OAKLAND, Calif. -- Stephen Curry toyed with physics Friday en route to 34 points and 10 assists as the Golden State Warriors cruised to an easy 119-104 victory over the Denver Nuggets. It's becoming the rare routine that people aren't sick of, the predictable event that somehow continues to astound. Curry is redefining the sport right now, currently on pace to sink 492 3-pointers this season after unfurling eight treys Friday.
After a night spent on the other side, Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari stated the situation flatly: "He's the best player in the league right now."
That's the main draw. Curry is a massive star, with a powerful gravity that pulls in the focus of the world. In the background, another big Warriors development is taking place: Center Festus Ezeli is breaking out. Andrew Bogut's concussion-caused absence has given Ezeli a showcase, and he's seizing the opportunity. Over six games, in 19.8 minutes, he's claiming 10.3 points, 6.2 boards and 1.8 blocks, shooting 66 percent from the field.
The man Draymond Green once nicknamed "Swagzeli," because of his brimming confidence, is living up to that billing.
Ezeli made all seven of his shots Friday night on his way to 16 points in 18 minutes, but his evening was better defined by 25 seconds. In a sequence that conjured Team USA against a city-sized nation, Ezeli first received a pocket pass from Curry, which he crushed home. Denver then pushed it back down the court, where rookie Emmanuel Mudiay drove, and Ezeli blocked the shot at the violent trajectory of an asteroid striking terra firma. Ezeli then raced back down the court, oliberating a lob that Green had flicked behind his head, like a man angrily slamming his suitcase into a cramped overhead compartment.
That sequence showcased a physicality the Warriors have lacked, for all their brilliance. Bogut is large, but his game is predicated more on savvy than on athleticism. Ezeli, at a sturdy 265 pounds with a 7-foot-5.75 wingspan and a 3.29 NBA combine sprint, evokes sports clichés like "specimen."
It was just hard to envision Ezeli merging his physical gifts with skill, back in a rookie season that saw him shoot 43.8 percent and average 2.5 points. He used to struggle to even catch the ball, and if he managed to do that, the resulting offense was beyond balky. That was the Mark Jackson era, though, and Ezeli has since put in a massive amount of work with an improved coaching staff. Lately, the game is slowing down for him. He's patient when pump faking defenders. He's even making a few plays on dribble handoffs.
Asked about his improvements, Ezeli just repeated the same thing: Ron Adams. Golden State's "professor" of defense has worked constantly with Ezeli, who in turn, rewarded that investment. Now, after turning down an extension offer from the Warriors, Ezeli's on track to get a massive payday in restricted free agency.
That's the distant future. In the meantime, the Warriors have to figure out whether he's a starter. Last season, after David Lee got hurt, Green held the starting spot and never relinquished it. It's possible we're seeing a similar situation unfold, but it should be noted: Bogut is better than Lee was, and Green was more versatile than Ezeli is.
Still, it's a decision worth considering when you factor in the intriguing possibility of a high IQ bench unit involving Bogut, Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala. Asked if Ezeli might retain the starting spot, interim coach Luke Walton said the following: "Festus is playing great. I haven't really sat down to think about that, and that's probably a discussion to have with Steve [Kerr] and the rest of the staff."
Walton elaborated, "I would assume [Bogut] would be back in the starting lineup, but it might be one of those things where he hasn't played in two weeks so we start Festus for a while and work him back into shape."
There's wiggle room there, as a lineup switch hasn't definitively been rejected. The Warriors could, again, have an injury foment an evolution. Festus Ezeli's emergence has been a welcome development for a team that already has so much. Just when you think the Warriors couldn't get better, Swagzeli arrives with full force.