Sep 01

Golden State Warriors Big Men… Strenghths, Weaknesses, Potential Improvements, How They Stack Up to the Competition…

This is a reaction to a shade tree mechanicish blog that deserves no mention other than it is my inspiration.  The particular blog’s premise was that the Warriors are not close to being NBA Championship contenders because of the makeup of the roster and the lack of big men.  Specifically the author sited Andrew Bogut’s inability to stay healthy on the floor long enough to be of value, and his lack of quality backups.  These things are all debateable, but this writer failed to consider many things.  His article just read like a Warriors Hater who couldn’t stand hearing about the potential of the team.  It also REEKED of minimal knowledge and minimal give a shi* as a writer/journalist.  So what.  I’ve really enjoyed writing this rough draft so far in response.  What is the possibility of this team’s ceiling this year?  Oh it’s through the roof if Steve Kerr is as intelligent and prepared as I think he might be.  It just is, or should I say I wish it was the goal of every team every year in every sport to win a Championship!  New Coach Kerr has said in press conferences that the goal is to compete every year.  He said this is a very good team as it is.  That’s not enough for me.  I want to hear: Hey fans!  Our goal for this season is not to just compete.  That’s not enough.  Our goal is to win a Championship this year!  Let’s do it now!  I could absolutely understand that he doesn’t want to have that kind of boastfulness out of the gate.  That is understandable.  I would hate to be the OKC Thunder who every year are knocking on the door of a Championship.  Their Coach, Scott Brooks takes such a deadpanned approach to just getting better, growing as a team and individuals, one step at a time, ……… SCOTTY!  Sometimes one step at a time doesn’t make you the best in the world.  Sometimes you’ve got to jump Scotty!

1. How many years has it been? 2 years. In the 2012-2013 season this group of Warriors made the playoffs for the first time. They did it again in the 2013-2014 season. So yes, 2 years. Before the ’12-’13 season started, the Warriors certainly were not considered a lock to make the playoffs, and were not overrated in any way with a second year head coach in Mark Jackson who was extremely unproven.

2. “Ever since the Warriors became a good team, we have been trying to find every excuse we could to try to put the Warriors in the same class as the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers.”

Let me tell you why. In the ’12-’13 NBA Playoffs, the Golden State Warriors were the only Western Conference team to beat the San Antonio Spurs even once. In fact the Warriors won two games of that series and were very close to a 2-0 series lead were it not for a double overtime loss in game 1.

What’s the Warriors’ record head to head against the LA Clippers the last two seasons? In ’12 – ’13 they won the season series 3-1 and last year they tied with a 2-2 season series.

In the ’13-’14 playoffs, the Warriors pushed the Clippers to 7 games which seemed impossible without Andrew Bogut in the lineup. They found success when Jermaine O’Neal voluntarily suggested he give up his starting status so Draymond Green could start and harass Blake Griffin. Amazingly, moving David Lee from the starting power forward spot to the center did not hurt the Warriors as much as slowing down Griffin with Green helped. See, not many teams, even very good teams have great players at the power forward and center positions. The undersized David Lee showed to be able to match up acceptably against the Clippers’ center DeAndre Jordan. The decision was a net positive, as Griffin was slowed by the smaller Green, and Jordan’s advantages over Lee were not pronounced enough to be an issue. As it happened, I do think the Warriors’ lack of depth at power forward and center was a big reason they did not prevail. With just 4 healthy bodies at the power forward and center positions, the Warriors were outmatched. O’Neal really couldn’t handle the work on the defensive end and Mo Speights was overmatched in the open court by Griffin streaking to the rim. Something had to give, and certainly if Speights kept his eyes on Griffin in those situations instead of being a ball watcher, he could have at least attempted to plant himself between Griffin and the rim.

3. My point is that the Warriors are given hype, because they are good. With a healthy Bogut, Andre Iguodala, and Klay Thompson, the Warriors defense is scary good. The health is a big deal, and for this team, the injury history of Bogut and Curry especially is frightening. Last season, with injuries to Iguodala and Bogut during the regular season, this team finished 3rd in the NBA in defensive rating. Even in basketball, it is said defense wins championships. Most fans, scribes, and pundits figured that the offense could find it’s way out of the funkiness that engulfed the team at times. In the playoffs, the game slows down, becoming more of a defensive battle.

4. “David Lee is a man among boys in the paint, and Harrison Barnes has developed into a solid player.”

It’s interesting for me to read those words from you and think how many times I have read or heard a Warriors’ fan with the same viewpoint. It’s never happened. You gave an empty compliment that Warriors fans know is not true.

Fans that appreciate Lee will cite the fact he had more double-doubles than anyone in the NBA in the ’12-’13 season. Those same fans will also cite lackluster defensive effort, his late season injuries, and his lack of size compared to other Western Conference power forwards. No one with knowledge of the team would dispute Lee’s shortcomings. No one would call Lee a man among boys. On the offensive side, he can appear that way. Lee is outstanding offensively. The problem is that on the defensive side, he lets guys have big nights against him.

Harrison Barnes is a talented player that many a Warriors’ fan will tell you might be a solid player, one day. If you only watched him in the ’12-’13 playoffs, you might come away thinking Barnes looked good. He did! He looked really good! Man it just would have been nice if he was doing all that against someone taller than Tony Parker! Fact is, Parker was given the task of defending Barnes so better defenders could check Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Mostly, Barnes has been a guy who’s maddeningly inconsistent do likely to the various roles he has found himself in. He has started, and come off the bench as the number 1 scoring option at times. Considering his age, and the variety of roles he’s played, really he’s doing well. He’s just not a solid player yet, and he is still growing. There are things he does very well. He shows great ability to finish at the rim, and along the baseline. He has been a decent catch and shoot 3 point shooter. Negatives for Barnes include trying to create his own shot off the bounce in the mid-range area. Barnes has been dreadfully ineffective in this scorer’s role. That’s the way our old Coach, Mark Jackson used him. That’s not the way i expect Kerr to use him. I expect Kerr will have Barnes move from corner 3 to corner 3 with cuts along the baseline, potentially developing into explosive back door dunks. Setting a screen here and there, grabbing some rebounds and loose balls would be nice too.
Barnes is a player under construction. It’s easy to see what he could be, but he is not by any means a solid player at this point in his career. That’s ok. He’s young.

5. “Andrew Bogut can’t stay on the floor long enough to have a presence. Even worst, the Warriors have no capable inside presence after Bogut. This was the main reason why the Warriors were interested in getting Kevin Love, but they could not let go of their loyalty to Thompson to reach a deal.”

Let’s talk depth at those power forward and center positions.

The first point to make is that Kevin Love being a “capable inside presence after Bogut” isn’t quite what people think of Love. This is absolutely not why the Warriors wanted Love. It is true that he can bang in the paint with other large bodies, but this is not typically his game. Yes it’s true that Love has a huge body, much bigger than Lee at the same position. Similar to Lee, Love is an offensive beast, one of the best rebounders in the game, and a work in progress defensively. Luckily, Love is not just bigger than Lee, but also younger. He could become a better defensive player over time, which is not something we can really hope for Lee at this stage of his career.

It must be understood that Love does not exactly have an inside presence, anyway, as he is an outside-in type player. Offensively, Love starts on the perimeter as a stretch 4, setting screens in his pick and pop game. He’s a space rebounder using his intelligence and ability to cover ground rather than banging in the paint all the time.. We as fans, generally know what makes Love attractive… of course we all want Love.

Offensively, Love is one of the most developed and valuable players in the game. He would be a perfect compliment to Curry. Love’s repertoire includes setting screens, 3 point shooting, the ability to put the ball on the floor to get to the paint or midrange for his own shot, and the ability to pass. Love isn’t nearly as devastating a 3 point shooter as Curry or even Klay Thompson, but looking at the whole picture, he is very valuable. Offensive rebounds are a big part of his game, and as a shooter, Love can clean up his own junk as well as his teammate’s misses. It would make the Warriors amazing offensively to add Love to Curry. Curry could use Love on his team sooo muuuuch! It’s a match made in heaven. A give and go game between the two would just be sick…. I absolutely believe Love and Lebron are not the match for each other. It will likely work fine. Let’s see if Love and Curry can team up for USA Basketball in the next couple of years. It’s salivating! Lebron is a player that doesn’t really need a Love type player. It couldn’t hurt Lebron having Love, but it’s not the help that setting screens for Curry would be.

Ask Warriors’ fans about Love backing up Bogut and being another capable inside presence, and they will shake their head at you. That’s just not what the Love idea was about. That’s missing the point by a long shot. I am one of the rare Warriors’ fans who would be ok with Love playing center for a small part of the average game. Bogut comes out, Love moves to the center position, and Green comes off the bench as the power forward. A 5-10 minute rest for Bogut with Love manning the center position might not be a bad idea, but it comes with big risks.

The problem is, we can’t expect Love to change the way he plays just because he becomes the center. He’s just not going to post at the high block or low block every time. He’s going to follow around the point guard, working off him, and setting screens for him and others on the perimeter. When the defense shows a weakness inside, Love is very good at moving into the paint using his own ballhandling or recieving a pass. He is a capable paint scorer.
On the defensive side of the ball, it would be a negative game changer to have Love replace Bogut. It would place pressure on Love to attempt to replicate Bogut’s awesome prowess altering shots and eating space defensively in the paint. A likely outcome would be opposing teams switching their offensive strategy. Driving to the rack on every possession would be an intelligent strategy in this case, and we could see Love rack up 2 or 3 fouls in 2 or 3 minutes. How frustrating would that be?

Love as another inside presence behind Bogut would certainly not have been an easy thing to create. i do believe against certain lineups, certain teams, it could work fine. Pairing him next to a strong defender like Green at the power forward would certainly be advisable.

So here I am, offended by this article’s lack of knowledge, the odd conclusions that are not based on reality, and the lack of ability to think like the average Warriors’ fan. I have pointed out fallacies in the original article, but for the most part, I have certainly not painted the Warriors as a contender. Much of what I have written shows the flaws that we know are there. That’s fine.

It’s time to see the Warriors as a contender. Let’s see why. What’s nice is we can stop the Love hypotheticals. Love is a Cavalier, and will not likely be a capable inside presence for them either, as that’s just not his game.

Let’s start with Bogut. Why can’t he seem to stay on the floor? Has he been getting in foul trouble? Yes, this is one of Bogut’s fixable issues. Bogut is one of the worst moving screen violators in the NBA. He routinely sticks his hip out into the defender at the last minute everytime. Somehow, it seems he only gets called for the foul on this play about once a game. He gets away with it a ton.

Bogut also gets taken out of the game in the regular sub rotation, but then routinely is left on the bench when the starters return. The center sub, O’Neal last year, or potentially Speights this year, stays out there when the other starters return. This an seemed to be an every game ploy be former Coach Jackson. i believe the idea was to keep more of an up-tempo offensive flow than can be had with Bogut, while giving him extra rest.

There is a simple way to play with a center who slowly joins his offensive teammates down the floor. Let him take his time getting back. It is true the defense may have a 5 on 4 advantage for 5 seconds or however long it takes. When the big lumbering center finally makes it to fit in with the offense, it can be difficult to defend. Feed the center, Bogut the ball as he lumbers into the high post. If the defense is caught off guard, Bogut can lumber straight to the rim and throw it down. If the defense picks Bogut up, he suddenly creates new opportunities because he is a decent passer. He just needs to be deep enough, say a step above the foul line, so that he can be a threat to score, pass, or handle the ball. He could use the triple threat better. He has a terrible habit of acting like a guard… with the ball in his hands on the perimeter in the triple threat, he will start dribbling without going anywhere, just standing in one place. This is poor basketball when a guard does this, giving up the triple threat. When a center does this, it is ludicrous. If he makes smart decisions and is playing confidently, Bogut has just enough ball handling ability to use one dribble from just above the foul line and with a step, give himself an easy bankable paint shot. It would be interesting if defending centers start to respect Bogut offensively, so that they meet him at the foul line in this case. If so, players standing in either corner can become baseline cutters to the rim, with little rim protection, as the defensive center is on Bogut. If not, Bogut needs to kiss a foul line jumper off the glass and in, a relatively easy shot for anyone. He’s done this before, but it is extremely rare. Using Bogut as a trail man, in an aggressive to the basket move could be fun as well, as he would undoubtedly draw defenders and have wide open shooters on the perimeter.

The issues here with Bogut are the understanding of what would work in these trail situations, practicing a couple more aggressive moves he can use his ball-handling combined with vision to move into the paint, and keeping vision to pass out to shooters or take his own shot. It’s really an opportunity to be a player that can change up the offense a little, giving a different look. I wouldn’t ever again allow him to handle the ball in the open court, as former Coach Jackson allowed him to do in the past. However, in the half court offense, as a high post facilitator, and understanding how to trail and come open in that role to score or find open shooters, I think he could become more valuable and productive I wonder if he could use his ballhandling combined with quicker, more. decisive movements. These things, Bogut can do with just one dribble or maybe two controlled dribbles at the most. We will see what new Coach Kerr can come up with. Hopefully Bogut finds some way with the coaching staff’s help to be a more active participant in the offense when the team is playing a slow half court style. We know he likes to get his hands on the ball. He likes to be involved with the decision making, but he needs some structure and practice to improve his confidence and value offensively.

Mostly, Bogut would be improved and more available if he cuts down on his fouls, starting with eliminating the moving screen. Next, don’t ask the guy to exert himself getting back on offense. He will get there when he gets there. If Bogut is exerting himself and physically battling, that can be limited almost completely to the defensive end. .In fact, it is beneficial to tell Bogut to take his time to join the offense, using him as the late trailer or late high post passer. Most importantly, the Warriors need him to focus on always being back on defense where his highest value to the team is. Like I’ve said about Bogut not necessarily entering the play offensively, if there is a period of fastbreak basketball, Bogut can let the other more mobile players run up and down the court, even as it transitions to defending the other team’s fastbreak. Or he can just stay on the defensive side of the floor when the game is uptempo. Bogut might be able to play more minutes by conserving his energy and picking his spots to enter the offensive play. I like the idea of using him primarily at the high post as well, instead of having him bang more physically at the basket on the offensive end all game. From the high post, there is less physical contact, and there is also less distance to get back to the defensive end than if he’s in a wrestling match under the basket with the opposing center.

Lee is a serviceable big man, as noted above, with his flaws. I do not like Lee sliding over to the center position when Bogut leaves the floor, and I think he’s more of a liability in this position than Love would be. Against certain teams and their bench lineups, this would be fine. I would like to see Lee improve on his ability to defend stretch 4s and stretch 5s like Philadelphia’s Spencer Hawes or Orlando’s Channing Frye. Against a center like the LA Clipper’s Jordan, this is not a terrible idea, as Jordan does not figure much into the Clipper’s offense, and is not quick enough to slow down Lee’s scoring. There are ways he can improve, and much of it would be to learn from Bogut, and give better help rotations. Lee doesn’t like to leave his man to give help, and if he would trust his teammates more, such as Green, he could improve defensively. It is absolutely imperative to use Green as the power forward next to Lee if he is ever used as the center. Green has the ability to rotate over to defend the center as well, even though he gives up 4 or 5 inches to them.

When people who don’t know the Warriors’ well talk about the team, Green is one of the quickest and easiest forgotten. Funny… putting this note in here after writing about Green more than I thought I would. i started out discussing Green like any useful player, but in the end, a few paragraphs later, I was absolutely gushing about this man. I love me some Draymond Green.

Drayjmond Green is a very nice piece defensively to have. He also has a developing stretch 4 game, offensively. His 3 point shot has improved and become a decent weapon. Green is used in the pick and pop/ pick and roll game, and his skills in this area are growing. He knows how to set a solid screen for other shooters, and when Curry or another ball handler wants to get Green the ball, Green does a nice job of being ready for the pass. He also has a great handle for his size and position, with nice passing ability. Green is one of the team’s most under used and under appreciated players offensively. i consider him to be extremely versatile. Offensively or defensively, I like Green in any position on the floor. He can do everything: Green is a jack of all trades. When the Warriors have had problems finding ball-handlers and Curry was on the bench, I asked and asked everyone, why don’t they use Green more as a backup ball-handler, the point forward?

Green has a little Magic Johnson in him, the way he handles the ball with his head up, with solid court vision and intelligence. I’m not comparing the talent, or ceiling of Green and Magic, don’t take me wrong. Green is never going to be Magic Johnson… but he can do all of the things Magic could. All of the individual skills Magic had, Green has. I don’t expect Green to start at point guard and lead the Warriors to the championship. This is not what I am saying. I am saying he absolutely has Magic’s skill set, his physical abilities, including the handle as a primary ball handler. I expect Green to have some Magic like moments… Maybe for a minute, he can be Magic. There are many similarities the two have… their size, Magic 6’9″, Green 6’7″, the thick, strong torso frames of their bodies… the two african american men both attended Michigan State, but it is Green who holds the school record for career rebounds. Green at times actually will flash a great charismatic smile, that reminds me of Magic. It actually resembles Magic’s own classic winning smile. The biggest difference in the two is a huge one, the supreme confidence that Magic possessed. Magic was Magic. He was a great competitor, a winner, a class act, and one of the most creative players ever. No one is expecting Green to do what Magic did, and you may be shaking your head at me right now. That’s fine. Green has all the physical tools Magic had… of course for Magic, it was rarely about Magic the athlete anyway, it was Magic the innovator, the creator, the highlight reel, Magic. Doing Magic. Enough of that, maybe Green can be used as a special facilitator and ball handler as he has the talent to do.

The only real negative for Green in this role of point forward is that he hasn’t been put in the situation enough to grow in the role in the NBA. At Michigan State, he was used in this manner regularly. In Warriors’ Summer League Green has been used as a ball-handler. In regular season games, I have pulled my hair out wondering why former Coach Jackson wouldn’t let Green do what I have seen him do so well in limited action. Let Green be an option as a primary ball-handler off the bench, the point forward, I consider Green nearly the quality of ball-handler that Iguodala is. In time, I would expect him to be every bit as good. I like to call him Mini Iggy. I consider both to be very versatile, but Green is absolutely more versatile than Iguodala, and is more valuable in the long run considering age, potential growth and of course salary.

I’d be ok with Green or Iguodala guarding say… Derrick Rose. Iguodala would not likely be able to effectively switch off that assignment to guard Joakim Noah or Taj Gibson in the paint. With Green guarding Rose, if Rose moves through the lane, and Green realizes Gibson has come free of the defense, Green can switch onto Gibson effectively. I could see this happening with Green picking up Noah as well. I thought about Pau Gasol, newly signed with Chicago, and I realized it scares me a bit, having Green guard Gasol. Highly skilled 7 footers is asking a bit much for 6’7″ Green. A center like Noah, who is not a great scorer, wouldn’t worry me. Green would be able to muscle either one out of the lane, blocking them out to prevent them from grabbing a rebound most times, as Green has the bulk and strength and rebounding know-how to do so.

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