Forgive me this Ekpe Udoh obsession, but he has a basin scraping 7.3 player efficiency rating while leading his team in plus-minus. A stat like plus-minus is easy to dismiss early on, but Udoh led the team last year as well. I don’t believe this to be a coincidence.
Though the Warriors recently ceded a close one to the oddly good Pacers, a nice second quarter defensive stretch helped the GSW cause. With Ekpe Udoh on the floor, the Warriors surrendered no field goals or free throws for eight consecutive defensive possessions. Udoh was benched, later came back, pitched in for two more stops until Dorell Wright got a defensive technical. Below, I chronicle Ekpe’s participation in this long series of stops.
1. Ekpe Udoh rotates over to Louis Amundson, Amundson loses the ball, Warriors knock it out of bounds.
Tyler Hansbrough receives an inbounds pass by the near baseline. Udoh fights through a screen for a strong contest, Tyler misses.
Hansbrough slips a screen, rushes past his defender (McGuire) to the hoop. Udoh jumps in to cover Tyler as Hansborough receives a pass. TH smartly whips a pass to an open Amundson for what seems like a layup.
Amundson makes a smart decision by trying a reverse layup, using the rim as a natural shield. Doesn’t work. Udoh swats the offering right as the announcer’s cadence yelps up an octave to credit the pass.
3. Udoh defends Hansbrough as Tyler sets a screen on Klay Thompson in an attempt to spring Lance Stephenson. Ekpe jerks his hands and hips towards the arc, “showing,” as he blurs appendages in the passing lane.
After the sudden show, he seamlessly jukes back in the other direction, towards his guy (Hansbrough). The show forces Stephenson to receive the pass high above the arc, allowing Klay to get back on him. Ekpe’s quick recovery means that Tyler Hansbrough must receive a pass farther from the hoop than Tyler would like.
An entry pass is thrown to Hansbrough. Tyler makes a jab step, Ekpe does not bite. Hansbrough moves baseline, Udoh cuts off his angle to the hoop, nearly enveloping him like a Venus Flytrap.
The result is a bad pass, high above the arc. George Hill barely saves the wobbler, but the shotclock is beckoning. The play results in a missed Amundson jumper.
4. The Warriors are now in a 2-3 zone. Dantay Jones gets a pass on the far baseline, and for a moment seems open. Ekpe Udoh makes a quick close, as Jones pump fakes.
Jones is chased away by Udoh. He throws a pass to George Hill, who coughs up a miss with the shotclock shrieking.
5. No slides here. The Warriors play a solid zone concept. Udoh moves well with the pack, but everyone shares equal credit for a fine defensive possession. The result is a Lance Stephenson miss with three on the shotclock.
6. Entry pass to Dantay Jones, Udoh picks him up.
For some odd reason, Dantay tries to hit an off-balance jumper in Ekpe’s grill. It’s a brick off the front side rim.
7. Post entry to Hansbrough. Tyler backs down Dominic McGuire.
Hansbrough turns right as Udoh immediately helps. Ekpe goes straight up, pulls his arms back to avoid fouling Tyler. The shot goes off the backboard without drawing rim.
8. Amundson misses a layup on a transition play. He was distracted by a Brandon Rush swat attempt. So yeah, no Udoh slides here.
Udoh is benched for David Lee. Interlude, Interlude.
Lee fouls David West after a pump fake. It should be noted that Ekpe Udoh also picked up his share of fouls (4) in this game.
A transition pass is meant for David West. Lee jumps into the air without putting his arms in any kind of position to deflect the pass.
After a near steal by Thompson, the ball is batted to West, who scores a bucket. Lee does not contest the West layup, his arms are nearly akimbo.
Here, West makes a nice bounce pass to a cutting Hill.
Lee does not react, does not contest. Biedrins fouls Hill.
Lee shows hard–possibly too hard–on a pick and roll, races back to pick up David West on the baseline.
Lee is a bit late in recovery, West puts him on skates going the other direction.
West launches into Lee’s body as David tries to contest. It results in an And1, foul on Lee.
9. Ekpe’s back, back again.
Someone yells, “That’s that high post! High post!” as Collison gets an entry. The Warriors are running zone, so Udoh descends on the guard.
On the next post entry, Lee either the pokes the ball away or is in the presence of a lost ball. GSW recovers.
10. Collison makes a transition pass to Granger.
Again, just as the announcers compliment the pass, Udoh swoops in for a block.
This is not meant to be a cudgel against David Lee, but merely to demonstrate the immense impact frontcourt defense can have. Lee’s skills live elsewhere, and I could easily cobble together slides of Udoh looking offensively inept.
I just wanted to convey how nuanced defense can be, how David Lee can struggle with it for reasons apart from laziness or stupidity. A lot happens in a very short time span, the above breakdown was far from granular. I did not notice much of what I wrote about as it happened, and I even missed some aspects on the replay. For example, Brett Koremenos clued me to a detail I had completely filtered out: Ekpe Udoh talks and points frequently on the defensive end.
Demonstrative as Udoh may be, it was not enough for me to hear or see. But that’s defense for ya: A man can be loud, influential, and wholly unnoticed.