Warriors season preview

2009-10 record: 26-56

There was a lot of off-season change in Oakland, and frankly, it was necessary. Twenty-six wins is pretty damn pathetic. The team was never healthy and truly adrift under Don Nelson’s stewardship.

Now, however, Nellieball is gone and Keith Smart suddenly holds the reins. What do we know about Smart? Well he coached under Nelson (not good), went 9-31 in an interim stint as head coach of Cleveland (since Ricky Davis was the team’s top scorer he gets a mulligan) and now, according to reports, plans to install some sort of motion offense (progress!).

So this won’t exactly be a continuation of the old regime, especially when it comes to the way that Nelson sort of checked out for most of the year. Smart’s biggest challenge will come on defense, where the Warriors ranked second-worst in efficiency last season. The question is where Nelson’s notorious disinterest in demanding his players to defend ended and their own deficiencies in that department began.

The last time Nelson left a team, Dallas, its defense actually got worse. Why that happened is a mystery but it probably had something to do with Shawn Bradley’s giant, gawky, pale departure.

On the court the Warriors’ slim playoff hopes rest with the guard duo of Monta Ellis and Stephan Curry. The two represent rival forces as Ellis was perfectly in tune with the iso-heavy scheme Nelson ran and Curry sought to subvert it, forcing the art of passing back into the fold. There were times last year when it seemed ball movement sprung to life only because Curry willed it.

Ellis may be limited to his usual role of driving, running, finishing with flair and hitting mid-range jumpers, mostly as a result of his own creation outside the framework of an offense.

With that backcourt opposing guards should be putting up big nights with regularity. Ellis and Curry are both small, frail, poorly schooled in defensive technique and, once again, very small.

Those issues will put a fair amount of pressure on the new look frontcourt the Warriors will deploy. The productive (read: only good at things appearing in boxscores) $80 million man David Lee arrives from New York to partner with Andris Biedrins.

Ok, so Biedrins is not really part of a new look since he’s been a Warriors forever. His role does change, however, because this will be the first time in a while when he is actually paired with a real second big man. Nelson delighted in playing 3-point shooters or guards at the four and leaving the garbage work/defense to Biedrins.

Both guys can rebound, so perhaps Golden State will not be pathetically abused in that area (it was so bad that the Dubs collected the fewest combined rebounds per game despite playing at one of the highest paces). Lee should add some threat with his jumpers and nice scoring touch around the rim. Biedrins will probably continue his role of finishing pick-and-rolls and finding open spaces for easy looks.

Neither is the kind of strong team defender who can control the paint and clean up breakdowns on the perimeter. There is some hope in the man defense of Biedrins, but Lee’s effectiveness on that end would have fit well in the former regime’s No-D gameplan.

Rounding out the starters is Dorell Wright, a large wing who may be (gasp!) a  defensively oriented player getting decent minutes. He played on some terrible Heat teams, was not particularly productive, but it seems a lot of NBA GMs wanted him. Perhaps he finds a home as the Warrior’s fifth most important starter.

Unlike past seasons when there was something to spark hope deep in the Warrior bench, this season’s rendition is decidedly disinteresting. Reggie Williams should be a gunner, Rodney Carney was once well regarded for his jumping ability, Ekpe Udoh and Louis Amundson are hurt.

As of now it’s unclear if Jeremy Lin is a real prospect or just an interesting conversation piece. Brandan Wright, the never was who perhaps is hoping to be (does that even make sense?), will make one more go of it. That collection looks as motley as the San Francisco Giants’ lineup, so there may be a ton of minutes thrust onto the starters.

Following the Warriors is, by nature, suffering and this season likely will fit the pattern. The bench and defense are as of yet unanswered problems. It just seems as though none of the pieces really fit together, like a glue model assembled by a four-year-old. The two small scoring guards are like the plastic surfaces, not quite aligned correctly and looking ajar with dry glue encrusted on the edges.

Vegas places the Dub’s win total at 30.5. Although the change at the top is a step in the right direction, I’ll take the under.

Prediction: 30-52

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