“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.” — Walsh
Warriors fans have just suffered one of the most brutal weeks in history — and that’s saying something for this woebegone franchise. First we lost Brandon Rush for the season, then we got the bad news on Bogut, and then we watched the last two games.
Where the Warriors got stomped on like ants by the Lakers, and completely gave away a win against a far better Nuggets team.
I can only hope that the Warriors’ situation didn’t come as a complete shock to followers of this blog. As you know, I have been trying to prepare my readers for the reality of this Warriors season — at a painful cost, in both derision and lost followers. But even I wasn’t prepared for the possibility of a season without Brandon Rush.
The painful reality of this season is that the Warriors are going to be going to war with rookies. Klay Thompson, who is essentially still a rookie, having not yet played his 80th game. Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli, Draymond Green. Possibly Kent Bazemore. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2013 Golden State Warriors.
And the painful reality of going to war with rookies is that you’re going to blow games. Just like this Nuggets game was blown. There is a reason that NBA coaches hate playing rookies. Rookies, even the good ones, simply do not know how to play. They have to learn how to play, though a long process of teaching, of practice, and of experience. Particularly the experience of blowing games.
I have been mystified from the beginning at the expectations the Warriors have created around Klay Thompson. That he would somehow be able to immediately step into Monta Ellis’ shoes at shooting guard.
And I was beyond mystified when the Warriors inserted another rookie, Harrison Barnes, into the starting lineup alongside Thompson, and yet still expected to contend for the playoffs this season. With or without Bogut, that expectation seemed absurdly unrealistic to me.
Like all NBA rookies, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes are on a long learning curve. It takes even the great ones several years to learn how to win. Until that time, you’re going to eat some ugly losses.
My current feeling is that for the Warriors to have a winning season, two miracles have to occur. The first is that in 10 days time, the 2009-10 Andrew Bogut takes the floor for the Warriors, never to disappear again.
The second is that Joe Lacob cracks open his wallet and, using the injury exception, picks up a veteran player to replace Brandon Rush in the Warriors lineup.
I’m not sure which is more unlikely.
Klay Thompson: First of all, let’s get clear on what it is he did wrong in this game. I think there’s quite a bit of confusion on this score.
Let’s start with the two blown free throws. It looked like he hurried them to me, but whatever, clearly he choked them. The second one wasn’t even close. Is there something wrong with this? No, it’s just something that rookies do. Anyone remember how Kobe shot in that closeout game against Utah his rookie season? At least Klay drew iron.
Then there’s that failure to take the foul to give against Gallinari. Assuming that the Warriors went over this in the huddle (which for some reason has been cast into doubt by Steinmetz), this was a huge mistake on Klay’s part. If it’s true that he was too dejected to pay attention to the game situation, then that’s obviously something he needs to correct. Great shooters have no conscience, and no memory.
What about that “quick” corner three he took at 1:33 of the 2nd OT, with the Warriors up 4 and 15 seconds left on the shot clock? Mistake? Matt Steinmetz certainly hammered him for that. Me, I don’t think it was a mistake at all. That was a wide open shot, and there’s too much time left in the game to worry about running the clock down. Do you think the Warriors would be better off taking a contested shot at say 1:20? Doesn’t make any sense to me.
What about the idea that Klay took too many threes in this game, which many are arguing? (He shot 9-26 from the field, and 5-15 from three.) I don’t buy that either. Look, Klay Thompson was facing the second best wing defender in the league, as well as a clogged lane containing a dominant shot-blocker. He was simply taking what was open, and he’s a great three point shooter who’s going to get very hot one of these days.
If you’re a quant who doesn’t understand what I just said, just do the math. Thompson was 4-11 from two, 5-15 from three. Which was more productive for the Warriors?
I’m not at all concerned that Klay Thompson blew this game at the end. That’s simply what rookies do. (And I have zero expectations that the Warriors are going to contend for the playoffs this season.)
What concerned me about Klay Thompson in this game are the questions it raised about the kind of player he can become in the future. In the 4th Q and both overtimes he was played exclusively at small forward. Yet in 55 minutes of play he totaled 5 rebounds, in a game in which it was raining bricks. Iguodala had 12, in 48 minutes.
And do you remember that killer three Iguodala drained in the 2nd OT to pull the Nuggets within one? Thompson was sagging off, and was a step slow closing out. Was that a mistake? Or will he always be a step slow on defense?
The Harrison Barnes Brand: I get the Warriors’ fans infatuation with the new rookie. It’s fun to watch rookies, and to hope every single improvement and new move is a sign of future greatness.
And Harrison Barnes has certainly had his moments. He posted up a shorty in the Lakers game. He looks great in the open court, outrunning the speedy Ty Law. He made a great drive last night, around Gallinari and through McGee. He hits his open threes. He played a little point forward at 5:25 3rd Q, setting up Curry and then Thompson for threes off a high pick.
What I’m looking for from Barnes, beyond these moments, are signs that he can become a complete basketball player. A player who contributes through his IQ, his defense, his willingness to perform dirty work, his ability to make plays off the dribble, set up his teammates, create offense from a variety of places on the floor. And I have to say, I have yet to see much of these qualities in Barnes.
Clearly he’s a long way from being an NBA defender. Don’t be fooled by Gallinari’s self-induced shooting woes: Barnes has been eaten alive in the early going, by virtually everyone he’s faced.
He’s also quite limited in the half court. The Warriors iso’d him three straight times against Gallinari in the third Q. The first resulted in that great scoring drive. But the second two, with Gallo and the Nuggets now attentive, weren’t so hot, resulting in a turnover and a near turnover. As I’ve mentioned before, when Barnes has his dribble contested, things get complicated.
The fact of the matter is that Barnes is not ready to be an NBA starter. He is a long way from actually helping the Warriors while on the court. This is not just my opinion but also Mark Jackson’s, which was evidenced by the fact that Barnes didn’t play a single minute after the third Q, in a game in which Klay Thompson logged 55 minutes.
Draymond Green: Has apparently earned himself an important role as a defender off the bench in the closing seconds. He showed why in the Nuggets game: with Green in the game, the Warriors are able to switch every screen.
Did you see him pick up Andre Miller on a switch at the end of the 4th Q? He defended him beautifully, and forced a turnover that could have ended the game. Green is a far more versatile defender than I imagined. Perhaps he can play a bit at small forward after all.
This question begs to be asked: Why didn’t Mark Jackson call on his other rookie on this defensive possession? After all, isn’t Harrison Barnes better equipped to play defense than Green? Isn’t Barnes taller, more athletic, and quicker?
Apparently defense is not part of his brand.
Green has struggled so far in the offense, but in the Laker game, I did notice a set in the high post, which he finished with a beautiful feed to Lee. I’d like to see more of that. If Green starts hitting shots, could another small forward controversy break out?
Nah, there’s a rookie of the year contest to think about. You don’t seriously think the Warriors can sell tickets the old fashioned way, do you?
Festus Ezeli: I jotted down this amusing conversation in the 3rd Q:
Barnett: “The Warriors have no low post scoring!”
[Ezeli airballs a lefty jump hook in the low post.]
Fitz (stunned): “Ezeli just tried to go against Javale McGee…”
Look, Ezeli’s not a low post player yet. Didn’t Mark Jackson already go through this with Biedrins? Ezeli’s strengths are his quickness, agility, smarts, hands and finishing ability. Why not go to those strengths? Why not try to get him the ball on the move?
You know, like pick and roll, flashes across the lane, or mid-post face-up isos designed to create a drive? All that good stuff that Beans used to excel at under Don Nelson. (Anyone still have those tapes? Jackson should hit up George Karl or Greg Popovich for copies. I’ll bet they’ve got them stored somewhere.)
And one other thing: Someone needs to tell Ezeli that free throws should never be missed long. Never. Ever.
If you’re going to miss them, miss them short. They’ve still got a good chance if you hit the front rim.
That’s from page 343 of the Book of Feltbot, Fitz.
David Lee: The most recent meme of the Warriors media, inspired by the Lakers game, is that Lee “struggles against length.” David Lee has a problem against length. Always struggles against Pau Gasol and the Lakers.
This meme continued during and after the Nuggets game, with Warriors writers noting that Lee got his shot blocked 5 times.
Guess what? The Warriors media is dead wrong about this.
First of all, I guess they forgot this game, in which Lee put up 22 and 17, with 5 assists and 4 steals, going against Gasol and Bynum, in a Warriors win. It’s worth checking out my writeup of that game, in the event that you, like Steinmetz and Marcus Thompson, don’t remember how Lee did it.
Hint: He didn’t do it running the system that Mark Jackson is running now.
And do me another favor if you’re interested in this point: Check out a little tape from the Nuggets game. Just two plays, the first at 9:30 1Q, and the second at 3:22 2nd Q. In both plays, a Curry–Lee pick and roll worked to perfection, with Lee beating Faried badly, and busting down the lane towards the hoop. Only to get capped in the end by Kosta Koufos.
Why did David Lee get these shots blocked? Was it his fault? No. He got them blocked because Festus Ezeli and Andris Biedrins don’t need to be guarded. Koufos completely ignored them and cheated across the lane to bar Lee’s path.
Here’s a question for you: Do you know how many times Lee gets his shot blocked when he’s playing center with a spread four parked in the corner? If you guessed zero, you win a prize. ZERO.
How does a player like David Lee beat length? He does it with speed. He goes around length. In the pick and roll.
And he runs length off the floor, the way We Believe ran Erik Dampier off the floor.
Did 6-9″ 230 lb. Dave Cowens have a problem with the length of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? Well, of course he did. But Cowens ran Jabbar off the court in the 1974 finals, didn’t he?
THAT’S how David Lee beats length.
THAT’S why Don Nelson said, “David Lee is a very good power forward, but an all-star center.”
Would Dave Cowens have won a title in 1974 with Joe Lacob as his GM and Mark Jackson as his coach? No. He would have been playing power forward alongside a non-shooting center, and getting his shot blocked. Getting murdered, trying to match up conventionally in the half court against the best center in the universe.
Please take a moment and try to envision what David Lee would have been for the Warriors in the hands of Don Nelson. Or in the hands of any of Don Nelson’s many acolytes in the league: George Karl, Greg Popovich, Eric Spoelstra(!), Scott Skiles, Alvin Gentry, Mike D’Antoni:
Pick and roll. Point center in the high post. Pulling the big man out of the lane. Going around the big man with passing and with speed. Never getting his shot blocked. Ever.
Keying the fast break, running the big man off the court.
The Warriors media absolutely delights in telling us what David Lee isn’t. It’s a pity they don’t know enough about basketball to tell us what he IS.
David Lee IS an all-star. Playing out of position, in the wrong system, for the wrong GM and the wrong coach.
Joe Lacob has wasted David Lee’s prime.
Carl Landry: Have you noticed that I have been far less effusive about Carl Landry than the rest of the Warriors media and fans? The man has been absolutely balling for the Warriors, playing his heart out, defending well, and putting up big numbers.
So why aren’t I as delirious about him as most Warriors fans?
Well, ask yourself this question: Why was Carl Landry available to the Warriors at such a cheap price? Why is that Landry has never earned the big bucks, never stuck with a team, is in fact on his 4th NBA team in 7 years?
It’s chiefly because he’s a difficult fit. He’s a low-post power forward who occupies the same spaces on the floor as your center. So unless you have a guy like Mehmet Okur at center, your team’s offensive spacing is going to suffer by playing Landry. Do you think the Warriors are shooting too many threes, and not getting enough layups? That is a direct result of not being able to space the floor.
The Warriors have attempted to ease the congestion in the lane by letting Landry fire from 20 feet. And he’s been remarkably productive from there early in the season. But that is pure fool’s gold. That 20 foot shot is the worst shot in basketball, and if you’re forced to live by it you’re in big trouble. And in fact, Landry shot his jumpers at 35% for the last two seasons, and in his last two games may have started to regress to that mean.
Landry’s also undersized. When you combine that with his inability to effectively spread the floor, your team becomes extremely vulnerable to teams with superior size. Which was demonstrated emphatically in the Lakers game.
Did you happen to notice that David Lee didn’t make a single bucket in either overtime last night? It’s because he never got a shot! The Warriors continually went to Landry, and left Lee standing on the wings. Why did that happen?
It’s because the Warriors cannot run pick and roll with Lee while Landry is on the floor. No spacing. No mismatch. It was Landry who was being guarded by Javale McGee, while Lee was being guarded by the far more mobile Faried and Gallinari.
Yes, Landry is putting up numbers. Yes, it looks nice in the boxscore. But his offense is cannibalizing Stephen Curry’s and David Lee’s offense, instead of complementing and augmenting it.
Cannibalize is a harsh word. It’s not at all Landry’s fault. I admire the way he has worked hard to maximize his gifts, and I admire the tough, hardnosed way he plays. But the fact of the matter is, he’s a difficult fit for the Warriors and for all NBA teams in general. To be brutally honest, despite his many positive attributes Carl Landry just might not be a winning player.
I believe — and have repeatedly stated ever since Joe Lacob took control of the Warriors — that the Warriors core of Curry and Lee desperately needs a spread four to play with. A Ryan Anderson, who was a great pick up for New Orleans. An Anthony Tolliver, who the Hawks seized for peanuts. A Steve Novak, re-signed to the Knicks for 4 years, $15m. A Boris Diaw, whom Pop acquired for nothing.
In Joe Lacob’s mind, David Lee is the Warriors’ spread four. That is a crucial misunderstanding that has doomed the Warriors to perpetual mediocrity.
Stephen Curry: Matt Steinmetz, who’s on a lifelong crusade to prove that Stephen Curry is not a point guard, tweeted Curry’s assist/TO ratio during the game. It’s currently around 5 to 3.
I know this is a difficult concept for Steinmetz and the quants and statphreaks infesting the NBA to comprehend, but systems matter.
Stephen Curry averaged 8 assists against 4 TO’s in the second half of his rookie season under Don Nelson, pushing the ball and running pick and roll with a D-League center and a D-league power forward.
His assists have gone down in every single one of his first four seasons. Why? Because since Lacob took over the Warriors, the team has started walking the ball up the court, completely ignored the pick and roll, and frequently moved Curry off the ball.
Do you think Curry would be averaging 5 assists a game if, say, he were running pick and roll every single play with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan? Every single play with Brook Lopez? With Marcin Gortat? LaMarcus Aldridge? Kevin Garnett? Dwight Howard or Pau Gasol?
How about if he were running pick and roll every play with David Lee at center and a spread four spacing the floor?
Stephen Curry is one of the best point guards in the league when healthy, and Joe Lacob is well on the way to wasting his prime in addition to David Lee’s.
Andris Biedrins: Made 2 free throws! What a thrill he gave the Oracle.
Cherish the memory. It’s going to be a long season.
After his latest several week layoff, Beans is back to moving fairly well, and giving us glimpses of the extraordinary player he was before the osteitis pubis affliction. These periods of health have in the past lasted about three to four weeks before the inflammation takes hold again. Then we have two to three weeks of Goose eggs across the box score, and then the Warriors sit him down with “groin tightness” or “groin strain” or “sports hernia” or some other propaganda.
And the fans go back to booing.
Even in his “good games”, such as we saw last night, we still see the same fear of taking the ball to the rim, which was his offensive trademark in the old days. It’s not just fear of getting fouled. It’s that he can no longer get over the rim. He can’t finish.
And the slightest bit of contact could re-aggravate his condition.
Richard Jefferson: Left unmentioned in all the kerfluffle over poor Klay Thompson is the fact that RJ left Gallinari completely unguarded for that game-winning corner three. RJ had wandered into no-man’s land under the basket, apparently with an eye towards helping Curry on Andre Miller.
Flash Pastor Jack: In what has become an annual Warriors ritual, the Warriors media are starting to draw their knives for Mark Jackson.
You know what? I actually think Jackson did a pretty decent job these last two games. He’s trying to get the Warriors to push the tempo. He’s encouraging the early three — (Which Marcus Thompson incorrectly went on a rant against in his revamped blog. I will respond directly and at length to this in my next post.) — and living with the results.
What else? The Warriors have gone back to setting high picks, not only for Curry, but also Thompson. Great move, that.
The small ball in the 4th quarter is absolutely necessary — it’s the Warriors best lineup, even if Landry isn’t as good as a spread four would be. Just compare Lee’s and Landry’s +/- to the rest of the Warriors’ if you don’t believe that.
In the fourth quarter of the Nuggets game, Jackson did a great job of attacking mismatches on the offensive end.
And his crunch time offensive and defensive substitutions were brilliant.
Jackson wasn’t the problem in the last two games. Joe Lacob’s roster is the problem.
Forget it, my friends. It’s rookies.