If you want to know why the Warriors lost this game, you need look no further than their GM, Joe Lacob.
It was Joe Lacob who stripped the Warriors’ bench bare in the pre-season, and restocked it with bargain basement non-NBA players, Lou Amundson and Jeremy Lin. Those two non-NBA players played a very prominent role in this loss. Lou Amundson did what Lou Amundson does: -13 in 11 minutes. And Jeremy Lin did what Jeremy Lin does: Sit on the bench. Despite the fact that there is once again absolutely no one backing up Monta and Curry. Lin sits because Lin cannot play.
It was Joe Lacob who failed to make a deal, or reach into the D-leagues, for a developable big guard who could spell Monta and Curry, even when it was obvious to all that the Warriors’ bench was woefully inadequate. Lacob was utterly indifferent, at best, to the Warriors’ struggles. He preferred to hoard his “trade assets” up until the trade deadline.
And at the trade deadline, it was Joe Lacob who did nothing but further strip the already thin Warriors bench right down to the bone, by giving away Dan Gadzuric for a coveted second-round draft pick. This despite Andris Biedrins’ well-known injury history, and not having a single other center on the roster. Would it have been useful in this game to play Gadzuric against Kendrick Perkins, and bring Udoh off the bench? Would it have been useful never to have to bring Lou Amundson into the game?
And of course, it is Joe Lacob who has relegated Vladomir Radmanovich to the bench for the second half of the Warriors’ season. Vlad Rad, who has been a key part of the Warriors’ best fourth quarter lineups this season. Vlad Rad, who shoots the three at 40%, spreads the floor for Monta and Curry and Lee, and passes the ball beautifully. Vlad Rad, who is the Warriors’ best defender of quick power forwards. Vlad Rad, who is +52 on the season, second only to Ekpe Udoh’s +90 (now +99). And the only Warriors regular other than Udoh to actually have a positive +/- this season. That Vlad Rad.
Vlad Rad has been relegated to the bench because Joe Lacob wants Keith Smart to play Lou Amundson and his new acquisition Al Thornton instead. You see, Lou Amundson and Al Thornton are low-post basketball players, which is something Joe Lacob covets, and something that Vlad Rad can never be. Vlad Rad is not in Joe Lacob’s plans, and only players that are in Joe Lacob’s plans are going to play for the Warriors for the rest of this season.
Winning? Forget about it. Never mind that Vlad Rad has helped and can help the Warriors win, and Lou Amundson and Al Thornton can only help them lose. Winning is not important to Joe Lacob. Not this season.
This game wasn’t lost, it was tanked.
The Nightmare: Before Ekpe Udoh had ever played a minute in an NBA game, I wrote this about my intuition regarding his talent:
Udoh’s combination of talents — the combination of extraordinary intelligence with extraordinary length and extraordinary athleticism and an extraordinary desire to play defense — is one of the rarest of all combinations to be found in NBA players. When you are lucky enough to find it, it has the potential to be a game changer. A franchise changer, even.
It’s the combination that Bill Russell had. The player — as I’m sure I don’t need to remind you — whom Don Nelson regarded as the best to ever play the game.
Ridiculous hyperbole? Perhaps. But backed up by my reading of the scouting reports, and my faith in Don Nelson, the best GM in NBA history. Remember him, the guy who didn’t care about defense?
After watching tonight’s game, I am ready to state that Udoh has more than met my ridiculously high expectations. He is a phenomenal basketball player. Right now, in his rookie season, after missing summer league, training camp and half the season. Phenomenal.
His ability to cover the entire floor and intuitively make the right reads is supernatural. You’ve already heard this from me, and Gary St. Jean, and his coach, Keith Smart. Tonight it went to another level with his end of the game switch onto Kevin Durant. I recommend re-watching that play, to see Udoh make the decision to switch, and then push Durant into a fade-away in the right corner that he almost blocked. Phenomenal.
And then there is his shot-blocking. Here are the top 4 NBA shot-blockers per game this season:
- Bogut 2.7
- McGee 2.4
- Howard 2.4
- Ibaka 2.3
Udoh has now started 6 games since Biedrins went out. In those 6 games he is averaging 33 minutes. And 2.8 blocks. What do you make of that?
And how about the WAY he blocks shots? Towards the middle of the court. Towards his teammates. Not just keeping the ball in play, but triggering the fast break. So rare. So brilliant. So, dare I say it…? Bill Russell. Hell yes I dare, I said it before he set foot on an NBA court.
Two of Udoh’s blocks in this game made me spill my Lagavulin. Two very different blocks, that illustrate the total extent of The Nightmare’s prowess:
The first came at 6:20 of the 3rd Q against Russell Westbrook. He picked up Westbrook on a switch at the free throw line, and Westbrook spun around him and drove for a layup. Udoh caught him with ease from behind. Russell Westbrook.
The second, of course, came against Kevin Durant in overtime. On a driving layup, Udoh caught Durant at the very top of his leap and sent it away. The other way, on a Warriors’ fastbreak.
Quickness. Length. Anticipation. Timing. Finesse. Control. Phenomenal.
One other play, very similar to his blocks in a way, stood out to me. At 5:15 1st Q, Udoh fronted Perkins in the post, and stole the entry, tipping it softly to Monta to initiate the fast break. A steal-tip-outlet.
Ok, that’s the great stuff. Not everything about Udoh is phenomenal. Let’s run down the problem areas:
- Size and Position: At 240 lbs., Udoh is not a starting center. We’ve seen him get overwhelmed by the bigger centers he’s had to play. Kendrick Perkins, by the way, is not one of them. But even Perkins steamrolled Udoh on the sole post-up he was given (early 3rd Q), and although he bricked his free throws, it was a good thing he wasn’t given more. Until either Udoh puts on 20 lbs. of muscle or David Lee is traded, I see Udoh as the back-up center on the Warriors. The Serge Ibaka role, before Jeff Green was traded.
- Rebounding: It’s gotten a lot better in the last few games, but is still a problem area. Some of it is a function of his rim defense, that pulls him out of position. A lot of it has to do with his size and strength, and playing out of position. He clearly needs to get stronger. But there also may be one other problem:
- Small Hands: I’m climbing out on a limb here. I haven’t heard or read this, it’s just something that I suspect. I think Udoh has small hands. It’s why he only dunks with two hands. Why he can’t rebound with one hand. And it may be why he struggles with his handle on occasion. Just a guess. But I’ll bet I’m right. And this means he has another problem:
- Finishing: Because he has to go up with two hands when under the basket, Udoh is slow off the floor. He has to gather himself for a higher jump.
- Outlets: Right now Udoh is holding the ball too long when he rebounds, and is reluctant to throw the ball upcourt. I place the blame for this entirely on Keith Smart. Udoh has great passing ability, and only needs encouragement and the example of David Lee to become a great outlet passer.
Offense: Note that I don’t include Udoh’s offense in the list of problem areas. His offense is clearly a work in progress at the moment, but I think it is obvious that when he gets with the right coach he will be a very fine offensive player. I really like his jump shot, and think he will eventually be as deadly with it as David Lee. Perhaps as soon as next year.
He is highly intelligent and a fine passer, which means that like David Lee, he is perfectly suited for the high post.
He is also well suited for the low post, as we have seen with his jump hooks and counters. But he’s not going to be able to post up against front-line centers, as tonight’s foray against Perkins should have clearly demonstrated to everyone who is not Keith Smart or Joe Lacob.
He is very mobile as a back-up center, which if it weren’t for his occasionally bad hands, would make him great in the pick and roll. His high pick and roll with Curry at 3:35 3rd Q was a perfect example. He left Mohammed completely out of the play. But struggled catching Curry’s perfect pass, and had to settle for free throws.
KaChing!: Nearly lost in the misery of this wasted Warriors season is the fact that I cashed my preseason bet that the Warriors would win over 30.5 games. Given the fact that the team’s players were betrayed by both their GM and their coach, I think it’s obvious that line was ridiculous, and a great betting opportunity.
And because this season is being so badly tanked, it is quite likely that the next preseason line that appears on the Warriors will present an equally good opportunity.
I have also clinched the other preseason bet I made, that the Wizards would win fewer than 32.5 games. And I stand by my opinion that John Wall was one of the most over-hyped number ones in history. He cannot shoot. And he clearly has no idea what he is doing on the basketball court. He may eventually develop into a Russell Westbrook. But Russell Westbrook doesn’t impress me either.
Stephen Curry — freed from the restraints of an incompetent coach by the poor shooting of Monta Ellis and the absence of Acie Law — impresses me.