Commence the Warriors’ growing pains

Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry, right, shoots against San Antonio Spurs' Tony Parker (9) and Pau Gasol (16) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. (Ben Margot/ AP)

It’s usually frowned upon to overreact when analyzing team sports. We’ve been taught, over and over again, that in almost every major sports league, it’s a long season.

I know it’s only been one game. But the debut of the new-look Golden State Warriors, who many people believe will be the decided NBA champion this season, was more concerning than it had any right to be. This is still a team that will win 60 games and enter the playoffs as the presumptive favorite to win the title, but there are noticeable cracks in the foundation.

It was clear that the San Antonio Spurs, a finely tuned basketball machine for years under head coach Gregg Popovich, would pose a legitimate challenge to Golden State on opening night. On paper, it looked like a fairly even duel between one of the league’s most prepared teams, and a team with excess amounts of talent but very little continuity.

It was not even at all. On the Warriors’ home court, where they won 39 of 41 games last season on their way to 73 wins overall, the Spurs romped 129-100 in a game that was never close.

One game. It’s just one game. There are 81 more games to be played, and Golden State will not face many challenges more difficult than this.

However, I think it’s still very fair to raise some concerns, because this was simply a baffling effort from a team that rolled out two of the league’s three best players in Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, and two more elite players in Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Losing by 29 at home, with a crowd eagerly awaiting Durant’s Warriors debut, is a very bad look, and it illuminated some of the team’s issues that opponents may exploit this season.

For a team that has prided itself on harmony, chemistry and positivity in recent years on the path to becoming a potential dynasty, this was simply an awful way to kick off the season.

Thinning that this loss is any more than a side of effect of a new roster is an overreaction, yes. Of course it is. The Warriors will click and become a wrecking ball this season. It just may not be as quick and painless as we thought.

Durant and Curry were not the problem Tuesday night. Curry shot 3-for-10 from downtown, which isn’t great by his standards, but the two players were generally themselves, combining for 53 points. Green played pretty well too; posting 18 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and five steals.

Thompson scored 11 points in a clunker, but he’ll have much better shooting nights as the season continues. I’m not worried about his ability to contribute.

The issues with the Warriors are their collection of big men and their bench depth. Both were heavily exploited by San Antonio on Tuesday night, and neither are likely to improve as the season goes on.

Down low, Zaza Pachulia and David West are not the players they used to be. Both are skilled passers and should eventually find their way in the Golden State offense, but neither offer the presence that departing center Andrew Bogut has the past few years. The Warriors were killed on the boards Tuesday by a 64-41 margin, with the Spurs pulling down 21 offensive rebounds.

As a result, much of the burden to rebound will fall on Green and Durant, which isn’t the end of the world, but those two players just don’t have the size to compete with bigger teams. As the season goes on and these players accumulate heavy minutes, they will wear down. Bigger and more energetic teams are going to feast on the glass.

The decision for Golden State may eventually be to start small forward Andre Iguodala in place of Pachulia, and play small ball with Green and Durant as the big men. That will almost certainly be their line-up at the end of the potential close games. The combined shooting and scoring abilities of those five players is simply too good to pass up.

However, this will deplete what is already a thin Golden State bench even more quickly.  The Warriors will likely rely heavily on younger, unproven players like Patrick McCaw and Ian Clark from the bench. If they can’t contribute, the game will swing when the team’s stars are off the floor. Shaun Livingston, the other veteran hand off the bench alongside Iguodala, will need to be great, and he looked overmatched Tuesday.

There is going to be a lot of pressure on Curry and Durant to be excellent, and they will deliver, as they are some of the very best players in the league. However, a team is more than just its superstars. The “Big Three” Miami Heat learned that lesson, and added key cogs like former UConn guard Ray Allen. Golden State had plenty of help last season for its key performers, and the jury is out on whether they will find that help again this season.

The Warriors will figure it out, that I can guarantee. But they may have more exposed weaknesses than we thought. How they hide those will be one of the most fascinating storylines in the NBA this season.


Tyler Keating is associate sports editor for The Daily Campus, covering football and men’s basketball. He can be reached via email at tyler.keating@uconn.edu. He tweets @tylerskeating.