What Now for the Warriors?
Given Davis’s injury history – even when he came to the Warriors late last season, he wasn’t completely healthy – it’s unreasonable to expect him to play a full season. But he makes such a difference to the team, even having him for three-quarters of a season could mean a playoff season for the Warriors.
“He makes the game much easier for me,” said Mike Dunleavy at the Warriors media day yesterday. “I can see where he’s going on the court, and he always knows where to find me.”
Indeed, Dunleavy may be the one player who benefited most when Davis joined the team via a February trade. Dunleavy has many skills, able to shoot from short-range or long, to rebound and to handle the ball well enough to play point guard in an emergency two seasons ago, but he is a complementary player, not the star. When Davis came to the club, all his skills could be used. His three-point shooting became much more of a weapon because Davis would get him the ball in the best position.
“He penetrates, and I know that if I’m open, he’ll get me the ball,” said second-year center Andris Biedrins. “If I’m not open, he can score.”
Davis is the complete package because, as Biedrins noted, he can drive the lane and score or he can dish the ball off to the open man. The Warriors haven’t had a point guard like him since Tim Hardaway, which is perhaps the single most important reason they haven’t been in the playoffs since the 1993-94 season. There have been some woeful experiments since then, as when they tried to make shooting guard Larry Hughes a point guard.
When Davis came to the Warriors and they started their nice little run at the end (18-10 in the games in which he played, 15-4 in the games in which he started), it underscored the importance of a point guard in the NBA. A good one is like the quarterback in football because the action starts with him, and he can decide whether to shoot himself or get the ball to a teammate with an open shot.
The ultimate compliment for a player is that he makes those around him better players – and that’s the best way to describe Davis. Dunleavy can use all his skills, Jason Richardson can concentrate on scoring, Adonal Foyle can rebound and play defense. No other player has to do something he doesn’t do well.
THIS IS a team with more depth than the Warriors have had in recent seasons, which will create some interesting decisions for coach Mike Montgomery as he tries to mix-and-match to get the best combinations. “I’m glad it’s the coach and not me who has to make those decisions,” Dunleavy said.
No. 1 draft choice Ike Diogu has been added to the mix in the middle, with holdovers Foyle, Biedrins and Troy Murphy.
Diogu was a surprise pick to those doing the pre-draft speculations but, having seen him destroy Cal and Stanford the last two seasons, I was happy to see it. Montgomery no doubt will be equally happy to see Diogu on his team; when he was coaching Stanford, Montgomery called Diogu “unstoppable” when he got the ball down low, and indeed he was – in college.
The question about Diogu is his size, since he’s probably slightly less than the 6-8 at which he’s listed. “I have long arms (7-3 wingspan),” he noted yesterday. “Defensively, I have to make sure the big guys don’t get the ball down low.” He’s worked against the Phoenix Suns’ Amare Stoudemire in summer league games, so he knows what to expect.”
Offensively, he brings an inside game the Warriors have lacked; Diogu either scores or goes to the free throw line, where he shot just a tick below 80 per cent at Arizona State last season. “My coach told me early that I would get fouled a lot, so I’ve worked hard on my free throw shooting, taking extra practice,” he said.
There’s no question about Biedrins’ size. “I grew another half inch over the summer,” he said, laughing. “I’m only 19 you know.” He’s just under seven feet now but will probably reach that level or even surpass it by the time he’s 21.
Biedrins game now is defense. “If I stop the other guys, we’ve got guys who can score,” he said. He’s working on his shooting, especially his free throw shooting, but insists he’s better than he’s looked in games, where he’s sometimes completely missed the basket on free throws. “I make them in practice,” he insisted, “but in a game, I get nervous.”
Biedrins played more often in the second half of last season, but he said he doesn’t expect to play more than 15 minutes a game “and I’d be fine with that.” He’s an intriguing player, with quick hands and quick feet. Even without a shot, he seems to be a player who can score points on tips and “garbage plays.” If he continues to improve, he’ll probably take minutes from Foyle.
The other position where there’s an overload is at shooting guard, with Richardson, Derek Fisher and Mickael Pietrus all competing for playing time.
Pietrus told The Chronicle’s Janny Hu yesterday that he wants to be in at the end of games so he can make the big plays. He’s a much better defender than either Richardson or Fisher, and at times, he’s flashed the skills that once had him labeled “the French Michael Jordan.” I’d like to see much more of him and much less of Derek Fisher, whose only real plus is his three-point shooting, right around 37 per cent, both last year and for his career.
THERE ARE two ways to view the Warriors’ run at the end of last season. It could be seen as a fluke, one of those times when a team out of contention and playing without pressure simply played over its head. Or, it could be seen as the result of a team finding the last piece of the puzzle and coming together.
I believe the second explanation is correct. The key players on this team are young and should improve. The most important non-player for the Warriors is not their coach but their trainer, Tom Abdenour. If he can keep Baron Davis healthy for most of the season, the Warriors should make a strong run at the playoffs.
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