Playoff Bound: Warriors 115 Grizzlies 109

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?)

20 Responses to Playoff Bound: Warriors 115 Grizzlies 109

  1. I think that was Smart’s best game. Not every decision was perfect but he managed the game well considering there was no point guard on the floor. I think he’s finally shifting more towards fitting the game plan to the players vs. fitting the players to the game plan.

  2. I don’t like that the standard for success is ‘make the playoffs’. That is out of the team’s control. They have no control how well other teams succeed with the exception of when they play them. Almost like college teams do in polls. The only thing they can control is how well they do when they are on the court. An exceptional season where a team wins 48-50 games could either be the #1 seed or miss out entirely (remember?) A successful season for me is .550 ball, entertaining ( Portland’s style of play makes me want to puke) and the respect of the rest of the league. Playoffs OUGHT to happen if they do that, but it is out of the team’s control.

  3. If last night was an off night — poor shooting, especially close to the hoop — then they are in good shape.

    Give Smart credit. He takes seriously a bench no one thought much of and is getting pretty good production from these guys. They should improve. Look at their faces when they enter the game, compare with those of subs on the other teams (except the Lakers).

    As for Reggie, a point guard by any other name would smell as sweet. I think Smart’s just trying to take some pressure off him. Starting point against LA was a tough assignment. Curry/Williams, Ellis/Williams could prove to be an explosive alternative backcourt.

    Smart doesn’t look lost out there. He’s always trying something and always is in the game.

    The value to several of our acquisitions was their expiring contracts. Any chance we’ll go for a big trade, and if so what kind of player would they look for?

  4. Monta Ellis. Wow.

    The fadeaway shot-clock beater after picking it up off the ground!? I love it.

  5. Aperacer, right on! Pushing players’ limits is for practice and preseason, not game time. In a real game, you want to be realistic about each individual’s likely contribution, and mitigate their weaknesses by putting them on the floor with running mates who can help. That’s what team strategy is all about.

    It looks unusual to Warriors fans because Don Nelson didn’t do the “team play” thing. The greatest number of different starting lineups league-wide = bad coordination between players, and poor teamwork. Running Point Jackson may have tweaked the opposition, but it also took a good player out of his game to do a poor imitation of a point guard, screwing up the whole offense. Al Harrington playing center meant he couldn’t contribute his excellent small forward game, while an actual professional center sat on the bench.

    In contrast, Smart seems to know what to expect from everyone and he works with that, not some wish list. One example is the useful minutes the team is getting from Gadzuric. As only a fair center with no longball game, Gadzuric would have been a wasted asset on a Nelson team, never used, a bench heater. In contrast, Smart gives G a short to-do list that he can and does deliver on, to the team’s benefit. Kudos to KS.

    Feltbot was bitterly disappointed that Smart didn’t just throw weird stuff at LA when it became clear that the Ws were going to get hammered. I’m glad he didn’t. Nellie’s mostly hopeless gestures always conflicted with a coach’s primary agenda, teaching to win (or cope) as a team. Unlike Nelson’s teams, this year’s Warriors are going to continue improving throughout the season even if the players don’t each raise their individual games. They’ll work together better.

    That seems to be the plan, anyway.

  6. I agree with most of your comments but disagree on a few.

    I do not think that D.Wright is a good passer in the half-court set.

    I think you should add Brandon Wright as providing needed scoring.

    Our consistent lack of interior defense is of some concern and if D. Lee has a bad night offensively, we could be sunk by our opponents bigs as we were by the Lakers Odum and Gasol. Thankfully, not many other NBA teams have such a tandem. Utah appears to in Jefferson and Milsap. Friday’s game will be some indication if the Warriors can beat teams with a formidable front court.

    And while we have the shooters and should shoot a higher FG% then our opponents,as well as hitting threes, our ability to hold our own by by holding our own with regard to number of possessions, by obtaining more possession through obtaining more offensive rebounds and commiting fewer turnovers then our opponents, remains to be seen. Also, we need to show the abilitity to match our opponent’s getting to the foul-line.

    I agree that Ellis is a super-star and should keep us in most games.

  7. Felty, your optimism is why I come back to this blog alone, and totally avoid the nattering nabobs of nasty negativism on the others. However, I’m not yet ready to buy into your playoff prediction. And I agree with OregonGuy: making the playoffs should not be a standard of success, especially in a league where the conferences are so out of balance.

    On another note, I commend the column linked below by Monte Poole of the Tribune/Bay Area News Group. He puts his finger on why Don Nelson had dicey relationships with many of his players, and why Keith Smart is helping foster a happier team. Poole’s analysis tends to confirm my long-held suspicion that Nellie’s ‘old school’ approach to human relations was his undoing. His on-court strategies — small ball, etc. — were brilliant, and those who say otherwise are dummies. But his off-court handling of players was a problem, which led to inconsistent play, especially at crunch time when a player’s confidence is a big factor.

    ‘Warriors Coach Keith Smart does away with team doghouse’
    http://www.insidebayarea.com/sports/ci_16519178

  8. I’m with Feltbot on the Warriors vs Lakers. Last season, March 15, they lost to the Lakers by 3. Their starting lineup was Curry, Ellis, Hunter, Maggette, and Tolliver. Reflect a moment on those names, the size they put on the court. And Kobe played 40 minutes, while Bynum was healthy.

    How did they do it? They took 100 shots. When you’re overmatched, you have to try something special that might work to your team’s talents.

  9. MLWX: The Warriors problems the last two years were injuries, not Nellie’s communication problems with certain players. Such is a red-herfing issue. Could Nelson done a better job communicating with his players-the answer is yes.

    The Warriors shouldn’t be predicted to be playoff bound when Biedrens and D. Lee do not push players off the block before they get the ball each and every game. Until this interior defense defect is corrected by them or the playing of Adrian or by the return of Amundson and Udoh, I am not ready to predict they are playoff bound.

  10. @Feltie: Totally agree with your player evals. Monta has been playing at an All Star level for years, but so far this year he’s gone All Galaxy.

    Reggie is an awesome talent. His and-one shot was not humanly possible. Can’t wait to see him truly unleashed, perhaps when/if Monta ever sits.

    Knowing what we know now, I’d make the D Lee trade for… D Wright! Randolph et. al. were the Ws most fun players to watch last year, but D Wright makes a bigger overall contribution than all 3 combined. Plus it’s hard to picture how those now-Knicks would have fit in with this year’s squad anyway.

    Rodney Carney, while not as skilled as DW, is maybe one of the the fastest NBA players ever. Watching him hit super-extra-hyperwarp speed is fun. He might be faster than his own brain. You’re right, he should slow down once in awhile and look around for teammates. The changeup would make him less predictable.

    One slight difference: I won’t complain about David Lee. The Ws don’t need him to be the scoring machine he was in NYC. His game stats last night were fine, and he got his numbers all through hard work in the pit, precisely what the team does need from him.

  11. Felty, good stuff my man. I can smell playoffs with this team too and don’t think its necessarily a bad way to define success. Teams need to have that goal and push themselves, but Smart made a great point. We cant be worried about the other, we gotta work daily to make ourselves better.

    I happen to think our bench has the opportunity to be a special unit. The energy of Carney and Gadz, coupled with the versatility of Vlad and the floor game of Williams (with Udoh and Lou on the horizon) the bench can be a real strength if the gel as a unit. All its missing is the dragic off the bench, hopefully lacob agrees.

    All in due time, but damn its fun to watch our warriors again.

  12. Good discussion, lot of good points being made.

    OG, I’m not setting the playoffs as the standard for success for this season. A lot of things can happen between now and then. I’m simply stating my belief that they have the talent and the coach to get there. This is a very gifted team, and we’re going to have a lot of fun watching them play regardless.

    MWLX, you’re forcing me to once again channel the Godfather: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”

    1) Greg Popovich, Larry Brown and Phil Jackson all have massive doghouses. Gigantic, fur-lined ones. Are they obsolete as coaches as well?
    2) The cancers and slackers have all been removed from this team. Who on this team would be in Nellie’s doghouse? Brandan Wright? Well, he’s in Smart’s doghouse too, whatever Monte Poole says.
    3) Nellie had zero tolerance for players he thought were ‘doggy’. Soon after they entered the doghouse, they were shipped out. Patrick O’Bryant, Al Harrington, Anthony Randolph and now Brandan Wright being the most recent prime examples. And guess what? He’s never been wrong, and his teams were always better for the loss. That’s a bad thing?
    4) The good players on Nellie’s teams have always sworn by him.
    5) Outside of championship teams, no teams in NBA history have been more clutch in 4th quarters of big games than Don Nelson’s teams. As proven by his many glorious playoff upsets. No coach in NBA history has ever placed more trust in his players with the game on the line, as every one of his players will tell you. Apparently, We Believe washed right over the heads of people like Monte Poole without getting their brains wet.
    6) Monte Poole has always been a journalist who seeks out very close relationships with the players. Not necessarily a bad thing, if that’s your cup of tea. But what it means is that he can’t see the forest for the trees.

  13. Is there a doctor in the house?

    Anybody know how long it takes for sprains such as Curry’s to heal? I’m scared he’s going to push it.

  14. rgg– as of thurs. night, curry’s ankle still has a thick wrap, and he rates it 85 %, unable to return to regular stressful duty until it’s pain free. (simmons blog on sfgate.com) if nothing is torn (diagnostic imaging or radiologist errors can miss things) it sounds like the impairments are pain and inflammation. fri. would be the bare minimum of a week for recovery of a simple sprain, ten days to two weeks is more normal/reasonable. he’s not staying off the ankle but keeping active. returning too soon has such obvious risks why not give it at least two full weeks?

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