It felt like déjà vu at the Warriors’ home opener against the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night. The Warriors tipped off the 2012-13 season brimming with optimism and center Andrew Bogut showed why when he stuffed Grizzlies big man Marc Gasol in the lane early in the first quarter.
But sixth man Brandon Rush tore his ACL three minutes later and by the time Bogut — who sat out the second and third quarters to rest his ankle — returned to the floor in the fourth, the Warriors trailed by 11 points and the hope at Oracle Arena had evaporated.
But the Warriors are featuring a new cast this year and they bounced back with a gritty 114-110 road win over the Los Angeles Clippers one day later.
It would be foolish to suggest the Warriors (2-1) are on their way to the playoffs this season when they obviously caught the Clippers in a letdown game. But heading into tonight’s contest at Sacramento, one thing does look clear: the team is laying down a solid foundation for future playoff runs.
For the first time in years, the Warriors possess a promising core nucleus because the front office plucked a pair of legitimate starters — Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes — in the past two drafts.
Everyone knew Thompson could shoot when the Warriors selected him with the No. 11 pick in 2011. But his defense, his rebounding and his ability to attack the basket were questioned. In three games, though, Thompson has already collected 19 boards (he averaged only 2.5 per game last season) and he’s scoring in a variety of ways while playing aggressive weak-side defense.
Barnes was also a steal at No. 7 in last June’s draft. He’ll take his bumps as a rookie starter this year, but the former-No. 1 high school player in the country (ESPNU, 2010) has the athleticism and the smarts to be an elite small forward in seasons to come.
The Warriors also struck gold when they drafted center Festus Ezeli with the No. 30 pick last June. With multiple scorers on the floor, the Warriors don’t need Ezeli to drop 20 points a night. Instead, they need a strong defender to patrol the paint while Bogut is on the bench and a ferocious rebounder to limit second-chance opportunities.
Ezeli performed the role to perfection Saturday with Bogut out of the lineup. He shut down Blake Griffin as the Warriors out-rebounded the Clippers 48-33 and out-scored them 48-32 in the paint.
The front office also bolstered the bench during the offseason by bringing in journeyman forward Carl Landry and veteran guard Jarrett Jack. Landry is only 6-foot-9, but he’s a scrapper in the paint who knows how to finish. In three games, he’s averaging 20.0 points and 7.3 rebounds in 26.3 minutes off of the bench.
Likewise, Jack’s acquisition gives the Warriors a veteran presence in the backcourt for the game’s closing minutes. Jack can bring the ball up the floor to give Curry some looks from the two spot, and if needed, he can score with his signature tear-drop through the lane.
This is still a young team, however, and they will experience some growing pains over the course of an 82-game schedule, especially with Rush on crutches. But this isn’t déjà vu, either; the Warriors will make some noise in the Western Conference down the road.
Paul Gackle is a freelance writer and regular contributor to The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @PGackle.