"Guards under 6"4' are all fairies. All they do is fall down, take charges and whine to the officials. That's why I like to go with big guards."
If Phil Jackson ever wants to debate the merits of playing short guards, he has a willing opponent in Don Nelson.
The only thing Nelson loves more than his Scotch is designing new ways to exploit the NBA’s obsession with size. Now the man who brought you Hack-A-Shaq and the three point-shooting seven-footer has a new invention: the mini-backcourt.
Nelson’s Warriors selected 6’3” guard Stephen Curry in last week’s draft, pairing him alongside fellow 6’3” guard Monta Ellis. In addition to being short by NBA standards, Curry and Ellis are also sleight of build; seeing them together in a game will likely resemble a Kris Kross video. But what this duo lacks in size, they more than make up for in quickness.
Conventional wisdom suggests that Curry and Ellis should be point guards due to their height. However, what makes Nelson and his teams so entertaining is that he doesn’t adhere to conventional wisdom.
Curry and Ellis are natural scorers, and if they give the Warriors the best chance to win—or score a lot of points—on a given night, Nelson will play them together, positions be damned.
Each player can generate offense in transition and half-court sets, which is what the Warriors require of their guards. In addition, because their strengths complement one another's, Curry and Ellis should form an effective tandem.
Ellis’ bread-and-butter is his mid-range jump shot, which he uses to set up his drives to the basket. His most glaring weakness is three-point shooting, which happens to be Curry’s biggest strength.
Curry is also the better distributor, and while he may not be quite the passer Bobby Knight says he is, Curry can be effective as a Mike Bibby or Jason Terry-type scoring point guard. Curry didn't have many teammates worth passing to in college, but Ellis has already shown he can thrive next to a ball-dominant teammate.
For all their offensive strengths, defense is a big concern with these two. Ellis and Curry should post big scoring numbers in Nellie’s offense, but their inability to defend bigger guards means they could quickly give all those points back. Nelson has always avoided coaching defense like a child avoids their vegetables, but his new backcourt may put that to the test.
To avoid exposing their guards to poor defensive match-ups, the Warriors may return to the gambling, risk-taking defensive style employed when Baron Davis was here. A modified press may be another option, hoping to use Curry and Ellis’ quickness to swarm opposing guards.
These possibilities are what Nelson lives for, mixing and matching oddities to confuse opposing teams. Putting a high school-sized backcourt on the floor would remind most teams of a Skee-Lo song, but instead Nelson sees new ways to torment his coaching brethren.
Of course, the idea of a Curry-Ellis pairing presupposes that Curry will actually remain with the Warriors, or that he’ll play as a rookie, or that Nelson won’t give in to his urge to trade Monta.
But for now, we can only look at the Warriors in their current state, because Don Nelson has made it impossible to predict his next move.
The Oakland Sports Examiner, new columns every Tuesday and Thursday.