Two weeks into the 2023-24 NBA season, a few standout moments that could be a sign of what’s to come.
It happened so quickly, in a game that won’t mean much until April, that this moment can be ignored.
But it seemed to say a lot.
Golden State Warrior Chris Paul – it still feels weird to say this – seemed to sense that there was a chance to eliminate a team before it had even a minute’s illusion of victory.
Paul called on Jonathan Kuminga to set a downscreen for Stephen Curry, who shot into the corner. Curry caught the rebounding pass and faked a pump factor against Pistons rookie Marcus Sasser, a defender who head coach Monty Williams called “tougher than an old buck.”
The pump fake wasn’t actually necessary, but Curry’s three-pointer from the corner was true nonetheless, giving the Warriors a six-point lead and putting the Pistons at bay midway through the fourth quarter on Monday.
As Curry turned to shout at the Detroit crowd, many of whom were cheering his seven triples that night, Paul probably felt a moment of relief, knowing that such things were business-related at various stops.
It was three of Curry’s game-high 34 points, one of Paul’s six assists (without turnovers). It’s not a combination that Steve Kerr can use for long stretches, but given the safety of Paul and the safety of the Warriors. Laissez faire Approach to handling the ball, a perfect connection in moments when away wins need to be maximized and road stress needs to be kept to a minimum.
“I don’t even think about it that deeply. I am just playing. You know what I mean,” Paul said, almost embarrassed. “If JK sets up a screen for Steph and two guys go to him, [Kuminga] will be open.”
Paul’s supercomputer of a brain didn’t realize that this was the critical moment because every moment is critical. And while it is indeed an adjustment coming off the bench, he still runs the show when he’s out there.
Kerr doesn’t want the overlaps to last more than six to eight minutes per game, but such instances can be critical, especially late. For Curry, this small amount of time is enough to develop chemistry little by little.
“With Draymond it’s not as new as you think [Green] is usually in that position and someone else is setting screens,” Curry told Yahoo Sports after the game. “We play together quite a bit. It’s simple, IQ. He sees everything; You don’t wait for one [call]. It’s another guy who initiates the offense.”
But it’s another trustworthy guy who, despite his advancing age – 29 assists with zero turnovers in the last four games – is still starter-caliber and can keep order in hectic moments.
Steph Curry: The Vocal Leader
The mood in The Bay is of course warm. Paul is a serious player and the Warriors (6-2, third in the West), still a serious franchise with a goal of returning to June. Green openly expressed that last season was difficult for him following his incident with Jordan Poole.
Poole is out, Paul is in and that brings another booming voice into the Warriors locker room. Green’s voice is soaring, but Paul isn’t exactly going to be a wallflower in a room full of champions.
That leaves Curry, still playing ageless basketball, still firing triples and hitting at an insane rate (48% on Tuesday). To be fair, Curry’s start last season was ridiculous – 7/31/7 through December 1st.
He doesn’t have to worry about losing his voice, but there’s only so much oxygen in a locker room, champions or not.
“I’m on the same path. Use my voice, my competitiveness every single night,” Curry told Yahoo Sports. “CP is just another trusted voice, whether it comes from me, Draymond, CP or even me [Kevon Looney]. Every one of us who speaks attracts attention.”
But last year was marked by drama as Curry tried to hold everything together. He was asked if he wished he could have done things differently.
“I used it a lot,” Curry told Yahoo Sports. “A necessary amount for what I saw and needed to be addressed. There’s only so much you can do.”
There’s the image of Curry letting the chaos run amok because, in his own words, he’s “leading by example” on Monday night. But he saw his role differently from the inside out and had no regrets.
“I’m actually pretty proud of myself,” Curry told Yahoo Sports. “Whether people knew about it or not or whether it occurred, think of all the things we went through. There are no moral victories, but we still had a good chance of reaching the Western Conference Finals. It’s the nature of the league and we’ve been doing this for a long time and we’re still here.”
Pistons rookie Ausar Thompson would be dizzying to watch if all you had to focus on was him. Imagine what it would be like to outbox him.
It’s almost like he’s a strong safety who waits for you to turn your head and then boom – blindside blitz against a bad quarterback. Or like a busy toddler climbing over the couch as if on a jungle gym.
This is how he handles the offensive glass. Sometimes he slides off the baseline when the ball is on the other side of the floor – both on a cut and possibly when a shot goes up, he can slide with that slim body and take anyone out of the way with a single hop .
Sometimes, like Monday against Golden State, he tracks the ball from the top of the key and slams a missed shot by Marvin Bagley III just because Looney turned his head.
This isn’t an uncommon occurrence, Thompson ranks second in offensive rebounds per game (4.3) behind the Knicks’ Mitchell Robinson. And Robinson is 2.10 meters tall – and knows that this is the only way he touches the ball.
At 6-7, Thompson has excellent vision and speed, and in addition to his rebounding skills (nine RPG), he has the bones to be an outstanding playmaker.
“It doesn’t feel like a beginner’s course. I find it incredible [draft] Great,” Green said Monday evening. “They don’t look like newbies. The Thompson twins [Houston’s Amen, Detroit’s Ausar]I have some feeling for the Thompson twins and [Victor Wembanyama] because these guys are going to make it a lot harder for me to continue making All-Defensive teams.”
It will take some time to get his shot right, but if you squint, he looks like the recently retired Andre Iguodala.
Dillion, the villain
Dillon Brooks is always the main character, no matter where he is. He is a complete WWE fan who lives and enjoys every second of it.
Sometimes it’s a kick, sometimes it’s pure trash talk.
But he seems to have found a decent home in Houston after leaving Memphis after six seasons with the Grizzlies, and while it’s still very early — really, really early — he’s getting it going.
The career 41 percent shooter is nearly 60 percent through the first two weeks, and he’s nearly 57 percent from 3-point range. It could be his new shooting form and the repetition he’s been working on over the summer – or the change of scenery – or just a blip in his career, but it’s something to keep an eye on, especially since the Rockets are trying pretty much everything to reinvent their identity and become competitive again in the West.
Brooks was kicked out of a preseason game because of one of those heel acts, so it’s not like he’s turning over a new leaf, but one has to wonder how his departure from Memphis affected him – and how different the Grizzlies look, without the extra he brought to the table.
They’ll be without Ja Morant (suspension), Steven Adams (knee) and Brandon Clarke (hamstring), but they’ll likely miss Brooks a bit too.
The embarrassment of someone having to tell everyone that the Grizzlies had no use for Brooks weeks before free agency began had to sting. But do we know that Brooks actually feels pain or just inflicts it?