Three Warriors showing newfound spark since NBA trade deadline passed

Three Warriors showing newfound spark since NBA trade deadline passed

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.

With one game remaining before the All-Star break, the Warriors (12-42) have the worst record in the NBA. And yet, despite their misfortune this season, the team seems to be finding some positivity and energy in their play.

Bringing in Andrew Wiggins from Minnesota definitely has increased some intrigue, but a very young squad to start the season has had an even larger youth revival, which has made the Warriors more scrappy than ever. Here are three players that partly are responsible for this new found enthusiasm.

Jordan Poole's growth

Poole is playing the best basketball of his young NBA career right now, even if the percentages don't necessarily show it. Over the last two games, Poole is shooting just 27 percent from deep, but a respectable 48 percent overall. Ignore those rates, however, and focus on how he has provided a jolt of energy and ball movement in the last two contests.

Poole nearly played 23 minutes and 31 minutes in the respective games, a little out of necessity, but more out of merit. He combined to have a plus-12 in the games, despite Golden State being an overall minus-17. 

The rookie has had the ball in his hands as a pseudo-point guard, which has allowed him to break down defenses often times by beating his man off the dribble, forcing the defense to scramble and either finding open teammates or taking a normally high percentage shot. Even better, after distributing the ball, Poole continues moving and tries to free himself or other teammates for open looks.

There is no coincidence that the Warriors have responded positively with him on the court the last two games, and the staff hopes he builds on his new playmaking opportunities. 

Damion Lee's career night

As I wrote about last week, with the departure of D'Angelo Russell, Glenn Robinson III, Alec Burks and Jacob Evans III, one of the main beneficiaries of the rebuilt roster will be Lee. He already has been consistently starting at shooting guard for some time now, but with the trades, he now will be asked to be more aggressive and simply shoot the ball more.

Against the Heat, Lee finished with a career-high 26 points to go along with tying his career-best of five made 3-pointers.

The free-flowing offense that normally is a staple of Steve Kerr's game plan is going to be featured more often without Russell, and Lee is at his best in that style of play. With the ball in his hands, Lee has a knack to draw fouls, resulting in opportunities from the free throw line where he has excelled this season.

After going seven-for-seven from the line against the Heat, Lee now is shooting over 88 percent from the charity stripe, good for 16th in the NBA. 

Marquese Chriss is the real deal

At this point, it is hard to argue against Chriss' bright future. His high level production no longer is a small sample size, and his comfort at center has grown considerably over the season. The Warriors are quite fortunate that another team did not scoop him up when they waived him earlier this season, but now that he is back and under contract for possibly another season after this, Chriss is making the best of his situation.

Chriss has scored a combined 43 points in the last two games, shooting 68 percent from the field and averaging nine rebounds per game. His rim protection has improved as of late as well, blocking nearly 2.5 shots per game over the last five games.

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Chriss is an eye-opening athlete, that can play above the rim and give the team a dangerous lob threat, one they have been searching for since JaVale McGee's departure. The Warriors thought they had found that man in Damian Jones, but injuries and inconsistency made them look elsewhere.

In came Chriss, and now the Warriors feel like they might be have a real piece at center for years to come.

Kobe Bryant memorial service has Warriors prepping for emotional day

Kobe Bryant memorial service has Warriors prepping for emotional day

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Warriors exited Chase Center on Sunday after adding another defeat to their tally, this time against the New Orleans Pelicans. But Golden State, along with the remainder of the NBA, is preparing to reckon with its toughest loss in years.

The league momentarily will come to a standstill Monday, when all eyes will fixate on Staples Center in Los Angeles for the memorial service of Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, who died last month -- along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others -- in a helicopter crash.

Golden State pillars Draymond Green, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are expected to attend the service, along with general manager Bob Myers. But the other Warriors, armed with memories of their hero, will be left to reconcile his death in the confines of practice and search for closure in a familiar setting.

"It's going to be emotional," Warriors big man Marquese Chriss told NBC Sports Bay Area on Sunday. "I think it's going to bring back up a lot of emotions that everybody was feeling on the day that it happened. I think people aren't going to know how to feel. It's going to make it real."

The practice court serves as a unique reminder of Bryant's death. That's where the team received the news five weeks ago, just as it began pre-practice workouts.

An assistant coach relayed the initial message, and practice soon was stopped as Warriors players and staff gathered their thoughts.

"You could hear a pin drop in there," rookie forward Eric Paschall said. "It was stopped."

From the bowels of the billion-dollar basketball facility, Warriors assistant Jarron Collins walked through the adjoining weight room, up the steps and down a corridor to Chase Center's main court to tell Chriss the news. Chriss, then on a two-way contract and away from the team as to not burn his NBA service time, was floored when he heard it.

Chriss and Bryant once shared an agent, Rob Pelinka, who represented them both before he became the Lakers' general manager in 2017. The legendary Lakers guard even stopped by Chriss' college pro day at an LA-area high school ahead of the 2016 NBA Draft, bringing a buzz with him into the gym.

"It was dope to see his energy," Chriss said. "He walked into the gym, and the energy in the gym changed. He had a presence about him. Everybody wanted to talk to him, kind of pick his brain and be around him."

Similar stories are told throughout Golden State's locker room. Thompson -- whose father, Mychal, still calls Lakers games for the local radio affiliate -- met Bryant when he was a child, and he occasionally worked out with him at UC Irvine.

“He was obviously the best player in the world at the time," Thompson remembered after Bryant's final game at Oracle Arena in 2016. "I just remember watching him work out, how methodical [he was] and attention to detail he gave to every drill. It inspired me a lot.”

When Thompson was charged with marijuana possession during his junior year at Washington State, Bryant sent him an expletive-filled text.

“He said, 'Forget about that,' said it with a couple expletives and, 'Just go out there and kill,' " Thompson recounted.

“I have a potty mouth,” Bryant added that evening when asked about the exchange. “I just told him, 'Listen, man, we all make mistakes. You can’t worry about that stuff. Just keep your focus on basketball, and everything will work itself out.' "

While Thompson personally knew Bryant for much of his life, Green admired the five-time NBA champion from afar as a kid. Nonetheless, he still finds himself reconciling the loss of his idol.

"I think I'm still at the point where every time you see it, you're like, 'Damn.' Like is it a real thing?" Green said Sunday. "I don't know. Maybe tomorrow brings closure. Maybe it don't."

The topic of Bryant's memorial brought Green back to the first time he played against the guard at Oracle, which forced the forward out of his routine.

"I'm never really a guy to get star-struck," Green said. "There's two people that I've ever been star-struck by in this league, and that's Kobe and Grant Hill."

"I was finishing my pregame shooting, and Kobe was coming out," Green added. "And you have your stuff you have to do in the back when you're done shooting, and so I finished my shooting and Kobe was coming out, and I just sat on the end of the bench, and before I knew it, 20, 25 minutes had passed, and I was late as hell to finish my pregame prep, but that was just a moment for me where I was stuck like, 'Wow, I just saw Kobe work out.' "

When Green wasn't in awe of Bryant, he wanted counsel from him. Four years ago, following Green's suspension for Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals, he sought Bryant's advice in the wake of criticism during a time Green called "the lowest point" of his career. After hearing Green vent, Bryant responded with a message: "You’re chasing something so much bigger. How do you ever expect anyone to understand you?"

Green keeps the advice close to this day. 

"It helped me a lot," he said. "Because you kind of deal with things a certain way, and when you're dealing with things a certain way, you can only do what you think is best at the end of the day. But when you get reassurance from someone who's been through it at the highest level that the way you're dealing with something is like OK, it gives you that confidence to carry out whatever it is in the way you think it was right. It gives you that green light, like it's cool."

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Now, as his Warriors teammates say one last goodbye Monday, each will try to follow Green's credo in carrying on Bryant's legacy.

"The way you approach this game," Green said. "I think if there was anything he could ask for, that's what he would ask for. That he gave everything he had to it."

Watch Steph Curry impress in sharp pre-game warm-up as return nears

Watch Steph Curry impress in sharp pre-game warm-up as return nears

Steph Curry didn't take the floor during the Warriors' loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday. 

The injured Golden State star did beforehand, however, looking game-ready as he went through a pre-game workout. 

Curry hasn't played since breaking his left hand on Oct. 30. He was cleared for contact in practices Saturday, scrimmaging with his teammates for the first time since picking up the injury and subsequently undergoing two surgeries. The 31-year-old said Saturday that lingering nerve damage in his left hand has taken some getting used to, but that he is targeting a March 1 return

Former Warriors Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin dealt with the same injury during their NBA careers. Mullin had three separate hand surgeries during his, and he said Curry's biggest adjustment will come from playing with his teammates again.

"He practices at game pace," Mullin said of Curry on Sunday during Warriors Pregame Live. "He takes game shots all the time. His fitness will be there. It's (about) getting acclimated to the players around him, finding the spacing and the timing."

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Though Curry didn't injure his dominant hand, he relies on his left a lot to pass and when he finishes at the rim. He won't lose trust in his shot, but Richmond thinks the two-time MVP has to ensure  

"I went through that same injury [and so did] Mully," Richmond said Sunday. "It's all about confidence when you come back. ... I think, for him, he wants to find that confidence that it can be hit, and then he can come back from it." 

The Warriors owned the NBA's worst record after Sunday's loss, which clinched their third losing streak of six games or more. Curry's return won't lift Golden State out of the league's cellar, but it undoubtedly will lift his teammates' spirits in an otherwise dreary season.