G League

Santa Cruz Warriors Bubble Preview

The Santa Cruz Warriors will look to build upon last year’s 21-21 record, which placed the team 7th in the Western Conference and 15th overall. Their offense scored the 7th fewest points per game in the league with a 112.6 offensive rating.

Defensively, they allowed the 11th fewest points per game to go along with a 114.4 defensive rating. The G League bubble will provide the new-look squad an opportunity to improve upon their standing a season ago.

Santa Cruz’s Young Stars:

Jordan Poole will look to lead the Warriors into the bubble. Appearing in only three G League games as a rookie, Poole spent the majority of his first season with the Golden State Warriors. The 2019 first round pick played an average of over 22 minutes per game across 57 games played. This season, his minutes have decreased to slightly under 10 minutes per game.

The assignment to the Santa Cruz Warriors will allow the 21-year-old to get some valuable playing time to further develop his skills. In a media availability on February 5, he described his prior experience with the team, “I was able to play with Coach Weems and the coaching staff last year for three games and it was fun. He does an amazing job.”

In the same availability, the Santa Cruz guard explained his approach to the bubble, “Whatever the coaches need me to do, I’ll do. I’m that type of player and that’s the type of player I’ve been my entire life. First and foremost, I want to go out there and I want to win,” Poole said.

A guard that will be sharing the floor frequently with Jordan Poole is rookie Nico Mannion. After an underwhelming one-and-done campaign at Arizona, Mannion was selected with the 18th pick of the second round in the 2020 NBA Draft.

Only appearing in a quarter of Golden State’s games this season, this G League stint will provide the rookie with more playing time. Thus, a greater opportunity to showcase his talent that ESPN touted as the 9th overall player in the 2019 high school class.

“[Poole and Mannion] have a lot of talent…and they provide some spacing. They both can shoot the ball. Both can play-make. They brought a different level of energy to practice and, hopefully, that carries over to the games,” Head Coach Kris Weems explained in what he has seen in Santa Cruz’s two young guards,

In a Zoom call with reporters on February 2, Coach Weems laid out his plans for their playing time, “I know for sure, both, Nico and Jordan will play a good amount of minutes, probably around the 30-minute mark.”

The Experience of the Santa Cruz Warriors:

Jeremy Lin‘s desire to return to the NBA has brought him to Santa Cruz, about nine years after the famed “Linsanity” streak for the Knicks. Coach Weems explained his perception of Lin, “What I notice now is maybe he doesn’t have the same athletic burst that he had a few years ago.”

“But, his pace, he never lets defenders speed him up, which is really important. It’s something that, both, Nico and Jordan need to learn. He’s already shown we can trust him with the ball,” Weems said.

Lin last played for the Beijing Ducks in the Chinese Basketball Association.

Additionally, Dusty Hannahs is an elite floor spacer who is entering his fourth G League season. Hannahs averaged 21.4 points per game last year, which was top ten in G League scoring per game. Hannahs nearly achieved the prolific 50-40-90 shooting percentages a season ago.

More specifically, the sniper shot 46.9% from the field, 44.8% from three on over 7 attempts per game and 91.5% from the line. Coach Weems displayed excitement when describing Hannahs.

“Dusty is one of the best shooters in the G League the last couple years. He’s really learned how to put the ball on the floor, and he can play-make some.”

It will be interesting to see how teams decide to guard the Santa Cruz Warriors with their numerous highly-skilled guards. An underappreciated player that will be vital to the team’s success is Axel Toupane. As one of the few wings on the roster, Toupane will be relied upon often.

“He’s got 10 or 11 years experience as an overseas professional as well as playing a couple years off-and-on in the NBA and in the G League,” Coach Weems said to reporters.

Toupane previously played in the G League from 2015-17 for Raptors 905, where he was named 2015-16 G League Most Improved Player.

In a media availability on February 5, Kris Weems provided detail into the forward’s playstyle, “He can shoot the three, I think he’s better from the corners. Where I’ll try to utilize him most is in transition. Throw the ball ahead to him and let him create. He’s an unselfish guy, but he can finish.”

Santa Cruz’s Near Future:

The G League Warriors have a chance of receiving reinforcements once the season has started. As Coach Weems gave an update on Alen Smailagic on February 2.

“Alen’s going to take a little bit longer as he’s still recovering from his knee surgery. He’s getting back on the court. I know he did this week. I’m not going to put a timeline on it because I’m not sure,” Weems said.

“I haven’t consulted with the medical staff, but hopefully, in the next couple weeks as we get him ramped up, he’ll be able to play and contribute to the team as well.”

The Santa Cruz Warriors will get their season underway on February 10 versus the G League Ignite. The game will be live on ESPN2 at 11:00 am EST. This will be the first game of the G League bubble and an entertaining initial test for each team.

Ignite are loaded with young stars, such as Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga. The squad also features veterans, including Amir Johnson and Jarrett Jack, to mentor the future NBA talent. Santa Cruz rookie Nico Mannion, was asked about the new pathway in a media availability on February 5,

“I really respect what those guys are doing, taking a different route, a route less travelled, and making the best of it. I really respect what they’re doing and I’ve played against I think pretty much almost all of them. All the young guys on that team, whether it’s through high school or AAU, and they’re all great players. So props to them and I respect that route that they chose.”

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