The Golden State Warriors have an established identity as well as a young backcourt to build their future on. The team is still one in transition but the pieces are there nonetheless, and they could potentially develop into very good team. Despite these known facts, the perception amongst basketball fans in general is that the combination of Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis is doomed to fail. Consequently, I receive a plethora of questions on a daily basis asking whether the team should keep Curry or Ellis.
The knock on the Warriors’ starting guards is that they are less than ideal defensively and do not seem to complement each other on offense. Indeed, Curry routinely gets exposed off the dribble and also in the pick and roll, while Ellis is far too often caught gambling on defense, opening up passing lanes for opponents.
On offense, Monta Ellis dominates the ball and usually relegates the former Davidson star to the role of spot up shooter despite his obvious gifts as a point guard. Indeed, Stephen Curry has been known to be a wizard with the ball in his hands as he breaks down his defender to create a shot for himself or for a teammate with his brilliant passing skills.
Monta is a gifted scorer, but far too often his scoring seems to come at the expense of others as opposed to scoring in the flow of the offense. For instance, a young Kobe Bryant (think of the 1999-2000 version on his way to his first title with the Shaq led Lakers) was a high volume possession player, but he still understood the delicate balance of when to get his shots and how. The Warriors star has a firm grasp on how to get his buckets, but not always when.
These observations have led many to wonder just how this tandem could ever possibly successfully coexist. Ethan Sherwood Strauss wrote a few months ago that Monta Ellis’ defensive shortcomings were hampering the team and thus that he could see a brighter future with Curry at the helm. The fact that Curry is younger and cheaper seems to make him the obvious keeper.
Heck, I even wrote a piece a few weeks back essentially throwing a huge amount of praise and support behind the team’s starting point guard. Mind you, there is another possibility that few seem to be willing to entertain.
The backcourt has not always overwhelmed teams, but it has consistently been good. The problem currently is that they are a poor defensive tandem and do not always look as if they are in sync on offense. All fair points, but how many starting guard combinations in the NBA are actually better? Have a look at the graphic below:
|San Antonio||Parker & Ginbobili||35.3||11.6||4.9||42.3|
|Golden State||Curry & Ellis||42.6||11.4||6.2||37.8|
|L.A. Clippers||Williams & Gordon||37.5||11.3||5.7||34.2|
|Boston||Rondo & Allen||27.4||14.0||4.9||33.9|
|Portland||Miller & Matthews||28.9||9.3||4.2||33.3|
When compared to the other good starting backcourts in the NBA, the Warriors’ one seems pretty impressive. Granted, we could argue that Monta and Steph are the worst defensive twosome of the teams listed, but it would still be foolish to ignore their productivity.
The Warriors might never become a defensive team, but nonetheless shifting some of their focus to that side of the ball could surely help propel the team to new heights. In past seasons, the Dubs have been a Youtube friendly team given the high scoring games and highlights. And yet, the team has one playoff appearance to show for it in the last decade.
Adding some defensive players to the roster and making the team compete at that end of the floor might not only prove to be beneficial to the team, but it might result in the backcourt playing better. For all of Curry and Ellis’ failures on defense, we have yet to see them play in a system that emphasizes a strong defensive philosophy. Hence, they have been graded as bad defensive players on a team with a bad defensive culture. Can we completely blame them? I say no.
Although they played different positions, basketball fans once said that Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell could not play together; and yet the tag team managed to lead the 1999 New York Knicks to an NBA Finals appearance.
By no means is this a projection of a future success, but until we see whether these players can defend when truly called upon, it seems awfully premature to write the combo off. Have a look again at their statistical output, are we really sure that they cannot play with one another?
Men lie, women lie, numbers don’t. Just depends which numbers we are all looking at…