GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS PREVIEW 2011
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
Under new ownership in 2010, the Warriors changed their head coach just prior to training camp, but there was little time to make organization-wide changes. The first and only move was to remove Don Nelson as head coach and promote lead assistant Keith Smart, who changed the on-court culture and led the team to a 10-win improvement. There was even talk at the All-Star break about sneaking into the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference, but Golden State lost 13 of 17 out of the break and those fantasies were quickly dashed. There were just too many holes on the team to be a serious playoff threat. They got little production at the center position from Andris Biedrins, and Smart was desperate enough to audition first-round pick Ekpe Udoh in the pivot for a while. Though the Warriors improved defensively, they didn’t defend consistently enough and finished 28th in points-per-game allowed despite being second in the NBA in steals. Size in the backcourt was a problem as Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry were overpowered, and there was very little depth.
Year two of the new regime brings about a second coaching change. Smart made sense at the time but getting a bigger name has always been the goal, and Mark Jackson certainly qualifies as a big name. Unfortunately, he’s stuck with pretty much the same team Smart led. The new owners promise to make Golden State an elite NBA franchise and a destination place for marquee players, and they’re anxious to back up the talk. General manager Larry Riley had the go-ahead to pursue Chris Paul, Tyson Chandler and DeAndre Jordan, but nothing materialized. They eventually settled on Kwame Brown, who is essentially the fruit borne from the Warriors’ amnesty cut of Charlie Bell. They’ve added a couple more cheap free agents (Dominic McGuire and Ishmael Smith) but nothing radical’s been done to change the team’s makeup. Jackson is left to coach up last season’s regulars, coax whatever he can out of Biedrins, and see if rookie Klay Thompson (11th overall pick) can solve the bench scoring woes.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
If you remember last season’s rotation, you have an idea about this season’s. The backcourt duo of Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry will reprise their roles, though it might be wise to give Ellis less than 40 minutes per game in the condensed 66-game season. Both starters should get in the 35-minute range. Depending on how quickly Thompson can develop in a compressed training camp environment, he could get 20-25 minutes backing up the two and three. Rookie second-round pick Charles Jenkins (44th overall) and Ish Smith are available as backups to Curry, but in reality, we’ll see Ellis bring the ball up when Curry is resting. Moving out to the wing, Dorell Wright, who averaged a career-high 38 minutes last season, returns at small forward. There were times during the season when it looked like Wright’s shot was collapsing under all those minutes, but he remained a pretty effective all-around player and the team’s best defender. The frontcourt looks like it will be David Lee at power forward and a combination of Kwame Brown and Andris Biedrins at center. Lee has a motor and could get 35-37 minutes a night, but the center spot will be in flux. Biedrins hasn’t been good enough to stay on the court much, and relying on Brown may end up in disappointment. Ekpe Udoh was miscast as a center and will look to develop his game at power forward, but he could get the leftover scraps at center.
Andris Biedrins: Biedrins enters the fourth year of a six-year contract and hasn’t returned much on the Warriors’ investment. His confidence has been lower than his free-throw shooting (25 percent over the last two seasons), and he can’t stay on the floor (3.4 fouls per game for career). The Warriors did all they could to land a big man in the offseason but eventually had to settle for Kwame Brown, only slightly less of an enigma than Biedrins. New coach Mark Jackson is saying all the right things, and the franchise showed its support by not making Biedrins its amnesty cut. Confidence is the key here. If he gets rolling early, Biedrins can be an active rebounder/shot blocker, who can make a difference in those categories.
Kwame Brown: Brown turned in his best NBA season in 2010-11 with Charlotte, his fifth team in 10 years. Sure, close watchers of basketball have long ago added Brown’s name to the list of the NBA’s greatest busts, but it’s time we stop thinking about him in terms of what a first-overall pick should do and time to start thinking about how he fits a team. He can defend some and will provide some rebounding support to take the heat off David Lee. Along the way, Brown may get eight points and seven rebounds per game. With Biedrins in front of him, Brown is in a position to get minutes similar to what he had last season with the Bobcats (26.0 mpg).
David Lee: Switching from the high-octane Knicks to the run-and-gun Warriors figured to be a seamless transition for Lee, but it took the 28-year-old some time to look fully comfortable with his new squad. Despite a slower than expected start, Lee still managed to finish with averages of 16.5 points, 9.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.0 steals. He was once again one of the better double-double options in the league, finishing tied for seventh with 37. His shooting dropped below 54 percent for the first time in his career, but Lee still managed to chime in with a solid 50.7 percent success rate. Lee also thrived at the free-throw line, hitting 78.7 percent of his attempts. As in years past, blocks remained vacant from Lee’s production. As an undersized and not overly athletic big man, Lee (6-9, 250) will never be much of a contributor on the defensive side of the ball. The Warriors will continue to run their offense through Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry, but Lee will be the primary option in the post and be asked shoulder the load on the glass. Look for another year full of double-doubles from Lee as he enters his seventh season.
Ekpe Udoh: The Warriors first-round pick had his debut season delayed after suffering a wrist injury just weeks after the draft. The 24-year-old big man returned to action in mid-December, appearing in 58 games for Golden State. Udoh showed some signs of fantasy relevance as the Warriors’ primary starting center after the All-Star break. In 18 starts, he averaged an impressive 2.3 blocks in 25 minutes per game. While Udoh has high upside on the defensive end of the court, his offensive game still remains raw. He averaged just 4.1 points on 43.7 percent shooting from the field and 65.6 percent from the line. Udoh worked on developing an offensive repertoire during his senior season at Baylor, but it will likely be a couple of seasons before he makes much of an impact on that side of the court in the NBA. The presence of Andris Biedrins and Kwame Brown will complicate Udoh’s role going forward, but the Warriors will likely give Udoh a shot at an expanded role. For now, Udoh can be targeted late in drafts as block specialist who should show modest improvements in other areas of his game during his sophomore campaign.
Dorell Wright: Wright signed with the Warriors as a free agent last offseason and found himself in a good situation for fantasy purposes. Wright played in all 82 games, while averaging 16.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.4 three-pointers, 1.5 steals, 0.8 blocks and 1.6 turnovers in 38 minutes. While Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry typically dominate the ball, they also create plenty of open looks from long range and absorb most of the team’s turnover risk. Even if new Warriors coach Mark Jackson were to limit Wright’s contributions on the offensive end next season, Wright’s ability to contribute in defensive categories (steals/blocks) will keep him a relevant and useful fantasy contributor. Wright is the kind of player whose lack of dominant scoring, rebound and assist numbers allow him to fly under the radar, masking his significant overall value across the board.
Lou Amundson: Amundson was traded to the Pacers in training camp.
Dominic McGuire: McGuire joined the Warriors just prior to the start of exhibition games and, once up to speed, will back up Dorell Wright at small forward. His addition is a nod toward head coach Mark Jackson’s proclamation to become a better defensive team. McGuire can rebound some, but will do little more than play 15 minutes of good defense per night.
Jeremy Tyler: Although Tyler is joining a team thin in the front court, we don’t foresee a big role for him, unless we’re talking about the Dakota Wizards of the D-League. Questions linger about his development after two lost seasons in Israel and Japan. He’s an athletic big that needs to develop the offensive part of his game.
Monta Ellis: Ellis has put up comparable stats to some of the league’s most highly-touted shooting guards the last two seasons, but the Warriors’ struggles, and his propensity for turning the ball over, have kept him a tier below the top guys like Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant. Experts thought the presence and growth of second-year guard Stephen Curry was going to hurt Ellis’ value last season, but it turned out to be Curry who took a back seat to Ellis in coach Keith Smart’s offense. The Warriors hired Mark Jackson to be their new head coach, a move that will likely change the dynamic in the Warriors’ backcourt some. While Jackson has stated an eagerness to coach both Ellis and Curry, it’s Curry who is widely considered to be the future of Golden State. As such, it may be just a matter of time before Ellis is traded or used in a reduced role. That said, Ellis’ talent for putting up gaudy stats in both offensive and defensive categories will keep him well worth his draft position this year. He’ll be just 26 years old entering this season, leaving open the potential for him to improve even further on his already impressive numbers.
Stephen Curry: Entering his third NBA season, Curry is already well-established as one of the league’s top backcourt scorers, combining the long-range shooting of a guard with percentages you might expect from a power forward (48.0% FG, 44.2% from three in 2010-11). But his team is in a state of flux; changes could be coming that will impact Curry’s production and overall fantasy value. First off, his first two seasons in the league were played under coaches Don Nelson and Nelson’s long-time assistant Keith Smart. The Warriors finished first and fifth in pace, respectively, in those years. New head coach Mark Jackson may not have the team running quite as much, though Curry will get plenty of touches. He’s recovering from May ankle surgery but is expected to be at full strength for the start of the season.
Klay Thompson: Thompson has been impressing early on in training camp, and head coach Mark Jackson vows the rookie will play. How much playing time can we expect with Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry around is a good question. At this point, he’s third in the guard rotation and has the size (6-7) to be a matchup problem for most twos. He could also get some minutes at small forward but is more of a shooting guard at this stage of his career. Thompsons comfortable handling the ball and setting up others, though his ability to score in a variety of ways means he’ll be filling it up as the Warriors’ main scoring option off the bench. His defense is not quite there yet, but he’s not alone in that respect on the Golden State roster.
Charles Jenkins: We suspect the Warriors will be adding a veteran point guard to back up Stephen Curry, so Jenkins should enjoy all the run he’s getting in training camp while it lasts. He was a big-time scorer at Hofstra, leading the Colonial Athletic Association in scoring, but also led the CAA in assists. NBA teams aren’t going to ask him to be their scoring leader, so his future will have to be as a playmaker. Of course, it’s entirely possible the Warriors go into the season with Jenkins as the No. 2. There’s very little salary cap space available after signing Kwame Brown and Dominic Brown.
Ishmael Smith: The Warriors claimed Smith off waivers late in training camp and he’ll compete with rookie Charles Jenkins to be the backup to Stephen Curry at point guard. Smith is one of the quickest players in the NBA and can get anywhere he wants on the court. He had a nice college career at Wake Forest before getting some run with the Rockets in his rookie season in 2010-11. We suspect there won’t be much playing time left over after Curry and Monta Ellis get their’s, so Smith will not have a major role on the team in 2011-12.
Brandon Rush: Rush was traded to the Warriors from the Pacers in exchange for Louis Amundson during training camp. He’s behind several players on the depth chart, but a fresh start could be exactly what Rush needs to try and revive what was once a lot of promise.
Kwame Brown: Though maybe not worth wasting your amnesty cut on, Brown is a nice fit for the Warriors. He can defend and rebound, a couple of traits in short supply in the Bay Area. Golden State didn’t have a legitimate backup when Andris Biedrins feel apart in 2010-11; they do now.
Andris Biedrins: It’s going to be tempting to draft him. Biedrins has the length to be a volume rebounder and shot-blocker, and the early spin is that he’s added muscle and attitude. If he gets off a good start, Biedrins could experience a bounce back season, but we’re not buying in.