Frenchy: “Get out before I kill you!”
Destry: “You mean you ain’t been trying?”
— Destry Rides Again
There are some games in an NBA schedule that just can’t be won. And an 11:00 a.m. start on a road game in Texas, playing in a different system than you’re used to, against one of the league’s hottest teams, would seem to be one of them. I’ll confess I wasn’t high on the Warriors chances before this game, to put it mildly. So the fact that the Warriors dominated made a real statement to me.
A couple of mitigating reasons for the Mavs poor performance were evident. Chandler Parsons was out, and it could be argued that he’s just about as key to the Mavs system as Bogut is to the Warriors. The Mavs play at the fastest pace in the league, and it’s their ability to stretch the floor with their bigs, to play Nellieball with Nowitzki and Parsons, that allows them to do it. It was also clear that the 11:00 am start affected the Mavs’ old men far more than it did the Warriors young bucks. Nowitzki in particular looked like he was playing through a hangover.
But what was clearest of all is that this Mavs team simply can’t hang with the Warriors. The Warriors are just a terrible matchup for them. The Mavs like to run teams out of the gym. They can’t outrun the Warriors. They like to spread teams out and shoot them out of the gym. They can’t outspread and outshoot the Warriors. And they like to pick and roll and pick and pop teams to death, with their swarms of unguardable munchkins, and their two stretch-fours. But the Warriors have the antidote to that, with their swarms of switchable 6-7″ defenders.
My list of Western Conference teams that are a threat to beat the Warriors in the playoffs (assuming everyone is fully healthy) is only three long: Spurs, Thunder, and Rockets. If by some miracle Bogut and Lee are both alive and kicking come playoff time, the Grizzlies will be merely a gamy appetizer for this team: not enough edge on the front line, not enough fire power.
The Clippers are food for Grizzlies.
I’m sure everyone’s expecting me to talk about how the Warriors are playing without Bogut on the floor right now, but that’s not actually what I want to talk about. In fact, his latest whoopsie is rather ill-timed for me, because I’ve been planning to talk about the Nellieball the Warriors have been playing WITH Andrew Bogut on the floor.
That’s right, Nellieball with Bogut. Because that’s exactly what they’ve been playing, and in my mind, it’s the single greatest reason why the Warriors have exploded to this 20-2 start.
Isn’t this team built almost exactly like a good Don Nelson team? Defensive monster in the middle. Stretch-four. Superstar point guard. Quorum of interchangeable, switchable, long 3 and D wings.
Let’s just take We Believe, the Don Nelson team that most Warriors fans still remember. Biedrins at center. Harrington and Matt Barnes at stretch-four. BDiddy, bien sur. And then: Captain Jack, JRich, Barnes, Pietrus, Azubuike.
For those offended by the Biedrins to Bogut comparison, here’s a little treat for you:
25 min 7.1 pts .537 FG% .50 FT% 9.3 rb 3 ast .8 stl 2.2 blk 17.2 PER
29 min 9.5 pts .599 FG% .52 FT% 9.3 rb 1.1 ast .8 stl 1.7 blk 16.2 PER
One of those is Bogut’s line this year, the other is Biedrins’ line from We Believe.
And one of these is the best line of Bogut’s career (09-10), the other is the best of Biedrins’ career (07-08):
27 min 11.9 pts .578 FG% .55 FT% 11.2 rb 2 ast 1 stl 1.5 blk 19.2 PER
32 min 15.9 pts .520 FG% .63 FT% 10.2 rb 1.8 ast .6 stl 2.5 blk 20.7 PER
Can you tell which is which?
As for the comparison of stretch-fours, I strongly prefer Draymond Green to Harrington, Matt Barnes and Harrison Barnes. But just to keep things in perspective, here are their respective PERs from this year versus the We Believe year:
- Draymond Green: 15.5
- Harrison Barnes: 15.2
- Al Harrington (Warriors): 16.1
- Matt Barnes: 14.7
Truly, this current Warriors team is just about as close in construction to Nellie’s We Believe team as it is possible to conceive.
And not just in construction, but in execution. Steve Kerr has had the Warriors playing Nellieball from opening tip to closing horn. A stretch four on the floor at every moment of the game. Pushing the tempo every possession. Running not only on rebounds, but also after made baskets. Shooting early offense threes.
In 2006-7, the Warriors were first in the league in fast-break points, at 20.6 per game.
In 2014-15, the Warriors are first in the league in fast-break points, at 19.2 per game.
In 2006-7, the Warriors were first in the league in three-pointers attempted, at 24.8.
In 2014-15, the Warriors are seventh in the league, at 25.1. (How the league has changed.)
One final comparison. This year’s Warriors team has opened the season 20-2. In 2006-7, the gelling-at-the-last-minute We Believe Warriors closed the season 16-5.
Now you can nitpick this comparison to death if you like. This year’s team is definitely more serious about defense than the regular season We Believers. (Although Biedrins, Barnes, Jackson, Pietrus, and Davis is a frightening defensive lineup, possibly better than any this year’s Warriors team could field; and the We Believers completely dismantled the #1 seed with their defense.) This team has a real, honest to goodness all-star power forward waiting in the wings, hopefully, by the name of David Lee, who would have made all the difference to the We Believers in their second round series against Utah. And this team has more frontline depth in general, with Ezeli and Speights as well as Lee to back up the decrepitating Bogut.
But that’s really beside the point. The point is that this season’s Warriors are a Nellieball team, playing full-out Nellieball, and they are absolutely killing it. As I have been predicting they would for years, if played in this style.
Nellieball with a Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson backcourt is completely and utterly unguardable. Throw in 20 odd minutes of Bogut, and a few patented Don Nelson 3 and D wings, and you have all the defense you need to create a championship point differential.
Nellieball is the fullest expression of this Warriors roster. Steve Kerr and Alvin Gentry realized it, from the get-go. And Warriors fans are now experiencing the joy of witnessing it.
Of course, I’m the only writer alive who mentions Don Nelson’s name anymore. Adam Lauridsen, Tim Kawakami and Ethan Strauss would rather die in a fiery car crash than mention it, because they were among the biggest ridiculers and belittlers of Nellie’s stretch-four lineups back in the day. The process by which they became the biggest proponents of replacing David Lee with Harrison Barnes (first) and Draymond Green (second) has been mysterious to me in the extreme.
If anyone is given credit for the Nellieball that has swept the league, and is now practically common wisdom (except in Warriors headquarters, more on that below), it is Mike D’Antoni. You hear his name spoken a lot. And you also hear Alvin Gentry and Steve Kerr mentioned as coming from Mike D’Antoni’s tree, which I suppose is true, if you overlook the fact that Kerr killed “Seven Seconds or Less” and forced D’Antoni to quit.
But where did Mike D’Antoni get his system? Didn’t he steal the greatest Nellieball point guard in history from Nellie? The very idea of stretch-fours and small ball and seven seconds or less?
After the Miami Heat got their butts waxed by the Nellieball Mavericks in the finals, Erik Spoelstra (aka Pat Riley) reacted by transforming the Heat into a Nellieball team the following season: Centers benched, Chris Bosh to the five, Lebron to the four. Et voila, two consecutive championships.
Did Rick Carlisle or Erik Spoelstra ever credit Nellie? No, even though Carlisle has supremely benefited from another Nellie discovery and creation, Dirk Nowitzki, he works for Mark Cuban, and we know what mentioning Nellie’s name in that man’s presence would mean. As for Spoelstra, he calls it “positionless basketball.” As if it were his own discovery.
For some reason, Don Nelson is The Name That Must Not Be Spoken.
Nellie is Voldemort.
Dimsdale: “Here’s your badge. Don’t let anybody see it.”
— Destry Rides Again
What I find absolutely hilarious about the Warriors playing Nellieball this season, is that just like the Warriors playing Nellieball two years ago in the regular season and playoffs, and just like the Warriors playing Nellieball last year in the playoffs, IT IS PLAN B.
It was not GM Joe Lacob’s intention that the Warriors play this way. It has never been Joe Lacob’s intention. He has always wanted the Warriors to play big. As when he signed Lou Amundson over the stretch-four Anthony Tolliver. And as when he ironically destroyed David Lee’s health by trading for the sidelined Andrew Bogut mid-season. And as when he signed Carl Landry rather than a stretch-four. And as when he signed Mo Speights to play back-up power forward. (We know this because that’s where Mark Jackson played him, out of deference to management, for the first 20 odd games of his Warriors career.)
And we know this by the reaction of Lacob’s spokesmodel, Bob Myers, when Steve Kerr opened his mouth in the pre-season about the Warriors needing a stretch-four. When Myers was asked whether the Warriors would consider playing Green and Barnes at stretch-four, he responded: “We want to play big whenever possible.” And when asked about Kerr’s statement, he said, “I believe Steve would walk that statement back now, if you asked him.”
And we know this by management’s frequently voiced opinion that Festus Ezeli would be the primary backup to Bogut, now that he was healthy. So where else could David Lee and Mo Speights be played but at power forward?
I’m not completely certain that Steve Kerr took the Warriors job knowing what he would do with the roster. I’m not completely certain that Draymond Green would be starting if David Lee hadn’t gotten injured. Kerr certainly made a lot of noises over the summer about Bogut and Lee in the post, and running the triangle, that had me deeply disturbed.
But then he hired Alvin Gentry, which to quote Chris Matthews, sent a thrill up my leg. I wonder if GM Joe had any suspicion what Kerr was up to when he made that hire? This situation is endlessly amusing to me.
Bless you, Steve Kerr.
Nellieball rides again.