Recap #36: Golden State Warriors 116, Cleveland Cavaliers 98 - Are we maximizing opportunities?

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Instead of the usual pat-yourself-on-the-back routine in a game the Warriors should win anyways, in this case against an injury-depleted Cleveland Cavaliers, I thought I would be a little bit more daring and talk about this short-term matchup as it relates to long-term goals, because I still have some lingering concerns and doubts.

All in all, coming into this game, you knew with the level of talent (albeit in absence of an offensive system, veteran leadership, and interior defense) that the Warriors have, the injury-plagued Cavs were going to get blown away. Why not utilize the opportunity to think about where you want this franchise headed and make your rotations in that context?

But first off, here are some of the boxes to be checked off from this win...

  • Monta Ellis: 32 points, 10 assists. Hopefully the Western Conference coaches are checking these numbers as we approach All-Star Weekend.
  • Stephen Curry: drilled on a flagrant foul by Mo Williams. Curry did return and saw some action in the 4th.
  • Dorell Wright: still scoring, this time with 20 points.
  • David Lee: 22 and 14 against a thin Cavs frontcourt.
  • Vladimir Radmanovic: solid off the bench (well, relatively speaking, as I'll explain) with 13 points, 2 blocks, including a baseline one-handed jam!
  • Reggie Williams: key three-pointer that staved off a potential last-gasp run by the Cavs.
  • Andris Biedrins: 8 rebounds and 3 blocks in 19 minutes in his 2nd game back. Started again.
  • Antawn Jamison: a modest 21-5-4.
  • Mo Williams: 16 points, 7 assists. Had that flagrant on Curry. More on that after the jump.

Quickie recap

Here's the brief SB Nation recap. It was only fitting that the Dubs came out with three straight treys to open the game (Curry, Dorell, Monta), because late in the game, the Cavs got as close as 9 points (they had been down as much as roughly 20), but Reggie hit -- take a guess -- a timely trey, to basically close the door on any potential Cavs run.

You can also check my livetweet timeline at @nbalivetweet.

Mo Williams flagrant foul on Curry

The NBA ought to review the flagrant foul that Mo Williams did on Steph and change it to a Flagrant Two. In realtime, it seemed definitely a flagrant, but at first thought, not one where you would automatically eject Williams (as is required with a Flagrant Two ruling).

However, if you look at the replay, Williams has no regard for Steph. The main issue is not even whether or not he purposely knocked Curry to the floor with his left hand coming down on Steph's shoulder. I'm not sure if you can judge intent on that part. The main issue is that Mo immediately walks away from the play as if it say, "Yeah, that was a flagrant, oh well." There's not one bit of an attempt to see if Curry is okay or even look at Curry on the floor in pain. Williams just walks away as if the flagrant was, well, not a flagrant.

Such an attitude is simply not permissible in basketball. To me, a Flagrant One is like when you have that momentary lapse that the guy you're hitting is a human being who is more than likely about to get injured in some way, and you're trying to prevent two points. You snap out of it and there's immediate regret.

A Flagrant Two is when you have lost all respect for the player and there is intent to injure the player. You have a prolonged lapse of why you play the game of basketball and while still in that frame of mind you're almost thinking that the guy you just inflicted pain on, got what he deserved. There is certainly no immediate regret.

Now, I'm sure I've given the touchy-feely definition of a Flagrant One vs Two, but if you can find the replay, you'll see that the standard scientific approach of "unnecessary" vs "unnecessary and excessive" may be difficult to apply in this instance. However, I'm sure the Twitter-verse has already had plenty to blast on Mo Williams, so I'll leave it at that. But the NBA needs to send a message to Williams that such an approach on the game is not accepted in the world's best basketball league.

Jamison's return

Antawn ended up with with a nice line: 21 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists. But the airball before he subbed out kind of summed it up. He looks old out there. And kinda out of tricks in the bag.

In the preview for this game, I wondered aloud if Antawn might be considered a potential acquisition for the Warriors, just in the category of "veteran" and "less prone to make youngsta mistakes". After this performance -- and granted, it's the only time I've seen him play this season aside from the invisible performance in the LeBron James return-to-Cleveland affair -- I feel bad for him. I don't think he has much value in the marketplace anymore.

As Matt Steinmetz of CSN tweeted, it's kinda cool that no one at Oracle booed this former Warrior. Character-wise, he's great. But he may be on the last end of his NBA rope.

Manny!

Manny Harris, rookie point guard out of Michigan, ended up with 16 points and 10 boards. He was undrafted. In fact, I very specifically mentioned Harris in a conversation with Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress, oh, about 13 months ago. It was really a conversation about Jeremy Lin, though. 16-and-10!

Suffice it to say, the path from the NCAA to becoming a bonafide NBA prospect (your performance in the NCAA) is very different than once you're an NBA prospect and auditioning for an NBA job (what you do to enhance your performances in the NBA). I haven't been happy with the handling of the latter ever since last April. I'm sure you readers didn't know that. It's not something I like to talk about. Unfortunately I have to just leave it vague like that. I must say, I've learned so much since my first meeting with Givony, much of it through my own path and observations along the way, but inspired by draft experts like JG, others whom I follow on Twitter, books that I've read, and my own connections with NBA people who have validated some of the things that I've learned.


Turning this recap into some real issues

Let's get to it and transform this little cellar-dweller matchup recap into a serious discussion about the Warriors' future. Let's get out of the comfort zone for a bit.

Let me put it this way. The Oracle crowd gave the Warriors a standing ovation and wonderful applause as it became clear that the Dubs had clobbered the Cavs. Are we really happy with that? I mean, we just beat the worst team in the NBA. The team that people (at least on Twitter, where I hang out a lot) often joke that an NBDL All-Star team can beat? I'm not saying that cheering after this win is a bad thing. I'm not sure how to explain it. Hope you get what I mean.

My problem is that, assuming no trades and all players playing at maximum talent potential, this is your top go-to-battle rotation: Curry, Monta, Dorell, D.Lee and Biedrins with Udoh the sixth man backing up Biedrins, Reggie in the 1-2-3 rotation, and Lou Amundson backing up D.Lee.

Notice how I don't have Brandan Wright listed. I think he's a bust. Simple as that. Need to get rid of him. Maybe play him a little here and there during the season to showcase whatever potential he's got left and increase perceived value, but that's about it.

I also don't have Vlad Rad listed. While he does have some bright spots, he brings without fail the following: (1) at least a couple of silly miscues that really don't belong in the NBA, and (2) curious decisions where he gives up the ball when he ought to be beastin' it.

Finally, the rest of the rest are interchangeable benchwarmers who have a limited ceiling and should be able to find elsewhere if push comes to shove, such as backup point Acie Law and power forward Dan Gadzuric. Such spots were filled by D-Leaguers in seasons past for the Warriors.

I can't say this enough: play Udoh more

Well, at least Amundson's minutes have been diminished to their rightful place, in light of Lou's skillset. But Udoh needs more opportunities to make those offensive moves, to shoot that nice midrange touch that he has, and to start thinking on defense, whereby not every shot needs to be blocked.

You would expect a Cavs team with a depleted front line would be the perfect opportunity to integrate Udoh into a winning atmosphere. Well, guess what. Vlad Rad came out and had a great game. Well, that's relatively speaking. There was still the drive-and-dish to Lou which should have been a drive-and-attack. There was still the terrible telegraphed pass which led to a Cavs fastbreak, only to have the Cavs pass the ball directly back to Vlad. Simply put, Vlad was Vlad. He will always be Vlad. A flash of "oh no he didn't" sprinkled amongst candidates for the NBA Bloopers cutting room floor.

So why play Vlad so much? What you got from Vlad, you want when the Warriors play the Lakers, not the Cavs.

When you play Vlad, you play him at the expense of your primary rotation (Udoh and Lou). Use Vlad here and there as a secret weapon -- one that may backfire in your face every now and then, but that's the gamble you take.

In the Cavs game, it was as if the roles reversed. Udoh was the one you put in for a possible spark. No. You want Udoh to eventually become a mainstay. Sure, take him out when the mistakes start to mount up. But we've seen what he can do. He needs burn, the sooner the better. He needs opportunities to put those glimpses into consistent and expected performances.

Now the big one: With Monta's assists, I think Steph might need to come off the bench

I'll just add one more (big) food for thought. And this may even go against the grain of fellow GSoM writers. Honestly, I'm just getting a trifle impatient with Steph's inability to put fear in the eyes of the defender. This time, I'll take the offensive rebound at the free throw line of a Dorell missed trey as an example.

Steph got the ball with no one within three feet of him, right there at the free throw line, but he backed it out. The free throw shot should be like a layup to him. As I alluded to in the 76ers recap, he needs to start establishing a reputation along the lines of "making you pay for your sins".

Take the shot, kid!

Those little jumpers are supposed to be analogous to what dunk putbacks are for Blake Griffin. Look, that's the only thing Blake really knows how to do right now, but he does it a lot, he converts a lot, he's fearless, and thus, he strikes fear in the opponent. When Steph does not do what he does best, then I'm afraid that's an under-performing asset that the Warriors have.

The other issue is the occasional mis-dribble and bad defense. We've already seen countless times when Steph makes a bad ball-handling play and exacerbates it with the and-one foul. While I think some of this can be corrected with the aforementioned Eye of the Tiger on offense, a lot of it really can't be helped. He's just small and not super-lightning-quick by NBA standards. With Monta as another ectomorph body type in the backcourt, I'm just not sure of the long-term sustainability of such a backcourt in The Assocation.

That, in combination with what Monta is showing in the assists column, leads me to believe that Monta can run the point in the NBA. Granted, it's of the Allen Iverson mold.

It's really just drawing a line from Point A to Point B

For a further illustration, let us look at Reggie Williams. Size-wise, he's of NBA standards at the 3. Perhaps his only limiting trait is his quickness. Right now, it's all mental for him. When to take that shot, when to attack, when not to attack too deep into the paint, and defense-and-rebounding. Can you imagine if he had the 5-6 years of experience that Dorell already has? So let's say he plays up to his full potential like Dorell has done. I submit to you the "real" Warriors starting five:

  1. Monta (with Curry off the bench)
  2. Dorell -- yes, I think he can scoot over and play the 2 if necessary
  3. Reggie
  4. D.Lee
  5. Biedrins (with Udoh off the bench)

That, my friend, infused magically with more NBA experience, is a true NBA starting five. You can see that in the off-season, perhaps you would want to add some semi-superstar-ish talent and girth to the 3 and/or 5 spot. This is the type of exercise you need to be making as the owner of the franchise.

But this is the type of exercise that needs to be translated downward to the heirarchy to your coach. The philosophy therefore extends into gametime decisions and better rotations, better stamina management. Where, for example, you would...

  • never tire out your top 7-8 players to the point where you should...
  • never have a lineup that has Udoh and Lou down low with Law running the point,
  • not be afraid to put in your star, Monta, with 9 minutes left to go in the game,
  • play Udoh more so that he can reach his ceiling, which will be higher than Biedrins's, sooner rather than later, and
  • not try to annihilate the Cavs early just so you can put in Udoh and B.Wright in some garbage time for "developmental" minutes; instead put in a quality rotation and if a blowout rightfully occurs from it (as it would have anyways), great.

While a quick recap is hardly the place for thoughtful analysis on such serious topics, let's just say that the above is a quick-and-dirty explanation as to why I am so frustrated with Keith Smart's rotations and the play of certain Warriors (e.g., Steph, Vlad) of late.

Btw, I found this little tidbit in the NBA.com notebook section of this game's recap. I don't mean to dump on Smart, but I thought it was something interesting to point out, plus I honestly didn't know it...

Smart previously was a head coach in Cleveland during the 2002-03 season, albeit on an interim basis. Smart coached the Cavs to a 9-31 mark in 40 games after replacing John Lucas midway through the year.

Also, I do think Smart is a good coach. If he bought into the philosophy that I just blurted out, he could probably execute it well. But, in a way, I don't think he "gets it" right now. And that might even be management's fault. Alas, we will never know, since we are not privy to what goes on behind closed doors.

Thanks for reading and hit me up on Twitter at @poormanscommish if you want to discuss any of the above, since I'm usually away from the laptop and on my smartphone.

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