December 23, 2011
Usually NBA season previews are best read in October, back when football games hardly mattered, Midnight Madness was a few weeks away, and baseball was winding down. Perhaps with the last of the offseason's iced tea in hand, as you whiled away on a too-warm-for-the-season afternoon.
Well, pour yourself a glass of bull shot and tighten those mittens, because it's late-December and the NBA decided to have a season this year. As such, the exegetes at Ball Don't Lie are previewing the 2011-12 campaign in a mad rush, as if you or we would have it any other way. So put down the shovel long enough to listen to Kelly Dwyer, Dan Devine and Eric Freeman as they break down each of the NBA's 29 teams, plus Toronto.
This time? It's the Golden State Warriors.
Kelly Dwyer's Reasons to be Cheerful
Before we launch into the giddiness, it is worth pointing out that there is a sound chance that Mark Jackson could be the worst coach to hit the NBA in ages. Or in a year and a half, depending on how the Clippers do this year. He might also be the best thing to hit the NBA in ages, a clear go-to joke for the maximum salaries wiseacres.
Or, the product of nearly two decades of tutelage from fantastic NBA coaches (plus Stu Jackson) could turn into a fantastic NBA head coach on his own terms. It actually could happen. If it doesn't? Well, you know why.
Jackson was, I'm sorry, absolutely terrible in his time with ABC/ESPN. He has no head coaching experience, and he thought time spent as an assistant coach on an NBA bench was beneath him. Hell, he thought time spent as a color analyst for New Jersey Nets broadcasts was beneath him, and he quit that job (it would involve calling games that didn't include the Lakers) instead of actually using those midweek games to further scout the teams and players he seemed to be a little lacking on in the ABC/ESPN broadcasts.
Those same players and teams, mostly, that he'll be going up against this year. Never change, Warriors.
This is, for the 20th year in a row, why we can't wait to behold yet another Golden State Warriors season. Not only will the group be entertaining to watch, they'll also act as a teetering ship that serves at our leisure late every League Pass evening.
The Warriors have done well to accrue these fascinating parts. They've scoured the D-League better than any other NBA club, the team's two potential top scorers were taken in the lower rungs of the draft, and Jackson will have quite the youthful crew to work with. The team still might be short a franchise talent (a result of never really bottoming out and winning the lottery), but we're looking forward to a third year of Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis attempting to play off each other well enough to make up for that.
Golden State also boasts an impressive array of young veterans, in a way that can't help but crack me up. Perhaps it's the impending influenza talking, but can you believe both Dorell Wright and Andris Biedrins are entering their seventh seasons? That Kwame Brown has now played a decade of NBA ball? And that the guy that didn't make sense on the TV (as your mother may have called him) will be on hand to coach it all?
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The absurdity is intoxicating. We don't mean to make light of Golden State's struggles, as they attempt to make the playoffs for the third time in 18 seasons, but even the most humorless of Warrior fans can grant us the ability to be cheerful as we regard this mess from afar.
"This mess," mind you, might also win half its games. That chance is usually there, for even the kookiest of Warrior teams. Never change, Golden State.
Dan Devine Has Feelings about Your Team: Golden State Warriors
I'm so excited for you!
At the risk of raising the ire of the smart kids in the class, I'm really excited to watch Golden State's guards again. I know, I know -- the numbers don't lie, they can't play together effectively on the defensive end, they're too small to check twos and not disciplined enough to corral ones, and the Warriors will never go anywhere with that backcourt. I get it.
But from the "We Believe" era through the present, the Warriors' guards have been incredibly entertaining, and even if intriguing rookies Klay Thompson and Charles Jenkins wind up being more conventional pieces than their predecessors, it seems pretty fair to expect more of the same this year. Because when they've got it working, man, are Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis fun to watch.
Curry built on his stellar rookie season last year, improving his field goal, 3-point and free throw percentages to become one of the most efficient scoring guards in the league. While his turnover rate (roughly league-average for point guards, according to Hoopdata) is still higher than you'd like to see, Curry did nudge his assists-per-36 and assist percentage numbers up in his second season, and the SCHOENE projections from the guys at Basketball Prospectus -- and if you haven't already copped this year's Pro Basketball Prospectus, you're blowing it -- expect him to curb the turnovers a bit as he plays a more traditional lead-guard role under first-year coach (and, theoretically, positional mentor) Mark Jackson. The version of Stephen Curry we already had was pretty fun to watch; a version that hits 50 percent of his field goals, 45 percent of his long balls, drops seven or eight dimes per 36 minutes and posts a better-than 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio would be basically the greatest thing since Steve Nash.
Ellis, meanwhile, remains the people's champ counterpoint (well, for a certain kind of people, at least) to Curry's second-generation golden boy. Monta's one of the hardest-working men in the game, a perpetual pinball logging more miles and minutes that almost any player in the league, forever trying (and, on defense, failing) to pay the debt created by his 6-foot-3 frame with sweat equity. Frequently dismissed by the general public as a chucker, Ellis actually hovered right around league-average in field-goal, 3-point, Effective Shooting and True Shooting percentages last season, his most efficient performance in several seasons (which, to be fair, says something about those last several seasons). He might not be the guy you want your offense built around or taking the big defensive assignment when the game's on the line, but his relentless, attacking style -- that "[EXPLETIVE] you, pay me" attitude -- makes him endlessly watchable to me.
Taken together, Curry and Ellis offer viewers the nightly opportunity to see a range of special performances -- both fundamental and freak show -- that few other tandems in the league can provide. After many, many months without basketball, that's enough to get my blood pumping.
I'm so worried for you!
The flip-side to my excitement coin, of course, is the worry that Golden State's glaring problem in the recent past -- an utter inability to defend anybody, at any position -- won't be solved by importing Jackson to replace Keith Smart after one season. (A season in which, it's worth noting, the Warriors won 10 more games than the previous year and make improvements in both offensive and defensive efficiency).
Adding Mike Malone to be Jackson's top defensive assistant should help. Malone helped turn Mike Brown's pre-Decision Cleveland Cavaliers into a suffocating unit and spark the defensive turnaround that pushed the New Orleans Hornets into the playoffs in Monty Williams' first year at the helm. Adding Kwame Brown on the front line might help, too. (No, for real.)
The much-maligned former No. 1 overall pick held opposing centers to 96.9 points per 100 possessions for the Charlotte Bobcats last season, according to 82games.com's positional stats, a better mark than any Warrior big turned in. He's not a great rebounder, pulling in a roughly league-average share of rebounds for a center who played 25 minutes a night last year, but he'll add another big body to work the boards alongside starting four David Lee and second-year man Ekpe Udoh, who showed promise as a shot-blocker last year but very limited rebounding prowess. The rookie out of Baylor grabbed just 11.4 percent of opponents' misses last season, a percentage more in line with the average shooting guard than a 6-foot-10 post player.
Even if Brown brings some toughness (ha!) to the Golden State frontcourt and Malone can figure out how to keep Ellis and Curry from getting torched every night, there's still a long way to go for the Warriors to make the leap from the NBA's fifth-worst defensive squad to a middle-of-the-pack (or even an on-the-border-of-the-bottom-third) unit. If they can somehow get there without sacrificing too much of their offensive firepower, they could be a surprise team out west. Given the sheer number of defensive liabilities on the roster, though, it'd be a pretty big surprise.
I have no idea what to make of you!
Almost everything in my brain is telling me that Mark Jackson is not going to be a success as a head coach. He doesn't have any prior coaching experience, and while he's surely forgotten more about playing the game of basketball than I could ever know, as a television analyst he often seemed to make points and arguments that bore little relationship to what was actually happening on the court. It seems like a hire made at the service of picking someone who is easily recognizable to people who watch basketball on TV, or at least by an executive who thinks that "hand down, man down" is actually a rule.
But what if he's good? What if he turns his attention full-time to tightening up Curry's distribution game, emphasizing the importance of not only finding his own offense, but also creating opportunities for easy buckets for his bigs and shooters, as Jackson did so well throughout his career? And what if that works? What if he basically treats Malone like a defensive coordinator, trusting his assistant's pedigree and experience, and allowing him free reign to make whatever improvements he can on that side of the floor?
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Even if Jackson doesn't have an innovative approach to practicing or X's and O's brilliance or whatever, could an improved defense, an improved Curry and slightly improved offensive contributions from the Warriors' role players be enough to push them up to .500? In a chaotic shortened season, might that be enough to sniff an eighth seed?
That's a lot of ifs, and I suspect the answer to most (if not all) of those questions is, "Um, no." But with no track record to draw off, it's hard to know what to expect; anything could be possible. Including, I suppose, Mark Jackson coaching in the playoffs. Heaven forefend.
Eric Freeman's Culture Club
The worlds of the NBA and popular culture intersect often. Actors and musicians show up at games, players cameo in their shows and movies and make appearances at their concerts. Yet the connections go deeper than these simple relationships — a work of art can often explain the situation of an NBA team. Eric Freeman's Culture Club makes these comparisons explicit. In each installment, we'll assign one movie, TV show, album, song, novel, short story, or filmstrip to the previewed team.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS: Ottawan, "Hands Up"
As an announcer, new Warriors coach Mark Jackson was fond of the catchphrase "Hand down, man down," which in his mind meant that a defender who doesn't get a hand up to disrupt a shooter will end up beaten. Yet that phrase put the play in terms of what not to do, and NBA players are sure to respond better to positive reinforcement than harping on what they're doing wrong.
Better known as a song at Club Med, French disco duo Ottawan's hit "Hands Up" implores the dancing audience to raise their hands in the air for love. Is there a better way to tell basketball players to play good defense? I think not.