Once again, I did not expect the Warriors to walk into Boston Garden and come out with a win. But once again, I am beside myself with HOW they lost. Tell me something, Joe Lacob. How did the Celtics win this game pulling down a measly 28 rebounds, to the Warriors 39? Can you answer that? How about you, Keith Smart?
I’ll answer it for you. They did it with Nellieball. The Boston Celtics out-Nellieballed the Golden State Warriors.
The Celtics went small in the middle of the second quarter, with Jeff Green at 4 and Garnett at 5. Keith Smart, who has a better small ball lineup than the Celtics, refused to match up. Stayed big. The result? Green beats the Warriors bigs down the court for an alley-oop at 6:35. Boston spreads the floor, and makes 4 passes resulting in a wide-open Allen three at 5:24. Boston goes on a 14-4 run.
Smart played big virtually all game. Vlad Rad was used exclusively at 3. Reggie Williams barely got off the bench (what is up with that?). Curry only got 31 minutes (what is up with that?). The Warriors payed the price with their inability to guard the Celtics’ small ball. Pierce and Green ran rampant all game long. Until crunch time.
It wasn’t until late in the fourth quarter that Smart got a version of his best lineup on the floor: Lee at 5, Wright at 4, Williams, Curry, Ellis. What happened? The Warriors guarded better, generated turnovers, ran the ball, and spread the floor, going on a nice run to get within 1 point after being down by as much as 17.
Here’s how Jim Barnett described it at 3:32 4th Q:
“Not many plays are being called, they’re just spreading it out trying to stretch the defense, letting Monta drive or shoot.”
This lineup was on the floor for precisely 4 minutes in this game. Can you imagine what this game might have been if the Warriors had played small for say, 20 minutes? Why do the Warriors have to wait until they are desperate to get their best lineups on the floor? Is it Smart, or is it Lacob?
It is beyond ironic to me that in an incredible season in which the Spurs, the Celtics, and a Pat Riley team all transformed themselves into great Nellieball teams — that the Golden State Warriors, equipped with one of the best Nellieball rosters in creation, are busy trying to turn themselves into something else.
The Spurs, Celtics and Pat Riley’s Heat, for heaven’s sake. They understand their rosters.
The Warriors? They’re the Nellieball team that doesn’t know they’re a Nellieball team. The Nellieball team that doesn’t WANT to be a Nellieball team.
After months of doing absolutely nothing to help take the load off Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry, Joe Lacob finally made his move. The Warriors acquired… Al Thornton?
I am completely baffled by this move. Baffled first of all, that an NBA GM could go 3/4 of a season before attempting to reinforce the worst bench in the NBA, when he had the core of a playoff team in his starters. But also baffled that when he finally did make his move, it did absolutely nothing to address the team’s biggest need.
Does Al Thornton help relieve the defensive load of Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry? It is very hard to see how, and I can’t believe that was the intent of this move. Perhaps it will free Dorell Wright to slide to the two? But even assuming Wright can guard twos, is that where you want to employ him? Out on the perimeter, where his shot-blocking and knack for patrolling the passing lanes are forfeit?
As for Al Thornton, he can’t guard twos. He can’t guard threes either. And he can’t guard fours. Or won’t. Which is another thing that has me baffled. Does Joe Lacob have any idea who Al Thornton is? Does he have any idea what position Al Thornton plays?
First, who he is. Al Thornton is a very talented mid-range scorer. He is also a pretty good rebounder, and very clever at getting his shot off in the paint (cf., Lou Amundson). What Al Thornton is not, is a defender. He simply doesn’t do it. He is also not a passer. Simply doesn’t do that either, although we saw him try to break the mold in his first action as a Warrior.
Al Thornton is one of the most selfish players in the league. Which is exactly what Donald Sterling called him, right after he booted him off the Clippers. Flip Saunders, his second coach, couldn’t stand to put him on the court, and the Wizards couldn’t wait to get rid of him.
How is that going to fit into the Warriors’ wonderfully unselfish offense? Into Keith Smart’s schemes for defensive greatness?
How is that going to play in the lockerroom? Baffling.
Al Thornton is also not a small forward, although his size might suggest otherwise. 6-8″ 235. Because there is not a single small forward in the NBA that Al Thornton can defend. Not one.
He’s also not a small forward because on offense he doesn’t spread the floor. He actually shot 35% from three in his first two seasons, but in very limited attempts. This season, his three-point shooting fell off a cliff, at 16%. (Hey, isn’t that Beans’ FT %?) He is far more comfortable hoisting 15 footers, or operating under the basket. Which is what makes his shooting percentage so high (47%).
What Al Thornton is, is a small ball power-forward. Think about that for a second. Joe Lacob went out and got himself a small ball power-forward. Remember Cedric Ceballos? That’s exactly who Al Thornton is, but without the rebounding genius. Or Jeff Green, whom we saw tonight, without the brains or defensive desire.
Does Joe Lacob know that’s what he did? Was this an intentional move? I thought the Warriors were determined to play big going forward? Baffling.
Anyway, let’s assume the Warriors do want to play Thornton at the four. There is evidence for that, because that is where they actually did play him tonight, for two minutes at the end of the first half. Guarding Nenad Krstic! (Hey, there’s a player he can guard!) The frontline featured Lee, Thornton and Wright.
This lineup might be decent offensively, with David Lee playing high post, and Al Thornton low. Thornton is actually quite good in the low post. (Oh my god. It just hit me. Joe Lacob sees Al Thornton as an answer to his much publicized quest for low-post players.)
There are at least three problems with this thinking. First is that when the ball goes in to Thornton, it never comes back out. So you can wipe out all thoughts of the Warriors finally getting to play inside out.
Second is that it is not the best lineup for Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry. They thrive in a Nellieball offense, with Vlad Rad or DWright spreading the floor at the four. That is the Warriors best lineup. That’s the lineup, in fact, that got them back into tonight’s Celtics game.
Third is that this move will permanently take Vlad Rad away from his best position, power forward. I’m sure that Lacob goes nuts watching Vlad Rad play the four. OMG, that Lacob quotient! Wretched! (But what about that +/- ?) If I am correct, from now on we will see Vlad chiefly at the three, which is where we saw him play tonight. Miserably.
That’s the basketball side of things, as I see them. Matt Steinmetz offered a possible financial answer to my bafflement in tonight’s broadcast: he speculated that Thornton might be insurance against the possibility of losing Reggie Williams, who is going to be a restricted free agent. He noted that Williams was himself the player that made Anthony Morrow expendable.
Is Steinmetz correct? I sincerely doubt it. First of all, I think Steinmetz is confused about Thornton’s natural position. I think he thinks Thornton and Williams play the same position. They don’t.
But second, I think it is obvious whom Thornton is replacing on the Warriors: Vladimir Radmanovich. Can you see Joe Lacob re-signing the Warriors’ only true Nellieball four? I can’t.
I’m not a huge fan of Vlad Rad. And I have a sneaking suspicion that he will return to his dog kennel as soon as he gets his next contract. (Or perhaps it’s time for him to go back to Europe.) But I will say this: Vladimir Radmanovich, for all his hair-destroying eccentricities, is a basketball player. He is a defender. An offensive facilitator. Something more than just a shooter.
Something more than Al Thornton.
I’m ready to give Joe Lacob his final grade for his first season. If you read my “Joe Lacob Tanked this Season” piece, you already know what’s coming. (But I’m letting my readers indicate their opinion too, in my second-ever poll on this site.)
Here’s a restatement of my bill of indictment against Lacob as GM of the Warriors:
1) Fired Don Nelson in the last year of the contract, at the very moment he got the roster of his dreams. Thus denying a Hall of Fame coach and GM — as well as Warriors fans — one last glorious, thrilling, totally improbable playoff run.
(Many readers will feel that I need not go on. That Lacob could never do right in my eyes after this. They would be wrong.)
2) Replaced Nellie with Keith Smart, a coach either too incompetent or too fearful for his job to know what to do with the roster he inherited.
3) By virtue of his personnel decisions, guaranteed that the Warriors would have no shot at the playoffs. Here is the list of those decisions:
- Jeremy Lin. Ticket and jersey sales over a veteran back-up point guard.
- Lou Amundson over Anthony Tolliver.
- Signing Acie Law.
- Dan Gadzuric (the Warriors only true back-up center) and Brandan Wright for a second round pick.
- Al Thornton. After the season was already gone.
- Refusing to ever fix the Warriors deplorable guard situation. Refusing to let Riley look to the D-Leagues to repair the Warriors bench.
Jeremy Lin and Lou Amundson are not NBA players. They would not be in the league if it weren’t for Joe Lacob. The damage that Lin did to the Warriors bench is incalculable. Three undersized back-up guards who can’t shoot. No one reliable behind Monta and Curry.
The damage that Lou Amundson did to the Warriors front court bench was also incalculable. A power forward that can’t play alongside Biedrins. Both unable to hit the broad side of a barn. Both afraid to go to the hoop, for fear of getting fouled and embarassing themselves at the line.
Is Acie Law an NBA player? Is Acie Law the most helpful player that the Warriors could find for the Warriors backcourt this season?
Dan Gadzuric was a very serviceable back-up center who gave the Warriors some decent minutes early in the season. Shipping him out at the very moment that Biedrins was collapsing was an unmistakeable sign that the tank was on.
But those signs were unmistakeable from the very beginning of this season, with Lacob’s refusal to let Riley help the bench. WHERE WERE THE D-LEAGUERS THAT COULD HAVE HELPED THIS TEAM? You know they were out there. They are always out there. Azubuike, Barnes, Watson, Williams, Tolliver. Always.
Joe Lacob refused to let Riley fix the Warriors’ bench. Because the tank was on.
Which brings me to the subject of the second round pick that Lacob acquired. Lacob recently reiterated in his latest PR interview with Bob Fitzgerald that the Warriors new policy is to accumulate draft picks. This runs directly counter to Nelson and Riley’s policy that it is easier to find ready-made talent in the D-leagues.
I will make you a little bet. I will lay you 100-1 on a dollar that the player Joe Lacob drafts with that second round pick will never be better than Azubuike, Barnes, Watson, Williams or Tolliver were in their first seasons with Don Nelson.
As for Al Thornton, whatever this move was intended for, it was not to make the Warriors better this season. The move the Warriors needed this season was very simple, and obvious to Joe Lacob. They needed to dump Jeremy Lin. Buy out Charlie Bell. Ignore Acie Law. And get some playable BIG GUARDS out of the D-league.
And they needed to do it months before the trade deadline.
4) The Spin. Whatever else Joe Lacob is, he is brilliant at spinning his side of things. He is a good communicator, with an unerring sense of when a big interview is required to settle the raging fan base.
Joe Lacob’s spin is this: He and Larry Riley tried everything possible at the trading deadline to get something done. They tried very hard to do a “big” deal, and came very close, but just came away empty handed.
This is also Joe Lacob’s spin: All of the Warriors’ woes are due to the “sins of the past.”
In my opinion, Joe Lacob’s spin is completely bogus. It is intended to deceive. He is trying to pull the wool over Warriors’ fans eyes.
If Don Nelson were coaching this team, with Anthony Tolliver spreading the floor instead of Lou Amundson, and several capable big guards in place of Lin and Law and Bell, and David Lee playing center and DWright and Vlad Rad playing power forward in the small ball unit — not just in desperation at the end of games, but for significant minutes — and Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis and Reggie Williams unleashed, and the Warriors running and shooting freely, there is no telling what the Warriors record would be right now. I don’t think many people think it wouldn’t be better than it is right now. And that means playoff contention.
The Warriors never needed a “big” move from Joe Lacob to contend this season. They needed competent little moves. The right D-leaguers. The right system. An empowered coach.
It was not the “sins of the past” that kept the Warriors from contending for the playoffs this season. It was the sins of the present. Joe Lacob’s sins. Joe Lacob’s ego, that demanded that HE be the one to get the Warriors over the threshold of playoff contention. His “big” moves. His draft picks. His new coach. His new system.
That is why the tank has been on this season. In all of my years watching the NBA, I don’t believe I have ever seen a GM do his team like Joe Lacob did the Warriors this season. Ever. Have you?
My grade for Joe Lacob’s first season as Warriors GM is clear: F.
Chris Cohan would have been better.