By: Danny Leroux
The Week that Was:
The win in the home opener against the (still!) Sacramento Kings ended up sandwiched between losses against the Lakers and Jazz as the team integrates new pieces Andre Iguodala, Marreese Speights, Jermaine O’Neal, Toney Douglas, and the rookies to a strong core group. Both Mark Jackson and Stephen Curry indicated that the team still has lots of work to do before the season while expressing optimism that the team will be ready for show time at the end of October.
The Soapbox: Creativity and Courage in Coaching
While plenty of different NBA teams can be tough to handle, this Golden State Warriors team should be an incredibly challenging coaching job for unusual reasons. While I firmly believe that no basketball team can have too much talent, Mark Jackson will have to deal with not having enough minutes for the quality players on roster as long as the team is healthy. Beyond the top six, young guys Kent Bazemore, Draymond Green, and Festus Ezeli (when he returns) all showed their value last season while the team spent money on Marreese Speights, Toney Douglas, and Jermaine O’Neal presumably with the expectation of giving them meaningful minutes. As much as keeping everyone happy can be a potential pitfall, the most important goal must be winning games once we get to the regular season. This team has legitimate expectations for the first time since 2007-2008 (the year following We Believe) and Warriors fans know what happened then.
To me, there are two big characteristics necessary to make this team work: the creativity to try all of the reasonable combinations of players and the courage to make the best decision for the franchise at crucial junctures. It has been encouraging to see both Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes play minutes with the other presumed starters but we still need to see some time with Iguodala, Thompson, and Barnes playing together to see how that works. After some of the impressive fast break offense in the game against Sacramento on Monday, I am even more confident that a small lineup could be successful against opponents not strong enough to exploit the Dubs on the interior.
The beauty of Golden State’s depth is that the team does not have to stick with one lineup or pattern just for consistency. Kent Bazemore talked at Media Day about how teams can try more ambitious gameplans (a full court press, in that case) if the players buy in from the top to the bottom and Coach Jackson responded to my question about adjustment time by saying that basketball players can work it out. Combining those two insights leads to the concept of a team that changes its pieces around depending on how individuals are playing and how the team can best capitalize on their opponent’s flaws. Necessity was the mother of invention in the Denver series but the Warriors should not reach a point late in the season where an injury leads to them trying something that could have been experimented with and evaluated months before.
While there are plenty of places to start in terms of figuring out lineups and rotation, it makes the most sense to build the system around Stephen Curry. He will play plenty of minutes when healthy and evaluating who benefits most and least from playing with him could yield major dividends. Last season, Andrew Bogut became a much better offensive player with Curry getting him quality looks though that could shift as the Aussie returns to full health. While Curry and Iguodala looked good together on Monday, Andre could be a stabilizing presence for the offense when Steph sits since the team does not have a true traditional primary ballhandler in Toney Douglas. As long as Coach Jackson and the staff use the pre-season and first few months of the regular season to see exactly what they have and how it best fits together, these questions can be answered in time to make the right decisions when the chips are down in May and beyond.
After the Sacramento game, I asked Steph about playing with Iguodala and he made an interesting comparison by talking about how well Dorell Wright ran the court and created looks during his two years with the team. Having a perimeter guy with a great sense of where to be at a given time and when to make those moves could lead to better looks for Klay and Barnes since opponents will have to avoid giving up backdoor cuts during motion. Little nuances like those could end up playing a meaningful part in determining the rotations and lineups to close out games.
This year’s Golden State squad has the highest ceiling of any Warriors team since the 1975 Championship team but can only reach those lofty heights if Mark Jackson and the coaching staff have the creativity and courage to discover and maximize their best lineups early in the season.
The Week Ahead:
The Warriors head to China where they will play two exhibition games against the Lakers, presumably among other activities to grow the sport and ideally foster some team building for an already tight unit. The team will return home for one final pre-season tilt against Portland on October 24 at Oracle.
Harrison Barnes has an injured foot so expect to see less of him on the court between now and the start of the season.