Golden State Warriors: What Each Player Must Learn from First 2 Weeks of Season

Simon Cherin-Gordon@SimoncgoContributor IIINovember 15, 2012

Golden State Warriors: What Each Player Must Learn from First 2 Weeks of Season

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    The Golden State Warriors season is still very young. So young that we cannot yet assess what type of team this truly is.

    There have been reasons for enthusiasm—a road-win against the Clippers, excellent bench production and the maturation of Klay Thompson to name a few—as well as reasons for pessimism—injury problems, an out-of-sync offense and more. Ultimately though, all of the bad signs could lead to good things, and vice versa.

    Andrew Bogut could still get healthy and play the majority of the season, and Steph Curry may be off the court before we know it. The Warriors offense may find its flow, and Carl Landry may not score 20 for two months. The Warriors may continue to win three of seven games, which would lead to a 35-47 record, or they may make just one extra big shot every seven games—flipping the pace to 47-35.

    To assess what these first seven games say about the Warriors as a team would be premature. More to the point, it would be counter-productive. As much as every Warriors fan would have preferred to see Andrew Bogut playing 30 minutes a night through seven games and see the team at 5-2 right now, the front office understands something that fans ought to: The NBA season is a marathon.

    With that being said, the most important thing to take away from the Warriors' start is not what it says about the team or its players, but what it teaches these players going forward. Winning in the NBA requires constant improvement from all players within a unit, and there's no question that the only way for the Warriors to get better—or to, at least, avoid getting worse—is to learn from these first seven games and use these lessons to better themselves.

Harrison Barnes

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    What he has done

    Harrison Barnes came out of the gate very timid and out of rhythm in his first couple NBA games, but he seems to have gotten his feet under him. He's converting from the field with not only his shot, but by attacking the basket more consistently than many expected. He's looked overmatched more often than not on defense.

    What team should learn

    After Brandon Rush went down with a torn ACL during the Warriors' home opener, Barnes' role was dramatically increased by default. So far, he's shown that he probably won't replace Rush as the team's primary wing defender, but that he can bring the same element of explosiveness to the offense.

    Although Barnes is still incredibly raw and often a lesser option at the 3 than Klay Thompson, the team would be wise to have him on the floor for 30+ minutes every night, including late in close games. His athleticism brings a dimension to the Golden State offense that will make them tougher to play against.

    What he should learn

    The most important asset for every NBA rookie is confidence, and Harrison should have plenty of it. His shots are falling, his starting job is secure and his coaches are hopefully encouraging his aggressiveness. 

    Barnes spent a lot of time pacing himself, shooting mid-range jumpers at North Carolina and rarely took over games. This has helped him, as he has not tried to do too much early on in his NBA career. At the same time, Barnes needs to avoid trying to do too little.

Andrew Bogut

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    What he has done

    Even in his limited minutes, Andrew Bogut has impacted the game profoundly for Golden State. His interior presence on defense has prevented easy baskets, while his interior presence on offense has lead to them.

    While the numbers are subtle in the limited minutes, it's these two or three times that his presence down low has forced a miss and these two or three times that he has made a layup instead of someone missing a three that have made a substantial difference in the game's final score.

    What team should learn

    The Warriors really shouldn't have learned anything here. They have seen Bogut make the impact that everyone was expecting him to make, but they have also seen the health concerns that everyone was expecting there to be.

    Their understanding of his ability to help the team win is precisely why they have tried to get some minutes out of him while he rehabs, and this same understanding of his value to the franchise is exactly why his minutes have been so limited—and now eliminated.

    What he should learn

    The most important thing for Bogut to take away from his first few games as a Warrior is perspective. He wants to play more than anyone wants to see him play—and that's saying something. But he must realize that his long-term health is not worth risking just to get back on the court faster.

    It's not as if he has much say here, but the more Bogut is on board with the Warriors' conservative approach, the better for his and the team's morale.

Stephen Curry

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    What he has done

    Stephen Curry has been maddeningly inconsistent through his first seven games. He has shot the lights out for a half here and a quarter there, but he has also endured some of the worst shooting nights of his career.

    He's also turning the ball over with great frequency, struggling on defense and has even been less than stellar from the free-throw line. Still, he is the team's leading scorer, leading assist getter and is averaging a career-high five rebounds per contest.

    What team should learn

    The Warriors have been starting Curry at point guard, Klay Thompson at shooting guard and Harrison Barnes at small forward all season. However, the more effective lineup thus far has featured Jarrett Jack at the 1 and Curry at the 2.

    Curry has shot better off the ball, and Jack has turned the ball over four times less than Curry while averaging nearly as many assists. While this would be an impractical starting lineup due to Jack's role as the backup point, the more the Warriors feature a Jack-Curry backcourt, the better.

    What he should learn

    First off, Curry must learn something he should have learned four years ago: He does not have the skill to routinely complete one-handed passes in the NBA. It's a terrible habit that adds a turnover to his statline nearly every night.

    More importantly, Curry needs to keep shooting despite his low success rates (38% FG, 36% 3PT) thus far. He is one of the three most naturally gifted shooters in the NBA, and he is able to consistently get open looks with nasty crossovers or quality screens. As the rust wears off (Curry did miss the end of the preseason), the shots will start to fall.

Festus Ezeli

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    What he has done

    Festus Ezeli has made it very clear that he is not only the best backup center the Warriors have had in years, but that he would have been the starter on Warriors teams for the past three or four years. He has used his strength to defend the paint and rebound effectively, and has muscled his way to plenty of good looks at the basket from close range.

    Unfortunately, Ezeli's complete lack of a shot or finesse around the rim has stopped him from converting on most of these looks.

    What team should learn

    If nothing else, Ezeli's first seven games should reinforce the team's already-existing belief that he is a much better option at the 5 than Andris Biedrins. They seem to have taken the notion a step further, as Andrew Bogut's indefinite shutdown would imply that Ezeli is going to be playing 20-something minutes on a nightly basis.

    What he should learn

    While it would be easy to tell Ezeli to "practice his layups" here, finishing at the rim during a split-second window while avoiding seven-foot defenders and using your hard-to-control three-foot arms to float the ball into the basket is, amazingly, easier said than done.

    Ezeli has a defensive mentality and should continue to do his best not to worry about the offense. The Warriors are overloaded with scorers; Ezeli's true value to the team is his ability to create misses and corral rebounds.

Jarrett Jack

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    What he has done

    Through seven games, Jarrett Jack has been the Warriors' best backcourt player. He has penetrated the lane and gotten to the rim, he's knocked down mid-range jumpers and free throws with consistency, he's facilitated better than Steph Curry (6.2 assists/36 minutes for Jack, (5.0/36 for Curry) and led the team with a 5.2-1 assist/turnover ratio.

    He's also been better than Curry at shutting down opposing point guards.

    What team should learn

    The message to Mark Jackson should be simple: Get Jack on the floor as much as possible.

    Of course, things aren't that simple. Jack is the backup PG, and the more he plays early on, the less of an opportunity Steph Curry has to find a rhythm. If Curry slides over to the 2 for too long of a stretch, the team suffers defensively.

    So Mark Jackson must pick his spots. But as a general rule of thumb, the Warriors are better when Jack is on the court.

    What he should learn

    Jack is doing just about everything right at this point in the season. The only thing he could benefit from learning—if he doesn't already know it—is that his role on this team is far greater than that of the average backup point guard, and that he should enter any and every game ready to play anywhere from 15 to 40 minutes.

Richard Jefferson

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    What he has done

    If Brandon Rush's ACL tear wasn't hard enough to watch, try watching Richard Jefferson's recent play.

    Rush's season-ending injury was bound to hurt the Warriors, but Richard Jefferson's presence on the roster appeared to make the blow less devastating. In reality, Jefferson has simply hurt the team when on the court, missing almost every shot, while contributing minimally to offensive flow, defense or the glass.

    The shots will start to fall, but until then, he's essentially useless.

    What team should learn

    It's not as if Richard Jefferson should be relegated to bench-warming duties, but his 17.6 minutes per game are simply too high. With Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson, Jarrett Jack and Steph Curry playing the bulk of the time at shooting guard and small forward, there should be about 12 minutes available for Jefferson.

    If Jefferson starts playing well, the Warriors will be able to increase this number and rest their starters, but having him play over a third of the game is not worthwhile at this point.

    What he should learn

    Jefferson has a high basketball I.Q. He's been in the league for 12 years, and there isn't too much for him to learn.

    The only potential lesson for him to better himself with would be one of self-motivation. It's possible that playing for a relatively "unimportant" team or playing a smaller role than he's used to has led to him disengaging from the game. If this is true, he'd be wise to get his head back on the court, because that's the only way he'll keep his body there.

Carl Landry

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    What he has done

    Carl Landry has been the best player for the Warriors this season, and it's not that close.

    In just 26.7 minutes a night, Landry is averaging 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds, both team-bests when projected over 36 minutes. If that weren't impressive enough, the 29-year-old power forward is grabbing a whopping 3.9 offensive boards per game, which directly connects to his team-best 60 percent shooting from the field.

    In terms of both effort and execution, Landry is outplaying all of his teammates thus far in the 2012-13 season.

    What team should learn

    The Warriors' two best players this season both played for the Hornets last year. More importantly, Jarrett Jack and Landry both come off the bench, and Mark Jackson needs to find them playing time wherever possible.

    Like with Jack, Landry cannot start. He is a high motor player that would not have the same tenacity on the glass or power to the hoop with the same frequency if he were to play 10 extra minutes a night. That being said, he has outperformed David Lee in essentially every way this season, and the team should have no qualms about benching Lee and playing Landry during crunch time.

    What he should learn

    The most important lesson for Landry to take away from the first seven games is that his hustle has benefited the team just as much as his actual numbers. This will come in handy when Landry hits a rough patch—which will inevitably happen.

    Rather than getting frustrated that his shots aren't falling or that rebounds aren't bouncing his way, Landry will be able to scratch and claw his way to helping the Warriors win—rather than frustratingly shoot and foul the team's way to a loss.

David Lee

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    What he has done

    David Lee has gotten off to his customary slow start offensively, as he has now averaged 46 percent shooting or below during the first two weeks of all three of his seasons in Oakland.

    However, Lee has been tenacious on the defensive glass, has converted from the stripe and has done an adequate job defensively when sliding over to the 5.

    What team should learn

    The Warriors have two true power forwards: Lee and Landry. It is becoming clear that they each possess certain skills that the other one doesn't, and Mark Jackson needs to figure out when each player belongs on the floor.

    Lee clearly seems to be the better starting option, as he provides a little more size, speed and stamina. He is also a better passer and screen setter than Landry, so he should be used when the Warriors are struggling to get the ball into the post.

    Landry, however, has proven to be stronger down low, more effective with his shot and better on the offensive glass.

    What he should learn

    The weakest part of David Lee's game is his defense, but there's not much he can do about that at this point. His offense, however, could be improved with smarter decision making.

    Lee needs to keep his options open. Far too often, he'll drive to the basket and ignore the wide-open shooters in the corner or the weak-side man who's been abandoned right under the rim.

    If Lee does not have the ability to decide to or properly execute a pass while moving, he must at the very least incorporate pump fakes, a hook shot or a pull-up jumper. As it is now, defenses know exactly what he's doing the second he decides to do it.

Klay Thompson

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    What he has done

    While the numbers aren't completely there, it's already apparent that this is Thompson's breakout season, just as everyone predicted. Thompson is averaging 16.7 points and 5.0 rebounds per game, numbers that crush his rookie totals. His defense has been adequate, although that end of his game is still coming around slower than the offensive one.

    Much like Steph Curry, Thompson has shot uncharacteristically poorly thus far, but he's shown excellent offensive versatility, opting to attack the basket and succeeding at doing so when his shot isn't falling.

    What team should learn

    Klay Thompson is the Warriors' best option at shooting guard and, after Harrison Barnes, the team's best small forward. While the Brandon Rush injury conceivably created more minutes for Richard Jefferson, Draymond Green and Kent Bazemore, it is Thompson who should be eating the bulk of these extra minutes.

    Considering the effectiveness of a Jarrett Jack-Steph Curry backcourt, the Warriors can get away with playing Klay extensively at the 3. He's young, durable and can handle nightly minute totals in the high 30s or low 40s.

    What he should learn

    Thompson has tremendous natural offensive ability, almost to a fault. He often relies on his height, length and silky stroke to allow him to sink his jumpers—and because of this, he often doesn't get as open as he could. This either leads to contested shots, or him simply passing the ball to a less gifted scorer.

    Whether it be with a crossover dribble, step back, pump fake or utilization of the triple-threat position, Klay owes it to himself and his shot to create the best look possible every time.

Non-Rotation Players

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    Andris Biedrins

    Biedrins has generally been the same shell of his former self that he's been for the past few seasons. He did show signs of hustle and intensity during the double-overtime loss against Denver, but he needs to bring that intensity every second he's on the court if he wants to get consistent minutes.

    With Bogut out, Mark Jackson should try and get Biedrins going, but not so much that it eats into the minutes of Festus Ezeli, who's clearly the better player in just about every phase of the game right now.

    Draymond Green

    Of the Warriors' three rookies, Green appears to be the most phased and slowest to adjust to the NBA. He has yet to make a shot from the field, has refused to crash the boards and has a 1-4 assist/turnover ratio.

    While this is not Draymond Green's game and his play is clearly due to rookie jitters, there's too much depth on the team and too much necessity to win this season for Green to be given "learning minutes."

    Charles Jenkins, Kent Bazemore, Jeremy Tyler

    Not one of these three players has seen the court for 10 minutes total this season. The Warriors have a deep roster, with hard-to-rest stars to hard-to-keep-off-the-court role players. Jenkins, Bazemore and Tyler appear to be capable third-strings, but there are simply no minutes available for them at this point in the season.