Warriors forward says he’ll ‘for sure’ make season debut on Sunday vs. Rockets

Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green will make his 2023-24 season debut on Sunday against the Houston Rockets, he told reporters on Saturday. The four-time All-Star has been sidelined for a month with a sprained left ankle.

Green said that he will “for sure” play on Sunday, and expects to be on a minutes limit, but does not know whether he’ll be in the starting lineup, via The Athletic’s Anthony Slater. The Warriors have gone 1-1 to begin this season, losing to the Phoenix Suns on opening night before beating the Kings in Sacramento on Friday.

Green suffered the ankle injury during a pickup game in late September, as first reported by Jason Dumas of KRON4 and later confirmed by Green to Andscape’s Marc J. Spears. At the time, Green said that he expected to miss at least a month with the injury, adding that he “dodged a bullet.”

After recovering from a serious back injury suffered during the 2021-22 campaign, Green played 73 games last season, earning a second team All-Defensive selection and leading the Warriors in assists, while logging his highest scoring average since 2017-18.

There were rumors Green might seek a change of scenery during this summer’s unrestricted free agency, but instead he agreed to a four-year, $100 million deal to stay in Golden State.

“We’re really excited to have Draymond back,” Kerr said in early July. “He’s been such a huge part of this decade run and, as he showed this past year, he still has plenty left in the tank. … Given that he plays so well with Steph [Curry] and Klay [Thompson], it was really a no-brainer to try to bring him back.”

An injury before the official start of training camp wasn’t ideal for the Warriors as they begin to acclimate offseason acquisition Chris Paul into the mix, but the organization is certainly taking a long-haul approach to this season, hoping that everyone is healthy and productive by the time the playoffs roll around.

With Draymond Green back, here are three Warriors starting lineup options from which Steve Kerr must choose

When discussing his plans for the resumption of NBA basketball during the early months of the pandemic in 2020, commissioner Adam Silver quoted his late predecessor David Stern, who told him, “Never make a decision until you have to.” The specific application of the advice was that the development of potential vaccines and regulations surrounding COVID-19 were changing so quickly, it made no sense to decide on a course of action in April when the situation would likely be vastly different in July. The sentiment is almost universally relevant when it comes to making tough choices.

Draymond Green’s left ankle injury that he sustained during a pickup game prior to the start of Golden State Warriors training camp, allowed Steve Kerr and the rest of the organization to postpone a crucial decision about the starting lineup. With Green announcing that he’ll make his season debut against the Houston Rockets on Sunday, the wait is over. Either Green, Chris Paul or Kevon Looney is likely headed to the second unit.

Green came off the bench when he returned from a one-game suspension for stomping on the chest of Domantas Sabonis during this past spring’s first-round playoff series against the Sacramento Kings, so that might make the most sense on Sunday while Green is still on a minutes limit. But, when Green returns to full strength, Kerr’s going to have a major decision on his hands.

Here’s a look at the three most likely starting lineup options from which Kerr must choose moving forward.

On paper, it would make sense to keep this lineup intact until it’s proven to be ineffective. However, the addition of Paul makes things tricky, since the 18-year vet has started every single game of his career, including the first two of this season. Paul coming off the bench might be an easier sell now that he’s already had some experience commanding the Warriors’ second unit, admirably keeping the team afloat with Curry on the bench.

The benefit of this lineup is that you split up Green and Paul, assuring that one master ball-handler will be on the floor at all times. The same goes for separating Green and Looney, who are both excellent defenders but also non-shooters who can potentially clog things up offensively.

The downside is, you start the game with Green — your best defender and the player who’s been described as the engine of the Warriors offense — on the bench.

If Kerr is going to convince Green to come off the bench full-time, this lineup is probably going to have to perform much better.

“Lineup of Death” plus “Point God” equals “Death God,” right? So who’s with me? OK, even if the name doesn’t stick (it surely won’t), this is an appealing option for Kerr. We’ve seen a version of this in previous years, most notably with Jordan Poole in the place of Paul, which was dubbed the “Poole Party” lineup. This Warriors unit with Paul hasn’t had a chance to test its mettle yet since Green has been out, but the Poole Party wasn’t as much fun as people seemed to think last season.

Obviously this lineup would look much different with Paul in the place of Poole, but the problem remains the same: By going this small, the offense needs to be dominant in order to make up for the defensive shortcomings with Looney on the bench. Kerr has continued to laud Looney’s presence in the starting lineup over the years, saying it helps the team set a defensive tone from the jump.

It’s going to take a lot for Kerr to bump Looney from the starting lineup, but if anyone’s going to do it, it will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer who’s one of the greatest point guards of all time.

Zion Williamson’s fascinating shot chart from the Pelicans’ first two games of the season is a sight to behold

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Dynamic Pelicans forward Zion Williamson knows exactly what works for him on the basketball court, and he’s not afraid to punish opponents with it over … and over … and over … and over. The two-time All-Star has averaged 23.5 points and six rebounds to help the Pelicans to a 2-0 start to the season, but there’s something pretty fascinating about the way he’s getting his buckets.

Williamson hasn’t attempted a shot outside the paint in the first two games of the season.

The 6-6 Duke product has gone 21 for 34 from the field, and every single one of his attempts has come inside the key. Williamson went 9 for 17 in the first game of the season, a 111-104 win over the Memphis Grizzlies. He almost breached the non-painted area on a jumper from the elbow, but didn’t quite get there.

It was more of the same in New Orleans’ 96-87 win over the New York Knicks on Saturday, as Williamson went 12 for 17 from the field with every single one of his attempts coming in the paint. Here’s what the shot chart looks like when you put the two games together. Simply remarkable.

Williamson doing the majority of his work in the paint is no surprise, but the fact that he hasn’t even looked at a shot from the perimeter speaks to his singular focus so far this season. Last year, Williamson took nine mid-range jumpers and 19 3-pointers in 29 games, according to NBA.com.

Another thing you’ll notice: Williamson hasn’t made a single field goal this season from the right side of the floor. The shot charts show that he’s missed five field goal attempts from the right side, while the vast majority of his baskets come from the left side thanks to his gifted, dominant left hand.

At a listed 284 pounds with the quickness of a guard and the strength of a linebacker, the 23-year-old Williamson simply plows and maneuvers his way through defenses that have been drilled repeatedly not to allow him to go left. There’s simply nothing they can do.

The Pelicans got off to an 18-8 start last season before injuries plagued them. With Williamson, Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum on the floor, New Orleans outscored opponents by a incredible 16.5 points per 100 possessions last season. They hope that everyone stays healthy this time around, and Williamson is already showing how dominant he can be in the paint — even when everyone knows that’s where he wants to live.

Jordan Poole tried the Steph Curry look-away but forgot to make the shot

Jordan Poole played in the shadow of Stephen Curry for the first four years of his career. He has a similar skillset, and at times, relatively speaking, he has shown that he can be nearly as electric of a shooter and scorer as the two-time MVP and future Hall of Famer.

But having a vaguely similar basketball aesthetic and being able to actually replicate what Curry does on the floor are two very different things.

Poole, now with the Washington Wizards after a fallout with the Warriors (or at least with Draymond Green) found this out on Saturday, when he tried to pull off the famous Curry look-away on a 3-point shot, turning around to the bench as the ball was still in the air.

There was just one problem.

He forgot to the make the shot.



— warriorsworld (@warriorsworld) October 28, 2023
If you want to see how this is really done, here are two full minutes of Curry look-aways that actually go through the net.

Stephen Curry look away shots

¯_(ツ)_/¯ pic.twitter.com/Mm0VXKmlcr

— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) December 11, 2022
Poole’s Wizards knocked of the Memphis Grizzlies, 113-106, on Saturday to even their early record at 1-1, but Poole is yet to really lock in his shot. Through two games, he’s shooting 22% (4 of 18) from downtown and 35% overall. The look-away in Memphis was one of his eight bricked triples on Saturday.

Poole is a supremely skilled player, and given that he has his own team now — and the opportunity to fully unleash his creativity that comes with it — he is going do some Curry-like things from time to time this year and throughout his career. But Saturday night was not one of those times. He took at shot at the king, and he missed. Badly.

Suns showcase depth without Devin Booker, Bradley Beal, an essential ingredient for potential playoff success

When the Phoenix Suns acquired Bradley Beal this offseason to join Kevin Durant and Devin Booker, the first thought was how all of that superstar talent and shot-making was going to coexist. The next thought, formulated quickly by most NBA fans, was how on Earth the Suns would construct a viable supporting cast around three players making $130 million combined this season.

Led by president of basketball operations James Jones, the front office went to work, assembling essentially an entire new squad mostly comprised of minimum contracts. The signings — players like Eric Gordon, Yuta Watanabe and Keita Bates-Diop — were lauded, and the depth was bolstered with trades that brought in players like Jusuf Nurkic, Grayson Allen and Jordan Goodwin.

On paper, it looked pretty decent. But on the court, time would have to tell.

Following two games this week without Booker and Beal in the lineup due to injury, it’s safe to say that Phoenix’s depth has passed its first test. The shorthanded Suns nearly spoiled the Los Angeles Lakers’ home opener on Thursday night, ultimately falling, 100-95. Durant was unreal, as he tends to be, scoring 39 points on 28 shots. But the supporting cast stepped up to help the Suns keep the lead until midway through the fourth quarter.

Gordon scored seven of his 15 points in the opening frame, forcing the Lakers defense to reckon with a threat other than Durant. Josh Okogie, one of the few holdovers from last season’s roster, pulled down eight rebounds (four offensive) and hit two of his four 3-point attempts. Goodwin, a throw-in in the Beal trade, put up 14 points, six rebounds and two steals on 6-for-15 shooting, and was a plus-eight in the box score, hitting multiple floaters in the paint.

Goodwin with the touch 😮‍💨 pic.twitter.com/mJUfklcZ3M

— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) October 27, 2023
Despite the loss, the Suns’ “others” showed up in a big way against L.A. But there are no moral victories, as we know. So how about a real victory?

In Saturday night’s home opener, Phoenix absolutely dismantled the Utah Jazz, 126-104, again with Booker and Beal watching from the sideline. The best part about the victory if you’re a Suns fan: Durant only took 11 shots.

It was a complete team effort, registering 31 assists on 45 made field goals, as six Suns scored in double-figures. It wasn’t a lucky shooting night either — they only went 10 for 37 from 3-point range. Durant unsurprisingly led the way with 26 points, but here’s a look at some of the key contributions from the rest of the lineup:

Eric Gordon: 21 points, 4 assists, 9-14 FG
Grayson Allen: 17 points, 4 rebounds, 6-10 FG
Jordan Goodwin: 12 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds
Drew Eubanks: 12 points, 5 rebounds, 6-7 FG
Jusuf Nurkic: 10 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists
Watanabe even made the bench erupt after a smooth behind-the-back and some jelly on the finish.

Okay Yuta 👀 pic.twitter.com/OeDu8qociP

— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) October 29, 2023
Those are extremely encouraging performances that led to a big win over a Jazz team that had beaten the LA Clippers with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George the previous night.

Yes, it’s only three games into the season for a team with championship hopes, but you have to remember that when Durant, Booker and Beal are at full strength in a playoff situation, the Suns aren’t going to need all of these role players to perform every night. Maybe one night it’s Okogie. Another it’s Gordon. Another it’s Goodwin. The point is, head coach Frank Vogel seems to have multiple options.

Whether that pans out in the postseason remains to be seen, but the front office has to at least be giving itself a slight pat on the back for the way the supporting cast has stepped up with two of the three stars out of the lineup.

Thunder rookie Chet Holmgren has already mastered the most important rule of shot-blocking

We’re all gaga over the size and skill of Victor Wembanyama, and rightfully so, but Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Chet Holmgren can do a lot of the same things at close to the same size. The offensive stuff will get the headlines, but Holmgren, like Wembanyama, is already an elite defender.

It starts with his instincts, positioning, and his size, of course. He’s 7-foot-1 with a 7-foot-6 wingspan. But it’s how he uses that length that is already setting him apart.

Specifically, Holmgren, at just 21, has already shown a masterful sense for the art of defensive verticality. It’s a must for any successful shot-blocker who intends to stay out of constant foul trouble.

What is the rule of verticality? The NBA defines this legal defending position in four parts:

The defender must, first of all, be in the air to defend the shot when contact occurs. If the defender is on the ground, and inside the restricted area, even if his arms are “vertical” when contact occurs, he will be assessed a blocking foul.
The defender must maintain a vertical trajectory by jumping straight up. If the defender jumps toward or to the side of an oncoming player, he will be assessed a blocking foul. A defender may, however, angle his jump backwards slightly in such a way as to absorb the impact of the oncoming player, and of course, he may land behind where he leapt from because of the force of the contact.
The defender must maintain vertical alignment, with his body (arms, hands, torso, legs and feet) in a nearly straight line that is perpendicular to the floor. If a defender leans his arms forward or “jackknifes” his legs toward the oncoming offensive player, he will be assessed a blocking foul.
The defender cannot turn sideways. If he does, he will be assessed a blocking foul.
So, what does defensive verticality actually look like? This:

Look at Holmgren’s arms. Fully extended and straight up. Look at his body. He jumps from Point A, and he lands on Point A. He does not move into the shooter or even in his direction. He holds his ground, to which he is entitled. It is the offensive player coming into his space. The result: Two clean blocks.

For this next clip, we refer back to the following portion of the verticality rule: “A defender may, however, angle his jump backwards slightly in such a way as to absorb the impact of the oncoming player, and of course, he may land behind where he leapt from because of the force of the contact.”


Again, Holmgren keeps his arms and body straight up. This time, he doesn’t jump totally straight up, but that’s still legal in this case, as he is merely “jumping backwards slightly” to “absorb the impact” of the 6-11 Evan Mobley, who is the one crashing forward into Holmgren. It’s another perfectly vertical block — one of the seven Holmgren recorded (an Oklahoma City rookie record) in the Thunder’s 108-105 victory over the Cavaliers on Friday night in just his second NBA game.

If you want to see them all, here you go.

Chet Holmgren hosted a block party last night pic.twitter.com/fWDan8A1Uu

— Derek Parker (@DParkOK) October 28, 2023
An important note: Holmgren keeps these blocks inbounds, thus leading to Thunder fast breaks. That is a bonus to any blocked shot, and Holmgren is in a better position to do that because he’s vertical, rather than swatting at the ball like a volleyball spike. Those kills do look great on the highlight reel, but all that sending the ball into the fifth row does is just give the ball right back to your opponent.

Additionally, the verticality approach limits the likelihood of being called for fouls, which is why Holmgren — despite being as active has he obviously has been — only has three in each of his first two games.

In OKC’s opener against the Bulls, Holmgren wasn’t credited with any blocked shots, but don’t let that fool you. Even when he’s not recording an official block, he’s consistently disrupting shots, without fouling, by keeping his arms high, his body vertical, and by jumping straight up. A few examples:

The blocks will always get the attention, but Chet Holmgren is a transformative defender b/c of the types of shots he’s able to alter, even when he doesn’t block it. Threw in 3 reps from 1st 2 games, 1 where he affects ball handler & big in P&R, & 1 with a transition hold. pic.twitter.com/Xq4jKPlGqo

— Brett Kornfeld (@KornHoops) October 28, 2023
Heck, even when the guy does commit a foul it looks pretty damn close to textbook verticality.

What gets Holmgren whistled here is his momentum takes him forward, slightly, into Isaac Okoro, who has just enough of an angle on Holmgren to force him to leap from Point A to Point B to contest the shot. But it isn’t by much.

Otherwise Holmgren is in pretty classic vertical position, his hands and body perpendicular to the ground. It serves to illustrate the instincts and muscle memory he’s already developed that he’s defaulting to the most legal positioning possible even when the play doesn’t allow for total, or certainly natural, verticality.

This is elite, veteran shot-blocker stuff, and with this package of size, skill and smarts, it’s why Holmgren is likely going to throwing block parties for NBA opponents for years to come.