As the seemingly predestined Golden State Warriors blaze through uncharted territory, the mounting victories have marginalized any concerns about the team's plans to accommodate their two budding players in Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli.
Barnes's mid-range game is coming along nicely. As he sharpens the pull-up jumper, he'll be able to rely less on the significance of his somewhat mediocre handle. His natural power and quickness off the mark will beat his defenders. They'll have to keep him at arm's length when he steps inside the perimeter, and for a finisher like Barnes, 17 feet is just a dribble away. The closer they have to guard him in proximity to the rim, the better he'll be able to rely on quickness instead of his handle.
Yet the greatest turn for Barnes will be learning how to get to the line consistently — his complements rely on that. He needs to learn how to keep the defense threatened by playing through his strengths. Creating offense out of the triple-threat position seems to be one of these growing strengths, as it'll rely on his first step instead of his handle. If he could figure out how to consistently draw the whistle, he'd thereby grant the team further versatility in controlling game speed adjustments. They can feed Barnes the ball when the shots aren't falling and the possessions are calling for points in the paint. Harrison's strengths polarize his teammates', and it's virtually impossible to help against him with Klay and Curry on the loose.
But is Barnes worth more than Festus Ezeli?
Festus Ezeli is coming into his own as a player to be feared. When you put Fez in a lineup with other dogs like Draymond Green or Andre Igoudala, he provides a sort of raw, visceral power that few other front courts can claim. In the dying age of the center, Ezeli is one of the strongest at his position. The onion is this: he's also one of the fastest. The bruising mobility is unique, and it allows him to survive the evolution of the NBA as it gets smaller.
In the defensive sense, Ezeli's foot speed would not be a negative factor when facing three-guard lineups. Conversely, Festus is effective in the Warriors' high pressure, pass/shoot offense. It allows him to serve as big target, who slowly but surely is learning to cope with life after the dunk. His dives and lobs to the rim are consequential of the Warriors dreaded outside firepower. These points in the paint are nonetheless becoming dependable and invaluable. The Bay Area's Lob City will stay alive as long as the quandary of Klay/Curry remains unsolved...
And for a jump shooting team like the Warriors, an offensive crasher of the boards like Festus is a prize in the grand game of points per possession. If he learns to pass out quicker after securing a board, the Warriors will find more open 2nd chance opportunities for extended runs.
A few years ago, some of the Warriors were just candidly discussing who the best athlete on the team was. While I expected Barnes as the default, the consensus pointed to Festus. Ezeli's ability to move bodies, beat centers in a dead sprint, and play above the rim, is almost reminiscent of a young Nene Hilario.
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The question seems to be: What are Festus Ezeli and Harrison worth right now? What will they be worth after the season at the rate they're going? How much more can they really each improve?
Are the Warriors better than the 2000-01 Lakers?
Let's put Michael Jordan on the shelf for a minute and talk about another Phil Jackson team that was closer in era: The legendary 1-2 punch of Kobe and Shaq's Lakers at their terrifying height. Could the Warriors heat up the 2000-01 Lakers in a 7 game series? I guess yes, and here's why:
Kobe Bryant - The buck stops with Klay Thompson. Victory would largely rely on his defensive one-on-one game against Kobe. Klay doesn't reach, he's disciplined, and he's proven he can guard quickness. He's great at crowding without fouling, and he contests jumpers as well as any guard in the league.
Enter Igoudala. This is a tough bargain - even for a superstar with no weaknesses in his game. Kobe could do it all, but facing either AI or Klay every waking moment seems like a tall task for even the ultra-athletic 22-year old Bryant.
Derek Fisher - D-Fish was tough, but he was also short. It's hard to imagine him being able to get a hand close enough to break Curry's stride shooting the ball. The mental leader of the team, Derek's sanity would be tested with Phil Jackson and company counting on him to stop Stephen Curry.
Shaquille O'Neal - Between Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli, I can't think of a better team suited to go up against the Diesel. Bogut would take the angles while Ezeli would take the contact. Not to mention, you could get Jason Thompson in there and milk the value of his 6 fouls near the ends of Shaq's rotations. A winded O'Neal shooting 51% from the line might be worth a few gambles.
Who do you think would win?
Will Luke stay or go?
Ethan Sherwood Strauss writes about the irony surrounding Luke Walton: The winless coach is about to receive a league reward, recognizing him as the coach of the month. Amid all the success of the team, Walton stands as a pillar of recognition in the wake of new historic feats after an overblown media panic regarding the absence of Steve Kerr. My question to you is this:
If the Warriors end up going 25-0, and another piece of hardware is collected this early summer, will Luke Walton's accomplishments merit enough for his own coaching job?
It's hard to imagine a team like the 76er's not wanting a coach like Luke. Walton has two championships as a player, one as a coach. If he were to win this year, he would have two both ways.
Point being, would four be enough for Walton to be satisfied in going his own way, and risking the possibility of never reaching the promise land ever again? Or, does he stay onboard with Kerr for 3 more seasons and enjoy winning on the highest level. He has the chance to make history here, and at 35, he could listen, learn, and ride with Steph Curry to an extended championship run. He would still be in his 30's before it's all said and done, and still might be the youngest candidate around for a head coach job in a few years.
Quote of the Month
Last game against the Grizzlies...
Fitzgerald: "The Warriors beat Memphis by 50 in their last meeting. One would expect Memphis to come out tonight with fire in their belly…yet, the Warriors hold them to only 15 points at the end of the 1st quarter!!!"
Barnett: "Well, they'll take the fire right out of you. They'll put the fire in the net."
Another classic line by Mr. Barnett.