Dancing With Noah

Just messing around, getting triple doubles

Tag Archives: Golden State Warriors

Jarrett Jack: Author of Indispensability

It wasn’t always about Jarrett Jack, but for now at least it will be about him; this burly, hard-headed (in appearance) man with his brick wall frame, compact like a boxer’s, eyes locked in what appears to be a perpetual squint—in anger or humor—eyes given by mom or dad, eyes passed through the gene pool generations ago perhaps, a head that looks almost too big for its body; always cleanly shaven as if he calmly stands in front of the mirror before games and at halftime, straight razor in-hand, head covered with thick white shaving cream, slicing the hairs away from that immense rock-like brown dome with the same precision he’d cut open an adversary’s throat; a face and appearance (particularly in scowl mode) that draws comparisons to emcee Sticky Fingaz and could land him a spot in the aforementioned’s aggression-fueled hip hop group from the 90s, Onyx, with their furious black baldness, black hoodies, black pants, black boots. This is about Jack, who’s traveled the jet streams of the NBA; from and to teams I couldn’t even recall off the top of my head (completely blanked out on the long lost Pacers days). A journey begun back at Georgia Tech with BJ Elder and Paul Hewitt and moved on to Portland and Indiana and Toronto and New Orleans and now Oakland. Always steady, but never anyone’s first choice. Passed over in favor of Jose Calderon, traded for Jerryd Bayless not once, but twice, a multi-time trade casualty …

Typically in the background

Typically in the background

When I see Jack in 2012 playing with Steph Curry (as a replacement of sorts for Monta Ellis) I see indispensability and luxury. In terms of pure ability, it doesn’t matter how he compares to Monta, but in terms of the Golden State Warriors, he’s a flawless fit, pragmatic and versatile, complementary and embraceable. He’s glue, Velcro, a viscous player that appears in 83 games in an 82-game season, oblivious to any limitations. He’s the kind of dude every team needs even though they’re quick to send him on his way. Call him a liberator in that he can relieve Curry of his playmaking duties.

2012 isn’t the Year of Jarrett Jack, it’s just another in a career of underappreciated years. What’s so profound about Jack is that there’s nothing profound about him. He does what he’s called on to do and in a league of specialists and superstars, he’s easily taken for granted—just like the PJ Browns and James Poseys of the world. I’ve been thinking about this all season and now I’m expressing it in full, or maybe just in part because I’m fairly certain Jack will provide plenty more reasons to write and think and consider his uniquely simple place as a backup guard in a league gone mad with awards, titles (of the individual variety) and over-analysis.

(and no, this hasn’t turned into a Golden State Warriors fan blog)

Late Nights with Steph

Don’t get it twisted, this isn’t my foray into a new genre of basketball erotica and I am wearing (sweat) pants while I write this. It’s about me accepting the aesthetic of Stephen Curry’s game: a sweet, sensual convergence of college fundamentals with the boldness of Marvin Gaye on his classic I Want You.

I live on the west coast, so I get the great pleasure of watching west coast teams play at a reasonable time—at least reasonable based on my 32-year-old/married standards. The straight up west coast options we have: Lakers, Clippers, Kings, Blazers, Suns and Warriors. The Lakers are a comedy of errors, a team without a collective identity even though they have players with well-defined identities. The Kings have really disappointed; particularly because of their decision not to re-sign Terrence Williams. I don’t care for the Blazers, but I do like some Nicolas Batum and Young Mr. Damian Lillard is pure joy—regardless of how you feel about point guards. The Suns are another laughable comedy routine on a nightly basis. Shannon Brown as your get buckets guy? It takes a rare NBA roster architect to devise that scenario. Then there are the Clippers and the Warriors, a couple of teams that are entertaining for entirely different reasons. The Clippers are potential-in-the-process-of-being-realized and this kind of maturation is so magnetic because we’re eagerly anticipating their ongoing improvement. Once the ceiling is reached, we can get bored because we’re simple people with short spans of attention living in a world full of attention grabbing experts. As a group, the Clippers are more fun than Golden State and yes, Chris Paul is the PG archetype, but there’s nothing human about Paul single-handedly demoralizing and discouraging defenses or Jamal Crawford heat checks or Blake Griffin or even Los Angeles for that matter. But up in Oakland? Oh, up north it doesn’t get much more human than Bogutian tragedy, the erosion of Andris Biedrins’ confidence, Brandon Rush’s torn ACL, David Lee’s around-the-basket intuitiveness (it’s still underrated) or Steph Curry’s nightly flirtations with basketball death, a dreaded Grant Hill career arc.

The crowd in Oakland pleads a great case for watching the Warriors, but Lee’s interior aptitude and the development of Harrison Barnes are entertaining too. The primary reason to watch, the main event … that’s Curry.  There’s a reason he’s still the (baby) face of the Warriors despite missing nearly 25% of his team’s games through his first three seasons (of course, part of that reason is that they were never able to find a trade partner willing to take on those papier-mâché ankles). They’re still going to war every night with Curry as their lead guard because the kid (he’s still just 24) is disruptively good and can get better.

I’m not positive if the NCAA’s and ESPN’s and Dick Vitale’s infatuations with Curry during his Davidson days soured me on him or if I was too distracted following the explosions of Monta Ellis (fiery spectacle one night, snap pops the next), but I only studied Curry from afar for his first few years. His ankle(s—was it both?) turned last season into one long, depressing sputter. And if it was frustrating for fans, imagine how Curry felt riding that physical and emotional roller coaster: special shoes, protective boots, ice bags on ice bags in ice baths, multiple doctors, fear that something’s wrong, that maybe it’s somehow his fault … failure; letting down your teammates, fans, the people who pay you huge checks to be on the court performing. So when he rolled his ankle (again!) in the pre-season, I think there was a part of me that lightly erased Curry from the NBA panorama. He wasn’t a ghost yet, but he was fading.

This is a terribly unfair thing to do, particularly given the steadily impressive performances of Curry’s first two seasons in the league which compare better than favorably with Derrick Rose’s and Russell Westbrook’s:

Advanced stats on top, per game on bottom

Advanced stats on top, per game on bottom

Not too many people put Curry in the same echelon as Rose and Westbrook and there are a couple of obvious reasons why:

  • The Third Season: While Curry spent his third season on crutches, in walking boots and enduring a bombardment of tests on his ankle(s), Westbrook and Rose made a motherfucking leap in theirs. Remember how similar these three guys were through their first two seasons? The third seasons created a massive chasm:
Per game stats

Per game stats

  • Playoff Appearances: Rose was a black NBA version of Rocky Balboa as a rookie when he led the 8th seed Bulls to a memorable seven-game series against the defending champion Boston Celtics in the opening round. Westbrook made a name more violently for his volatility—eruptions of athleticism versus decision making follies and the unique ability to forget Kevin Durant was on his team (and in the damn game!). Where Russell made the playoffs three of four years and has Rose has advanced to the postseason every year, the ill-fated Curry is still awaiting his first appearance.

I didn’t set out to write a story about how Steph Curry does or doesn’t compare favorably to two of the best young point guards in the game, it just organically occurred this way and I’m happy with that. Beyond the inconclusive stats we have above, the Curry I’ve seen this year is a smooth ball handler with great court awareness, passing ability and a hyper fast shot release. His handle is so much better than I realized, but it looks like he’s still figuring out how to fully utilize this skill. You see Rose and Westbrook combine their ball handling with raw speed and quickness: Rose more lateral quickness with the ball in-hand and Westbrook more straight ahead speed. Steph’s handle is so often used on the perimeter to keep defenders at bay instead of attacking with it. If and when he improves that part of his game, he’ll be able to create more space and get to the rim more frequently than he already does which would make him close to indefensible. Of course, the more he penetrates, I feel like the odds of rolling an ankle increase (is that true?).

So while the rest of you east coast and Midwest fans are sleeping away the nights or blowing rails just to stay up for the west coast games, your brothers and sisters on the left are settling in on couches and recliners from San Diego to Blaine with beers and green teas while our spouses and partners and roommates flit in and out, oblivious to our fascinations with a guy named Steph…and even more oblivious the fingers we have discretely crossed under a pillow or blanket, vainly hoping those tender ankles hold up.

A Hangover and a Lingering Smell of Scotch – Golden State Preview

Milton pitching in to cover the Warriors and the crew Don Nelson left them with.

For the roughly 20 years I’ve been a basketball fan with any level of cognitive awareness, the Golden State Warriors have been an intriguing franchise. From Run TMC, to the infancy of Chris Webber’s career to Sprewell vs. Carlisemo there has been no shortage of topics to dissect and debate. For 11 of the last 23 years Don Nelson coached this franchise. Those 11 years were not in succession – Nelson’s tours with GSW were from 88-95 and 06-10 – but the influence of his alchemy appears to have been so prevalent that no other coach could find success. As if Nellie poisoned the East Bay waters, the 12 other seasons GSW was coached by another man were all sub .500 finishes. Nellie wasn’t without his own poor seasons (34-48 in 93, 26-56 in 2010) but he led GSW to .500 or better in 6 of 11 years at the helm.

In 2007 the 8th seeded Warriors pulled off the improbable by knocking off MVP Dirk Nowitzki and his vaunted, 67-15 Mavericks. That GSW group was full of perimeter players who created mismatches on offense and utilized toughness to bang with bigger guys defensively. The outcome was viewed by some as affirmation that Nellie’s mad scientist approach can bring to life a contender. The reality is they got hot at the right time and Stephen Jackson scared the crap out of Dirk.

Since then GSW has tried desperately to get that swagger back. Cap’n Jack, Jason Richardson and Baron Davis are long gone. In their place, Nellie acquired the likes of Matt Barnes, Al Harrington and Corey Maggette and things haven’t been the same since. Monta Ellis might be the fastest player in the NBA but he gives up so much defensively that the overall impact of his speed is negligible. Stephen Curry’s playmaking and defensive abilities have surprised me; however he appears better suited to play the two. His best skill is his jumper and his instinct tells him to shoot first and ask questions later. Andris Biedrins had one solid year and has since been injured or disengaged. How can you blame him for losing focus when Nellie didn’t even suit the same players up on a nightly basis from 08-10?

Near the end of Nellie’s second tenure with GSW, stories began to emerge about his affinity for liquor. Whether true or not, things had gone so awry in GSW that I often pictured Nellie wobbling drunkenly into the locker room on game nights like Jimmy Dugan in A League of Their Own. The end was near and everyone knew it. But after a long night of drinking comes the inevitable hangover.

Keith Smart coached the Warriors last year and the results were mixed, but mostly disappointing. The final tally was 36 wins and 46 losses but what do we really know about Smart as a coach? Not much. How can we judge him? He tried to play a more conventional style with a team of Nellie ballers.

Two key additions to last year’s squad who didn’t endure the bizarre Nellie experience, David Lee and Dorell Wright, provided solid production. Wright contended for Most Improved Player and Lee bounced back from a freakish tooth-in-the-elbow injury to average nearly a double-double (16.8, 9.8 reb). Lee and Wright are above average players but it’s hard to fit in with a Nellie roster if you’re not a Nellie player. Klay Thompson was selected with a lottery pick and is expected to contribute immediately. He’s got the pedigree (former Laker Mychal Thompson is his father) and can shoot the ball. Ekpe Udoh is long and has potential but looks more like Thabeet than Mutombo.

Smart didn’t make it to a second year. An ownership change may have necessitated a move at head coach but the hire is still perplexing. Mark Jackson has never coached in the NBA as an assistant or a head coach. He was one of the finer players at his position in his era (and a mediocre announcer). The challenge for Jackson will be to combine the Nellie players (Monta, Biedrins, Udoh and to a lesser extent Steph Curry) with non-Nellie players (Lee, Wright, Thompson, Brandon Rush) to find a suitable team identity. It won’t be easy … certainly not for a coach with no experience. And word is he wants this team to focus on defense.

Nellie hosted an enjoyable party with booze aplenty, but for Golden State’s loyal and basketball wise fans, the hangover still lingers. The challenge for this great fan base is to keep downing the Advil and Gatorade and hope the headache slowly goes away. Another trip to the lottery is likely in the works.

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