Two weeks through the 2023-24 NBA season, here are a few moments that stood out and might be a sign of what's to come.
Steph and CP3
It happened so quickly, in a game that won’t mean much by the time April rolls around, that the moment can be dismissed.
But it seemed to say a lot.
Golden State Warrior Chris Paul — it still feels weird saying it — seemed to sense an opportunity was for the taking, a chance to put a team away before it had any delusions of winning for another minute.
Paul called for Jonathan Kuminga to set a down screen for Stephen Curry, who flared to the corner. Curry caught the bounce pass and pump-faked on Pistons rookie Marcus Sasser, a defender who was labeled by head coach Monty Williams as “tougher than an old wallet.”
The pump-fake actually wasn’t necessary, but Curry’s triple was true from the corner anyway, giving the Warriors a six-point lead and in essence, put away the Pistons midway through the fourth quarter Monday.
As Curry turned to shimmy and yell at the Detroit crowd, many of whom cheered his seven triples on the evening, Paul probably had a moment of relief — knowing he’s been on the business end of such matters at various stops.
It was three of Curry’s game-high 34 points, one of Paul’s six assists (with zero turnovers). It’s not a combination Steve Kerr can use for long stretches, but given Paul’s surehandedness and the Warriors’ laissez-faire approach to taking care of the ball, a perfect marriage in moments where road wins need to be maximized and road stress needs to be at a minimum.
“I don’t even think that deep into it. I’m just playing. You know what I mean,” Paul said, almost sheepishly. “If JK sets a screen for Steph and two guys go to him, [Kuminga] is gonna be open.”
Paul’s supercomputer of a brain didn’t acknowledge it being the critical moment because every moment is critical. And while coming off the bench is indeed an adjustment, he’s still running the show when he’s out there.
Kerr doesn’t want the overlap to extend more than six to eight minutes a game, but those instances can be critical, particularly late. For Curry, that small morsel of time is enough to develop chemistry, bit by bit.
“It’s not as new as you would think, with Draymond [Green] usually in that position and someone else setting screens,” Curry told Yahoo Sports after the game. “We play a decent amount together. It’s easy IQ. He sees everything; you’re not waiting for a [call]. It’s another guy initiating the offense.”
But it’s another guy who’s trustworthy, still starter-caliber at his advancing age — 29 assists to zero turnovers the last four games — who can settle things down in frenetic moments.
Steph Curry: The vocal leader
The vibes in The Bay are, of course, warm. Paul is a serious player and the Warriors (6-2, third in the West), a still serious franchise with designs on getting back to June. Green has been open about last season being a struggle for him in the aftermath of his incident with Jordan Poole.
Poole’s out, Paul is in and it adds another booming voice in the Warriors’ locker room. Green’s voice towers above all, but Paul isn’t exactly going to be a wallflower in a room full of champions.
Which leaves Curry, still playing ageless basketball, still firing up triples and hitting at a crazy rate (48% as of Tuesday). To be fair, Curry was ridiculous to start last season — 31-7-7 until Dec. 1.
He doesn’t have to make sure his voice doesn’t get lost, but there’s only so much oxygen in a locker room, champions or not.
“I lead the same way. 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 [Kevon Looney]. Any of us who talks commands attention.”
But last year was in the wake of drama where Curry tried to keep everything together. He was asked if he wished he could’ve done things differently.
“I used it a lot,” Curry told Yahoo Sports. “A necessary amount for what I saw needed addressing. It’s only so much you can do.”
There’s the image of Curry letting chaos run amok because by his own words Monday night, he “leads by example.” But he saw his role differently from the inside and had no regrets.
“I’m actually pretty proud of myself,” Curry told Yahoo Sports. “Whether people knew about it or not or it materialized, think about all the things we went through. There’s no moral victories, but we still had a legit shot to get to the Western Conference finals. It’s the nature of the league and we’ve been doing it a long time and we’re still here.”
Watching Pistons rookie Ausar Thompson would be dizzying if you had to singularly focus on him. Imagine what it’s like boxing him out.
It’s almost like he’s a strong safety, waiting on you to turn your head then, boom — blindside blitz on a poor quarterback. Or like a busy toddler climbing over the couch like a jungle gym.
That’s how he treats the offensive glass. Sometimes he glides baseline when the ball is on the other side of the floor — both on a cut and possibly if a shot goes up, he can slither with that lean frame and out-jump everyone in a single bound.
Sometimes, like Monday against Golden State, he’ll track the ball from the top of the key and slam home a miss from Marvin Bagley III just because Looney turned his head.
It’s not an unusual occurrence, Thompson is second behind the Knicks’ Mitchell Robinson for offensive rebounds per game (4.3). And Robinson is 7-feet tall — and knows that’s the only way he’s touching the ball.
Thompson, at 6-7, has excellent vision and pace, with the bones to be an excellent playmaker on top of his rebounding prowess (nine per game).
“It doesn’t feel like a rookie class. I think it’s an incredible [draft] class,” Green said Monday night. “They don’t look like rookies. The Thompson twins [Houston’s Amen, Detroit’s Ausar], I feel a way about the Thompson twins and [Victor Wembanyama] because those guys are going to make it much harder for me to continue to make All-Defensive Teams.”
Ausar's shot will take time to come along, 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’s a full WWE heel, living and embracing 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 being run out of Memphis following six seasons with the Grizzlies, and even though it’s very early — like really, really early — he is lighting it up.
The career 41% shooter is nearly at 60% in the first two weeks and from 3-point range, he’s scorching at nearly 57%. It could be his new shooting form and repetition he worked on over the summer — or the change in scenery — or merely a blip given his career trajectory, but it’s something to watch, especially as the Rockets are trying just about everything to remake their identity and become competitive in the West again.
Brooks was tossed out of a preseason game for one of those heel acts, so it’s not like he’s turning over a new leaf but one has to wonder how his exit from Memphis affected him — and how different the Grizzlies look without that extra something he brought to the table.
They’re without Ja Morant (suspension), Steven Adams (knee) and Brandon Clarke (Achilles), but they’re probably missing Brooks a little bit, too.
The embarrassment of someone letting everyone know 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?