last four games entering Friday night, they had been outscored by 61 points, including a 106-91 blowout loss to Charlotte on Wednesday. 

[RELATED: Sources: Steph has surgery to remove pins from hand]

Worse, Green's play has followed suit. Over his previous nine appearances, he had shot just 38.5 percent from the field while dealing with a myriad of injuries. On Friday, both he and his team found their stride. 

"We played the whole game hard," Warriors forward Eric Paschall said. "I felt like as a team, that's a big step for us after the last two games. We felt like we didn't compete at a high level. I felt like it was real good for us just in terms of coming out with a win."

Golden State's season has been new territory for Green. Since entering the NBA, he has never missed the playoffs, but with the Warriors' star-studded cast out for an extended time, that streak is expected to end. That makes Friday's act of leadership all the more important going forward.