Through the first two games, the Warriors have looked pretty crappy. I’m not going to rehash everything I’ve already posted about that. Here’s Private Jackson with a pithy summation: “I just think, like Coach said earlier, the first two games, we look like a team (on which) everyone’s playing for a contract and we’re not playing like a team. That’s all I can see.”
You can apply this statement to everyone on the team, if you like. “Everyone must look at himself in the mirror,” and so on. Certainly Corey Maggette has had a couple of stinkers. But the Warriors don’t look to CM to do anything on the offensive end but score. That’s his role. To me, Jackson’s statement rests squarely on the shoulders of Monta Ellis. He’s the player who’s had the ball in his hands the most often. He’s the player who has taken the most shots. He’s the player who has done an absolutely terrible job creating for his teammates. He barely even looks at them. And he’s the player who, when Curry has left the game and he has had sole responsibility at the point, has been leading the team over a cliff. Monta Ellis is the biggest culprit for the Warriors’ obvious lack of chemistry.
What can Don Nelson do about this? After some thought, I have decided that the solution lies in the lineups. Nellie has a lot of pieces on this team, and he has been doing a lot of experimenting with how they should fit together. I don’t think he’s found the right lineups yet. My simple prescription for fixing the Warriors’ chemistry is this:
Make Monta Ellis the starting point guard. Bring Stephen Curry off the bench with the second unit.
I can hear you now: “What? Didn’t you just say Monta Ellis was a lousy point guard?” Yes, so far he is. But paradoxically, I believe that on this team that means that he should be the starter. Here are my reasons:
- Get Curry out of Monta’s hair. Monta has been giving off a very strong air of being irritated by Curry’s presence, both on and off the court. I have been getting the feeling that Monta views himself as competing with Curry for leadership of the team. And I think that’s been hurting his game. He’s pressing. Taking Curry out of the starting lineup will help Monta relax, and grow more naturally into the leadership role the Warriors need him to fill.
- The Monta-Curry backcourt is inefficient. Although Monta can do some nice things off the ball, he is not a catch and shoot player. He’s the type of player that needs the ball in his hands to be effective. But that, of course, means taking the ball out of Curry’s hands, and forcing the Warrior’s best distributor to stand around.
- Get Kelenna Azubuike into the starting lineup. KA is one of the Warriors’ best wing players, as he’s shown in the first two games. He needs more minutes.
- Turn a negative into a positive. With Randolph and Biedrins filling out the starting unit, this will be a team that will be forced to rely on a selfish Monta Ellis for its scoring. A team that LOOKS for him to be selfish. Just like defensive genius Mike Brown’s ponderous Cavs offense looks for Lebron to be selfish. Just like the Lakers look for Kobe to be selfish when the going gets tough. Just like Jordan’s Bulls, Iverson’s Sixers, Wade’s Heat, Roy’s Blazers. This can work.
- This will be a starting 5 that can really get after it defensively. Four of the starters are plus defenders. Even when they struggle offensively, this unit can generate point differential.
- Stephen Jackson at point-forward. The ball has been too much out of Jackson’s hands in the first two games. This lineup restores Jackson’s role in the offense. When Nellie wants to run a play, he can use Jackson as the point forward. This can work. It worked well last year in the handful of games in which the Warriors had a full and healthy roster. It worked for Nellie in Milwaukee when Paul Pressey was the point-forward and Sidney Moncrief was the point guard. It worked for the Jordan Bulls: more often than not Pippen or Jordan ran the point for that team, and Kerr and Paxon and Armstrong were off the ball post-up shooters.
- This lineup doesn’t simply fix what’s wrong with the starting unit, it fixes the second unit as well. That second unit will now be headlined, of course, by Curry and Morrow. Morrow has had a miserable start to the season, largely because with Curry starting, there have been very few minutes for Morrow alongside Curry. Morrow is almost completely incapable of getting his own shot, and Monta has a tough time creating open shots for him. Curry, on the other hand, has proven to have a genius for getting Morrow the ball in position to shoot. The two have been lights-out when partnered in the backcourt. Morrow MUST play with Curry, and Curry MUST play with Morrow. Putting them together on the second unit is the answer.
- Corey Maggette needs to play with Curry as well. Everybody in the world has grown sick of watching Nelson run isolation plays for Corey Maggette, even though those plays are usually highly effective. I am not someone who hates Maggette, or who thinks Nellie shouldn’t use him at the 4. I like the idea of Maggette getting time at the 4. I just think Nellie needs to help Maggette play better. Stephen Curry is the answer. In the pre-season, Curry found ways to employ Maggette’s tremendous finishing ability on the move, rather than in stagnant, ball-pounding isolation. He found Maggette on the wings on fast breaks, he found Maggette on back door cuts under the basket, and he found Maggette on sliding post-ups across the middle. That is how and why Maggette was the most efficient scorer on the Warriors in the preseason. A lineup with both Monta and Maggette has two isolation players who look for their shot first. That leads to stagnation. Play Curry with Maggette on the second unit.
Stephen Curry needs something close to starter’s minutes. He’s proven himself to be that good. He can still get them coming off the bench. He can still be in at the end of games if Nellie so chooses. I am not suggesting that his role on the team be reduced. I’m am simply saying that both Monta and the Warriors can benefit most by having Curry’s prodigious talents put to use with the second unit.