“Who am I?” — Jason Bourne
Only reason I’m choosing to recap this game, or indeed this road trip, is that it’s been awhile, and I have some free time. The Warriors weren’t really tested on this trip, against some truly godawful teams. I don’t think it’s even possible for the bottom of the East to be worse than it is this season.
I took some heat on Twitter a couple of weeks ago, when I said that the Warriors had barely been tested this season, and when they had been, they had failed. The failures I referred to had to do with Spurs at home, and Phoenix on the road. I didn’t count beating the Clippers at home or Portland on the road, which had some up in arms. So let me explain where I’m coming from.
It’s obvious to all that the Warriors are a damn good team, and are contending for a deep run at least, and possibly even the championship. But how good are they when stacked against the other contenders? Fact is, it’s hard to tell at this moment, because they’ve simply not been tested very often.
Clippers at home? Look, 70% of the media had the Clippers coming out of the West this season, but that doesn’t make it real. 90% of the media are utter idiots. I have never believed that the Clippers are a contender, and have believed for two years that the Warriors in particular have the Clippers number. It’s simply no surprise to me when the Warriors beat them, because they should beat them. Both Bogut and Ezeli are Blake Griffin stoppers. He wants no part of them, no more than he wants any part of Marc Gasol or Zach Randolph. And the Clippers wing defense is absolutely awful. If the Clippers add Andrei Kirilenko to play the three, as has been rumored, this matchup might become more interesting, but I still think the Warriors dominate.
Portland on the road? Always a tough win, but again I think their big frontline is an ideal matchup for Bogut, and the Warriors have more talent. Not an interesting matchup for me, because like the Clippers, Portland is not a contender in my estimation, and I think the Warriors own them.
The San Antonio waxing at home, on the other hand, was significant, let’s face it. That’s one of the teams the Warriors have to get through. And I also think the loss to Phoenix was significant, simply because of how Phoenix is constructed. Phoenix has the kind of small backcourt, stretch frontcourt that has given the Bogut Warriors fits in the last few years, and while Phoenix themselves is not a contender, matchups can be huge in the playoffs. As we know from that one time when the big bad number-one-seeded Dallas Mavericks met the Nellieball Warriors, and Eric Dampier got run out of the gym.
And it’s not just Phoenix that can play this style against the Warriors. The Spurs, Mavs, (healthy) Rockets and (healthy) Thunder can do it as well. How is the Warriors record against that group? We don’t know, do we?
I’m looking for tests. Signs that the Warriors can win a championship this year. And here are the facts: The Warriors have not yet met the Bulls or the Cavs, whom I believe are the only contenders in the East. And against the other (current) playoff teams in the West the Warriors record stands at 3-2, including a road win against a Houston team without Howard and Beverly. In other words, it could easily be 2-3.
I’m not trying to throw rain on the parade. What the Warriors have accomplished so far this season is remarkable, and shows signs of becoming even more remarkable. I’m just not willing to throw the parade until I’ve seen how the Warriors measure up against the best of the best.
On to this game, against a notably dispirited Pistons crew. Is there a lower IQ team in the league? If you ask me, Stan van Gundy has to burn this to the ground and start over. I’d keep Drummond (simply out of curiosity), Singler, Meeks and Augustin, and dump everyone else.
Stephen Curry: Putting together an effortless, best point guard in the NBA performance. Right up until he twisted his ankle trying to stay with a lightning-fast, jitterbug point guard.
Didn’t I predict this in my last post?
Man. I hope Kerr gives his defensive scheming some serious thought.
Bogut: He’s been playing beautifully. But did you notice that he got no assists in the first half? This is the first game the Warriors have played in which their offense was scouted. The Pistons smothered the cutters off Bogut post action to start the game, forcing him to throw up his own shots. That’s the greatness of Stan van Gundy in a nutshell.
I have been engaged in arguments about The Triangle since before the season started, and one of my fundamental points is that it is a post system, and that it cannot succeed unless the player in the post is a dominant threat to score. It has proven too easy to defend on every team that couldn’t man the pinch-post with Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Shaq or Pau.
It will be interesting to see just how successful Bogut post action remains once the better teams in the league have seen it twice.
Mogut: My blog was literally bombarded last season by posters outraged that I liked Mo Speights’ game, and thought he could be a valuable contributor if used the right way by a smart coach. Now? Crickets. Fans and Bay Area media both are choking on their tongues.
With the tough defense he has displayed in the last few games, I think the argument about his true position is over. He is an extremely valuable backup CENTER. As tough as they come.
He can’t guard power forwards, and that won’t change. Although I have an idea Steve Kerr might have to learn this lesson all over again when David Lee returns.
The broadcast crew mentioned Mo’s passing in this game, and I’ll admit that’s the one aspect of his game that has surprised me this season. He has proven remarkably comfortable in Kerr’s passing offense, and is not only seeing the passes, but executing them to perfection. Freed by Kerr’s scheme and confidence in him, Mo is proving to be an exceptional two-way basketball player.
I don’t know how you send him to the bench when David Lee returns. He’s capable of being a major factor in the playoffs.
The Livingston Effect: This was by far Livingston’s best outing of the season. Two things to note that were different about this game: 1) Livingston was played with more starters, which definitely helped him. Rush didn’t get off the bench, and Klay Thompson played a lot of second unit minutes in the first half. SL also got to run with the starters when Curry went out. 2) Kerr is putting the ball in his hands in pick and roll more often. I definitely think that is his best role: He’s great at the over the top pass, and has a chance to get to the basket himself.
So to summarize, so far the Livingston Effect has forced Ezeli to the bench, forced Mo Speights into greatness, done away with Brandon Rush until further notice, required Steve Kerr to modify his second unit system, and required Kerr to stagger his substitutions considerably (Iggy in early for Barnes, Barnes back with second unit; Klay out before Curry, so that he can come back to play with Livingston).
Stay tuned. This is a work in progress.
The Barnes Delirium: Unlike the great mass of Warriors fans delirious over his strong statistical start to the season, I don’t believe Barnes is a significantly better basketball player this season than last, nor a significantly better player than I’ve previously analyzed.
I believe he’s now in an ideal system, surrounded by ideal teammates. Steve Kerr is no longer allowing him to do things he sucks at, like posting up and shooting turnaround mid-range twos, or isoing on the wing and driving into triple teams.
He’s floating for spoon-fed wide-open threes, cutting for spoon-fed wide-open dunks, and when he’s guarded when he gets the ball, he’s being asked to make an immediate decision, drive it or swing it. No more jab step, jab step, turnover.
I predicted before the season that Barnes would have a much better season this year than last if he got to run with the starters, and play in a motion offense, for precisely the reasons enumerated above. And so far he has. So why should I be surprised at his performance this year, or be expected to eat my previous evaluations of him? Sorry to disappoint the trolls, but I have seen few signs that his ceiling is actually higher than I thought it was.
Let me give you another way to look at Barnes’ improvement this season, lest you fall into the trap of getting too excited about his current offensive stats. Ask yourself these two questions: 1) What would Richard Jefferson, Brandon Rush (pre-injury), Andre Iguodala, or Draymond Green (to name all the players Barnes has “beaten out” for the starting SF job) be doing with Barnes’ looks if they were playing SF in his place alongside Curry and Klay? And 2) What kind of player will Barnes be once he’s traded to another team, or returned to the reserves, and has to create his own offense?
If you keep those questions constantly before you, you will maintain a far more sensible opinion of Mr. Barnes’ talents than the average fan. Or mainstream media member.
There is one particular area, however, in which Barnes has undeniably shown enormous improvement: rebounding. The broadcasting crew mentioned it in this game, saying that Kerr had asked him to concentrate on it.
And Mark Jackson didn’t?
I think it’s more likely Barnes’ agent gave him the real lowdown on his value around the league.
Iggy: Poor, poor Iggy. Steve Kerr pimped his sacrifice again in the post-game presser.
I know @Andre hates that.