I got a woman with one leg yeah/I got a woman with two/I got a woman with a wooden leg/I’ll tell you what that’s gonna do.
— Wild Willy Barrett
These sprained ankles to Stephen Curry and David Lee could not have come at a worse time in the Warriors schedule. But the gritty Warriors fought through their one leg blues to turn in two fine road performances in San Antonio and New Orleans, culminating in this nail-biting win against the surging Hornets. And boy did they need it, coming into New Orleans having lost 6 of their last 7, and looking at a brutally tough schedule through the end of January. Out of the next 7 games, which include a 4 games in 5 nights road trip, the Warriors figure to be favorites in only two.
The Playoff Picture: If we assume the Warriors go 2-5 in the next 7 games, which is not unreasonable given their current gimpiness and the toughness of the schedule, they will finish the month of January with a record of 26-20. How would their prospects to make the playoffs look at that point?
I have to say they wouldn’t look like the complete lock of a couple of weeks ago. For one thing, there is little doubt in my mind that if the Lakers stay healthy, they will not only make the playoffs, but pass the Warriors to take the 6th seed (right where I predicted them in the pre-season). They are slowly starting to figure it out, and play some good basketball.
That leaves the Warriors in a 4 team dogfight for the 7th and 8th seeds with Utah, Houston, and Portland. And possibly a 5th team in Dallas if Mark Cuban makes good on his threat to help them at the trading deadline. I would make Utah a favorite for one spot if it weren’t for the fact that they will probably trade Al Jefferson. I love Houston’s deep and talented team, but they are awfully young, and just learning how to play with each other. Portland’s starting five are playoff worthy, but they have depth issues to rival the Warriors’. Dallas I’ve never believed in this season, but they have strung together some nice performances since Nowitzki returned.
The next several weeks, heading into the Feb. 21 trading deadline, should be extremely interesting. Is Joe Lacob playing a pat hand?
Jarrett Jack: Klay Thompson was great, but this was Jack’s game. He put the Warriors — gimpy Curry and all — on his shoulders in the fourth quarter, and brought this victory home.
What a fantastic pickup, and too bad this is his final season in a Warriors uniform. Yes, this is the final year of his contract, and yes, he has to have opened some eyes around the league with his performance the last two seasons. Jack is a starting point guard (as I mentioned back when the Warriors traded for him), and he’s going to command a starting point guard’s salary next summer.
I don’t see any way the Warriors can re-sign him. Not with over $30 million in bad contracts sitting on their bench.
Klay Thompson: Thompson answered his critics with this clutch road performance. Note that in the last game, even with Curry out, Thompson was the third option. Jack first, Lee second.
In this game, with Curry gimpy, he was the FIRST option of the starting unit, and the second option when Jack was on the court. And you saw what he can do.
Make no mistake about it, this IS a future all-star. Thompson’s talent and basketball IQ are off the charts.
It’s not just the three point shooting. It’s the shots he creates off the dribble. The pull-ups, the step backs. And the drives he creates when panicked defenders run out on him. Like the LEFT-handed drive by Aminu at 0:47 2nd Q.
And it’s not just his shooting. It’s the way he works to get himself open. The movement without the ball.
It’s the way he sees the whole court when he’s driving. The fantastic looks he gets his teammates. There is an extremely high basketball intelligence at work here.
He has taken a lot of criticism lately from Barnett and fans about his failure to finish several drives. My personal take is that Klay has muffed those drives because he has TOO MUCH TALENT. Yes, too much talent.
On most of those muffed drives Klay has chosen to avoid contact and finish with a spinning reverse, often with his left hand. They have an enormous degree of difficulty. Why does he attempt these shots? Probably because he owns those shots, in practice. He has one of the best left hands in basketball, at the age of 22. And he wants to use it.
Klay simply needs to learn that in clutch game situations, all drives MUST be finished, with either buckets or free throws. Even if it means taking an inelegant approach, concentrating on the direct route and the strong hand, and absorbing some pain.
It’s not a matter of talent, the talent is off the charts. It’s not a matter of brains, the IQ is off the charts. It’s a matter of experience. The kid has barely one season behind him.
Klay got a lot of praise from both Mark Jackson and Gary St. Jean for his defense on Eric Gordon in this game. I will join in that praise, with qualifications.
The one thing you can undeniably say about Klay on defense is that he takes the challenge. He is smart and conscientious, and works hard every single night. These last two games — with impossible assignments in Tony Parker and Gordon — were no exception.
But let’s be honest, Klay Thompson cannot guard a healthy Eric Gordon. He could barely guard tonight’s gimpy, out-of-shape Eric Gordon, who blew by him almost at will. 7:10 1Q, 3:48 1Q, 9:40 3Q, 5:03 4th Q were the most egregious examples I noted.
Just as with Tony Parker, the Warriors guarded Eric Gordon not with Klay Thompson, but with their whole team. And that hurts them badly at the three point line.
Three Point Luck: I can’t resist making this point. The Spurs are one of the best three point shooting teams in the league, shooting like the Warriors around 39% from the arc.
Against the Warriors, the Spurs took 22 threes, making only 5, for a miserable 22.7%. The result of good defense?
I tell you what, if you still have the game on tape and care to go back and watch it again, I will give you $1 for every single three you can show me the Spurs took, that was contested.
By the time you finish re-watching, I will owe you precisely zero. The Warriors never contested the Spurs threes. They were too busy packing the lane to defend against the giant Spurs front line, and Tony Parker’s drives. The threes were what the Warriors were giving. Just as they give them virtually every night.
Yes, there is such a thing as variance in shooting. There is such a thing as three point luck.
And with the third best Three Point % Against stat in the NBA so far this season, the Warriors have gotten more than their fair share of it. The Warriors are now 2nd in the league, at 32.6%. I’m willing to wager a large amount of money they end the season significantly worse than that.
And I’ll spot you the Andrew Bogut Myth.
Stephen Curry: To be commended for a gritty performance on one leg. The Warriors probably don’t win without him on the court.
Let’s hope it doesn’t cost him down the road.
Festus Ezeli: No offense? Tonight was a perfect illustration of one of the ways in which stats lie. Systems matter. Usage matters. On this night, with David Lee out, Ezeli got more than twice his usual number of touches, and converted with authority.
Note that not one of his baskets came off of a post-up. The Warriors got Ezeli the ball on the move, which is what I’ve been arguing for.
Even more impressive to me than his offense? Robin Lopez: 2 pts. 0 rbs.
Festus Ezeli is incredible. I have never in my life seen a non-lottery big man step in and play like this in his rookie season.
Which is not to say I didn’t predict it, after watching him for one game in summer league. (Sorry, haters.)
The Brand: Barnes had a fine scoring night a few games ago, in the Dorell Wright role. Which is to say, parked at the three point line, serving as an outlet. And as tonight demonstrated once again, that is without question the best role for him.
In the last several games, Barnes had not gotten any of the mid-post isos that the Warriors were attempting to force-feed him with earlier in the season. For good reason, I thought. As I noted a few posts back, Barnes is incredibly inefficient in the “mini-Melo” role. Just doesn’t have the chops for it.
But after several games of Fitz and Barnett whining about how the Warriors needed to pay more attention to getting Barnes going (I wonder, who do they get their talking points from?), the mid-post iso was back in action in the Hornets game.
To start the game, in fact. Barnes got the first touch of the game, normally reserved for the Warriors non-scoring centers. An iso against Aminu that resulted in an And (Zero). And then the Warriors went back to their normally scheduled offense.
At 9:02 1st Q, Barnes got a right elbow extended iso, that he likes to turn into right handed drives. Monty Williams had done his scouting though. Aminu encouraged Barnes to go right, right into a Lopez trap. If you freeze the tape at exactly 9:02, you will see both Curry and Thompson wide open at the three point line on the weak side. That’s something that Barnes is apparently unable to see himself. He forced his drive, and turned the ball over.
He got one more mid-post iso at 9:25 3rd Q, resulting in him becoming flustered by a threatened trap, and turning the ball over once again. On the night, he had a total of 4 TO’s in 18 lackluster minutes. 2 points, 1 rebound.
Barnes is probably a good enough three point shooter to be useful to the Warriors in the Dorell Wright role on offense. Anything more is simply not in the cards, at least this season. It’s forcing.
The fact of the matter is that if Barnes is to be an impact player in the NBA he needs to hang his hat on something besides his limited offense. He needs to become a defensive stopper, and a monster on the boards, like Draymond Green.
Is that part of his brand?
Richard Jefferson: Good to see him let out of his coffin.
It should be obvious from this fine performance that Richard Jefferson can still play at the age of 33. In fact, it should be obvious that the 33 yr. old Jefferson is a much better player than Harrison Barnes. Barnes is playing ahead of him for reasons that have nothing to do with winning.
Take a look at the mid-post iso that RJ got at 2:30 3rd Q: Relaxed, assured dribble, nothing rushed. Smooth upfake, and perfectly executed up and under for the uncontested layup at the rim.
That’s what a skilled veteran looks like. Could the short-handed Warriors use that on a regular basis?
One other thing. RJ’s position for much of his time on the court?
Not that I expect that to give Jackson any permanent ideas.
Draymond Green: Great to see his jumper fall for him the last few games, and not just on those long twos that send Fitz into paroxysms of inanity.
Long twos are the most inefficient shot in basketball, as anyone who can multiply 40% from two versus 33% from three can tell you.
Contrary to what Fitz insists on poisoning our ears with, long twos are not Draymond Greens’ future. THREES are his future. And I absolutely delighted in him burying that corner three to end the first quarter, right in Fitz’s face.
I also continue to believe that Green will prove at least as good a three point shooter as Harrison Barnes in his NBA career. Not just because his college shooting percentage was better. But also because his shot looks more fundamentally sound to me. I’ll get into that in a future post.
Did you notice that nice crossover and left-handed drive down the lane that Green executed at 11:10 4th Q? It came off pick and roll action with Jarrett Jack, and it was wide open because he was being guarded by Ryan Anderson.
At the spread four.