By: Rick Blaine
It’s time to chime in with our assessment of Warriors players and management through the first half of the season. Inexorably marching into the tank yet again, this year’s Warriors team can at least hide behind the convenient excuse of injuries to mask their mediocrity. With serious injuries to Brandan Wright, Kelenna Azubuike, Raja Bell, Anthony Randolph, Speedy Claxton, Andris Biedrins, and Ronny Turiaf, these days the Warriors bench seats more players in suits than uniforms. Add to that the minor injuries sustained by Anthony Morrow, Vladimir Radmanovic, and C.J. Watson, and you have one the most depleted line-ups in league history. Seriously, sports fans, with all the days the players have taken off, this is a team that only Ferris Bueller could love. The Warriors specialize in the 8 man lineup, and Golden State has become the gateway to the NBA for players in the Development League.
If you have kids in college, you might not want to look at this report card. It has more Incompletes in it than a JR Rider UNLV transcript.
Azubuike was primed to play a big role on the team this season, especially with the departure of Stephen Jackson. Before his season-ending knee injury, the team was looking forward to steady, consistent production from him. This might have been a breakout year for him. But, alas, it was not to be.
In this “What might have been?” season, fans wonder what Bell might have done to help shore up defensive weaknesses in the backcourt. Bell, an unselfish team player and noted defensive stopper, would have been a strong asset off the bench and given the Warriors a taller, tougher option against teams with big, physical guards. Though he only played one game—and what a great performance he had—Bell is missed.
Biedrins missed most of the second half of last season with injuries, and then recovered in time to play for his national team over the summer. Maybe that wasn’t a good idea, as he sustained a debilitating injury in the pelvis and abdominal regions that is only now healing. He is slowly gaining his old form, but he is still far below the double-double averages of the last two seasons. His offensive production—never a hallmark of his game—is down, and he has lost all confidence in his free throw shooting.
The Biedrins we’ve seen this season is a shell of his old self. Fortunately, he is over the injuries and nearly fully recovered. Look for Biedrins to perform better as the season goes on.
Claxton has not played this season because of a knee injury. Nothing was expected from Claxton—a throw-in the Jamal Crawford trade last summer—but he can still serve the team well as an expiring contract.
Stephen Curry has most Warriors fans excited. His basketball IQ and deftness on the court portend something special. He’s an unselfish player who can potentially make his teammates better. Through 42 games, he has improved his shooting and has demonstrated on several occasions the ability to hit the clutch shot. He is a better rebounder and defender than expected, and he is in the top 5 in the league in steals.
Curry has been a star player all his life, and he’s lived the NBA lifestyle since birth. Yet his ego is under control. He has deferred to Monta Ellis, even when Ellis has been less than deferential towards him. Bonus points should be awarded to Curry for his maturity and class.
But Curry does have a few things to work on. He turns the ball over too much, and he has a hard time breaking his man down off the dribble. He also struggles in guarding faster players, and he is a league leader in fouls committed.
If he were being graded in relation to other rookies, he’d have an A-. As it is, a B- on a losing team is not a bad mark for a rookie.
Imagine what this season would be without Ellis. Sixth in the league in scoring and second in steals, Ellis has played at an All Star level. He is an unstoppable scorer and an elegant athlete. Every night he does something special on the court that makes you shake your head in wonder. Averaging 42 minutes a game, Ellis appears to be indefatigable.
The great players develop something new in their games each season. Though it may be debatable whether or Not Ellis great, he has certainly improved aspects of his game each season. Two seasons ago, he improved his dribbling. This season, Ellis has extended his range. He is now a legitimate 3 point shooter, making him even more difficult to guard.
Though Ellis is a top echelon scorer, he does not always make his teammates better. He has become a volume shooter, and this is a growing source of concern among fans. Perhaps this is due to the fact that he feels he has do it all in the absence of so many injured players. Ellis must learn that trying to do it all won’t add to the win total, so let’s hope he makes adjustments the second half of the season.
Finally, one senses that Ellis is still not fully on board with Curry. We’ll see how this plays out the second half of the season.
Perhaps this is a harsh grade considering he hasn’t played major minutes. Were it not for the depletion of the roster, George would probably still be in street clothes. He has not been horrible, but where did his athleticism go? He is nothing more than a stop-gap until the regulars come back from injury.
Hunter teased a lot of fans with a strong debut against Portland, but since that game he has not distinguished himself in any facet of the game. He takes up space, but he doesn’t provide the inside presence the team needs to win games.
Martin has been a decent defender, and his rebounding has helped the team stay in games. He has not shot the ball well. Like Hunter, Martin has been a decent D-League stop-gap player.
Something remarkable has happened with Maggette this season. Once one of the teams most disliked players by fans, Maggette has won most of them over with his play in December and January. When Maggette was getting booed at the beginning of the season, he seemed to take it hard. But maybe it was the medicine he needed. Since that time, Maggette has taken fewer long jump shots and he has passed the ball more than he ever has as a Warrior. He is scoring very efficiently, and he is back to effectively driving to the hoop and drawing fouls.
Maggette is a professional. He takes care of his body and he ingratiates himself to his teammates and the media. He doesn’t create conflicts on the team, and maintains a positive attitude. His response to the booing this season was surprisingly introspective. It’s nice to see that a leopard can change its spots.
If it were not for a poor start to the season, Maggette would have received an A-.
Moore filled in adequately as a reserve big man before he was cut from the team. He was not very strong in any one area, but he played hard and filled in decently for a team decimated with injuries to its big men early in the season. Moore is a class act, and Warriors fans wish him the best.
Morrow has been a disappointment coming off a promising rookie season and stellar summer. He ended last season strongly, and fans expected him to carry that through the start of this season. His shooting has not been as consistent as hoped for, and his defense continues to be a problem. Morrow is a player who can be expected to raise his play significantly the second half. He has a great attitude and shows the desire and work ethic required to succeed in the NBA. With a little luck—and improved health—Morrow can re-establish his reputation among Warrior’s fans as one of the League’s best shooters.
Like Hunter in his first games with Warriors, Radmanovic began his stint with the Warriors with a couple of strong performances. The effects of this were inflated fan expectations. Radmanovic has struggled to shoot the ball well, though he has been a decent rebounder. The team needs him to shoot with much more consistency.
Randolph has been a disappointment to Warriors fans who probably expected too much from him this season. Like his pal Marrow, he played consistently well the last quarter of the 2008-2009 season, and he was dominant in the Summer League. But he has been inconsistent this season. He frustrates fans with his frequent mental errors, and his rebounding numbers have been disappointing.
Randolph’s biggest problem may be Don Nelson. Nelson has not given Randolph consistent minutes, and he moves Randolph around from position to position. Randolph needs stability, and he needs a coach who will nurture his skills and not jerk him around. On the rare occasions where Randolph has been given consistent and substantial minutes, he has thrived. But even with inconsistent minutes, Randolph’s 11.6 ppg and 6.5 rpg over 22 mpg show decent productivity.
Unfortunately, Randolph has been afflicted by the same injury curse as so many of the others. Warriors fans are hoping that his ankle will heal 100% within the next two months.
It’s a little too early to give Tolliver a grade, but if Saturday’s game against the Suns is an indication of things to come, Tolliver will help the Warriors with his defense and rebounding. A few more games like that one, and Tolliver will earn himself a contract for the rest of the season. His length and strength could possibly make him a value added piece.
Turiaf is a class player, and like former Dub Adonal Foyle, he deserves all the best. But let’s face it. Turiaf has not been consistent and his injuries have had a deleterious effect on his productivity. He just hasn’t played enough games, and the sporadic minutes that he has played have not added up to victories for the team. It’s tough to penalize a player for being injured, but Turiaf just hasn’t been the player he was last season because of his bad knee. At least through all of the adversity he has maintained his positivity, ebullience, and enthusiasm.
Watson is a solid reserve guard. He shoots it well, in spite of recent struggles, and he keeps the team in the game until the starters get back in. Watson is still not an effective floor general, and his skills in transition are questionable. But he has a steady jump shot that does not abandon him in the 4th quarter. With half a season left in his Warriors career, Watson is a good soldier waiting out his commission.
Wright’s injury was perhaps the biggest disappointment of the season. Once it became clear that Randolph was still a little rough around the edges, fans began pining for Wright. Certainly the Warriors miss Wright’s low block scoring ability and his shot blocking. Hopefully, Wright will come back strong and completely healed in 2010-2011.
Nellie has done a fairly good job getting the few players he has left to compete well in recent games, but ultimately he must take responsibility for the team’s poor record, and he can’t hide behind the excuse of injuries. The team continues to be a league leader in negative point differential and negative rebounding differential, and only New Jersey has allowed its opponents to shoot a higher field goal percentage.