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THE WONDER OF THE WARRIORS
THE WONDER OF THE WARRIORS
Gary Norris Gray-BASN Staff Reporter
Oakland, CA-The health of the Golden State Warriors is key to their success entering the 2015 National Basketball Association playoffs, even daring to contemplate a championship. Right now, they are hungry and physically and mentally healthy: playing defense, playing together, involving the bench, setting aside egos, spreading and running the floor, moving the ball, switching up roles, striving to improve as they continue to win. How deep the Warriors go depends on their continued health, maintaining their pace and grinding against bigger and more experienced teams.
The Warriors finished atop the Pacific Division with best record in the league, most wins in team history (67), and all starters and the bench are ready to play, interchangeable. Perennial doormats, with occasional flashes of success but early playoff exits in recent years, this season the Dubs are the Golden State Wonder of the NBA. The difference is in the health of the team: completely physically and mentally healthy, for the first time in years, and maturing as a unit.
Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are the offspring of former NBA players, Del Curry and Mychal Thompson respectively. Their basketball DNA and upbringing are attaining fulfillment. Curry’s surgically repaired ankles have held up, and his ball-handling and shooting are (MVP) Most Valuable Player caliber. Klay Thompson has matured in his third season in the league with career-high stats and All-Star performance. The trade that shipped out the guard Monta Ellis to Milwaukee in 2012 established Curry as point guard and the unquestioned floor leader. Seven-foot center Andrew Bogut, who came over in the Ellis trade, has not been plagued by the elbow, knee, ankle, and rib injuries that have sat him out in past years. Bogut is the first Warrior shoot blocker in years.
First-year coach Steve Kerr built on the foundation of Mark Jackson, who was fired even after Jackson built the Warriors into a cohesive unit, had the support of his players, and got them to play defense. (“Defense wins championships.”) Jackson was said to have had disconnects with management and his own coaching staff. Although a point guard and court general in his playing days, Jackson’s offense was said to have been unimaginative, but he was working with a team that was still developing. Jackson has defended his development of the Warriors compared with the team’s emergence this season: “You cannot disrespect the caterpillar and rave about the butterfly.”
Mark Jackson was a master motivator and promoted defensive fundamentals, but possessions often stagnated into isolation plays. Now, constant movement, both of players and the ball, are keys. It’s a style mastered by the San Antonio Spurs, where Kerr won two rings as a player, the team which may impose the greatest test on the Warriors.
Returning to fundamentals, the Princeton offense used ball movement among all players to defeat athletically superior teams, and that movement may be key as the Warriors play physically bigger teams in the playoffs. Kerr played under Phil Jackson’s triangle offense in his years with the Chicago Bulls, but the game has evolved since then. Kerr uses triangle principles (floor spacing, passing angles, passing through the center) but avoids isolation plays in favor of movement. It’s a game of constant motion, but not necessarily constant running. Still, it can take its toll on a team, and durability is the question mark for the Warriors moving into the post-season.
Curry told USA Today in December “It obviously requires a lot of energy to do what we do on both ends of the floor. We play up-tempo on the offensive end; run a lot of ball movement, player movement, sets. You have to really give out a lot of energy to get into the ball on pick and rolls and rotate, have multiple efforts, so being able to throw 12 guys out there at any given moment and still not miss a beat is huge and helpful in maintaining that level of play.
“Hopefully that will allow us to be as consistent as we want to be over the course of 82 games, because there’s no way that guys who wind up playing 40-plus minutes every single night can exert that much energy on both ends of the floor and really commit to what we’re trying to do. There’s a game plan behind it…Thirty-two minutes a game still feels like 40, so you’ve got to take time to recover and rejuvenate and understand that that’s winning basketball, championship-caliber basketball, and just expect it.”
The Warriors spread their minutes as they spread the floor, and spread the roles of players by “switching,” an assault on the belief that five codified basketball positions and their attached roles matter. The Warriors have built a team of players that are roughly the same size. Half a dozen players, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes, Justin Holiday, Shaun Livingston, Justin Holliday stand between 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-8, built long, are defensively talented, and within that range can navigate between smaller players and grapple with bigger players. Center Marreese Speights from the Philadelphia Seventy-Sixers is the secret weapon the Dubs use to rest Bogut. It’s not Speights scoring 10 points a game, not his rebounding 4 per game but it’s the time taken off the clock and occupying the opposing center with a big body.
“Switching” is subversive, allowing a team to switch on and off the ball and confuse oppositions with players changing roles, all with constant movement of players and the ball. The Warriors starters are Curry, Thompson, Bogut, Draymond Green at power forward, and Harrison Barnes at small forward, for whatever those names and positions may mean amid switching and the role of the bench.
In his third NBA season, Green supplanted former All-Star David Lee when Lee was injured at the start of the 2014-15 campaign. Green held the starter position, and grew into the best defensive player on the team. At 6-foot-7 and 250 pounds, his versatility lets him bang under the net one minute and defend on the perimeter in the next. While his primary assignment was to bring defensive grit to a team that had others to shoot, a developing part of his game is grabbing a rebound and running the length of the floor to score or dish out to Curry or Thompson. Thus, he has ability as a “stretch four” position, to defend under the basket, grab rebounds, and provide an outside scoring threat.
Harrison Barnes blossomed this year as a starter this season after struggling in previous years coming off the bench. Kerr told The Washington Post that Barnes needed the confidence that could come from spending more time on the floor with better talent, but that would require benching veteran and co-captain Andres Igoudala. Igoudala agreed to the move. It offered Igoudala an opportunity to save wear and tear on his body, and to be a playmaker for the second team or to come in to close games with Curry and Thompson. Midway through this season when Thompson was out for a brief injury, Barnes replaced Thompson at guard and Igoudala was available at forward.
Igoudala’s resume includes eight years starting for the Philadelphia 76ers and membership on the 2012 Olympic team. Last season after joining the Warriors, Iguodala was a first-team all-defensive team member for the first time in 10 seasons, as the Dubs built on their defense foundation. Igoudala told The Post that he appreciates Kerr’s strategy as a student of the game, and players in the locker room understand their roles, with focus on a final goal.
David Lee also keeps himself ready to come in as needed, at forward or center, surrendering his minutes without complaint, and is a powerful weapon on reserve in the Warriors arsenal. ”I’ve had plenty of years putting up big numbers, being All-Stars and doing things like that. Now it’s time to chase a ring and I love what our team is doing and our chemistry. And the character guys on our team, nobody cares who gets the credit,” Lee said to The Post. “We know that we have two bona fide superstars in Steph and Klay and everybody else is really here to fill around those guys and to make them as successful as possible.”
Curry and Thompson have had a successful regular season. Curry has shot better than 48% overall, 44% from three-point range, and league-leading 91% from the free-throw line. Thompson set an NBA-record 37 in a single quarter, shooting a perfect 13-for-13 from the field and nine-for-nine from the 3-point line against the Sacramento Kings in January. He almost did it again Monday night against the Memphis Grizzlies scoring 26 in second quarter and 47 for the game. Late in the season, Thompson was on pace to average 21.3 points per game on 43% shooting. He had 767 three-pointers with three games to play in his fourth season — 123 more treys than Curry (or any other player in NBA history) had at this point in his career. And this was a season preceded for both players with gold medals with Team USA in the World Cup.
Curry has also developed as a strong defender in addition to an offensive threat. Kerr explained to him before the season that championship-caliber guards are two-way players. Curry had previously been allowed to save his legs for offense and not defend his man. Committing to defense was another commitment in his maturity into greatness.
The Warriors mental health has stabilized them as they move step by step into the playoffs. There was no champagne celebration when they clinched their first Pacific Division title in 39 years. Curry said the Warriors had games remaining in which to get even better, a theme repeated by various players throughout the season, wondering how good they could become, and that was where they had their focus.
Gary Norris Gray – Writer, Author, Historian. Gibbs Magazine-Oakland, California and New England Informer- Boston Mass. THE GRAYLINE:- The Analects of A Black Disabled Man, The Gray Leopard Cove, Soul Tree Radio In The Raw, and The Batchelor Pad Network on Blogtalkradio.com Disabled Community Activist. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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