To say the success of this season begins and ends with the play of Monta Ellis would not be an exaggeration. The Monta Ellis we saw pre-moped had the makings of a very special player in the league. The blazing quickness, and ability to penetrate and finish after absorbing contact reminded many of Allen Iverson. Coupling his quickness with an uncanny ability to rise up on a dime and bury the mid-range jumper, he was an unstoppable offensive force, capable of putting up 30 pts. with ease. He was mesmerizing to watch, but what was really startling was the efficiency with which he operated. His shooting percentages were among the best ever seen in this league for a guard. Did he really shoot over 60% for a month? Everyone around the league was watching Ellis with their mouths open, including Kobe Bryant, who stated he was his favorite NBA player. It was only a matter of time until Ellis became an all-star. A very short time.
And then, tragedy.
If Monta Ellis, on his surgically reconstructed ankle, can again become the one-of-a-kind player he was 2 years ago, the Warriors are again going to be a special team. It is really that simple. One absolutely unguardable player can transform a mediocre team into a playoff team overnight. And that is what a healthy Ellis is. Unguardable.
A lot has been written about whether or not Monta Ellis can be made into a point guard. About whether he has the mind-set to create for his teammates, and the intelligence to grasp the nuances of the position. To me, this issue is a bit of a red-herring. When I look at Tony Parker, I don’t see a point guard, I see a basketball player. Parker is adept at handling the rock and pushing the tempo, but he is a very mediocre passer with limited court vision. When he drives and dishes out to the three point line, it is a rare occurrence that his pass doesn’t force his teammate to shift his feet. Manu Ginobili is far better at setting up his teammates than Parker. Which is why Ginobili usually handles the point when they’re in the game together. And yet Parker has helped lead the Spurs to multiple championships due to the overall excellence of his offensive game. He is unguardable.
I believe that Monta Ellis, with his ability to play above the rim, is even more unguardable than Tony Parker. And I think he’s a better passer. If you watch Ellis pass the ball I think you will notice something absolutely uncanny. His passes hit his teammates in the hands. Short passes, long passes, in between passes. Hands. This remarkable ability in itself will, I think, be enough to make Ellis a better point guard than Parker. And if he does prove coachable at the position, capable of showing some leadership, of absorbing some nuance…. wow, sky’s the limit.
Coming out of training camp, there will be one thing in particular I will look at in Monta Ellis to gauge his progress as a point guard: how quickly he has picked up the pick and roll. In Andris Biedrins and Anthony Randolph, Ellis will have two fantastic partners for this play. Great hands, lightning quick moves to the hoop, great finishers. If Ellis has learned how to run pick and roll with these guys by the end of training camp, the league is in for a lot of pain. Nellie will simply jam this play down the league’s throat, over and over again. It will be….. unguardable.
It’s a little hard to judge what the Warriors are going to get from Stephen Jackson this season, not least because of his recent request to be traded. When he’s at his best, Jackson is a terrific all-around basketball player, with a fire and passion that can lead a team to greatness. Tim Duncan called him “the ultimate teammate” after their shared championship run. Jackson and Baron Davis put a young and inexperienced Warriors team on their backs en route to an historic upset of the #1 seeded Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the 2006 Western Conference playoffs.
Let’s concentrate on the good things that Jackson can give the Warriors if he decides he wants to continue playing for them. First and foremost, he’s the glue that holds their defense together. A terrific defensive stopper, he enjoys going head to head with the Kobe and Lebrons of the league. His versatility and size allow him to guard everyone from power forwards (most memorably, Dirk Nowitzki) to point guards (most memorably, Chris Paul, in the fourth quarter of a regular-season Warriors win in New Orleans).
On offense, the analysis gets a little more complicated. Jackson is a good ball distributor, who understands how to get his teammates shots. But like Brett Favre, his competitiveness sometimes leads him to force passes when he would be better served choosing a more conservative option. Put mildly, his assist/turnover ratio has room for improvement. Jackson is also a fearless gunner, particularly with the game on the line. This can have great consequences, as during his Spurs championship run, and in the Warriors’ first round upset of the Mavericks. But it can also hurt his team when he’s cold, as he was in the Warriors’ second round series against Utah. On balance, I think he inspires his team with his leadership and fearlessness. Every team needs a player to take the big shot. On last years decimated Warriors squad, that was Stephen Jackson. Going forward, I’m hopeful the Warriors will develop a few more options for that big shot. But whenever Jack winds up taking it, I will gladly live with the result. And I think Don Nelson will too.
Because Stephen Jackson is the living, breathing heart and soul of this team. A champion.
Buike is quite possibly the most under-rated wing player in the NBA. Probably because he was undrafted. A hard-nosed player. A tough defender. Great 3 point shooter. Great rebounder for his size. Good finisher who attacks the rim like a rabid dog. A terrific player who plays both ends of the court.
He does have some weaknesses. Like Maggette, he’s fearless driving to the basket, but also like Maggette, he does so with blinders on. Limited court vision. Poor at finding open teammates.
This is a mere quibble, though. There are very few wings in the league with Buike’s combination of inside/outside offensive game, and hard-nosed defense. In fact, I can’t think of another player in the league he resembles.
I like him as a starter, giving the Warriors another hard-nosed wing alongside Jackson. And Don Nelson always favors size and defensive ability in his starting 2 guards. Maggette, Curry and Morrow will come off the bench.
Beans is starting to make a name for himself around the league, but is still vastly underrated as a player. Beans is a hard-working, mobile and smart defender, and one of the best rebounders in the league. His ability to flash out to give help, and yet recover in time to defend the rim on a pass inside is remarkable. He is courageous in the post against bigger players, and never takes a play off. Like his back-up Turiaf, he is inspirational as the defensive anchor of the team.
He is far more limited as an offensive player. He has no jumper, and barely has a jump hook. He doesn’t have the strength to battle in the post, and has no post moves to speak of. His free-throw shooting is abysmal, which with the emergence as a player of Rony Turiaf, may cost him his ability to finish out games.
He does have certain strengths on offense, however. He has great hands, and his quickness and finishing ability over opposing centers make him a natural target for both alley-oops and the pick and roll. He sets great picks. He has shown an improving ability to pass out of the set offense. And he is completely unselfish, which is a great asset on a team of players who like the ball.
Biedrins is a Warriors captain. And a deserving one.
MR. ANTHONY RANDOLPH
I started calling this 19 year-old prodigy “Mister” last year out of respect. I was simply astonished by the ferocity with which this kid took the court in his rookie season. Undersized, inexperienced, he backed down against no one. His immense raw talent and impudent intensity simply melted the brains of several veterans he matched up against. He sent Lamar Odom and Tyrus Thomas to the bench with technicals. He dunked on Yao and screamed in his face, earning his own technical and benching. The passion and even fury with which this 7′ tall string bean played both ends of the court, along with the unlimited potential he flashed, brought to my mind a current Hall of Fame player and World Champion: Kevin Garnett. And when he eventually matched up against Garnett himself, he looked him dead in the eye and went toe to toe. They wound up locking horns and barking at each other. When Garnett walked away, he wore a bemused smile on his face. I know what he was thinking: “That kid reminds me of someone.”
That’s Mr. Anthony Randolph. I am going well out on a limb here, and exposing myself to intense ridicule, but I feel that this kid, if he stays healthy, may become everything that Kevin Garnett is, and more. The high motor and intensity with which he plays the game, the build, the length, the shot-blocking ability and the passion to defend are all reminiscent of the great Hall of Famer. But Randolph also has, at 20 years of age, abilities that Garnett can only dream of. A rock solid handle, and an ability to lead the fast break. At 7′ tall. I saw Randolph, last season, cross over an opponent at the three-point line, get to the rim in two strides, and jam. And nearly fell off my couch in joyous stupefaction.
Randolph worked on his jumper in the offseason, and was burying 20 footers in the Vegas summer league. He also added 20 lbs. through hard work. The talent and desire of this kid are simply incandescent. If he has progressed enough by the end of starting camp to be Don Nelson’s full-time starting power forward, then the future of this Golden State Warriors team will be very bright. Starting NOW.