What's the Point?: High-Scoring Golden State Still in Need of a Floor Leader
A few weeks back in his weekly podcast, ESPN’s Bill Simmons was awestruck when he looked at the Golden State Warriors roster. It boasts, as Simmons claimed, seven players who could score 35 or more points in a given game.
An intriguing statistic, no doubt, but I was incredulous as to whether a team, even the second most prolific team in the league at 108.6 points per game, could possess such a number of eruptive scoring potential. I had to look it up. And, sure enough, my skepticism was unwarranted, and Simmons was right.
The Warriors have at their disposal seven players who could detonate for 35 points on any particular night: Monta Ellis, Stephen Jackson, Anthony Morrow, Corey Maggette, Kelenna Azubuike, Stephen Curry, and Anthony Randolph.
The inclusion of Azubuike, having never before scored 35, may be a reach, but with a career high of 33-points and an improving game that raised his scoring average to 14.4 from 8.5 in 2009, it’s only a moderate stretch.
And the listing of Stephen Curry and Anthony Randolph are a bit presumptuous, I realize. But Curry is the purest shooter to come out of college in recent years, and fused with Don Nelson’s offensive philosophy he is bound for multiple 35-plus nights (of course, offset by a few clunkers; inconsistency is expected with all rookies).
There may be a few hiccups here and there, but it will be a successful marriage. Then there’s Randolph who, in his young career, has a personal best of just 24-points.
But his stellar Summer League performance (26.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.2 steals, 3.0 blocks per game, .609 shooting, and one 42-point outburst against the Chicago Bulls) is a welcome indication of his realized potential, and it should result in a blossoming season. A godsend, as the Warriors are in dire need of an offensive threat in the post.
So count ‘em up. That’s seven deadly scorers. Seven players opponents must body up and defend at all times—an unrelenting wave of points. That’s more weapons than the Phoenix Suns, the highest scoring team in the league; and that’s a larger arsenal than the Los Angeles Lakers, the NBA’s most well-rounded offensive team.
The Warrior’s roster, overflowing with firepower, is a match up nightmare.
But oftentimes objects with a surfeit of power are highly unstable—unless there is a stabilizer. In basketball, this usually comes in the form of a point guard who can evenly distribute the ball and run an offense either on the fast break or, preferably, in the half-court.
The Warriors lack just this. A missing point guard, along with an absent defensive philosophy, is their tragic flaw. They got 4.3 liters, eight-cylinders, and 550 horses under the hood, all ready to burn rubber, but no driver.
All the force in the world is useless, sometimes self-destructive, without harness and direction. The Warriors almost always implode for this very reason.
Here’s their projected point guard rotation:
C.J. Watson (if he re-signs)
All of us in the Bay Area love Monta Ellis, even after the moped debacle. But he’s a pure scorer, not a distributor. His bread and butter is the mid-range game and he possesses a preternatural feel for finishing at the hoop.
But it’s not in his DNA to run an offense. Monta is of the Tony Parker and Gilbert Arenas ilk, who prefer to score and are more effective when geared toward doing just that. Ellis isn’t the prototypical half-court orchestrator needed to succeed in the slow-paced game of the NBA Playoffs.
His game lends well to the pick-and-roll, but the Warriors lack of a jump-shooting big man, which nullifies Ellis’ effectiveness in these situations. And while he’s better on the break than he is in the setup offense, he lacks the court vision and passing ability to create for teammates on the fly.
Forcing him to fit that mold, however, isn’t the solution; in fact, it would be counterproductive. Monta is a two-guard and that’s where he should play. Asking him to be like Steve Nash would devalue his true worth as a scorer. But, unfortunately, what the Warriors need is a Steve Nash-type player.
Ditto for Stephen Curry. Having played only one season at the helm of the Davidson squad, Curry is just learning the position and will likely be a shoot-first player, albeit a potentially game-changing one, his entire career.
But I don’t know what I’m more wary of in Curry’s rookie season: his shooting percentage or his assist-to-turnover ratio. My guess is both.
Speedy Claxton, Acie Law, and C.J. Watson are all serviceable players but should justifiably be relegated to the bench. They are mere role players with expiring contracts soon to be dumped. There’s no savior in this bunch.
The funny thing is, however, the Warriors best point guard isn’t even a point guard. Instead, their most adept floor general is Stephen Jackson. With his strong handles and keen sense of court space and player positioning, Captain Jack is Golden State’s most conventional point, but not so conventional in that he’s a 6’8” small forward.
He’s an amalgamation of the two positions, a point-forward, a hybrid position perfected by Scottie Pippen and most recently practiced by Hedo Turkoglu and, to a lesser extend, Lamar Odom. Jackson’s ability to create for himself and others—a unique skill set for a man his size—is unequaled by anyone on the Golden State roster.
But can he, at 31, carry the load of defending the opponent’s best offensive player and lead the offense? Is Stephen Jackson the answer? Is Monta Ellis? Or Stephen Curry, or Speedy Claxton?
Whoever it is, I have little doubt the he can perform well enough that the Warriors once again find themselves as the eighth seed in the West. But clawing into the playoffs is different from advancing in the playoffs. If the Warriors want to play deep in the postseason, they’ll need a true quarterback at the one position.
Otherwise, there’s no point.
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