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Blog Question

“Marcus, I get the impression that you do not think this team is a contender yet. Do you think a Nellie team can win a title, and what do you think it would take?” — Jim

Jim,

I do think they are a contender — for the playoffs. One of the last spots, at that.
No way is this team a contender for the title. And, no, I don’t believe Nellie is a championship coach. His gimmicky style has yet to produce a title. His never-ending search for a mismatch always leaves his teams lacking on defense and rebounding.
What will he need to get it done? Almost the impossible: five guys with tremendous offensive skills, including at least two big men with size, who can also defend and rebound. That’s a lot to ask.
A perfect example came in the playoffs. With his team getting pummeled inside, he refused to play his beefiest players for fear that it would hinder his offense. That series vs. Utah was close, too. They came a rebound or two away from stealing a couple of games in Utah.
But his mindset is so offensive oriented (not that he doesn’t preach defense, he does, just after he preaches offense), he never seems to be able to sacrifice it. You mean to tell me Foyle couldn’t have contributed anything in that series? With the way Boozer played in Game 4, you don’t throw Adonal out there, your best defender, to at least try to slow him down?
Nellie probably didn’t even consider it because he wrote him off a long time ago because he doesn’t have offensive skills. Would he not use a player that has only offensive skills but not defensive? Of course not. But he won’t use a defense-only guy. Especially a big man.
Meanwhile, coaches like Gregg Popovich milks Bruce Bowen, Phil Jackson used the heck out of Dennis Rodman. Larry Brown and Flip Saunders would never think about taking Ben Wallace out of the game though he only plays one end of the court. Mike Brown, when it was best for the team, played Eric Snow in the Eastern Conference Finals, though Snow is a liability on offense and Daniel Gibson is a much better scoring point guard.
Coaches that are really successful emphasize defense. They understand that the playoffs slow down, jumpers stop falling, and at some point or another, you have to get a stop and a rebound.
While Nelson’s style is fun, it’s not made to survive in the playoffs. For that, someone else will have to add to the system he’s installing now. Notice Dallas didn’t become legitimate until Avery’s defense-first mentality took over.
It’s that philosophy that leads me to believe he won’ win a championship.

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Marcus Thompson

  • Jim

    Thanks Marcus, for your on-point and sincere reply. We are all thankful for where Nellie has taken this team. Hopefully we can develop beyond the limitations of Nellie ball and not recede into a sub par team. Man, we were close in Utah weren’t we?

  • petaluman

    Although I mostly agree with you on this, Marcus, I’m going to play devil’s advocate here. Anything can happen once you get to the short series play-off format. Our play at the end of last year showed we can beat any team in that situation when at our best (with the possible exception of San Antonio). I think if we’d have won the first 2 (close!) games in Utah, we would have taken that series. It doesn’t take much imagination to see that last year’s conference finals could have been Warriors vs. Suns – just a couple bounces of the ball and a few less seconds off the bench.

    Of course, if you own the boards, you can win even when your shots aren’t falling. We were let down by our rebounding, not our defense. Look – we’re a lot taller this year!

    Unfortunately, we’re also a lot less experienced. I don’t believe that Nelson “won’t play big men or young players”. I do agree that he won’t play someone lacking the specific offensive skills he looks for. I also think he won’t play someone who fails to give him what he wants on the defensive end as well (I think that was Diogu’s downfall).

    My question to you is – what do you think Nelson will get from our 4+ rookies (POB is basically still a rookie) this year, and during the rest of his stay? Do you think he has the patience to develop players as raw as these? Is Croshere here to help mentor, or to keep the youngsters on the bench (or in the DL)?

    PS There is a maximum number of players we can assign to the DL at one time, right?

  • Marcus Thompson

    Petaluman,
    Anything DOESN’T happen in the playoffs. Usually, in a seven-game series, the best team wins. That’s why the Spurs won last year, not Cleveland.

    And Diogu’s problems wasn’t just defense. That was his probably under Monty. Under Nellie it was he didn’t run the floor fast enough and he was lost on offense, which infuriates Nellie.

    I think he’ll get very little out of his rookies, including POB. Belinelli has the best chance to do something because he can shoot. He fills a need, and he has skills that translate into Nellie’s style. Wright has a chance to do something because he’s athletic and fits the style. But, from what I’ve been told, his skill set is raw. Lasme, I think, is going to be a victim of having players at his position who are just better than him right now. Same thing with Kelenna last season.
    I’m thinking Kosta and P.O.B. are works in progress. But their lack of athleticism is going to make the process too long for them to contribute next year. I haven’t seen much of Kosta. I hear he’s skilled and unathletic. If true, he’s going to have to be pretty good at what he does to fit Nellie’s style.

  • petaluman

    Then we really ARE better than the Mavs!! and the Spurs are only the best every other year (or maybe, usually does not equal always).

    Remember, I’m just playing devil’s advocate here. But that’s why we play the games instead of just crowning the “best team”.

    You’re probably right about the rookies. I just hope Nelson can get some meaningful production out of them by next year.

  • Andrew Rosenblum

    Marcus,

    I really like your point about Adonal Foyle in the Utah series. As you say, he was the biggest, most physical defensive presence on the team, and the match-ups whiz wouldn’t put him out there even to just change the texture of the game.

    I think Nellie’s inability to scout and coach big men is his great weakness as a coach, which is in part why his teams play such lousy D. If you look back at Nellie’s career, his lack of a big man was the fateful spur to trade for Webber; and with Dallas, his big man was Dirk Nowitzski, a sort of Euro-super-small-forward, more than a Karl Malone banger type. And then there was the whole Wang Zhizhi and Shawn Bradley experiment. The one All-Star big man Nellie has ever coached successfully (since his time with the Knicks was such a disaster) was Jack Sikma with Milwaukee in the 80s. Can you think of anyone else?

    And why is scouting big men such a problem for him, given that he is absolutely brilliant at finding and motivating perimeter players, even “difficult” ones, a la Spree and Jax?

  • Rondoe

    Wouldn’t Anderson Varejao be a good free-agent pick up??? He can run the floor, play hard down low and rebound. Keyword: Rebound.

  • Marcus Thompson

    Rondoe,

    Varejao is a restricted free agent, which means the Cavs have the ability to match whatever offer he gets. The Warriors wouldn’t be willing to pay him more than the qualifying offer the Cavs have him signed to anyway, especially not if Pietrus sticks around.

    Petaluman,
    The Warriors ARE better than Dallas.

  • jerrybeau

    if the warriors ARE better than Dallas, and Dallas IS a championship contender, then why aren’t we as well?

  • JustPuked

    Marcus,

    I really appreciate your thoughts on this but I disagree and I’m not playing devil’s advocate. I think Nelson is a unique coaching talent and has the ability to coach a championship team. Nelson is very good at identifying and developing players with advances skill sets. Conversely, he’s also adept and identifying players without those abilities and we all know he doesn’t have much patience for them.

    The trouble comes when it’s time to put the players on the floor. Despite his ability to develop players with multi-talented skills, he is ultimately a system coach. In other words, if a player doesn’t fit his system, he has difficulty finding a spot for them on the floor that will maximize their limited skill set. If there is a flaw in Don Nelson’s coaching approach, that’s it. It’s one of the significant reasons why he shortened the rotation so much in the playoff drive last year; he didn’t have enough players he trusted that fit his system.

    There have been plenty of championship coaches that asked their players to “fit” the system, Phil Jackson and Bill Fitch immediately come to mind. Very few coaches have Red Auerbach, Pat Riley and Jack Ramsey’s ability to adapt a team’s style to fit their personnel and still win consistently. Lenny Wilkins is a fabulous coach that always adapted his coaching style to the players on hand. Despite coaching a championship team in 1979, he’s more famous being the coach with the most loses in NBA history.

    Just because he lacks, say John Wooden or Chuck Daly’s abilities to design his teams attack around primarily their current players best abilities, instead of asking those players to adapt to his system, doesn’t mean Nelson can’t coach at the highest level. Nelson was voted a member of the Top 10 NBA coaches of all time in 1996 for a reason (look it up) Nobody has Nelson’s uncanny ability to understand, find and exploit any and all match-up advantages on the court. His talent in that regard is outstanding and he’ll be a first ballot Hall of Fame coach for that reason alone.

    What’s kept Nelson from getting a ring as a coach is he’s yet to have a team created in his image and trained from the ground up to implement the full realization of Nellieball. When he has full rotation of multi talented players that can initiate and abuse the myriad of match-up advantages that Nelson can devise for them, he’ll win a championship (like he did with Dream Team II). Of that I have no doubt.

    This year’s Warriors roster is filled with players that have the potential to grow into Nelson’s dream roster. Judge him on his ability to take the raw ability this roster has and raise it to the level he needs to reach the top. But if Wright, Perovic, POB and Lasme never blossom don’t fault Nelson because the players he has to work with are too flawed to shine.

    The criticism that he’s unable to develop big men is misguided at best. Even worse is the sub argument that because Nelson didn’t use Tyrone Hill properly that because Chris Webber flourished elsewhere that the smoking gun on this flaw is true. That’s like saying Red Auerbach with Ed Macauley, Pat Riley with Lamar Odem and Phil Jackson with Oakley, couldn’t develop quality big men because they let those guys go. Hogwash! Nelson helped develop the skills of All-Stars like Marques Johnson, Terry Cummings, Jack Sikma, Chris Webber, Chris Gatling, Tyrone Hill, Dirk Nowitzki, and soon to be All-Star Andris Biedrins, Let’s put that flawed argument to rest.

    Of course, when/if he does get a roster talented enough to unleash the full version of Nellieball, critics will grip the same thing they say about Auerbach, Riley and Jackson…How the hell could you NOT win a championship with Russell, Magic, Jordan, Cousy, Jabbar, Kobe, Havlicek, Worthy, Pippen, Jones, Wade, Shaq, etc. on your team? I’ll let someone else argue which comes first, the uber talented players or the coach?

  • Anonymous

    Did you really just compare Adonal Foyle to Bruce Bowen, Dennis Rodman, and Ben Wallace?

    Believe me, if Nellie had any of these guys vs. Utah, he would have played them!

    Adonal is a liability on the court in many ways, and in no way is he dominant. He’s not even a particularly good defender.