Are Warriors for Real?
by Glenn Dickey
May 20, 2005

AS THE WARRIORS made their 18-10 run at the end of the season, after acquiring Baron Davis, there were two schools of thought: (1) It was meaningless because they were playing without pressure, knowing they wouldn’t make the playoffs; or (2) They had hit their stride with Davis and will be a playoff contender next season.

Tempting as it is to go with the first choice, after watching the Warriors flounder for what seems an eternity, I lean to the second one.

As much as Davis accomplished at the end of this last season, he wasn’t completely healthy, and he was just learning his teammates, which sometimes caused him to throw the ball away – and also to take far more three-point shots than he should have. He still showed how a good point guard can get the ball to his teammates in the right place – Mike Dunleavy especially benefited from that - but a healthy Davis, who knows his teammates better, will be able to work more efficiently with them, while retaining his spectacular moves.

I also think Mike Montgomery will do a better job of coaching. Before the final week of the season, when I had a long one-on-one with Montgomery, he admitted the season had been a long learning experience for him. Everything was different – the much longer schedule than he faced in college, the exhausting travel, the lack of practice time. He’d had to learn his players, too; it did no good to draw up plays on the blackboard if the players couldn’t execute them.

He also learned, frankly, that he couldn’t control the game, as he did in college. This is the undoing of most college coaches when they come to the NBA, the feeling they should be in charge. They’re not. The players are. College coaches who think they can control the NBA game fail.

Montgomery is too smart to fall into that trap. He drastically cut back on his offensive system because he realized he wouldn’t have time to put everything in. When the Warriors go to training camp, he’ll be ready this time, and the team will show it.

STILL, THERE are some huge questions that will have to be answered between now and training camp. Among them:

--What kind of help can they expect from the draft? Though they’re in the lottery again, their chances of getting the No. 1 pick, so they could draft Utah center Andrew Bogut are roughly one-in-71, better than the real lottery but not good. Besides, we all know the Warriors never get the No. 1 pick when there’s a really good big man. When Patrick Ewing was available, they drew the No. 7 pick. When Joe Smith was the best choice, well, guess who popped up No. 1?

General manager Chris Mullin would like to draft a big man, but projections I’ve seen have European players Martynas Andriuskevicius, Nemanja Aleksandrov and Johan Petro likely available when the Warriors draft, along with Channing Frye of Arizona, a good player but one who would have to put on a subsantial amount of muscle weight to compete in the NBA. Mullin took off for Europe as soon as the Warriors season was over. He likes European players because they have a good attitude and all-round game – and he discounts the idea that the European big men play soft – so he may decide he likes one of the above players, about whom I know nothing.

Last year, Mullin took 18-year-old Andris Biedrins as the Warriors’ top pick, mostly because he saw that Biedrins had good feet and hands, which gave him a chance to develop. Biedrins hardly played in the first half of the season, when the Warriors had too many big men who wanted minutes, but when they were traded, he played more and showed flashes.

Biedrins has no shot, but he’s very quick around the basket, picking up loose balls and putting them up. I think when he works more with Davis, they’ll develop some nice pick-and-roll moves that will get him points. He’s a good defensive player and rebounder. He’s probably three inches taller now than Adonal Foyle, and he may grow into a legitimate 7-footer. It wouldn’t take much improvement for Biedrins to be able to move Foyle back into the reserve role where he belongs.

--What about the logjam at guard, with Davis, Jason Richardson, Derek Fisher and Mickael Pietrus?

I hope Mullin will be able to move Fisher, a good guy and catch-and-shoot player who has few other skills. Unfortunately, he may not find another team willing to pick up Fisher’s contract. Whatever happens, Montgomery should make sure Pietrus gets a minimum of 25 minutes a game. He’s a shutdown defender, a rarity in a Warriors uniform in recent years, and has shown flashes of brilliance as an offensive player, too. He’s one who benefited most from Davis’s presence, because Baron found him when he broke free.

--Can they re-sign Dunleavy? When I asked Mullin about Dunleavy, he said the salary cap wouldn’t prevent the Warriors from signing anybody they really wanted, though he didn’t specifically say Dunleavy was in that class. Mullin, though, has always admired Dunleavy and clashed with former coach Eric Musselman over Dunleavy’s lack of playing time.

It would help, of course, if Mullin can unload Fisher, but whatever happens, he should do everything he can to keep Dunleavy. The former Duke star isn’t a flashy player but he can do a lot of things well, including shooting the three. He handles the ball well, rebounds and, though he doesn’t have the foot speed to be a strong individual defender, knows how to play team defense. In fact, his whole game is reminiscent of the way European players play.

AS ASTOUNDING as it seems, the Warriors may be the best pro team in the Bay Area by the end of the year. Think about it. The Giants and A’s are going nowhere, the 49ers have to improve to be awful, the Raiders will score a lot of points but may not be able to stop other teams from doing the same, the Sharks won’t be playing as the NHL continues to self-destruct.

So, it will be up to the Warriors to provide some excitement, and I think they can.

NOTE: I didn’t mention pre-game shows in my piece on announcers but I like Marty Lurie’s “Right Off the Bat” show before A’s games. Of course, that evaluation has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Marty is a good friend.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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