Golden State Warriors Midseason Report Card
On Wednesday night, the Golden State Warriors finished off the first half of the NBA season with a 106-104 road victory versus the Phoenix Suns. Golden State’s first victory in Phoenix since 2005 bumped their season record to 13-17, solidifying their stranglehold on the 12th spot in the Western Conference.
The rapidly approaching NBA All-Star Game this weekend reminds us that the shortened season is already halfway over. But with Golden State sending (surprise!) zero representatives to the midseason exhibition in Orlando (now that Stephen Curry will skip his defense of his Skills Challenge title), it gives us a chance to evaluate the team’s performance over the first half of the season.
Let’s take a gander at each player’s performance, as well as the job of first-time head coach Mark Jackson.
After enjoying modest success under the guide of ex-coach Don Nelson early in his career, Andris Biedrins’ production has waned over the last three seasons, bottoming out so far during the 2011-12 campaign. He is averaging a lackluster 2.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, and is on the verge of losing his starting spot at center to up-and-comer Ekpe Udoh.
Biedrins’ confidence has completely evaporated. Mentally, he is no longer into the game, and he looks completely lost out there—running back and forth, up and down the court for seemingly no reason. Worse, he simply does not fit in with the rest of the lineup on offense.
Guards Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry are not the creative distributors who excel at the pick-and-roll the way Baron Davis did during the We Believe era—when Biedrins was at his peak, statistically. Instead, Biedrins is a janitor of sorts, mostly cleaning up the boards and scoring on garbage plays.
Defensively, Biedrins is barely a factor, if only because of his length. But he is not strong enough to battle division opponents like DeAndre Jordan (Los Angeles Clippers), Pau Gasol (Los Angeles Lakers) or DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento). Biedrins does rank ninth in the NBA in blocks per 48 minutes (3.09), but that number is offset by his league-leading 8.3 fouls per 48 minutes.
The bad news for Biedrins is that he should find himself on the bench during the second half of the season. The good news is he can only go up from here.
It’s hard to truly grade Stephen Curry, because his health has certainly prevented him from achieving perfect attendance. He has missed class several times this season, spraining (tweaking, twisting, turning) his right ankle on more than one occasion. In fact, he was taken out of Golden State’s first-half finale versus the Suns after he injured his foot during the first half.
It was the eighth (ninth? Tenth?) time Curry has injured that right foot/ankle in the past two years.
His numbers aren’t atrocious by any stretch: 16.5 points, 6.2 assists, 1.8 steals per game. And his 48.1 percent field-goal percentage and 45.0 percent three-point percentage are career bests. Statistically speaking, Curry is still one of the league’s brightest and most efficient young point guards. And he is improving in several categories, not the least of which is his 2.21 assists-to-turnover ratio.
However, even when Curry has been on the court, he has been mildly inconsistent—potentially the result of him favoring his right tire. There is just something amiss with Curry’s play during the season’s first half. Nothing glaring or exactly specific—every player has off nights. But maybe due to escalated expectations, Curry has been a tad underwhelming.
He is scoring 18.2 points per game in Warriors victories, but only 15.2 in their 10 losses with him in the lineup. Somehow, Curry needs to muster up better performances to get the team over the hump during close losses; only then will his grade as the point guard be elevated.
The head of the class in Golden State for the past several seasons has been Monta Ellis. The seventh-year guard has proven himself to be one of the NBA’s most electrifying scorers. This season is no different; he is averaging 22.4 points per game, good for sixth in the league.
What’s most impressive, however, is his playmaking, as he has dished out a career-high 5.8 assists per game. Much of that improvement was when he took over the ball-handling duties in Stephen Curry’s absence, taking it upon himself to carry the Warriors all by himself. As such, Ellis’ efficiency numbers have slipped a bit; his 43.3 percent field-goal percentage is his lowest since his rookie campaign.
More importantly, however, is Ellis’ performance on the defensive side. Head coach Mark Jackson has made it a point of emphasis this season to turn the high-powered Warriors into a defensive-minded team. Because Ellis has shown lapses defensively throughout his career and during this season, Jackson has chosen to sit Ellis during crunch time of certain close games.
This choice is incredibly alarming given the fact that Ellis is the main man in Golden State. After all, would a coach sit the defensively challenged Steve Nash during crunch time?
Though Ellis has faltered on the defensive end, there’s no getting around his contributions offensively, where he has shouldered the load on more occasions because of Curry’s injury. Who knows where the Dubs would be if Ellis played any worse than he is playing right now?
The team’s MVP has to be David Lee. He is the lone member of the Warriors frontcourt who has put up any relevant numbers this season. And he’s done so on a consistent basis.
The seventh-year power forward is averaging 19.3 points and 9.8 rebounds, clocking a career-high 37.3 minutes per game. He also ranks eighth in offensive rebounds per game, with 3.4, and ranks 10th in the NBA with 16 double-doubles, including his second career triple-double against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Offensively, Lee has been everything the Warriors could hope for, providing relief when either Monta Ellis or Stephen Curry is having an off night. Though he has turned the ball over more often than any other season in his career, Lee has been asked to do a lot more in the frontcourt, with the offensive disappearance of center Andris Biedrins.
Lee is only adequate at best on the defensive side. But against some of the Western Conference’s power forwards, any player could have trouble being serviceable.
Dominic McGuire has received a decent amount of playing time (10.9 minutes per game) with the Warriors this season. He is averaging 2.1 points and 2.7 rebounds per game in 28 games played.
A good part of his duties is to simply give Lee a breather, so there isn’t much asked of him beyond playing tough defense and rebounding. However, McGuire’s plus-minus rating of minus-57 is third worst on the team. And given his limited action, this is a disturbing number.
If McGuire can improve his shooting a bit in the second half, he will be of value to the Warriors, who have been searching for some consistent scoring in the paint all season. But because there were little expectations from McGuire, his first-half grade isn’t as bad as it should be.
What a great pickup Nate Robinson has been for the Warriors. The seventh-year point guard was a late addition to the team, signing on in part to fill the void of the injured Stephen Curry. He has proven to be a worthy backup.
In 23 games this season, Robinson is averaging 10 points and 3.7 assists per game—strong numbers for the Dubs’ sixth man. Always a spark of energy and scoring off the bench, Robinson has showed tremendous leadership over Golden State’s second unit. Shooting 34.2 percent from three and 81.7 percent from the free-throw line, Robinson has provided serviceable numbers when on the court.
More importantly, his defense has earned him prime-time minutes in the fourth quarter. Despite his size, his tenacity at the defensive end keeps him on the court and keeps his team energized. He’s been a truly remarkable signing for the Dubs.
Another key contributor off the bench, Brandon Rush has surprised many fans this season with his stellar play at both ends of the floor. The fourth-year forward has essentially become the outside shooting threat that Dorell Wright was last season, hitting on 52.4 percent of his three-point attempts—good for first in the NBA. Amazingly, Rush shoots nearly seven percent higher on threes than he does two-pointers.
But it’s not just the percentage that makes Rush so important for the Dubs. Whenever Golden State has needed a clutch bucket, Rush seems to be the one to pull through with a long outside jumper. He has turned the momentum back into the Warriors’ favor on several occasions this season, and has led the charge for the Dubs’ second unit.
His play on the defensive end has earned him quality minutes down the stretch. Rush has certainly been a pleasant surprise for Golden State in the season’s first half.
What can you say about this rookie? Klay Thompson is a bona fide shooter, and a star in the making. The former claim is a fact, while the latter is a prediction, one that the Warriors have reaffirmed time and time again during the season’s first half. What is for certain is that his presence is the rotation is set in stone.
What most already knew was that Thompson is a shooter—and he has proven that so far in his young NBA career. He ranks sixth in the league in three-point percentage, at 45.2. But many were not aware of how quickly Thompson would understand the other nuances of the pro-level game. His awareness of where he needs to be, where he needs to go and where others are is impressive for a rookie. And his defense is a lot better than people would have anticipated from a pure shooter.
So far, so good, for the young guard.
The second-year forward/center is on the verge of becoming a solid player for the Warriors. He just needs the time, opportunity and experience to hone his skills and perform at a high level, night in and night out.
It appears that that time might be drawing near. With center Andris Biedrins tanking, Udoh is the clear-cut candidate to take his spot in the starting lineup. Currently, Udoh is playing more minutes (20.1 per game) and, thus, is using his time wisely. His 4.4 points and 3.7 rebounds per game are not breathtaking by any stretch.
However, in his lone start this season, Udoh racked up 19 points on 9-of-14 shooting, leading many to believe that his time is soon approaching, sending the crowd at Oracle Arena into a state of Udoh-monium.
Will Jackson make the full-time switch during the season’s second half? It’s possible. Udoh still has some work to be done in order to become a consistent player. He followed up his 19-point game with a bagel against the Phoenix Suns.
But Udoh provides the team with a better chance to win. So look for Jackson to utilize Udoh with the team’s starting unit more often than not.
Something is clearly wrong with Dorell Wright. The NBA’s three-point leader from last season placed third in the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award voting.
This season, he’s mired in a season-long slump. The eighth-year small forward has lost his touch a bit, connecting on 41.9 percent of his field-goal attempts and 35.9 percent of his three-pointers. His scoring average is down from 16.4 last season to 10.7 this year. What gives?
Is it the new system under head coach Mark Jackson? Is it a mental hiccup? Is he just not flowing with the offense? Or was last year a remarkable aberration?
It’s odd because the Dubs’ starting unit is the same as it was last year. So camaraderie should not be an issue. He is simply not playing as many minutes and not taking enough shots when he is on the court—plain as can be.
But whatever the case may be, Wright has obviously gone bad so far this season. Hopefully his second half will be a lot better.
Mark Jackson has had a very eventful first season as a head coach; a work stoppage, a shortened season, blockbuster trade rumors and injuries to key players have all highlighted a seesaw first few months.
Through it all, Jackson has remained steadfast in his approach, demeanor and belief in his young ballclub. The goal is still there: Make the playoffs. But he understands the patience that is involved in getting a budding team to embrace and buy into the culture of winning on a consistent basis.
True to form, Jackson has done things his way. He has sat his entire starting unit in the fourth quarter of a close game, which resulted in a victory over the rival Sacramento Kings. He has kept Nate Robinson on the bench when Stephen Curry was out with a sprained ankle, ensuring his second unit had enough scoring punch when Robinson was on the floor.
He has stood by his team in both defeat and victory. And he has preached a defensive mindset, because defense wins championships. (Although, it’s hard to say that the Dubs have improved defensively.)
But the next test of Jackson’s rookie campaign will be determining if Ekpe Udoh will replace Andris Biedrins in the starting lineup. If the Dubs have any chance at chasing the playoffs, like Jackson has stated they are capable of doing, then a change must be made to get them over the hump.
The first half was exciting at times and difficult in others. But just wait till the season’s second half, Coach. Good luck the rest of the way.
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