It’s silly, I know. A home win against Memphis. But when you’re ready, you’re ready. And I’m ready, four games into the season, to make my call. This Warriors team — picked by virtually all the pundits to finish last or next to last in the Pacific — is going to the playoffs.
I’m not making this call based on the Warriors record so far. In my opinion, they’ve beaten three teams they should beat, at home. Big deal. Nor am I making the call now to make myself look good in the short term: the timing for the call is horrible, with the Warriors about to begin a brutal six game stretch that features Utah at home, then 5 road games in 7 nights on the East coast. They could easily have a losing record by the time the next six games are over.
I’m basing my call, first and foremost, on the talent the Warriors are putting on the floor. Now that I’ve had a look at a healthy Andris Biedrins and at Dorell Wright, I’m comfortable saying that this Warriors team is one of the most talented in the league. Lets run down the checklist:
- Superstar: Monta Ellis, check.
- Top six point guard: Stephen Curry, check.
- Passing: If this isn’t the best passing team in the entire league, I would like to know which team is. Curry and Ellis the best passing backcourt. David Lee, exceptional. Dorell Wright and Andris Biedrins, very good. With Reggie Williams and Vlad Rad the first two players off the bench, the Warriors usually have excellent passers at every single position. And Udoh is an excellent passer by reputation as well. We haven’t seen it yet, but when the chemistry on this team starts clicking, mouths are going to drop.
- Chemistry: Led from the top by Stephen Curry, this team loves to share the ball, and from all accounts gets along extraordinarily well. Not one single chemistry killer or contract agenda in the locker-room.
- Team speed: Only the Miami Heat can match this team for speed.
- Shooting: Among the league’s best shooting teams. Curry and Ellis incomparable. Dorell Wright wide open and deadly. Lee highly effective from 15 ft. Reggie Williams and Vlad Rad off the bench means four shooters on the floor at virtually all times.
- Rebounding: Biedrins and Lee among the best rebounding tandems in the league. With Amundsen and Udoh yet to show up. The Warriors will finish in the top half of the league in rebounding.
- Defense: This Warriors team is not going to shut anyone down. But with an offense this dominant, they have all the defense they need to create point differential. Two defensive wing players in Wright and Carney to play like chess pieces. Three, if you include Monta. A power forward with a big enough body to hold his position. A quick and versatile shot-blocking center in the middle. That’s all they need.
And then there is the coach, Keith Smart. He continues to annoy me at times. Predictably trying to “establish” Andris Biedrins throughout the first quarter. Continually ignoring the fabulous offensive talents of David Lee. (Is he ever going to use him in the pick and roll?) Pulling the plug early on Reggie Williams in LA, and then stating to the press that he was going to use Jeremy Lin, not Williams, to back up the point. But then, lo and behold, there was Reggie Williams back doing a masterful job at the point in this game.
I think Keith Smart gets it. I think he understands how to use this roster, and is good enough to take them to the playoffs. I’m going to continue to flame him when he annoys me. But with love.
The Warriors chief impediment to making the playoffs — besides their traditional injury woes — is of course the ridiculous toughness of the Western Conference. It hasn’t gotten any easier in the West. Phoenix has fallen, and the Clippers and Memphis are pretenders — I don’t think they’ll make the playoffs. But there are still 9 teams in addition to the Warriors that I view as solid playoff contenders, capable of being 4 seeds or better if they were in the East: Lakers, Mavs, Blazers, Spurs, Nuggets, Hornets, Thunder, Rockets, and Jazz. I view the Lakers, Mavs and Blazers as locks. Each of the other teams are probable, but I can forsee possible scenarios where a couple of them struggle enough to miss the playoffs:
- The Spurs are a lock if they stay healthy. But they are very old and very injury prone. It’s a long season, and stranger things have happened.
- The Nuggets of course have to fade the trade deadline with Carmelo Anthony. But this is a damn good team, with the emergence of Arron Afflalo and the pickups of Harrington and Shelden Williams. They might be good enough to make it even without Carmelo.
- The Hornets are much improved by the return of Chris Paul and the addition of Trevor Ariza. But what happens if David West or Paul go down? Both are injury concerns now.
- The Thunder won 50 games last year, which was only good for the 8th seed. 48-50 wins could very likely be the bubble again this season. And I don’t think the Thunder, as young and good as they are, have enough this season to take another step. I think they lack outside shooting at the guard positions.
- The Rockets are a much better team in my opinion than their 0-4 start suggests. I would be very surprised, actually, if they didn’t make the playoffs. But perhaps this start means they’re not as good as I think they are.
- The Jazz could be very good. But then again, they might not. They lost athleticism and defensive toughness with the departures of Boozer and Wes Mathews. They lost shooting with the departure of Korver. They just might not have enough shooters.
I can’t say how, at this point, the Warriors squeeze ahead of two of these teams for the playoffs. I just think that if they get healthy, and stay healthy, they are favorites to do it. They are that talented.
And of course, feltbot being feltbot, I am going to put my money where my mouth is. There is no sane way to bet on them making the playoffs, but what I am going to do is bet that they are being seriously undervalued right now by the pundits, and by extension the bookies. There is preliminary evidence that I am correct in this assumption: the Warriors are 3-1 against the spread so far this season. I am initiating The Warriors Bet from this moment. What this means is that I will be betting the Warriors against the line in every game going forward, until I see that the bookies have adjusted their line. (For more on this methodology and why it works, check out The Bobcats Bet, Stepping Off the Bobtrain, and The Mavs Bet.)
Did you read this far looking for a game recap? My apologies. I don’t have one, but I do have a few random thoughts:
Monta Ellis: We’re witnessing the birth of a superstar, two years delayed. Monta is now the #1 ranked player in fantasy basketball, and the top sleeper of the fantasy basketball season, as predicted by a certain idiot. I reached to get him in my second league, at 16.
John Hollinger, pound sand.
Reggie Williams: I almost dropped him from my fantasy teams, after Keith Smart’s comments that he wasn’t a point guard in today’s paper.
Not a point guard? Please check the tape along with feltbot:
- 2:20 1st Q, pick and pop with David Lee: Hands.
- 7:45 2nd Q, drive and dish to Charlie Bell for corner three: Hands.
- 5:55 4th Q, swing to Monta for three: Hands.
- 4:14 4th Q, clever penetration of the zone, dish to David Lee for dunk: Hands.
8 assists against 4 TO’s. His handle got a little shaky in crunch time, but hey, how many NBA games does this guy have under his belt?
And a natural born scorer. Did you catch that and-one? An extraordinary player. Crazy, crazy find.
Dorell Wright: The Warriors have too many weapons for him not to be wide open all season long. He won’t continue to shoot 50% from three, but 40% is likely. And one other thing: Unlike Anthony Morrow, DWright can get his shot off in the playoffs. All day long.
But what happened to the defensive stopper? Rudy Gay lit him up.
Rodney Carney: I liked the decision to start him. Does some nice things, but continue to see signs of a low basketball IQ. Tonight’s special: going for the flashy dunk instead of the layup in the 1st Q, and losing the ball.
David Lee: Continues to struggle to put the ball in the hole, which I attribute directly to Keith Smart’s failure to run any plays for him.
Vlad Rad: We saw his entire floor game tonight. He’s actually a very smart and useful player, when not actively engaged in brain-farting.
It was nice to see him hit those threes. But I continue to be astounded by his inability to make layups. Earth to Vlad: You are not George Gervin, and you are not Doctor J. Take it strong, and use glass.
Keith Smart: Liked the Carney decision. Loved the use of Reggie Williams. (But what was up with those comments in the paper? Hated the feltbot torture.) Hated the use of David Lee. Loved the way he paced Monta Ellis throughout the game, rested him for the start of the fourth, and then brought him back ready to CLOSE, ala the Black Mamba.
As for not over-using the starters? Dream on. Monta 43 minutes, DWright 43 minutes. (Fire Keith Smart?)