I agree with Jim Barnett that the Houston Rockets are “a better basketball team” than the Golden State Warriors. I don’t know how you could come to a different conclusion if you watched their last two games, a 31 point blowout in the Rockets gym, and then this, a decisive 9 point margin on the Warriors home floor, with James Harden barely able to contribute in the second half after badly spraining his ankle.
There are any number of reasons why the Rockets are better than the Warriors. Let’s start with the obvious: the Rockets have a superstar, James Harden, and the Warriors don’t. But the Rockets barely needed Harden in the second half of this game: he went 2-6 after his 3rd quarter injury.
The Rockets have a backcourt that can penetrate at will against the Warriors backcourt: Lin can’t be guarded by Curry, and Harden can’t be guarded by Thompson (nor anyone else on the planet). The Rockets threes and fours can also penetrate at will against the Warriors. Chandler Parsons can get anything he wants against Barnes, and to ask David Lee to attempt to guard Patrick Patterson and Marcus Morris all the way out to the three point line is completely unfair, a crime against humanity.
And then there’s the fact that the Rockets cannot be stopped once they penetrate. All of their fours are spread-fours, waiting for that pass out to the three point line. Their threes, Parsons and Delfino, are devastating three point shooters as well. And they have a giant 7 footer inside with the ability to both catch and finish.
The Rockets are not one of those teams that has defensive specialists, “one-way” players that hurt their team on the offensive end as much as they help on the defensive. Every single player they put on the court is a dangerous scorer, and a good passer.
Nor are the Rockets one of those teams, like the Warriors, who are overstocked with one-way offensive players on the wings. Jeremy Lin and Harden are among the best backcourt defenders in the league. Parsons is not known for his defense, but his replacement, sixth man Carlos Delfino, is.
And then there’s Asik. Here’s one of the biggest differences between the Rockets and the Warriors right now: the Rockets have a starting center who is healthy and active.
And here’s another major difference: the Rockets don’t have any rookies in major roles. They come with veterans, both in their starting lineup and off the bench. Even Patrick Beverly, while technically a rookie, is a third year pro, having played two years in Europe.
But the biggest difference between the Rockets and the newly Bogutted Warriors is this: The Rockets know who they are.
The Rockets, like so many of the new breed of championship contender in the NBA, are a perfectly constructed Nellieball team. Skilled players at every position. Defensive center, three point shooters at the four, point-forwards at the three (and the two). Push the tempo, spread the floor, pick and roll, drive and dish, fire the three. Not a post-up to be seen. Nothing but layups and threes, the most efficient offensive system in the NBA.
The Warriors? They have no clue who they are at the moment. Are they the fabulously talented and efficient Nellieball team that took the league by storm in the first half? Or are they a grind-it-out halfcourt team anchored by Andrew Bogut?
Don’t ask Mark Jackson the answer, he doesn’t have a clue right now. I’m not even sure that Jackson’s close personal friend, and rabid Warriors fan — God — knows who the Warriors are right now.
It’s a mess. A mess created at the very top, by the Warriors GM, Joe Lacob.
The plan that Joe Lacob had for this Warriors season is back.
And once again, it’s making Mark Jackson look like a terrible NBA coach.
The Andrew Bogut Myth: Let’s start this section off with a few Bogut bullet points:
- The Warriors record with Andrew Bogut in the lineup is 5-5.
- The teams the Warriors have beaten with Bogut in the lineup are the Suns (twice), Kings, Cavs, Raptors and Mavs. Any teams with winning records in that bunch?
- The Warriors have never beaten a team with a winning record with Bogut in the lineup.
- Since Bogut returned, the Warriors have fallen from 13th in the league in defensive efficiency (points per possession against), to 19th.
- Since Bogut returned, the Warriors have fallen from 26th in the league in number of free throws allowed per game, to 28th. Only two teams foul less.
- Since Bogut returned, the Warriors have been out-rebounded in 5 of the 6 games he’s played.
- And as Fitz noted last night, since Bogut returned, the Warriors have fallen from being one of the better rebounding teams in the league, to 17th in Total Rebounding %.
Warriors fans have been very reluctant to believe that the Andrew Bogut who is playing for the Warriors right now is not the Andrew Bogut who played for the Bucks in 2009-10. But he’s not even close to that player. That should be obvious now, to anyone who has watched the last few games. Andrew Bogut is not helping the Warriors, he’s KILLING them.
He’s killing them on defense, which is supposed to be his forte. Why? Because he has no stamina, and is unable to run the floor. He is killing them by regularly failing to get back.
And he’s killing them on defense because he cannot move his feet. I noted after the last Rockets game that Bogut was getting burned on the pick and roll, because when he came out of the lane to hedge, he could not recover in time to defend the rim. This led to him getting chastised by Jim Barnett for coming out too far away from the basket.
Well, he corrected that in this game. Take a look at the pick and roll the Rockets ran at 1:35 2nd Q. Bogut didn’t budge from the lane this time, leaving Harden wide open at the free throw line to bury an easy jumper. Is that a better result, Jim?
No, it’s not. And Festus Ezeli wouldn’t let it happen. The wonderfully mobile Ezeli excels at hedging the pick and roll and recovering to defend the rim.
Bogut is killing the Warriors because he’s getting beaten to crucial rebounds. Even though he got inside position against Zack Randolph at 3:50 4th Q of the Memphis game, Randolph pinned him to the floor, seized the rebound from behind, and scored the putback. In last night’s Rockets game, Asik beat him for two crucial offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter. And then jumped over him at 3:46 4th Q for a defensive rebound. Jim Barnett’s remark: “Asik beat Bogut to the ball.”
He’s killing the Warriors because he’s slow to defend the rim. The Rockets took it right to him, over and over again. Take a look at 7:47 4th Q. Yes, David Lee got beat by Marcus Morris on a drive from the right corner. But Morris dunked because the ball had been swung from the opposite side of the floor, and Bogut was too slow returning to the middle.
Bogut is also killing the Warriors on offense. Gone are all those early-offense pick and rolls. Gone is Ezeli clearing the way for early-offense drives with drag screens in the lane. It takes too long for Bogut to haul his ass up court.
Gone are all the David Lee fourth quarter pick and rolls that were so devastating to opposing defenses, and helped earn Lee two Western Conference Players of the Week and and an All-Star berth. As with the Kwame Brown Era, the Andrew Bogut Era has relegated Lee to a fourth quarter spectator.
And outside his passing ability, Bogut has no offense to replace that which he has destroyed. His jump shot is gone, a casualty of his right elbow injury. Even his right hook appears to be gone: Have you noticed that Bogut, when he posts up at all, almost always chooses the right box, from where he goes to his left-handed hook? Judging from a recent interview, Bogut has little trust in his right elbow. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.
Last night, Jim Barnett seemed incredulous that the Warriors kept using Bogut in the high post, where he has no offense. But where else can he be played? Off the ball? His man doesn’t need to guard him.
In the low post? Hah. The Warriors don’t go to Bogut in the low post in the fourth quarter. For good reason. In his sole fourth quarter attempt against Memphis, Bogut was literally pushed out of the lane, and practically off his feet by Marc Gasol. That might have had something to do with his ankle.
But as I noted when he was traded, Bogut was horribly inefficient out of the low post even before his ankle injury, converting only 36% of his shots from there in his last season. There is absolutely no reason to double team him. Memphis didn’t double team him. The Rockets didn’t double team him, even when he was picked up by one of their diminutive spread-fours. (That possession resulted in a fading left-handed fling from 10 feet.)
The idea that the Warriors can play inside out, by throwing it in to Bogut, and allowing him to find open three point shooters with his great passing ability?
I’m not the only one who’s noticing that Bogut is hurting the Warriors. So is Jim Barnett, who noted at 3:45 2nd Q that Bogut lacks stamina, just as Bogut failed to get back on defense in time, and fouled Harden as he ran by him.
So is Ric Bucher, stating post-game that “Bogut can’t move and react the way he will in a couple of weeks.” And “Bogut can’t defend the rim the way the Warriors hope he will.”
Hope is right. But even if Bogut does eventually come round, what will the Warriors record be after those “couple of weeks?” And what will he come around to?
If you think it is anything resembling the Andrew Bogut of old, I’m sorry but I think you’re dreaming. Let me refer you to a recent tweet of his, after the first Rockets game:
Wheels up to OKC. Ice is a great friend right now…..
Or this comment, after last night’s game:
I’m not going to comment on percent. I’ve learned early with that. I’m playing. I’m not hurt. I’m playing. I’m out on the court, so I’m fit to play. I’m not going to sit here and mope that my ankle’s sore or that it’s not sore, or the last game it felt great, this game…
Funny how he did that, isn’t it? Telling us that his ankle is killing him, by telling us he’s not going to tell us when his ankle is killing him. Quintessential Bogut.
And speaking of last night’s post-game interview, did you happen to notice that Bogut threw his teammates under the bus for their poor defense? Here are a couple of quotes:
I think at the end of the day, it’s you one-on-one in a battle with the guy you’re guarding, you know? You can’t just keep hoping for help and funneling to help….
[O]ur defense one-on-one is horrendous, 1 through 5, not just 1 or 2 guys. 1 through 5. We get beat it’s like, “Oh help, someone help me.”
There’s a very big problem with Bogut’s analysis. Not a single one of the Warriors starters can guard his man one-on-one. And for most of the season, they haven’t had to. All season long, the Warriors have employed a zone or quasi-zone to help their poor perimeter defenders. Collapse in the lane to give help, recover to the shooters. Trap the pick and roll. Funnel the drivers towards Ezeli. Force the ball to swing, run at the open three point shooter and pray.
Now, last night, it appears that fear of embarrassment at the hands of the Rockets’ three point shooters caused the Warriors to abandon the defensive game plan that’s worked for them all season long. The Warriors did their best to stay home, and rely on big bad Bogut in the middle to cover up for them whenever they got beat off the dribble, which was virtually every play.
You saw the result. And even if you didn’t, Bogut described it to you.
Listen carefully when Bogut speaks. He’s telling you the truth about the Andrew Bogut Myth, even if he doesn’t mean to.
Stephen Curry: Did it look to you like Curry was horrible on defense last night? Getting beat on drives by Jeremy Lin all night long? Well, it wasn’t completely his fault.
Mark Jackson pulled the rug out from under him. All season long, the Warriors have been double-teaming the ball, trapping the pick and roll. But with Bogut unable to leave the lane, they can no longer do that.
Every single team in the league traps Jeremy Lin on the pick and roll. Because his drive is dominant, and his outside shot off the dribble is horrid.
Every single team, that is, but the Bogutted Warriors.
Mark Jackson forced Curry to pay the price for Andrew Bogut’s immobility.
David Lee: Lee was similarly betrayed by Mark Jackson in this game. Lee should never be forced to match up with smaller, quicker spread-fours. To do that not only negates his quickness advantage on offense — which is most of his game — but completely embarrasses him on defense.
Lee looked like a hopeless buffoon on defense. In the exact same way that Blake Griffin, Zach Randolph, Kevin Love, Lamarcus Aldridge, Dirk Nowitzki and innumerable other good power forwards would have.
The only way for the Warriors to match up with this Rockets team is to flip the switch and out-quick them. With David Lee at center, running Asik off the court, and Draymond Green or Richard Jefferson at the four.
The way that old, reviled, Scotch-swilling meathead — whose conceptions and inventions now happen to be dominating the modern NBA — would have done it.
Jarret Jack and the Myth of the Warriors’ Depth: A few posts back, I wrote that the Warriors don’t have a true two-guard, and that “if either Curry or Jack go down, the Warriors will be left playing either Jenkins, Bazemore or a small forward at the two.”
Isn’t that exactly what just happened on the Warriors’ road trip from hell?
I also wrote that the Warriors were extraordinarily reliant on rookies, which is exactly the same thing as having no depth at all. We saw that on the road trip as well.
Look at the top of the Western Conference standings. Spurs, Thunder, Clippers, Memphis, Nuggets. Are any of those teams reliant on even a single rookie? All of those teams run ten deep, with VETERANS.
If you’re going to insist on calling the Warriors a deep team, you’ll need to invent a completely different word to describe the real contenders in the league.
The Brand: If my twitter feed provides a representative sample, Warriors fans are utterly perplexed by the fact that Harrison Barnes isn’t getting more playing time.
For me, the reason for this has been quite simple, and quite obvious: Harrison Barnes does not play defense, and he does not rebound.
Has anyone besides me noticed that the Black Falcon failed to exceed 2 rebounds in four of his last five games? These are his totals: 1, 0, 7, 2, 2.
Did anyone else notice that Chandler Parsons simply lit him on fire and roasted marshmallows? Actually, I think Bogut may have noticed.
I have been accused by readers of being too hard on Barnes for his defense, because he’s a rookie, and because he’s on a team with far worse defenders than himself.
Let me point out a few harsh truths to these readers:
1) Take another look at the top of the Western Conference standings. Do any of the teams you see have poor defenders or unwilling rebounders at the small forward position? Kawhi Leonard, Stephen Jackson, Kevin Durant, Thabo Sefalosha, Caron Butler, Matt Barnes, Tayshaun Prince, Tony Allen, Andre Iguodala and Wilson Chandler.
See anyone on that list you’d like to compare Harrison Barnes to defensively?
Small forwards who can light it up offensively but can’t play defense or rebound are literally a dime a dozen in the NBA. You can find them on the waiver wire. In the D-league.
Small forwards on winning teams are almost without exception dominant defenders. It’s a requirement.
2) Stephen Curry, David Lee and Klay Thompson are the core of this Warriors team, and none of those guys have the athleticism to be good man-to-man defenders. Which means that the Warriors are ABSOLUTELY DESPERATE for a versatile and dominant defensive wingman, who can match up with the opposing team’s best perimeter player.
If Barnes can’t be that dominant defender, then he has to go. I’m sorry, that’s simply the way it is.
3) It is my opinion, after watching many years of NBA basketball, that great defensive players and great rebounders are born, not made. They come into the league with that ability and that desire. It’s in their DNA.
Other players come into the NBA focused on their brand.
4) There are far better defenders at small forward than Barnes sitting on the Warriors bench. Draymond Green is one. This next guy is another.
Richard Jefferson: Did you watch RJ play in this Rockets game? Do you see his +5 for 8 minutes, while shooting no shots? The only positive plus/minus on this Warriors team?
If you have no idea how RJ achieved that +5, then you have no idea why Harrison Barnes doesn’t deserve more minutes. And you probably never will.
Draymond Green: I thought Green was a breath of fresh air in this game, particularly in the fourth quarter. If he straightens out his shot, as he did in this game, he can be a heck of a player. Personally, I think he needs to tone down his jump, go to more of a set shot.
A couple of plays stood out to me:
- That ferocious offensive rebound at 3:19 4th Q.
- At 2:57 4th Q, absolutely stoning Parsons on that drive from the three point line, forcing him into a falling away airball.
Can the taller, quicker, higher jumping Harrison Barnes make plays like that? Why not?
In your heart of hearts, I think you know the answer.
The Playoff Picture: It’s unclear what effect the schedule will have on the Warriors’ last 30 games. They have a long stretch of home games to end the season. On the other hand, they’re nearly done playing the Eastern Conference, and they have a losing record against Western Conference teams.
At this point, I think we can all agree that the Warriors are far more likely to slide in the standings than gain ground on the teams ahead of them. Denver has hit their stride. Memphis is starting to play a lot better since their big trade, with the ball moving better, and Gasol, Conley and Prince easily picking up the scoring slack left by Rudy Gay’s departure.
And the Warriors are a mess.
Houston, as evidenced by their last two games against the Warriors, is a very nice team that is starting to put it all together. Given the current state of the Warriors, it seems likely that Houston will pass them to take the 6th seed.
It’s still likely that Utah will shoot themselves in the foot at the trading deadline. And the Warriors are still comfortably ahead of Portland, Dallas and the Lakers.
Or are they? As a result of their play in the last two weeks, I find myself starting to have doubts. Starting to ask myself this question:
Are the Warriors going to throw away this season on the Andrew Bogut Myth?
The Feltbot Solution: It’s obvious that the Warriors are going to stick with Bogut, for good or ill, for as long as he’s able to take the court. Andrew Bogut was Joe Lacob’s “transcendant deal,” his grand plan, his signature move, his defining moment, his imprint on the Warriors franchise. There is no turning back.
Given that fact, can Mark Jackson do anything to get this Warriors team back on track?
I think he absolutely must do this: He must give up on playing Bogut in the fourth quarter. Lacob and Bogut’s own opinions be damned, he should restrict Bogut’s playing time to the first and third quarters, in the Festus Ezeli role. At least until such time as Bogut begins to demonstrate that he’s healthy and fit, and able to dominate.
Jackson should go back to playing Nellieball in the fourth quarter. That’s the lineup, and the style of play, that won all those games this year. That’s the lineup and style of play for which this Warriors roster is most suited, whether Joe Lacob understands that or not.
If he wants to win, Jackson absolutely must do this, at least until Bogut PROVES there’s a better way.
And Mark Jackson should give the crafty veteran Richard Jefferson more playing time, and the raw rookie Harrison Barnes less. Just as NBA coaches have done since time immemorial, when they have been committed to winning, rather than selling tickets and merchandise to please their owner.
Does Mark Jackson have the cojones to risk losing his job, in order to carry this Warriors team into the playoffs?
I think it just may come to that.