The Warriors are a ridiculous 40-9 at the moment, and will likely enter the All-Star break at an even more ridiculous 42-9. And judging from the comments I’m getting on this blog and on Twitter, the consensus among the fans is that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
I certainly share some of that sentiment, and sometimes wonder myself at my continual disgruntlement and nitpicking in the face of this overwhelming success. Am I suffering from anhedonia? Or is there a rational basis to my uneasiness?
Personally, I think it has to do with my conviction that the Warriors have the core of a championship caliber team on this roster (something I have believed for years, in print), but I don’t yet see a championship caliber team on the court.
My list of contenders for the championship this season is down to the Bulls, Hawks, Cavs (stunningly transformed overnight by the gifts of Mozgov, JR Smith and Shumpert), Grizzlies (helped by the addition of Jeff Green), Spurs and Thunder (stay tuned). Others might consider the Blazers and Clippers as dark-horse candidates. For the sake of argument, I’ll throw them in. The Warriors’ record against these teams currently stands at 5-6.
5-6. Is that dominance? Indicative of a runaway favorite to win the championship? A team that has nothing left to fix? [Edit: Sorry, 6-6. I forgot the second win against the Thunder. Not sure that changes my point, though, does it?]
Some will point to the fact that the Warriors didn’t have Andrew Bogut for three of those losses. My answer to that is… And? Your point, please?
I might also answer that the Bulls were never healthy in either of the two games the Warriors played against them, Lebron was out for the Cavs, Durant was out for the second half of the Thunder’s loss, after a… pretty good first half against Harrison Barnes, Dwight Howard was out for every Rockets game, even when he was in, Melo was out for the Knicks, Wade was out both games for the Heat, Parsons was out for the first Mavs game, and Rondo for the second, and…
Injuries happen. Injuries are real. And some injuries happen so often and are so real that they should be planned for. Is there something about the seasons between 2007-8 and today that lead you to believe the Warriors are likely to have Andrew Bogut healthy throughout the playoffs? Is it possible that the Warriors should have a backup plan in place? A system, a rotation, that they can go to at the drop of a bone? And still contend?
And isn’t it possible that the play of the Warriors second unit — which routinely gets outscored by even mediocre opposition — isn’t quite good enough to get that ring? That their weaknesses in personnel and system will be exploited ruthlessly come playoff time? And their inability to give Curry and Thompson a blow could have dire consequences? (It’s not the bench that has kept the Splash Brothers’ minutes down this season. It’s been the play of the Splash Brothers themselves — with the addition of the Crash, Smash and Gnash brother, Draymond Green.)
And isn’t it possible that playing a two-time All-Star power forward out of position and in the wrong system, when you play him at all, is not the best solution to this year’s Lacob’s Cube? And is it not possible that Steve Kerr needs to find the IDEAL solution, the most efficient possible solution to Lacob’s Cube, in order for the Warriors to seize that ring? Or are the Warriors so dominant right now that it simply doesn’t matter?
5-6. This is why I bitch. This is why I question. This is why I suggest tweaks.
If you don’t like it, go read the shills at the Merc.
Let me ask you a question, if you played a five man team of David Lee, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson against Al Horford, Paul Millsap, DeMarre Carroll, Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague, who would win? No substitutions, first team to 50. Who wins?
If you picked the Warriors side, you know 90% of the reason why I think Steve Kerr simply gave the Hawks game away.
If you picked the Hawks side, well then I think you must have missed the last two years of Warriors basketball. The two years when that Warriors lineup was the best Warriors lineup by plus/minus — including every lineup that Andrew Bogut played in. Even though this lineup was only ever played in crunch time, against the best competition, and under the most adverse circumstances. You must have missed the fact that that lineup scored at an incredible rate of 1.242 PPP on 59.9% TS, while holding the opposition to a miserable .979 PPP on 50.7% TS. And you must have missed the fact that this was the Warriors lineup that beat the World Champion Miami Heat in their own building. Twice. In consecutive seasons. And was the only team in the NBA to manage that feat.
Perhaps you think this Hawks lineup is better than that Heat lineup of Bosh, LeBron, Battier, Wade and Chalmers (or Allen)? If that’s the case, you should stop reading me, there’s nothing we could ever say to each other.
Let me ask you another question: Putting Al Horford aside for a moment, do you think David Lee could beat Pero Antic in pick and roll? Never got to see it. Not once. Because Steve Kerr got the matchups wrong, got the system wrong.
Steve Kerr got badly outcoached by Mike Budenholzer. Particularly on the second unit. Zigged when he should have zagged. Stayed big when he should have matched up small. Hung David Lee out to dry at the three point line on defense. Bottled him up with motion schemes and godawful spacing on offense. Then benched him in crunch time, for … Harrison Barnes?
To his credit, Kerr seemed to realize it after the game. Refrained from throwing his players under the bus, after a game in which their vaunted defense gave up 126. Made reference to Budenholzer’s “tricky substitution patterns.” Said it was good to get a “first look” at what the Hawks are doing. As if the next time, he would be better prepared.
I believe he will be. I have a ton of admiration for Steve Kerr. He is a smart, dynamic coach. He’s also a rookie coach, wrestling with a lot of different ideas about the perfect offensive system. And wrestling with one of the most absurdly difficult roster puzzles any coach has ever been given. He’s already made some ingenious adjustments to the starting lineup, in roster and system. Now he’s struggling with the second units. With Alvin Gentry by his side, and the apparent willingness to try anything, I have faith he’ll figure it out eventually.
But until he does, bitchers gonna bitch.
Al Horford: I’m sure you caught Fitz whining about the Hawks’ superb shooting percentage from three from the unlikely trio of Jeff Teague, Mike Scott and Kent Bazemore. Insinuating of course that this loss was a fluke.
What Fitz didn’t mention is that Al Horford missed every single one of his mid-range jumpers, on which he is normally deadly. And Coach Bud went away from him as a result. Given how central Horford’s shooting is to any plan to beat the Warriors defense, Fitz is quite correct, future games between these two teams could look very different.
Something very interesting happened at the very end of the game, when the Hawks were trying to put the Warriors away. With Draymond Green at center, Horford ran to the corners, and attempted two consecutive threes. Jim Barnett was utterly puzzled by this, and seemed to think Horford had lost his mind. I saw it completely differently. I think both shots were called plays, and in them I saw signs of Mike Budenholzer’s genius. First of all, it’s not as if Horford can’t hit that shot. He’s 33% on the year, and perhaps even better than that on corner threes. He’s 55% to make at least one of the two shots, and if he makes even one, the game is over. So there’s that. And then there is this: Horford is being guarded by Draymond Green, the Warriors best defender and rebounder (in the game). By lining up in the corner, he is pulling Green as far as possible from the action in the center of the court. And when Green provided help on that action, and the ball was swung to Horford, the shot was not only wide open, but pulled Green all the way back out. Leaving Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala to battle Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll under the basket for the rebound.
Advantage Hawks? I certainly think so, even though it didn’t work out for them either on the shot or the bounce of the rebound. And also an indication of just how far Steve Kerr has to go to get to Mike Budenholzer’s cutting-edge level.
Pick and Roll: If you ever decide to rewatch this game, pay close attention to the Hawks’ pick and roll. They run a ton of it, because they have a great pick and roll point guard in Teague, a great pick and roll center in Horford, and perhaps the greatest three point shooter in history in Korver, to lift it in the strong-side corner. And a great coach in Mike Budenholzer, who understands his personnel, and how to run an NBA offense that takes advantage of their talents.
Coach Bud’s pick and roll is absolutely pristine, with no wasted motion or passes to invite a turnover or bad spacing. It starts with a point guard ISO at the top of the key. Three shooters are set up and motionless behind the arc on the wings, stretching the floor. The center has pulled his defender all the way down to the box. Now the center runs up towards the key to set the pick, his defender trailing behind.
And it is absolutely indefensible. There is no defense for this. None. As the Warriors discovered.
The Warriors pick and roll is absolutely wretched by comparison. And for no good reason. Do they have a great pick and roll point guard? One of the best in NBA history. Do they have a great pick and roll center? One of the best in the league. Do they have a Kyle Korver to lift the strong side defender? Well, I don’t know about that, but they have a guy named Klay Thompson.
And yet the Warriors almost never run pick and roll. Stephen Curry and David Lee almost never get to play together, and their current rotation partners are horribly unsuited for pick and roll. Bogut almost never rolls, and is afraid to finish when he does, as has been well chronicled. Livingston can’t shoot, and thus can’t draw the opposing center out of the lane. Take a look at the pick and roll the Warriors attempted to run with Livingston and Lee at 11:30 4th Q. Horford didn’t budge from under the basket, and Schroder trailed around the pick. An obvious situation for the point guard to step in and take the open shot, right? But as Atlanta well knew, Livingston doesn’t have that shot. So Lee got the ball in the lane, and was forced to swing it.
Even when the Warriors do play Curry and Lee together, and do run pick and roll, it is usually out of a two-guard front, and requires several passes to set up, and then when it does occur, the other three Warriors are still making their cuts, with their men essentially zoning the lane, and there is literally no spacing. None. The way Kerr runs pick and roll out of his motion offense, the pass to Lee is simply a pass leading to another pass. There is no question of Lee finishing.
What happens to Lee’s pick and roll when Mo Speights is being played with him is a particular joke. First of all, Speights always draws the worst, most immobile defender, the guy who should be the natural target for the pick and roll. As we saw in the Hawks game, where Antic guarded Speights, leaving Lee to contend with Horford.
But then there is the spacing, which is, I’m sorry, utterly amateurish. There is no other word for it. Kerr leaves Speights at the top of the key, essentially adjacent to the pick and roll, virtually guaranteeing that his defender will be drawn into the play.
- 1:20 1st Q, Curry-Lee PNR, Lee is cut off by Speights’ man.
- :55 1st Q, Iggy-Lee PNR, same thing happens, forcing a pass back to Speights.
- :40 3rd Q, Speights takes his man right under the basket, forcing Lee to swing the ball to the corner.
Watching this occur over and over has me scratching my head. Does Kerr prefer a Mo Speights 18 footer to a David Lee layup? Does he prefer a swing pass for a corner three to a layup?
And is an 18 foot Mo Speights two point shot worth more than a 22 foot Mo Speights corner three? I wonder if the Warriors coaches have simulated this in practice, so that they could do the math. What would it take for Kerr to station Speights where Budenholzer stations Antic, in the corner?
And let the Warriors run pristine NBA pick and roll with a spread floor and two of the greatest pick and roll players in history?
It is my opinion that if Steve Kerr finds this solution to Lacob’s Cube, the Warriors might be unbeatable this year, even if Bogut goes down. But if he doesn’t find it, the Warriors could very easily get beat, even if Bogut stays healthy.
David Lee’s Defense: The best solution to spacing Lee’s pick and roll also happens to be the best solution to his defensive woes on the second unit: Leave Speights on the bench, and play Lee at center with a stretch-four. This was Kerr’s solution in the Knicks’ game.
I’ve seen a lot of fans give the opinion that David Lee’s defense was horrible in the Hawks game. I disagree. I think that STEVE KERR’S defense was horrible in the Hawks game.
I have written many times before that David Lee should never be played against stretch-fours. Never. It’s idiotic. He can’t guard the three-ball effectively, when his man is a threat to drive around him. And it removes him from his best defensive role, which is rebounding. When the opposing team plays a stretch-four, Lee should be either benched, or moved to the five. You have to match up, or you’re going to get your fanny spanked, just like Kerr did.
You know who else can’t guard stretch-fours? Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett. In their primes. Zach Randolph. Kevin Love. David West. Dirk Nowitzki.
Steve Kerr screwed the pooch. Get David Lee matched up with Pero Antic. Barnes on Mike Scott. And go from there. (Where, by the way, has Justin Holiday gone?)
Better yet, get Lee some time at center with Green and Iggy around him. Boom, defense solved. Ah, Lacob’s Cube.
The worst possible solution is a Lee and Speights front line. Kerr got caught in it, and ate it.
I have also seen the opinion that David Lee’s pick and roll defense has been poor. This is also incorrect.
But I do understand why casual fans have this opinion. Time and time again in recent games we have seen David Lee’s man rock the rim out of pick and roll.
But guess what? Not David Lee’s fault. Not his responsibility.
You cannot ask Lee to both show hard on the point guard, as the Warriors coaches are doing, and defend his man rolling down the lane. Responsibility for the roll man is either on the point guard defender, or the help defender on the baseline.
I refer you to 10:30 4th Q of the Hawks game. The Hawks run pick and roll with Schroder and Horford, Lee shows on Schroder, and Horford soars for the alley-oop dunk. Take a look at Iggy on the baseline. Frozen in no-man’s land, unable to make up his mind whether to rotate or not. Can you blame him? His man was Kyle Korver, stationed in the corner.
With the right coach, and the right players, NBA pick and roll with a spread floor is UNGUARDABLE. You can watch tape on it until your eyes fall out. You can try to mix up your coverages. You will fail. It cannot be guarded.
Do the Warriors have the right players to run NBA pick and roll themselves?
Do they have the right coach?
Trade David Lee: What Steve Kerr has been doing to David Lee is an abomination. An insult to a two-time All-Star who can still play the game. He’s turned Lee into a laughingstock. A red-headed stepchild. A garbage-time player.
If Steve Kerr can’t find a fit for Lee on the Warriors, why not trade him? He’s worth a lot more to a lot of playoff teams than he has been to Kerr. In fact, I think other playoff teams with great coaches would line up for him. I think they would scream for him like the traders at the end of Trading Places screamed for orange juice.
Let me ask you a question. Most of you were screaming before the season for the Warriors to trade Klay Thompson for Kevin Love. Would you trade David Lee and Harrison Barnes for Kevin Love right now?
I have a feeling that the Cavaliers might do this now. I think LeBron might do it in a heartbeat. Can you imagine a Lee, LeBron, Marion/Shumpert crunchtime front-line? I’m certain LeBron can, having taken a beating from Lee in the last two years.
And it’s no secret that Love is on the outs with the Cavs. LeBron shoots him dirty looks on defense. Blatt is benching him in the fourth quarter, because LeBron is the crunchtime four, and Love can’t play center. He can’t do anything that Lee can do at center, like defend pick and roll, and switch onto smaller players. He doesn’t have anything close to Lee’s mobility. And it appears that Love himself is miserable, and likely to opt out and leave after the season. The Cavs might be primed to do this deal.
You’d have a frontline of Bogut, Love and Green. So would you do it? I’m pretty sure Lacob and Kerr would.
If you haven’t noticed by now, I’m riding with David Lee.