Warriors Future Still Clouded
by Glenn Dickey
Jan 17, 2006

BEATING A SEATTLE team playing without All-Star Ray Allen doesn’t count as a great accomplishment, but there were some good signs in the Warriors’ win on the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.

For instance:

--Mike Dunleavy came out smoking, driving to the hoop for buckets, hitting three-pointers and scoring a season-high 22 points.

Dunleavy has been under fire from some fans, and I’ve gotten e-mails from those who want to trade him. That’s not going to happen. He’s a favorite of Chris Mullin – one of Mullin’s chief disagreements with former coach Eric Musselman was the coach’s handling of Dunleavy – and he just got a new contract. Yet, I can understand where fans are coming from. Dunleavy has good skills, shooting, rebounding, handling the ball, defending, and should be an important part of the team, but he often plays passively on offense, not getting as involved as he should.

Recently, though, he’s been speaking up about the failures of the team, insisting that everybody should be playing better and harder. Yesterday, he did his part in that, playing aggressively from the opening tipoff. Instead of hanging back and letting others take charge, he set the tempo of the game as the Warriors raced to a 13-2 lead. The Warriors never trailed in the game and led by as many as 22 points in the fourth quarter.

Dunleavy will never be the leader of the team – Baron Davis has that role – but he’s an important component when he’s playing aggressively. More than any other player, he needs to assert himself.

--The return of Mickael Pietrus. In just his second game since returning from an injury which sidelined him for two months, Pietrus gave a shot of energy to both the team and the sellout crowd when he entered the game in the second quarter, hitting a jump shot, then driving the lane for a basket and then hitting a three-pointer in just over three minutes time..

Pietrus played 15 minutes in the game and scored 19 points, which included a perfect 3-for-3 on three-point shots, while playing his usual tenacious defense.

At times, coach Mike Montgomery played a small lineup with Pietrus, Davis and Jason Richardson teaming with Dunleavy and Adonal Foyle, with Troy Murphy sitting. I’d like to see more of this lineup with its great athletic ability. Watching Davis, Pietrus and Richardson together is a joy. Davis and Richardson play the “alley oop” pass and dunk perfectly. At any time, one of the three can flash to the basket, or Davis can penetrate and then pass back to Pietrus for an open three.

EVEN IN victory, though, the Warriors problems in the middle continued to plague them. Between them, Foyle, rookie Ike Diogu and Andris Biedrins have the skills for one competent player, but none is remotely close to being a respectable center.

Foyle might be an intimidating defensive center if he were actually the 6-10 at which he is listed, but he’s probably a couple of inches shorter. As it is, he is still a good rebounder and shot-blocker, but he can’t stop a taller man. Seattle’s 7-foot reserve, Robert Swift, who was playing high school ball in Bakersfield two years ago, went over the Warriors centers for 12 points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes.

The Warriors’ inside problems are compounded by the fact that Murphy, though he has the size, simply doesn’t have the heart to play inside. He prefers to play on the perimeter offensively, which is not where you want a 6-11 power forward, and he isn’t tough defensively. So, whatever center is in there gets little defensive help, and when Foyle is playing, there’s virtually no inside scoring to take the pressure off the perimeter players. In the fourth quarter yesterday, Foyle took a pass inside and went up to score, shocking everybody. Usually, he fumbles that kind of pass out of bounds.

If you look only at the statistics, you’d probably think Murphy is having a very good year. When you watch a game, though, you see the truth: He’d be a terrific pick for a Fantasy league team, but he isn’t much of a help for a real team.

Trying to get more offense in the middle, Montgomery had been starting Diogu, but at 6-8, Diogu is really better suited to playing power forward. It would be nice if the Warriors could trade Murphy to make room for Diogu at power forward, but other teams look at game films, too.

Foyle started yesterday and played as well as he can. Diogu played only nine minutes and looked lost. Biedrins played only eight minutes but actually looked the best of the three, because he had the size and the quickness to stay with Swift.

This situation will continue to plague Montgomery and the Warriors for the rest of the season. Biedrins has the most potential (as a center) of the three, but Montgomery is trying to win games this season, not develop a player for the future. Playing Foyle gives him a good defensive presence inside against teams which do not have a dominating offensive center, but no scoring threat. Playing Diogu gives him some offense but seriously weakens the defense.

THE WARRIORS chances of making the playoffs have been diminished by the way Kobe Bryant has almost single-handedly raised the Lakers’ game.

Yet, the Warriors still have a shot because there’s talent on this team, even though it’s a mismatched group. I think Montgomery would do well to go to the small lineup more, to step up the pace of the game to minimize their defensive mistakes.

What to do in the middle? I have no answer for that. That’s a problem without a solution.

BLOG TIME: Not all blogs are created equal. Here are three I particularly enjoy: 49ersparadise.com. Bryan Hersh collects 49er stories from multiple sources and contributes his own thoughts as well; athleticsnation.com. Tyler Bleszinski posts readers comments and his own, including a three-part interview with Billy Beane which concluded yesterday; loveofthegameproductions.com. Marty Lurie has contributions from several sources for his baseball-oriented site and offers his own comments daily.

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