[I]t was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…. — Charles Dickens
So which game is it, the Clippers game or the Bulls game? Which game represented the real strength of this season’s Warriors team? Tentatively, I’m going to lean towards the Bulls game. Partly because that was the last game I saw, partly because I’m an inveterate Warriors optimist, and partly because I glimpsed a few things I like in Mark Jackson’s game-planning. And partly because Andris Biedrins is still walking in an upright vertical position.
And also because if the Warriors had shot like they did in the Bulls game against the Clippers far poorer defense, they would have spanked the Clippers too. I really believe that. The Warriors were right with the Clippers in the fourth quarter even though Monta was en route to a 6-19, Curry a 2-12 and Wright a 1-6. And I think they still had a good chance to win when they were down 7 with 4 minutes left. But then Mark Jackson gave the game away….
Mark Jackson: When Jackson brought Kwame Brown back into the Clippers game with 4 minutes left and the Warriors down 7, I was extremely unhappy. And so was the Thaiblonde, who was awakened from blissful snoring slumber by my loud imprecations. The result was foreordained and inevitable: Chris Paul put Monta and Kwame into the pick and roll washing machine, and virtually unchallenged, buried three straight jumpers.
This was a massive blunder. Kwame Brown cannot be on the court at the end of games against good point guards. Cannot. He will get completely exposed.
Any why would you put him in the game when you’re down 7 in crunch time anyway? You have to shoot your way out of that situation.
As I wrote in my preview, Don Nelson would have put Dorell Wright on Chris Paul there, and had a small ball lineup on the floor (or Ekpe Udoh or Dom McGuire — anyone but Kwame). That would have not only denied Paul’s shot, but denied the pick and roll as well (check out how well Lee defended the play, until Paul reset against Kwame). But the Warriors seem to have burned all of the old Don Nelson tapes, haven’t they? The sins of the past, and all that.
I was a lot happier with Mark Jackson after the second game. A lot happier. Because by the time the second game was over we had learned just how very different Mark Jackson is than Keith Smart:
- As predicted, the fast break is back. The leash is off, and the full court leak outs and phenomenal outlets are flying. [Why the Warriors should be the fastest team end to end in the NBA, Exhibit 1: Curry's 75 foot alley-oop to Dorell Wright at 10:24 4Q in the Bulls game. Exhibit 2: David Lee's outlet pass off the steal at 9:16.]
- Stephen Curry is back running the team, with simple high pick and roll action.
- For the most part, the Warriors are matching up small when the occasion warrants. Dorell Wright is playing some four, which I argued for but doubted would occur. Even Klay Thompson had a minute or two at the four. Dominic McGuire played exclusively at the four.
- David Lee is the small ball center.
- And most importantly of all, Brandon Rush is playing ahead of Klay Thompson at the two-guard.
I like what I’m seeing so far from Jackson. What I’m hearing, not so much. I think he’s taking himself too seriously, and calling his own number too much in the media. And judging from the national broadcast, coaching effort too much in the huddles. That will get old pretty fast. Let’s hope it’s rookie jitters.
Monta Ellis: Not a point guard? Not an efficient player? Monta Ellis has had to suffer the opinions of a lot of fools over the years.
Like Mike Breen, who said that the record of his team will determine whether he’s worthy of the all-star team. As if Kevin Love and Blake Griffin beating out Lamarcus Aldridge last year never happened.
Jeff van Gundy finally came out and said it: Monta Ellis is a playmaker, whose reputation has suffered unjustly because of the poor teams he’s had to put on his back. I wonder if the stat phreaks will ever get it through their minds that an individual player’s stats can be affected to a large extent by the players they have around them. (Not to mention coaches). Horrible supporting cast? Inefficient offense, fighting through triple teams. No shot blocker in the middle? Horrible defense. No bench? Lead the NBA in minutes, and play worse in every way.
Monta Ellis is a superstar, who makes everyone around him better. And if he gets to play the whole season with a healthy Biedrins, a healthy Curry, and Brandon Rush by his side, extraordinarily efficient lines like last night’s 26 points on 10 shots, and 7 assists against 3 turnovers, will be the rule, not the exception.
Stephen Curry: In his second game under Mark Jackson, we finally got back what had been lost for a year under Keith Smart. 21 points on 7-12, 7 rb, 10 assists, 6 steals. On one leg, against the best defensive team in the league.
All those people who were screaming about trading Curry for 1 year of Chris Paul should have their NBA fan cards revoked. Seriously, what are they smoking?
This ankle issue is incredibly frustrating. Particularly now that the Curry/Ellis backcourt is finally protected in the form of Brandon Rush and Andris Biedrins, and finally has a chance to showcase itself.
Brandon Rush: ”Blocked by Rush!” It didn’t take long to see just what the Warriors were missing all of last year, did it? Rush is just as advertised, a long, tough, great defensive swing man, who can knock down the three. As Jackson noted post-game, he’s also an underrated rebounder. If he were any better as a player — if for instance, he had a mid-range game or a decent handle or could create for others — he’d be a starter. Be grateful he’s not. He’s just what the doctor ordered for the Warriors.
It’s obvious now, isn’t it, that Rush is the primary back-up to Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry? Not Klay Thompson. As I argued for. Mark Jackson realizes that Rush is the guy who fits. He’s the guy with the goods to protect the Ellis/Curry backcourt.
What about that backcourt now? Still a defensive liability?
The Back-up Point Guard: As I’ve been arguing for a year, the best back-up for Stephen Curry is Monta Ellis. And lo and behold, that’s the game plan the Warriors are finally going with now. Hallelujah. Thank you, Brandon Rush.
We can all take a deep breath about Ish Smith and Charles Jenkins now. Right?
David Lee: Flat out beat Blake Griffin head to head, particularly if you take away Griffin’s garbage time buckets. Why? Because he’s a better player than Griffin, contrary to all fan opinion. Better rebounder, better passer, better shooter. Much better free throw shooter, which is huge in crunch time.
And then he turned around on the back to back and destroyed Carlos Boozer. Just destroyed him.
Can’t play defense? How much time in his career has he actually spent with a defensive center backing him up? Hate to make things too tough for your computer, stat phreaks, but… sigh. Why do I bother?
My response to all the pundits who wanted the Warriors to amnesty Lee:
David Lee is not worth $80 million, he’s worth $90 million.
Andris Biedrins: We got a reminder against the Clippers that a healthy Andris Biedrins is a darn good player. He was one of my favorite players to watch in the entire league back when we believed. Just a phenomenal defender of the entire court, a great rebounder, and an underrated offensive facilitator. The player Don Nelson called the second best center he’d ever had, after Bob Lanier.
I just don’t believe it’s going to last. I think Biedrins has a chronic abdominal injury. I pray I’m wrong, but we’ll find out.
Kwame Brown: It was a tale of two games for Kwame as well. Against the Clippers we saw all of things that Kwame cannot do: Move laterally, defend and rebound against quicker frontlines, guard against centers that spread the floor (Brian Cook), guard the pick and roll against premium point guards, catch and finish in the paint. Against the Bulls we saw exactly what he’s good at: Defending one-on-one and rebounding against huge centers on teams that are determined to pound the ball inside. Kwame is nothing if not big and strong (is there a bigger butt in the league, now that Shaq is retired?), and he played that way against the Bulls’ bullies, Noah, Ahik and Boozer.
Kwame may actually be a better fit than Biedrins against the Bulls front line. And his presence on the Warriors may have this added benefit: it could delay the inevitable moment when Biedrins clutches his lower abdomen in pain and hunches toward the Warriors bench.
However,… ah heck, I’m not gonna rain on the parade that Warriors fans want to throw him right now. It’s his first.
Klay Thompson: One thing I don’t ever intend to do is knock Klay Thompson for his owner’s big mouth. Thompson might not be a rookie of the year candidate, but he never had a chance to be one on this Warriors team. He’s stuck behind great players, and he’s not even a great fit as a bench player because of the defensive weakness of the Warriors’ two best players.
I think it’s clear, even though he’s struggled in his first two games, that Thompson has a chance to be a really interesting player. I don’t have much doubt that he will light it up offensively. He can score in all sorts of ways. But what is really special about him is his handle and his play-making. This former high-school point guard is going to be an NBA point-forward.
What remains to be seen is what kind of defensive small forward he can become. (I don’t think he’ll see much time at the two on this team.) How tough is he? Can he rebound consistently?
Ekpe Udoh: Seems pretty clear that the Warriors have decided he’s not a center. Hence, Kwame Brown. And I think that’s right: he’s got a curious lack of core strength.
Udoh didn’t show much in these first two games, but the second game was decidedly better. When are we going to see that elbow jumper?
Dominic McGuire: As I expected, or at least fervently prayed, McGuire was not brought to the Warriors to play small forward. He was brought to the Warriors to play power-forward, alongside David Lee, when the Warriors are facing small ball lineups. It’s an interesting idea, in that since Lee is something of a spread-5, the fact that McGuire can’t shoot doesn’t hurt the Warriors much on the offensive end. Theoretically.
Nor is McGuire any sort of NBA small forward. At 6-9, 235, he’s fully 35 pounds heavier than both Brandan Wright and Anthony Randolph were as rookie power-forwards. And his offensive limitations make him impossible to play at the three.
The idea behind bringing McGuire to the Warriors was that he can cover the kind of tweeners that Dorell Wright got run over by last year: Carl Landry, Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, Thaddeus Young, and of course, Carmelo Anthony.
And in last night’s Bulls game, Luol Deng, whom the Bulls had moved to the four in an effort to close the gap. Deng caught fire in the fourth quarter and was killing the Warriors until McGuire was brought in. It was interesting to see the two standing next to each other. The brawny McGuire actually made Deng look small. And he did a great job on him, forcing the Bulls to look elsewhere.
So what’s up with that -6 McGuire put up? Well, the Warriors offense stagnated with him on the court. One of the things I’d like to keep track of going forward, and encourage you to do the same, is whether the Warriors are actually better off with McGuire playing small ball four, instead of a guy like Vlad Rad (or Dorell Wright). Laughing? Well, don’t forget that Vlad killed Carl Landry, spread the floor for David Lee, and oh yes, finished last season with a positive +/- .
Ish Smith: The Ish I love: Really pushes the tempo, gets into the paint, energizes the second unit, and appears to be able to finish a floater and a layup, unlike Jeremy Lin. The Ish I hate: Cannot shoot at all, just like Jeremy Lin. Can’t even shoot a free throw (57%)!
Ish (no way anyone’s ever going to call him Smith, right?) gave the Warriors decent minutes in the first two games. But ultimately I’m in the camp that believes NBA point guards need to be able to shoot. I think Ish will have a hard time holding off Charles Jenkins as the season progresses.
New Rule: After eating it on two bets I was sure I had edge on — the Warriors +5.5 against the Clippers and Bulls -4.5 against the Lakers — I have ruminated on the error of my ways and come up with yet another rule to add to my growing book: Don’t make opening night bets in lockout years. Conditioning, shooting and execution are just too unpredictable. Not to mention rookie coaches.
Will I remember that 6 years from now?