Recap #47: Utah Jazz 81 @ Golden State Warriors 96 - Fools Gold?

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With Deron Williams out, the Jazz looked like a rudderless ship.



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Is it just me, or was that just a weird game? Even after mulling it over for 24 hours I still don't know what to make of it. The Warriors beat a very good team in the Jazz, but they were missing their star Deron Williams. The Warriors offense seemed to be clicking on all cylinders, you know, besides the minor detail that their leading scorer this season ended the game with just two points. Coach Smart seemed to handle the rotations well, but that in itself felt unusual and seemed to highlight some questionable choices he's made in managing the roster so far this season. Maybe I'm just stuck in a glass-half-empty mindset, but I couldn't fully get behind the enthusiasm that followed this win. That's not to say there wasn't any cause for optimism, because there were some reasonable arguments made that this game could in fact have been a turning point.

No Deron

Let's face it, we dodged a big bullet with Deron Williams watching this game in street clothes. The Jazz are a legitimately good team, but they've been struggling lately (losing six of seven going into this game) even before losing Williams to a sore wrist. Did we just catch this team at an opportune time? Sure most of the games they've lost recently have been to tough teams, but their defense has been struggling even when they play teams like the Wizards, Nets, and 76ers.

I guess when you are a sub .500 team you should get excited when you beat a team with a 28-19 record, but I can't shake the feeling that this was just one of those games on an NBA schedule when a pretty bad team beats a pretty good team, and then they both go on being pretty bad and pretty good for the rest of the season.

"Is a ship without a captain just as doomed as a ship without a crew?"

There has been a lot of debate around here over the last year and a half about whether or not this team needs Monta to score as much as he does. There is no doubt that Monta Ellis is a very talented scorer, but there is also no doubt that to maintain his sizable scoring average he ends up taking a lot of bad shots. What you end up with is a very high volume scorer that scores with only average-ish efficiency. Ideally Monta would be aggressive when he has a high percentage opportunity, but avoid getting tunnel vision when the defense is keying in on him, or his shot just isn't falling. Of course there are many GSoMers that just don't seem to think that the Warriors could be successful with Monta taking a step back on offense. I think Fitz summed up the feeling pretty well during the broadcast:

What is remarkable if you are just tuning in, is that the Warriors lead by 17 and Monta Ellis has 2 points... and I didn't think that was possible. -Fitz

The quote doesn't really do it justice, because more important than the words themselves was the disbelief in his voice. Now obviously this was only one game, and it was a very extreme example of a decreased role for Monta on offense, but it was interesting to see how well the ball moved around, and how confident the rest of the team was looking. I'd love to clime inside of Monta's head right now, or be a fly on the wall in the locker room after this game. I'm not sure if this game will make a lasting impact, but it was nice to see the way Monta was able to gracefully step back and let the rest of the team shine on a night that things just weren't going his way.

The times that this offense has been at it's best is when the ball is moving, and players are making cuts ready to receive the ball at all times. It seems like it's easier to maintain that kind of flow and energy when everyone is getting their touches. Things get stale as soon as they start relying on predictable Monta isolations without any off-ball movement. That's not to say that the team can't play like that with Monta being the featured scorer, but Coach Smart might want to think about ways to make sure that Monta is more often playing the role of finisher than he is the role of creator. What I mean by that is that keeping the ball out of Monta's hands early in the shot clock might keep the rest of the team from becoming passive, and deferring to him (to a fault). If he can find his points in the flow of the offense it will be better for the team as a whole. Basically, more crew, less captain.

Smart Coaching?

I had an interesting exchange with Missing Barry today in the comments section of IQ's links post about Coach Smart. In case you missed it I'll get you up to speed:

I’m trying to be fair with Coach Smart. Frankly just because he hasn’t built credibility as an NBA coach yet doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have a plan, or positive long term intent behind some of his puzzling moves. It’s hard though…

Back when Pop was coming down very hard on Tony Parker, limiting his minutes, and publicly criticizing him, he had already brought a title to San Antonio, and he still fell under criticism for not playing the young PG enough, or beating him up mentally. That certainly worked out.

Does Smart deserve the same kind of trust in this situation? I’m really not sure. I’d like to think that him leaving Curry on the bench for extended stretches will eventually make him a better player for us, but I find it very hard to trust in that during the games.

He might have a better plan for our bench, but I can’t help but think we are better suited by having Lou, Reggie, and Brandan or Udoh playing more than Vlad, Gadz, and Law.

Then there is the way he makes wholesale substitutions instead of bringing in subs one or two at a time. I think our bench is just too weak to have 4-5 subs on the court at once ever. He’s gotten better about this, but there are still games where he rides the starting five until they all need a blow at the same time. It just doesn’t seem like he has the foresight to avoid those situations consistently.

I’m sure I’m not giving him the same benefit of the doubt as I would a proven NBA veteran coach, but I really am trying to be fair. It’s not easy sometimes though. -olympicmike

As for Smart, a couple of things have made me relax on the criticisms of the rotations. First, earlier in the year, we were all flipping out about Vlad. He was the poster boy of Smart’s bad rotations. I was as frustrated as anyone. Well? Smart stuck with Vlad and it actually worked out. Looks to me like he had a better understanding of any of us what to expect ouf of Vlad going forward, even if he wasn’t performing to start the season. A little dose of humility helps sometimes. I took mine. :) I’ve also started to see some of the things Smart sees in Vlad. He does some little things that are good on both sides of the floor, even if his lack of rebounding and on ball defense still frustrate me.

Next, I tried to think of things from Smart’s point of view. Why might he make the rotations he’s making? What might I do differently? Thinking about it some, I’ve actually come to think his plan, for the most part, really does make sense. Dorell plays a lot because we flat out don’t have a replacement for him. Curry/Monta/Reggie is a brutal combination. Our top minute getters are: Monta, Dorell, Lee, Curry, Biedrins, Reggie, Vlad, in that order. Makes a lot of sense to me, especially since the two starters at the bottom of the MPG (Biedrins/Curry) are our two starters who foul the most. Next two are Acie (don’t have a backup PG!) and Lou. Still makes sense to me. It might have taken a little bit to figure this rotation out, and it’s going to change some on matchups and foul trouble in any given game, but it looks to me like overall that’s a pretty reasonable rotation.

Gadz really hasn’t played much either in total or in the games he’s gotten time. We gave Carney a shot before realizing he’s not adding anything, something we realized at an apprpriate time (balance between giving him as much of a shot to show what he has as possible and maknig sure he doesn’t play so much he hurts the team). I think overall, that allocation really isn’t that bad. I’d like to see Monta play a little less, Reggie a little more, and Brandan a little more (with Vlad probably playing more wing than big going forward), but those are mostly minor quibbles over a few minutes here or there. I also don’t like playing all our subs at once. I wish that would stop. Probably my biggest concern, but I’m still not sure I can convince myself it’s a big deal.

A couple other things of note: I don’t like the iso calls for Monta in the two games we won. I also think we’ve relied too much on Monta creating shots in general. Look at how well we played last night with Monta playing completely within the flow of the offense. Great stuff. Of course it could have been because of our opponent, or because it was a single game, or a combination. But we really do have a decent amount of offensive talent among our starters, and if Andris is attacking the rim like he was last night, we have a very good offensive squad. We don’t need to be so Monta-centric, especially since Monta does some very nice things in the flow of the offense. So I’d like to see a more diverse offense that puts Monta in less creation situations overall. So those are my complaints. At the same time, I have no major complaints about our scheme besides less Monta as primary ballhandler – I understand we haven’t run PnR that much, but I think we haven’t shown we can run it effectively, either.

I guess overall I just see solid reason for a lot of what Smart’s doing. I have quibbles, but I don’t think they’re huge deals. I don’t think most of the quibbles are all that important, either, and the important stuff is all the behind the scenes things I don’t get to see. I’m not necessarily pro-Smart, I haven’t seen anything that makes me all that optimistic on him, I’m just not really anti-Smart, either. I’d still probably lean towards replacing him at the end of the season because I don’t see a reason to settle for anything less than the best. Let’s try to find our own Thibodeau. I’m just not too upset about the job he’s doing in the meantime. -Missing Barry

Seems to me like a very fair take on the coaching situation. I can't ignore my frustration with some of Smart's decisions, but apparently a reasonable case can be made that Smart is doing a... let's call it an adequate job, as head coach. I guess if I had to list my personal quibbles they'd go something like this:

  • A longer leash for Curry - It seems like Smart is taking the good parts of his game for granted sometime. I don't mind Coach using his mistakes as a teaching opportunity, but as the teams most effective scorer and distributor we can't afford to have him spending extended time on the bench because of a defensive laps or bad turnover.
  • More Reggie (more rest for Monta)- I think Reg is being underutilized on this team right now. There are plenty of nights where Reggie watches Monta play nearly 48 minutes when he could be out there getting Monta some much needed rest. I'd also like to see Smart make sure that Reggie gets involved in the offense when he is in the game. He's a talented scorer and needs to get his FGA's up a bit in my opinion.
  • Less Vlad at the 4/5 spots - I'm glad to see that Vlad is finding his offense (he is scoring efficiently, but still at a low volume) but with his poor defense and rebounding he is still hurting us. I don't mind him in certain matchups at the four spot, or out on the wing, but Smart has to pick his spots carefully. He is not the kind of guy that can be your sixth or seventh man because of his liabilities, and sadly, that has been his role this year.
  • Lou Amundson needs to be the first big man off the bench - I know that Lou has been a total liability on offense, but this team is so desperate for defense and rebounding that he has to be the first choice when Andris or Lee head to the bench. He is the only bench player that can defend and rebound. Yes, he fouls way too much, but given the circumstances I think he should be the guy.
  • No more isolation - It's obvious that Coach Smart has been working hard to install his version of the Flex offense, which at times has been pretty successful. I think we are getting to the point in the season that he needs to trust his system, and his players abilities to be successful in that system. So far this year we've seen way to many isos for Monta, and post-ups for Lee and Andris. One on one basketball is bad basketball, and this team can pass pretty well 1 through 5, so make them run the sets. Even if they struggle at times, every bad read is a learning experience, and it can't be much worse than the kind of shots we've been getting from isos and post-ups.
  • More minutes for Andris - I know he isn't the same player he used to be, but a decrease in playing time certainly isn't going to help his confidence. Not to mention, even with his reduced production he is still better than any of our options on the bench. Andris played a very good game last night and still only saw 26 minutes of playing time, which is just about his season average. There is really no good reason for him to play less than 30 minutes a night until something changes.

In the grand scheme of things that's actually a pretty short list. I guess the main point would be that it's easy to pick out the things that he seems to be doing wrong and ignore some of the good work he's done. I'm still hoping from a major overhaul in the front office and on the bench this offseason, but I'll continue to do my best to be fair to Coach Smart.

Now lets hand out some hardware!!

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Steph Curry - 27 pts (on 18 shots) 7 ast  6 reb  2 stl  1blk

Great all around game from Curry. We'll see if he really turns it on and asserts himself in the second half of the season. I wouldn't be surprised if we see another strong finish from him this year.


Don't forget about GSoM Night 10!!!

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When
Sunday, February 13, 2011 @ 5:00p vs Oklahoma City Thunder

Tickets (Purchase Tickets Online, password: GSOM)
- Club 200 Sideline: $30 each (regular $36)
- Club 200 Corner/Baseline: $25 each (regular $30)

For Every Ticket Purchased
- Tickets to watch Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook take on the Warriors
- Free Tony.psd t-shirt
- Participate in the post-game on-court 3-point shootout for a chance to win Courtside Club tickets

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