Do you think that I’m shocked that the Warriors are playing so well? Me, who was so skeptical of Bogut playing this season? So carefully noncommittal on the Warriors’ prospects?
Well, ask yourself these questions: Who has been saying for two long seasons that Joe Lacob inherited a playoff team, and squandered its first two seasons together? A fabulous small-ball core that required only a competent bargain-basement supporting cast, and a competent head coach running the right system, in order to excel?
Who is it who has been insisting for two long seasons that Stephen Curry is an all-star point guard, and David Lee an all-star center? Laboring without backups, for the wrong GM, the wrong rookie coaches, in the wrong system? Who has been insisting that SYSTEMS MATTER, and that the Warriors rookie coaches have gotten it absolutely, ass-backwards wrong?
Who has been insisting for two long seasons that the Warriors needed to scrap the horrible motion offense and static post-ups they were running, and simply put the ball in Stephen Curry’s hands to run pick and roll? Who was begging Mark Jackson as recently as a month ago to set a simple high pick for Stephen Curry and let him create?
Who has been insisting for two long seasons that the Warriors needed to spread the floor in the fourth quarter, and let one of the best pick and roll centers in the league — David Lee — get to work doing what he does best?
It finally happened. Finally. It took the end of the Andrew Bogut farce to make it happen, but it finally happened. Mark Jackson finally grew up as an NBA head coach and embraced the roster he has, and the system he needs.
PICK AND ROLL.
That’s what the Warriors are running right now, virtually every trip down the court. Pick and Roll. They’re running it in the first quarter, they’re running it in the fourth quarter, and in every quarter in between. They’re running it with Stephen Curry, they’re running it with Jarret Jack. They’re running it with David Lee and Carl Landry, and yes, with Festus Ezeli and Andris Biedrins. They’re running it up top, and they’re running it on the sides. They’re running it once, and when it doesn’t free the point guard, they’re running it twice, in the same possession.
What do you do when you have Stephen Curry and David Lee, two of the most gifted pick and roll players God has ever seen fit to put on the planet? You run pick and roll, for God’s sake!
Finally, after two long years.
Gone are the Kwame Brown Era, and yes, the Andrew Bogut Myth, stinking up the lane in the fourth quarter, destroying the effectiveness of Stephen Curry and David Lee, robbing them of the system they were designed by providence to run.
In its place Mark Jackson has inserted glorious Nellieball, the small ball that the Warriors need to spread the floor, in order that their two best players can assert their dominance over the NBA. Mark Jackson has gone small in the the fourth quarter — in winning time — with a Lee and Landry frontcourt, Thompson at the three, and Curry and Jack backcourt.
And if the last two games are any indication, Jackson may be about to start playing true Nellieball. With a true spread four, Draymond Green, supplanting Landry. Completely opening the lane to the predations of Curry and Lee. And igniting that long missing and absolutely essential component of winning small-ball, the fast break.
So am I shocked that the Warriors are playing so well right now? No, I am not.
I’m shocked that it took this long.
I’m shocked that a coach working for Joe Lacob has finally comprehended the nature of his roster, thrown off his shackles, mental or otherwise, and decided that he must play Nellieball to win.
I’m shocked that for the first time in two long seasons, a Warriors head coach has put the ball in Stephen Curry’s hands, and entrusted him to create off a simple high screen.
I’m shocked that Mark Jackson has turned himself into a bona fide NBA coach.
And is KICKING ASS. Ever since Andrew Bogut threw in the towel, Mark Jackson has been simply brilliant. The change in offense. Every lineup change, every adjustment. Brilliant. Who knew?
And by the way, I think this bears pointing out: I have been Mark Jackson’s biggest critic coming into this season. But a few short weeks ago when the Warriors were 2-4, and the mainstream media began circling Jackson’s campfire and gnashing their teeth, I spoke up in his defense. I stated that Jackson was actually beginning to get it right.
The results are now speaking for themselves.
Stephen Curry: The Warriors media are now starting to murmur about the “emergence” of Curry as a point guard. His string of four straight 20-10 performances, best in the NBA, really opened some eyes. And his coach pronounced that Curry is now playing the best basketball of his career.
I think that’s hogwash. Curry played his best stretch of basketball in his rookie season, when he averaged 20-8-5, and nearly 2 steals a game, after the all-star break. Putting up games like that triple-double 36-13-10 against the Clippers. 30-13-7 against Denver. 31-11-5 in Atlanta. 35-10-6 and 29-12-8 against Toronto. 30-11-5 against Memphis. 27-14-8 in Minny. 42-9-8 in Portland.
Running pick and roll not with David Lee and Carl Landry, but with D-Leaguers.
Remember those games? The Warriors media have conveniently forgotten about them. Mark Jackson may never have seen them. And Joe Lacob has been trying his best to prevent us from ever seeing their like again.
I haven’t forgotten. Stephen Curry hasn’t “emerged” as a point guard, he has re-emerged as a point guard. After two long years in rookie coach jail. Or as I like to put it, Cat Hell.
And one more point, for those followers of Matt Steinmetz, if there are any. Just because you happen to be the best shooter in the NBA, that doesn’t mean you’re not a point guard.
Ask Steve Nash.
David Lee: Lee’s having an incredible season, never more so than since the Warriors shifted their offense into his wheelhouse. I haven’t been to Lauridsen’s blog in awhile, but I can’t imagine how he’s dealing with this adversity.
In a recent TNT broadcast, Shaq took to calling David Lee the “white Chris Webber.” Presumably because he’s a good passer, and has a similar stat line to Webber’s in their first 8 years in the league.
Lee, ever the gentleman, took the comparison as a compliment. I, never the gentleman, took it as a grave insult to David Lee, as well as my own intelligence.
Chris Webber was one of the softest big men ever to play in the NBA. Yes, he averaged over 10 rebounds for 6 seasons. But watching him play, I often felt he achieved that by averaging 13 at home, and 7 on the road.
After his rookie season, he refused to ever again play center. And he never again blocked shots at the rate he did in that season. Can you imagine, a player who peaked as a shot-blocker in his rookie season?
He also refused to develop a low post game. Why? Because he hated the low post! He absolutely loathed contact. He moved his game outside, with two major negative results for his teams. After the age of 24, he never shot over 50% for a season. Not once. And he could never be a go-to man in crunch time, on a team that desperately needed one.
By contrast, David Lee has never shot less than 50% for a season. Despite having his pick and roll game taken away from him at Golden State, and despite shooting frequently from outside. David Lee can get it done outside, but he also gets it done in the paint.
David Lee is a man. A warrior. As big a gamer as anyone who has ever laced them up. Home or away, doesn’t matter. Lee gives you everything he has. At power forward, at center, whatever the coach asks.
David Lee has worked hard to realize every last bit of his potential as a basketball player.
You can illustrate a valid point by comparing Lee to many former and current players. My own point of reference is Dave Cowens.
Just don’t compare him to that giant pussy and disgrace to the game of basketball known as Chris Webber.
Klay Thompson: You see that 23 pts on 8-14, 6 rb, 5 assist line? After the 5-11, 5 rb, 2 assist game in New Jersey? Get used to those kind of lines from Thompson. He is that good.
Those of you who don’t think he’s a smart player are wrong. He has a genius-level basketball IQ. Even geniuses have brain freezes, like Thompson had earlier this season. Einstein couldn’t find his way home from work.
Those of you who don’t think he’s an assist man are wrong. His assists are down this season because of Jarret Jack’s presence in the fourth quarter backcourt. Have you already forgotten Klay as point-forward last season? Klay has the skills to play point-guard, which he actually did with total aplomb in the Summer League.
Unfortunately, like Harrison Barnes, he is getting absolutely torched on defense. He didn’t have the usual excuse of slow foot-speed against Joe Johnson. Johnson is bigger than he is, and simply abused him physically.
Small forward is Klay’s future. He needs to get a lot tougher down on the box. Stephen Curry tough. Curry is one of the best post defenders against bigger players I have ever seen.
Jarret Jack: A couple of weeks ago I wrote that Jack wasn’t looking for his shot enough, for whatever reason, and that it was hurting the Warriors.
Problem solved. And in Mark Jackson-speak, this is a player who can flat out get it done. Jack has been great in crunch time, and taken a lot of pressure off Curry.
Charles Jenkins: I like Jenkins, but the fact that the Warriors are giving him minutes at the two bespeaks a need. A real need.
Festus Ezeli: Is it just me, or did Ezeli look worn down in these last two games? The Warriors can’t afford this young man to so much as tweak an ankle. He is all that’s standing between them and another season of oblivion.
And stand he has. With the exception of the last two games, Ezeli has been great. A defensive force. Not to mention desperately needed cannon fodder to preserve David Lee.
I wrote a couple of weeks ago that the Warriors needed to start getting Ezeli the ball on the move, rather than post him up. And that’s what they’re starting to do. Particularly with the pick and roll.
Unfortunately, although he’s executing it well, and catching the ball fine, he’s having major problems finishing, unleashing a wild array of errant layups. He needs to be told to finish strong every time. Either dunk it if it’s open, or stop, gather, pump fake and go up strong for the And One.
The Brand: Woowhee has Barnes looked terrible lately. And even worse on defense than on offense. He is the opposite of Draymond Green: slow to read the play, completely reactive, more than a step slow.
After shooting lights out from three in both summer league and the start to this season, Barnes looked like a natural from outside the arc. But he has since cooled considerably, and his percentage from three has dipped below 33%.
Is this a temporary slump or a very real regression to the mean? Barnes was far from a standout shooter in college.
Jackson has begun giving Barnes a few fourth quarter minutes at the position Nellie would use him at: small-ball four. That is another avenue for Barnes to get on the floor, given that Klay Thompson is taking his minutes at small forward.
The only problem with that is that there is a far better rookie small-ball four than Barnes also on the Warriors roster:
Draymond Green: I know you’re all expecting me to start raving about Green’s phenomenal defense and rebounding, and the incredible intangibles he brings to the court. And the fact that in a world with no Venture Capitalist/GM egos, Harrison Barnes would never get a single minute ahead of this guy. But I’m going to put that aside for a later post, and use this post to get a pet peeve off my chest.
A few games back, after Green had launched and missed a three from the top of the key, Bob Fitzgerald had another one of his special moments:
Fitz: (passive-aggressive nagging coach voice) I just don’t know if that three is part of his game.
I had to restrain myself from throwing my snifter of Lagavulin at the TV when I heard this. When will Fitz realize he doesn’t know a goddamn thing about basketball, and shut the hell up? Seriously, he is absolutely brutal. And it’s even more brutal because the perfect guy for Warriors play-by-play is now hosting the Warriors half-time show. You know, the guy Fitz stabbed in the back to get his job, Greg Papa. The guy who masterfully elicits real basketball insight from Gary St. Jean, and only insinuates his own layman’s opinions in the form of questions. A true professional.
But I digress. Here are Draymond Green’s three point shooting percentages in his last 2 seasons of college:
And here are Harrison Barnes’:
Your expert analysis please, Fitz? Should Barnes stop shooting threes also, or is it only “power forwards” who shouldn’t shoot them?
Three point shooting IS Draymond Green’s game. Do you remember when Anthony Tolliver first got called up, and missed something like his first 10 three point shots? Did Nellie tell him to stop shooting? Hell no. And the Warriors were rewarded later in the season when Tolliver dropped 36 on Kevin Love’s head in Target Center.
Draymond Green MUST be encouraged to shoot the three. First, because he can make that shot, and will. Second, because it’s a far more efficient shot than those post-ups he’s getting in the lane. And third, because when he does start making the three, the floor will open up for the Warriors in a way we haven’t seen in years. The Warriors’ pick and roll will go from good to great. That fabulous Warriors fourth quarter small ball unit that is already winning games will start DOMINATING games.
And Stephen Curry and David Lee can pack their bags for the all-star game.
More Bob Fitzgerald: While I’m at it.
Have you noticed that whenever Mark Jackson starts playing Nellieball in the fourth quarter, Fitz immediately starts squealing into the mike after every missed rebound? “The Warriors can’t afford to give up second chance opportunities.” “The Warriors are awful small out there.” “You might want to think about getting some rebounders in there.” On and on and on. Never once considering the positive tradeoffs that Jackson is counting on.
In the Nets game, after the swarming Warriors smalls generated a steal, I caught Jim Barnett quietly murmur: “Quickness beats size.” And that put an end to that, for one game, anyway. The next day, Fitz was back squealing again.
Love you, Barnett. Don’t stop fighting the good fight, my brother.