The long season is coming to an end. Through all the trials and tribulations, the Warriors stand a respectable 30-36 in the ever competitive West. Stretches of great play mired with slightly more less-than-mediocre play has left the fan base slightly confused about what this team is all about.
Of course, this is year 1 of the new regime. Who knows what year 2 will hold? Well, I think these next 16 games should give us a nice recap of what happened this year, and also will provide some sort of semblance of what to expect from the franchise and team after we get through these final games and head into the throes of re-building.
Like I've maintained from the beginning of the season, what this team does in each individual game, how well a player is playing in a certain stretch of time, are all essentially meaningless because this team has no form as of yet. There is no established system of success or continuity here that we can hold the current team next to and compare. This is the process of starting over, which, if you haven't tuned in by now, the Warriors are doing.
I have no idea what to expect from the ownership group. I hope they bring in Donnie Walsh after he leaves NY, or even bring in Jerry West, who sounded like he was just waiting for a phone call on the radio the other day, to take over for primary GM. They simply have that extra genius factor that Riley, with all his talents, just doesn't provide. I will leave business/franchise decisions uncovered.
What I think the final 16 games will show us is how much we can expect from the team itself. We have seen them play good stretches of basketball, then completely tank out when it matters most, like out of the all-star break and the recent road trip. Now, they've won 2 games that were sure moral boosters, and look to go on another good streak.
To become a great team, this team needs to focus on defensive intensity. The Orlando Magic game was, frankly, one of the ugliest games I've ever seen, and I didn't feel as excited as I figured I would after an OT victory over a good team. But they won, and this built their confidence heading into the TWolves game, which involved good Warrior defense, but also terrible Minnesota offensive execution. But the consistent over these two games was a commitment to doing your work on defense early, and not letting the opponent take it to you.
Now lets see if this will translate to the rest of the schedule. Regardless of the team they play, the Warriors should know by now what works for them and what doesn't. Coach Smart seems like he is all into maximizing the utilities and resources available to the Warriors as an NBA franchise, and I'm sure they have dissected tape beyond all hope. Now the players need to bring it every night.
Stephen Curry has experienced sophomore slumps, but if he can put together a solid stretch of complete games, both offensively and defensively, to finish the season, I think the expectations for his next season will shoot up.
Monta's game has definitely regressed as the season has gone along. There is no question about it. After his all-star snub, he is not flowing into his game, and seems to be forcing it a bit too much at times. But we saw that the Warriors have players that can execute without Monta in the game. Monta is best if he is averaging 20 and 6 with a 50 FG%. Those numbers would be easy if Curry and Monta perfected their co-existence.
David Lee I'm sure has begun to hear about how he "isn't worth the money we're paying him" (bogus). The last two games, his defense has been the primary reason we have won, hands down. He needs to realize this. I agree that he has under-performed compared to what we have expected from him. But I believe he can mold into who we need him to be. David Lee's entire career can be summed up into a microcosm: he has always improved and he has always worked hard. I have no reason to believe that he would stop this trend just because he got a big contract. If David Lee can assert himself more on the defensive side of the ball, the Warriors would be an above .500 team consistently. He started off the season strong on this note, but the freak injury really threw him off on his progression with the team. If he spends the next 16 games becoming a plus on the positive side as opposed to simply another body, I think this team's outlook drastically improves. He's seen what has happened these last two games when he has worked his tail off in the paint early. I want to see him continue doing this, regardless of the competition.
This brings me to Coach Smart. The above 3 are our key players, because they have the ability I believe to push their game to even higher heights. The rest of our team, DWright and the bench included, are Coach Smart's responsibility to manage as well as he can. The season is filled with ups and downs, and these are grown men. I think what some fans might not realize is that a coach can't just go in after a game and say "what you did in there didn't work today - lets throw out everything we've been practicing on and try something else". In a job where you travel practically everyday, continuity and routine are necessary for players to perform at an optimal level. Knee-jerk reactions and water-cooler suggestions, while interesting and oftentimes profound, are much tougher to implement at a practical level. Coach Smart, I am sure, is aware of this. He has spent this season trying to get his key players to play the right way, and has also tried to develop as much of this bench as he can. None of the players on our bench demand consistent playing time, like it or not. Just from my observations, in Nelly's systems, it was a lot easier to be correct on any given play that was assigned. They were loose and free-flowing, with an emphasis on the flexibility and "wildness" of such a system. Smart seems to be moving away from this and trying to establish a slightly more rigid system. Just by looking at how our players play, I can tell that they are often not in the spots they should be. There is a lot of improvisation, on offense and defense, and a lot of rushing of plays and schemes. These are all things that a Coach needs to account for, and not just the overall +/- of the game.
Of course, at the end of a game, the +/- is what matters. Can Coach Smart deliver that? I think these next 16 games will tell us. If we see the players improving in ways that make this team more sound, then I think it tells us that the system is working, that players are aware of what they need to do and are buying into what the coaches tell them to - which would only happen if the coaches are preaching the right thing and focusing on the most important things.
The end of a season like this, filled with frustration and ambiguity, will tell us a lot about this team. Will some sort of structure and formula of success emerge? If it does, we will know that the first step of rebuilding is done; the foundation is laid. Then, the steps become simpler - get more building blocks and fortify our position. If, however, nothing emerges, we will know that the task ahead of us will involve going back to the basics and figuring out what kind of foundation will work for the team, and move from there. Two rather different paths with different paces to success, and we should know which one we are on after these final 16 games.