When I was about 13, still hard-working and more importantly, a victim of enormous amounts of down time, I tried to build a human-sized roller coaster. The building of the tracks, connecting of the bridges and the various odds and ends were tedious but straight-forward. But when I finally placed the car on top of the set, pushed the "Go" button and watched aghast as the vehicle repeatedly flew off the side of the platform, I realized it was never going to be this easy. After a week's worth of tinkering, obsessing and a near rage-destruction of the entire set, I went back to the instructions and noticed I was missing an entire bridge section, allowing the tracks from Point A to Point B run much smoother. As you can guess by the title, reworking the tracks, adding a new piece, and watching the toy-sized car roll up and down the roller coaster is my childhood analogy to the bench addition of Steve Blake.
Blake is in no way the savior to the offensive woes, bench or otherwise. He isn't going to suddenly and wholesomely change the entire nature and intricacies of Mark Jackson's offense. The inherent predication of isolations permeate through the second five as consistently as it ever has. However, it's Blake ability to initiate the offense without stumbling, make an extra pass and nail an open jumper - yes, all rudimentary basketball things - that has shifted the responsibility of each player down one, allowing Jordan Crawford, Harrison Barnes, Jordan Crawford to do what they can do.
The Golden State Warriors can push the pace when Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala and..well Curry and Iguodala are in the game. They started the season with Toney Douglas and Kent Bazemore "battling for the backup spot". It went exactly as it sounded. Here, Blake simply pushes the ball upcourt, not looking for an ill-advised foray to the rim but a drop-off pass that sparks an around the horn passing drill that leads to an open three. Simple, but necessary and unforeseen from the previous bench regime. Simplicity is what we're ready to embrace, a far cry from the hair-pulling bench units in the beginning of the season.
Blake's ability to read a defense is the most crucial aspect of his addition. More so than the assist numbers - averaging 7.6 per game for the Los Angeles Lakers - is his ability to realize when the spacing is cramped or noticing matchup mismatches.
The play above is ostensibly a David Lee isolation at the high wing - because duh - but Blake; noticing that that's going nowhere - because duh - and is taking too much time off the clock drives to the free throw line for a pull-up jumper against a Phoenix Suns defense cheating at the second line and totally leaving the middle open. Blake isn't an isolation player by any means but that type of shot punishes lazy defenses in a way that Douglas and Bazemore were consistently unable to.
Side point: it wasn't their fault. Both players, though physically different, had similar NBA potential on defense guarding point guards. That Jackson was never able to get more out of them is slightly worrisome, though they were never going to emerge as NBA stars, anyway.
Forget about the made shot. That sequence was perhaps the most innocuous play in a basketball game full of them. But dribbling the ball up-court, starting the offense from an optimal spot on the floor - meaning somewhere other than near the halfcourt line with two people bearing down on you - is, unfortunately, a boon to the bench unit. Crawford can stick to what he loves doing: shooting. Barnes can do whatever it is he does or doesn't do on a game to game basis. Jermaine O'Neal can post up with 17 on the clock instead of 5 (the little things count!).
But most importantly, this could essentially allow Blake to play the Jarrett Jack role of last season - allowing Curry to roam free off the ball and adding another wrinkle to a middling offense. He isn't without his flaws, however. It's hard for him to make contested jumpers, tends to overdrive and isn't the same finisher that Jack was. And in crunch time, we would all prefer Curry to handle the ball, anyway. The postseason rotations shrink mightily and one would assume that Crawford and Barnes would play less than they are - with as many minutes going to O'Neal, Green and Blake). But until then, Blake's presence has been a stabilizing factor in the Warriors charge into the playoffs.
Statistical support for this piece provided by NBA.com, unless stated otherwise.