The first thing you notice when you enter the practice court at the Warriors downtown Oakland facility is that there is about 30 guys in the building but only one man is in charge. Don Nelson commands the attention and respect of each and every player on the roster. Media is allowed to view the final 30 minutes of practice and are then granted access to the coach and players for approximately 20-30 minutes worth of interviews. When I arrived, Coach Nelson was teaching the players a 2-3 zone defense and they were running drills with an offensive and a defensive team on each end of the court. The players are expected to execute defensive techniques to perfection or else they are marked down for every mistake they make, given instruction and they have to run the play again. The defensive rotations seemed sound and the players seemed to be grasping the fundamentals that were being laid out for them. The communication between the players seemed to be very good and they were extremely vocal with their communication and making sure that everybody was always exactly where they needed to be. Assistant coach Larry Riley spoke to us briefly about the charting and evaluation process that each player will receive from the coaching staff for each game. Each player will have a defensive rating and the team as a whole will have an overall defensive score for each game. The ultimate goal is to have the team not commit any mistakes on defense on at least 70% of the opposing team's possessions. This is a system that was implemented by Coach Nelson in Dallas and he believes that if the team can operate regularly even in the 60's, that they can be very successful.
The teams were divided into two rather distinct groups in preparation for the team's first organized scrimmage of the pre-season tomorrow. The blue team was made up of the players that coach Nelson is penciling into his starting lineup and his top subs. "The blue team is the team that I am assuming will start for me during the regular season." They would have to really screw it up for anything to change." The Blue team consists of Baron Davis, DaJuan Wagner, Mickael Pietrus, Mike Dunleavy, Troy Murphy, Ike Diogu, Andris Biedrins and Matt Barnes. The only noticeable absences from this list are the injured Monta Ellis and Jason Richardson. Ellis has missed most of training camp with a bad knee and has only had a couple practices to impress Coach Nelson, unfortunately it appears that isn't going to be enough for the young man to crack the starting lineup at this point. "Jason will be the two when he comes back and Wagner will move to the bench. Pietrus has played so well that it's a no brainer for him to start at the 3. I don't see anybody moving Pietrus out of that three spot, I mean he has been my second best player behind Davis, plus he is the only three that I have right now." When asked about his decision to start Pietrus over Ellis it became pretty obvious that while Nelson was impressed by the skills that Ellis possesses, he is not yet sold on the fact that he is ready to be a starter in the league. "I came here thinking Ellis would be the starter and that he would just play with Baron, but Pietrus has changed my mind and of course Ellis has been out… so I don't know if that's fair or not, but I've got to make these decisions. I wouldn't start Jason at the three right now…I thought I would at first but not now. They will play together (Ellis and Richardson) quite a bit, and if something's not working, why we'll make a change."
When Pietrus was informed by the media about what coach Nelson said, Mickael was very pleasantly surprised. "That's great news, It will allow me to get more rebounds and help the team get better. This year is a new world for me with the three spot. I felt that my game will get better everywhere. The three position will really help me to have an overall game and I can help the team win games. Coach really impressed me by putting me in the three position. It was something I didn't think about, now I am learning who I am. I am much more comfortable and I am more confident at the three position. The three position you play more around the basket and you can get some easy baskets, that will give you more confidence to play your best game. I look forward to the challenge".
The White Team for now is made up of Keith McCloud, Monta Ellis, Andre Owens, Zarko Cabarkapa, Adonal Foyle and Patrick O'bryant. Ellis is the only guy on this team that will play heavy minutes in Nelson's rotation, but he needs to prove to the coach that he is mentally ready for the challenge of being a heavy contributor in the Don Nelson offense.
The frontcourt situation is progressing, both Dunleavy and Murphy have improved with each practice and are acclimating to their new positions. "Troy has had two good practices now, he started off slow, he missed a lot of shots early on that I thought he would make, but he looks good now and Mike has gotten better with each practice." In terms of the young players pushing them it was a mixed review with some positive and negative results for Andris Biedrins and Ike Diogu. "Ike has struggled a little bit. I thought he could play some center for me, but we are moving him back to a backup PF exclusively to make things a little easier for him." Andris was second on the team in blocks last year, but Coach Nelson was quick to point out that "he was first on the team in fouls per minute trying to get those blocks." If he can avoid the referee's whistle this season and improve his free throw shooting, he will be just fine in Nelson's system. "He is a hard worker, he is going to play for me. I like that kid and he is actually improving his free throws a little bit. He shoots just like Shaq, but I've got him shooting 100 free throws a night while he is watching TV." Andris is happy to be getting the guidance and the instruction that comes along with the new coaching staff. "We can see now when we make a mistake exactly how we made it, before they didn't tell us how we made a mistake so we didn't really know". The hardest thing for Andris is going to be Coach Nelson trying to learn his name. Coach has a tough enough time with some of the easier players names and commonly refers to players by their last name only or just "Hey You". "The worst ones are Pietrus and Biedrins I get them screwed up all the time…What is Biedrins first name anyway?…Andris, what kind of name is that?…why can't he be a Chuck or a Mike." Andris agreed that he would go by Chuck or Mike or whatever coach wanted to call him as long as he calls his number frequently during the games.
Overall my first experience covering the Warriors on their home turf was extremely positive. I would like to give a special thanks to Raymond Ridder and the Warriors PR staff for being extremely professional and accommodating. Geoff Lepper from the Contra Costa Times and Janny Hu from the San Francisco Chronicle were gracious and extremely kind. Janny has even agreed to sit down with me in the near future for a question and answer session exclusively for Warriorsworld readers.