The faint musk of Warriors optimism is in the air. Winners of three straight, (finally) conquerers of a Suns team that’s a “who’s who” of “where’s he been these past few years?” GSW is not quite in legitimate playoff contention yet, but they are reaping the recent benefits of a helpful bench.
“Bench” is obviously lower status than “starter,” so it is incumbent on young backups to improve. With that in mind, how are Ekpe Udoh and Brandon Rush progressing and what’s the plan going forward? After the Suns game, I opened it up with yet another attempt at getting Udoh to break his impassive deflection of credit:
ESS: I’ve got a stat, it’s kind of complicated, I read it to Mark Jackson.
ESS: Every player with a better plus-minus rating than you plays for Chicago, Dallas, Miami, OKC, Philadelphia, or the San Antonio Spurs. All really good teams. What do you make of that stat?
Udoh: I don’t know, I just go out there and play my game…
Rush (interjecting): Good stat though!
Udoh: Just go out and play hard, bring the energy off the bench, defense, blocking shots.
ESS: You hit some mid range jumpers, what do you think is more important for your offensive game, hitting mid range jumpers or a post game?
Udoh: It’d be hitting mid range jumpers. Hitting mid range jumpers, having everybody come out to me, driving lanes for our other guards.
ESS: So that’s because the pick and pop game enables more spacing?
Udoh: Ya. Especially in the NBA, because you can’t help as much.
This is a key distinction. If Udoh gets a better mid range shot, he can better help his teammates. If Udoh gets a better post game, he can merely hit more shots in the post. Skinny Ekpe will likely never be a great post player worthy of a double team. If he starts hitting shots on the low block, it will not change the spacing of an opposing defense. But if he starts converting catch and shoot opportunities? Well, then opposing defenses won’t chase Curry and Ellis with reckless abandon on pick and rolls. Opposing defenses will also have to account for him when Curry and Ellis drive to the hoop.
He’s a long way from publicly displaying facility with either aspect of offense, though Mark Jackson believes Udoh has “both” skillsets. I often see Ekpe practicing low block moves in shootaround, but the full practice scope is hidden. So I asked after the distribution of labor between mid-range and post. Which does he work on more?
Udoh: Fifteen footer now. Been working hard in practice with the assistant, getting better at it.
(I turn to Brandon Rush)
ESS: Do you think that you’re playing better now than you were with the Pacers?
Rush: Ya, I think I’m playing a lot better because I feel like I’m a lot freer. We got a lot more guys that are playmakers on this team and there’s been easy looks for me all the time from them. Been shooting pretty good from the three point line.
ESS: Is it just that, or did you improve anything in your game?
Rush: I’ve still been working on the same thing I need to be working on, which is ball handling, shooting the mid range shot when I get into the lane. So that’s the whole thing I’ve been working on all Summer.
It seems that Brandon Rush has read his Hollinger scouting report, which includes, “lousy handle” and “no in between game” as knocks amid some praise for Brandon’s defense and deep shooting.
ESS: Who would you comp your game to? I kind of think of Arron Afflalo, as somebody who hits the three or drives to the bucket.
Rush: Ya, that’d be a good comparison. And he just got paid too (laughs).
ESS: Do you think that bodes well for you? Lockdown defender, not a high usage guy?
Rush: Ya, you don’t have to run any plays for me. I just go out there and make things happen.
Tangential note, but credit to Steve Berman for catching it. Nate Robinson is LOUD. This quality is not so much annoying as it is impressive. I’ve already had two interviews interrupted by what Nate Robinson was saying all the way from the shower/bathroom area. If you tossed a chemical beaker up in the air, Nate could probably shatter it before the ground could.