Klay’s been money this week. I’ll just let that be my intro.
Here’s what I’ve seen so far this season from the undefeated Golden State Warriors:
The Warriors: I stated at the beginning of last season that I thought the Warriors had the best roster in the Western Conference. Given what we’ve seen from Klay to start this season, that’s never been more true.
I also thought that the Warriors could win the West last season. That proved misguided for a variety of reasons, including coaching, the ineffectiveness of the bench, and key injuries. And a certain basketball team called the Spurs. But I have fresh optimism for that possibility this season.
Particularly now that the Thunder have crashed and burned. (Can they even win enough games in the next two months to contend for the eighth seed in the ultra-competitive West?) And the Spurs are another year older. (They are, aren’t they?) There is a sense right now that the West is wide open.
There is a ton of talent on this Warriors team. A ton. And quite a few very smart coaches on the Warriors bench. Even though so many things remain up in the air, with the system, the rotations, the bench, and the health of key players, it’s possible to envision a very special season unfolding. Very special.
With the right breaks. (I mean non-breaks.)
Steve Kerr: Let me just say right off the bat that it’s a real pleasure to listen to Kerr speak after what we suffered through the last two seasons. And it was amazing to hear him credit assistant coach Ron Adams after the game for the ingenious trap on Wesley Matthews. However he turns out as a coach, Kerr’s personality is a breath of fresh air.
As for how he will turn out as a coach, I see signs of pragmatism that are encouraging. He’s clearly experimenting with systems and rotations but I don’t get the sense he will stubbornly stick with things or players that aren’t clicking. The triangle has been a disaster so far — in my judgement more to do with having the wrong personnel to run it than with a simple lack of experience. (It’s a post system that requires dominant post players, which the Warriors simply don’t have.) But when the Warriors offense goes stagnant, out go the bigs, and back comes the fast break and the high pick and roll.
Klay Thompson: I mentioned towards the end of last year that Klay had taken a step forward in driving aggressively to the basket. I mentioned before this season that the adamant support of Jerry West and Steve Kerr in the Kevin Love imbroglio, his Team USA experience, and his contract situation would give him enormous validation and confidence heading into this season. That he no longer needed to defer to his teammates. That he was no longer going to be the Warriors’ third option.
And I mentioned in the pre-season that Klay’s game would benefit by no longer being forced to guard point guards. And also that he has finally discovered the ability to take the ball right into contact, and get himself to the line, rather than attempt to dodge the contact with dipsy-dos. We saw that mentality in spades in this game, when he drove straight into the gaping maw of the Lopezasaurus to administer that thunder-facial.
But I haven’t ever mentioned that Klay has now added the pump fake to his arsenal, because this was the first game in his career in which I saw him consciously lure a defender into a foul on the perimeter. And what a devastating weapon this will prove for a shooter of his caliber. As it was for Larry Bird and Chris Mullin.
And I haven’t mentioned just how fortuitous the timing of this latest injury to David Lee has been for him. Steve Kerr has been dying to get Lee into the lineup so that he can run a triangle offense that actually works. So when Lee returns, it’s automatic that Klay’s shot attempts will go down. But so far this season the Warriors have needed to force the ball to Klay, and rely extensively on his offense.
And that has allowed him to absolutely explode, and demonstrate to himself as well as the world just how special a player he can be.
Now that he knows, and his coaches and teammates know, and the world knows, there’s no going back. The bar has now been set.
Warriors fans, enjoy. In the last five years, we have had the enormous privilege of watching two NBA superstars develop on our homecourt. And now we’re going to have the enormous privilege of watching them storm the bastions of the league.
Two quick points about the last two games:
In the Lakers game, Kobe Bryant got personally involved in his matchup with Klay. Kobe, 28 points on 28 shots. Klay 41 points on 18 shots.
In this Blazers game, Wesley Matthews was personally involved in his matchup with Klay from the opening tip. Mathews got exercised last week by the discussion over Klay’s max contract, and bleated to the press that HE, not Klay, was the best two-way shooting guard in the NBA. Mathews 18 points on 15 shots, and the game-losing turnover. Klay, 29 points on 22 shots, including the game-winner in Matthew’s mug.
Stephen Curry: Now the number one fantasy player in basketball, which speaks not only to his otherworldly shooting prowess, but to the all-around nature of his game. To which he has, this season, added fantastic point-guard defense.
Can you believe that Coach K started Kyrie Irving over Curry on Team USA? Coach K, like Matt Steinmetz, believes that Curry is an undersized two-guard. How about you?
I mentioned to my friend Abe tonight that what is even more rare than Curry’s supreme talent, is that even with that supreme talent, he’s so incredibly unselfish and giving to his teammates.
Would Kobe Bryant, in Curry’s shoes, have allowed Klay Thompson the opportunity of that final game-winning shot?
Stephen Curry is the anti-Kobe.
Having said that, how can it be correct to go away from the greatest closer in the game, who was being guarded by a poor defender in Damian Lilliard — a matchup that Curry has destroyed in past years — in favor of a matchup of Klay Thompson against a terrific defender in Wesley Matthews?
The outcome was fantastic, but the call was curious. Does Steve Kerr want to make Klay The Man on this team?
Bogut: Showed much better defensively in this game against the Lopezasaurus, even on the road back to back, than he did against the Lakers’ quicker, outside shooting two-power forward front. Which is to be expected.
So far he’s proven disastrous in the triangle, as I predicted. He’s looked much better offensively off the ball in pick and roll and backdoor alley-oops.
The Showcase: Went a lot better against the Lakers’ historically bad defense than it did against Nic Batum. But in general, you can expect Barnes to look much improved in the Warriors starting lineup. Faced with Curry and Klay, would you guard him?
Got stripped by Damian Lilliard going up for a layup on a fast break. Which lead to this Jim Barnett comment: “He doesn’t know how to protect the ball…”
Gulp. It’s a good thing Warriors fans have Barnett’s back. The best local color man in the game.
On the plus side, Barnes’ on the ball defense has looked pretty good so far this season. Jim Barnett said “He’s playing harder. He has another gear to him this year.”
Gulp. Love you, Barnett.
Draymond Green: It hasn’t looked pretty, but all he does is win. He’s just one of those guys.
LaMarcus Aldridge tried to bully Green in the low post in the first half, but quickly got his fill of that, and moved his game outside in the second half. Unfortunately, the 6-6″ (in shoes) Green had no answer for that as Aldridge poured in 10 straight points shooting over the top.
It bears repeating, because there’s once again a lot of murmuring by the ignorati in the press, but Draymond Green is not a starting power forward in the NBA. He can do it for stretches and be quite good. He might be able to do it for long periods of time against some of the stretch-fours in the league.
But if you force him to play it night in and night out against the monster fours in this league, you’ll wind up sending his career into an early grave.
Draymond Green’s minutes should come from Harrison Barnes.
Iggy: When the second unit takes the floor, it seems that if the ball’s not in Barbosa’s hands, it’s in Iggy’s. 6 assists against the Lakers, 5 tonight. So remind me again why the Warriors wanted Shaun Livingston for 3 years, $16 million? To play off the ball where he can’t shoot, and can’t draw a defender?
Perhaps Iggy is destined to return to the starting unit at some point? I see Shaun Livingston playing, if that’s the word, so what’s the plan, and when does it kick in?
Iggy missed a very clutch free throw down the stretch, and true to form, he did it by hitting the back rim first.
Draymond, please whisper feltbot’s law in his ear.
Festus: Man, he’s been playing great. I’m thrilled just to see him back playing his normal defense.
The offense has been a bonus. Who’d of thunk we’d ever see such slick footwork in the post from him? Not to mention the soft touch on his jump hooks.
Think maybe he could teach Bogut a couple of those moves? Nah, forget it. Bogut, like Chris Webber, doesn’t want any part of the low post.
Barbosa: Saved the bacon of the Warriors’ second unit in this game, and will continue to save their bacon until his inevitable return to the injured list. (Don’t worry, that’s a reverse jinx. I hope.)
The closest thing the Warriors have to a sixth man. The only player on the second unit who can create his own offense. It’s too bad he has zero court vision, because the ball MUST be put in his hands if the Warriors bench is to have a chance.
As we saw tonight.
Mokur: Has looked astonishingly good to me so far this year, particularly given the fact that he’s being played out of position at the four. Didn’t Steve Kerr mention several times in the preseason that he intended Speights to play center? Unfortunately, that’s not what Joe Lacob intends, according to his spokesmodel. Joe Lacob wants the Warriors to play big. And the Warriors are being coached by committee.
It’s obvious, isn’t it, that the Warriors’ chief problem on the second unit this season is that they’re playing too big, too slow, and without enough spacing?
Perhaps that will change when David Lee and Brandon Rush return, and Green and Barnes are available to man the four on the reserves. And perhaps Steve Kerr will send Alvin Gentry to plead with Lacob.
The 5 Million Dollar Man: Is it too soon to begin the discussion about how Shaun Livingston fits on the Warriors? After all,
the Warriors PR staff Bob Fitzgerald saw fit to tell us that although Leandro Barbosa was doing a lot of the ballhandling at the moment, Livingston will take over the ball-handling duties once he gets healthier.
I wouldn’t count on it.
I’m on record since day 1 as stating that Livingston was a terrible fit for the Warriors. And while it’s early days, and I may yet receive one of the pleasantest basketball surprises of my life, literally everything I envisioned in the preseason is now visible on the court.
Beginning with Livingston’s -15 in the last two Warriors victories, in which the total margin of victory was 28. It’s so bad, he’s dragging the RAPM king of last season, Andre Iguodala, down with him. Iggy was -7 in this game, and the statphreaks must be totally phreaking.
So what’s going on? Here it is in a nutshell: Last season Livingston essentially played small forward for the Nets. Point-forward. And Jason Kidd surrounded him with shooters at every position. Garnett and Teletovic at center. Paul Pierce at PF. Joe Johnson and Deron Williams. So when Kidd posted Livingston up, or got him into the lane on pick and roll, he had a totally spread floor and four targets.
It was an absolutely ideal situation for Livingston. His own chief flaw, an inability to shoot and spread the floor, was completely minimized. His chief ability, to pass over the top in the lane, was maximized. As was his essentially 8 foot range.
Kidd also played Livingston in one of the slowest, walk-it-up systems in the entire league. Which was ideal for a guy on a reconstructed knee and arthritic toe who, quite frankly, is not exactly thrilled by running and jumping at this point in his career. (Did you see him blow that layup in the Lakers game by grabbing the rim before the ball fell through, for fear of landing hard on his toe? Jim Barnett sure did. Gulp.)
And thus it was that Shaun Livingston miraculously had a career year, and Joe Lacob got suckered into an absolutely ridiculous contract that no professional GM would ever consider.
So what’s going on now, on the Warriors? (It’s clear my nutshell is overflowing.) Well, first of all, when Livingston gets the ball in the post, he’s not looking at a spread floor with four sweet-shooting targets. He’s looking at Festus Ezeli’s man playing free safety under the basket. And he’s looking at Mo Speights (also clogging the painted area — shouldn’t he be out at the three point line?), Andre Iguodala and Leandro Barbosa as targets.
So long as the opposing coach isn’t stupid enough to double team Livingston in the post (ie., isn’t Byron Scott — and even he corrected himself) this isn’t a recipe for great offense. Nothing good is going to be open, and even when Livingston — who was a decent post scorer last year in the Net’s spread system — calls his own number, he will have Ezeli’s man in front of him on drives, and if he chooses not to drive, will be shooting the least effective shot in basketball, the contested midrange two.
There is a reason why we’re seeing Barbosa and Iggy handle the ball on the second unit. The second unit has needed penetration and pick and roll to initiate the offense. Livingston in the post isn’t cutting it, and I don’t see that changing.
Nor is Livingston cutting it off the ball. In fact, it is an absolute disaster for the offense. If you go back and watch his minutes in this game, you will see him being completely disregarded by his defender. You could have put Livingston out at the three point line, and his man would still be standing in the lane.
Take a look at 2:52 3Q in last night’s Blazers game as an example. Livingston is on the wing while a teammate (I forgot to note who) drives the lane, and gets confronted by Livingston’s man, because Livingston does not need to be guarded on the wing. Now Livingston, who is wide open, but knows he can’t stand still and hope to make a wide open shot, begins cutting towards the basket. He receives the pass, dribbles baseline and looks for a target, and… the Warriors get whistled for three seconds.
You simply cannot play Shaun Livingston off the ball and hope to have an effective offense.
This is not even to get into the question of whether Livingston is a fit for a Warriors team that SHOULD be looking to run their opponents out of the gym with their second unit. I don’t see him beating too many players down court. Is this the guy you want to run with smallball units of Green, Barnes, Rush and Barbosa? Or would DJ Augustin — to name just one of the many cheaper alternatives available this offseason, scooped up by the very savvy Stan Van Gundy — have been far better? Or how about paying a mere $1 million a year more for Isaiah Thomas, scooped up by the suddenly very savvy Suns to be their sixth man.
Could you imagine Isaiah Thomas as the Warriors sixth man?
I like Shaun Livingston. I think his story is incredible, and I admire everything about who he is as a man. I also admire his great basketball IQ, his passing ability, and his defense. But that doesn’t mean I have to like the way he fits on the Warriors. I think he’s a good player, but a good player with limitations, who requires a spread floor with shooting bigs and a half-court pace to be effective.
Is that this Warriors team?