What I took from Open Practice at the O:

1. The Warriors have fewer shooters and feel they must compensate with greater ball movement.
2. They still want to run a fast pace.
3. Way too many people showed up. Scientists should study the Bay Area’s unrequited NBA love affair.

My goal in questioning Keith Smart’s crew was to flesh out just how it’s different this time. Every team will chirp about getting better on defense, offense, etc. I yearn to know if the Dubs are still running, and if this traditional lineup will last. Is this year’s strategy meaningfully different from last year’s lack of it?

After practice, I approached David Lee. He was seated, cradling sliced fingers that should belong to a mountain climber. That’s concerning, but it wasn’t germane to our falanges-free discussion. Lee is articulate about basketball strategy in a way that transported me to a lecture hall:

Q: I noticed when you played for New York, you specialized in slipping screens against the taller guys that matched you up. Are you concerned about not having that speed advantage against the fours you’ll now be matched up against?

David Lee: It’s a little bit of a difference because in New York I was a five, so the rest of the floor was spaced. Now we have Andris down on the block, so his man will be kind of waiting there, so slipping isn’t going to be as effective. Picking and popping or roll and replace is going to be more what we’re running this year, and I can do that too. So it’s just making the adjustments and taking what the defense gives us.

(True and trenchant. Lee’s best offensive skill is his ability to finish off slipped screens. Enter Biedrins–and more importantly–Dre’s defender, and Lee’s path is hindered.)

Q: Do you think that Curry can help you get better? I know the stat charters say you ran the best pick and roll with Chris Duhon. Do you think you’ll be a more efficient player playing off Steph Curry?

David Lee: Well the thing with Steph and Monta is, you can’t go under the pick and roll. And that’s the easiest way to guard an effective pick and roll, to go under it. And people started to do that at the end of last year to us.

(The subtext of this is that Chris Duhon can’t shoot a belly-up mackerel, even if it’s floating in a coffee mug. In fact, the dead French Roast fish once beat Duhon in a game of H-O-R-S-E while Coach K wept in shame)

I’ll take those guys going under and Steph shooting a pull-up three or Monta shooting a pull up three every single time. I won’t even touch the ball if they want to do that. So it’s going to definitely cause some matchup problems and we look forward to running it.

(What I interpret from the Lee answers is that we should expect more efficient scoring from Stephen, and less efficient scoring from David. While Lee will receive open shots due to Curry’s shooting prowess, many of those opportunities will be midrange. Why? Because that’s the shot opposing defenses are willing to give. Teams will fear Lee’s finishing ability more than any player Curry has ever worked with, which should occasionally pull the D away from No. 30. So I believe the David addition to be boon to Stephen, and vice versa. But the presence of Biedrins will be an anchor on D-Lee, enough to have flagging impact on the new guy’s production)

Q: Do you think playing at the four on defense makes you a more effective defensive player?

David Lee: I don’t know about more effective. I think it gives me fewer matchups that are near impossible. I had a few last year where I’m giving up a 3-4 inches and 40 pounds, occasionally a couple times a game. You’re just going to have to throw your hands up and say “Nice move!” Guy ducks in, throws an elbow, shoots a jumper and he’s seven feet tall.

(I say, “Ya,” knowingly, as though all I do is dunk on Dwight Howard on the regular)

So, I’m going to have manageable matchups this year. It’s just going to take a bigger focus. With all our offensive weapons, my biggest focus is coming in and continuing to get better defensively. If I can do that, I can even help this team more.

Stephen Curry scrimmaged like the most unmanagable of matchups. When I approached, he sat in a heap, sanguine complexion, gravity tugging his eyes to the floor.

Q: As a point guard do you prefer playing with the bigger frontcourt or do you prefer playing with four floor spacers?

Stephen Curry: I still think we have the opportunity to do either one this year. Personally, I think having more of a bigger lineup, we still have the opportunity to run. We’re not really giving away our speed if we put David Lee and Biedrins in, Dorrell Wright in there, a taller longer frontcourt. But, they still have the opportunity to run and space the floor. We don’t have strictly spot up shooters, which is good for us to move without the ball, to be able to share a little more. So I think that’ll be a different look.

So, the Warriors are still sprinters, but the race has been modified. Nellieball promoted selfishness with Gordon Gecko’s zeal. With fewer shooters, the Warriors must move the rock–even if the collectivism speeds like time-lapse race car laps. It’s worth noting that Keith Smart keeps repeating “hockey assist” as though he chugs maple syrup on his way to his curling alley (Curry even referred to this pre-assist as “the Gretzky”). Speaking of Smart, he was ebullient, though not entirely cogent.

Q: Do you think a faster pace makes defense more difficult–adds more chaos?

Keith Smart: If you’re going to take a lot of quick shots, it makes things more chaotic. Because we don’t have a lot of the three point shooters we used to have, we won’t have a lot of long range shots. We have certain guys shooting the three. We don’t have everyone shooting the three. We didn’t have a situation here tonight where we had five guys on the floor at the same time that can shoot the three. So that’s automatically gonna slow things down, from longer rebounds, a lot of midrange shots.

Q: We got a glimpse of the bigger frontcourt. Will that lead to a slower pace than last year?

Keith Smart: Nah, I think we can still run. Our big guys can still run. They can still get out and move up the floor. Now granted, now sometimes when you’re looking at a fast pace, we just happen to have a lot of guys who shot the three point well. So sometimes we didn’t run a lot, we just had the personnel on the floor, shooting the three. We still want to have the big guys out and running, because the rule is, if a big guy is out and running, up ahead, get it to him. We got to get the ball to him.

I’m trying to parse the philosphy here. A wealth of three point shooters leads to a faster pace, divorced from any intention to run n’ gun it. Long shots lead to long rebounds lead to running starts lead to the sound barriers shattering. Keith Smart intends to push the pace, but it may sag due to this year’s relative dearth of downtown slingers.

Just so you know, interview responses are listed in the opposite chronology of when they were given–the interview session really went Smart, Curry, Lee. We’ll see if this reversed glance backwards is predictive in any way.


5 Responses

  1. Ryan

    “not entirely cogent” is actually a pretty good description of your writing style! Though ebullient is a pretty good SAT vocab test word…

    • Ethan Sherwood Strauss

      @Ryan Ouch…(looking down at my bullet wound). Ya got me.

      • Ryan

        Don’t take it so hard, Sherwood. I dig most of it. I could just do without the nonspecific condescending criticism. I’m trying to enjoy watching basketball…

  2. Alan C

    (Also posted on Adam’s Merc Blog)

    In terms of positive vibes, I found the “performance” of Monta Ellis after the Warrior’s open practice inter-squad game on Wednesday to be absolutely amazing. I had always felt that he was somewhat withdrawn, surly and a “me-first” kind of guy, and hesitated to drink the cool aid and accept the “new attitude” stories that appeared during the summer.

    However I was absolutely amazed at how Monta took over for the annual “rookie thing”, and gave an absolutely charming performance! He grabbed the microphone, spoke to the crowd with great excitement and enthusiasm.

    He took over (as a captain should) and got the crowd totally engaged in the rookie dance and happy birthday song to Brandon Wright, even spontaneoulsy bringing up a young woman volunteer from the crowd to teach the rookies how to improve there “lame” dance moves.

    I stood there with a smile, watching with my grandson, as Monta displayed the kind of leadership skills that I never thought he possessed or had the willingness to display. It was a very fun ending to a delightful evening, and gave me great hope for the success of Warrior’s basketball in 2010-2011.

  3. bgalella

    David Lee is going to excel playing with an elite point guard, great questions in this story. Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis form one of the top back court combos in the leauge, looking forward to seeing what this team can do on a nightly basis.