SAN FRANCISCO — Chris Paul hovered around midcourt sizing up his much larger former teammate Jusuf Nurkic. With two quick dribbles, Paul dashed around the 6-foot-11 center and made a beeline for the hoop.
He pumped the ball once, skirted around Josh Okogie and made a layin while drawing contact. As he made his way to the free throw line, “CP3!” chants broke out in Chase Center.
Considering Paul’s history with his new franchise — and its fan base — it was an odd sight.
“I couldn’t help but laugh,” Paul said. “It was a first.”
In his first official game as a Warrior, Paul finished with 14 points on 4-of-15 shooting, nine assists and six rebounds in Golden State‘s season-opening 108-104 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night.
“I’m really excited,” Paul said. “There are a lot of good things we did tonight, a lot of not great things, but the freedom — the pull-up 3s that I got a chance to shoot — when we are playing with guys that shoot it as good as Steph [Curry] and Klay [Thompson], consistently … you got a lot more space out there.”
While Paul’s past with Golden State — namely during his time with the LA Clippers — makes for a surprising marriage, there’s a benefit to it on the court.
There was one play in particular that stood out to Paul that illustrated that: He came off a ball screen, threw the ball to the top and ran to the corner for an open 3.
“I looked over at Steph and said, ‘That’s your s—.’ That’s what he usually does,” Paul said. “We’ve all played against each other so much that we sort of know how we can be complementary together.”
There are aspects to Paul’s game the Warriors are grateful to have — such as how drew a foul on Devin Booker to get into the bonus in the third quarter.
A year ago, Paul baited Jonathan Kuminga into swiping at him to draw contact 90 feet away from the basket.
“We’ve joked about it a lot already,” Curry said. “Obviously, smart basketball and you have to play the game. But it’s nice to not have to look at the ref, like hey. He’s on our squad now.”
But beyond those small moments of familiarity, there was an obvious overarching sense of how Paul can impact the Warriors.
A source told ESPN that being the floor general for the second unit will be Paul’s main role, regardless if he is a starter or not. That was clear in Golden State’s monstrous third quarter, which saw the Warriors outscore the Suns 40-19. Paul scored 10 of his points in the quarter.
“Chris is so good — the way he controls the game, hits big shots when you need them, nine assists — he gives us a different dimension,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “We’ll start figuring out the little nuances and actions we want to use with him. But he’s just a great player.”
The hope is that having Paul on the floor with the second group will help cut down turnovers, which did happen opening night, as Golden State committed just 11 miscues compared to the 18.2 it averaged in the preseason. His presence will also help organize those lineups that consist of younger players.
“It’s who he is as a player — understanding the momentum and how things are going, having a feel out there on the floor as a point guard to know when to keep pushing, settle it down, what play to call,” Curry said. “We all trust him to make the right decisions and the right plays. That comfortability is there now and it’s only going to get deeper.”
While the Warriors’ first regular-season game displayed an already established comfort and chemistry with Paul, it was also evident that there is a long way to go for Golden State.
On Monday, Kerr said it would take several weeks for the Warriors to play at the level he envisions. Missing Draymond Green — sidelined with an ankle sprain — and getting him back and figuring out the starting lineup and regular rotations adds to the Warriors’ to-do list.
“This is just the first glimpse of the regular season. It usually takes 20, 25 games to really know your team and feel the actions you need, the combinations you have,” Kerr said.