An interesting debate arose out of Steph Curry’s historic performance against the disgusting Los Angeles Clippers. You know the numbers by now: 36 point, 13 assists, rebounds.
Curry is the first Warriors rookie to post a triple-double since Chris Webber in 1993. He was the first NBA rookie to post at least 30/10/10 since Kevin Johnson in 1988. He was only the sixth rookie ever to post at least 35/10/10 – the other five being Jason Kidd, Michael Jordan, Jerry West, Oscar Roberton and Elgin Baylor.
The Warriors scored 132 points, tied a season-high with 36 assists, set a season-high with 62 percent shooting, including a season-high 13 3-pointers (7 by Curry, 3 each by the Anthonys – Morrow and Tolliver). Of course, all of these numbers are against a woeful Clippers team, and many of them came when they game was out of hand. Still, it is hard to notice the Warriors’ offense just look more productive and efficient without star guard Monta Ellis.
For the record, I DO NOT believe the Warriors are better without Ellis. I DO NOT believe the stats that show the Warriors are more efficient offensively without Ellis, considering the Warriors have hardly been without Ellis and the statistics don’t account for the opposing defense’s ability or effort. NBA players, and teams game plans, ramp up for big challenges against noteworthy players. Conversely, players relax when all they have to do is contain third, fourth and fifth-best players.
But what is undeniable, the Warriors are inconsistently efficient when Ellis is there, and not as potent offensively as they like to claim. And when he’s not, the ball movement is better, there are more open looks and the pace is faster.
What seems to be apparent is that the Warriors’ offense needs to transition from Ellis being the facilitator to Curry being the facilitator.
RONNY TURIAF (after the game on the offensive performance): “Just a bunch of guys trying to play for each other. It was an amazing experience. … That’s what you call a team effort. It was cool. It was fun.”
No one said it Wednesday — in fact, they went out of their way to not say it — but the offense runs better without Ellis or Maggette than it does. But I don’t think that’s the fault of Ellis and Maggette. I think this is about philosophy and rotation.
Ellis is the most-talented scorer on the team. Maggette is right behind him. The Warriors’ offense is built around those two. But the manner in which they use them is to give them the ball, have them create, and have other guys move around them to create alternative options.
Whether it’s Ellis or Maggette, the Warriors are primarily isolations, pick-and-rolls and post-ups. The problem with going through them, having them create the plays, is their strength is in creating offense for themselves, not for others. They usually pass only after their opportunity for a shot has been thwarted. In Ellis’ case, that takes some pretty stern defense, because he can get his shot off and convert well in traffic.
The whole process just promotes standing around, it promotes stagnation. What’s more, it increases the degree of difficulty.
What you saw Monday, with the ball in Curry’s hands, is the ball being passed up the floor, instead of Ellis or Maggette coasting, trying to set up a quick burst by their defender. What you saw is the hockey assist, where one pass was made not to get the assist, but to cause the defense to react, which opens up another pass (Keith Smart is always preaching about how the more times you move the ball, the higher the percentages go up for the offense). You saw other guys getting touches early and often, developing a rhythm and confidence.
How many times have you seen Morrow or Watson go minutes without touching the ball, so when they get it they jack it up knowing its not coming back? Wednesday, Morrow was able to develop a rhythm, Watson got into the distributing end and took only smart shots (he was 5-for-6). Turiaf got a lot of touches.
This doesn’t happen often enough when the Warriors are relying on Ellis and Maggette to go one-on-one or one-on-two 75 percent of the time. Check out this Q&A with Curry. You gotta read between his answers, but you get the sense he knows what’s best, but he will never disrespect his vets.
How different is your role when they’re out?
CURRY: “I have the ball in my hands a lot more. That allows me to make more plays for myself and for my teammates.”
“What got lost in my performance was Tolliver with 29 and C.J. and Anthony Morrow playing well. Even Ronny. He was a distributor as much as I was, getting the ball to the open man, dumping it down and finding the guys on the perimeter.”
Does a game like this show you maybe what this team needs to do more of when Ellis and Maggette are back?
CURRY: “I mean, yeah. They play their style. And you’ve got to cater to that. But as a team, you can always move the ball, you can always find the open guy. That’s just good basketball.”
“I think when we come back on Tuesday, we’ll watch film on how we played this game and try to mimic that against the Lakers.”
The stats are that you are way better offensively when Monta’ s not playing. Any reason you can think of for that?
CURRY: “I’m not sure. I mean, he averages… he gets his numbers up. The ball’s in his hands a lot, so he needs that to be productive.”
“So I don’t know, when he’s out, everybody has to pitch in. There’s just that feeling. Even though we had 7 players, everybody’s got to work together. It’s just that thing, where everybody keys in Monta a lot because they know how great of a player he is. So when he’s out, everybody has a chance to make plays.”
You talked about catering to Ellis and Maggette’s style. But do they need to maybe cater a little bit to what you guys did tonight?
CURRY: “No. I mean, that’s why they’re the players that they are. They’re All-Stars in my book. For us, we have to work around them. They’re going to get their touches, get their shots, and we have to figure out how to be productive around them.”
“They’re not going to be selfish ballhogs trying to jack up shots all that stuff. Corey likes to push in transition, get to the basket, sometimes it looks like it’s a crowded spot, but he gets to the foul line 15 times a game. So you can’t hate on that. With Monta, he’s averaging 26 and almost 6 assists. So obviously he’s working. We just have to figure out how to play defensively more than offensively when they’re on the floor. I think offensively we’re right there. We just can’t stop anybody. That’s not on them, that’s just on the team of defenders. Something was different tonight, though.”
The difference was, well, one, the Clippers were awful. But also, they were a multi-pronged attack. The Warriors can’t afford to be two dimensional. Now, that doesn’t mean Ellis is any less of a factor. I think its a mistake to think it means Curry running the show means Ellis takes a back seat. All it means is the Warriors have to be more creative and versatile with how they get Ellis opportunities. I think versatility will save him in the long run.
Having Baron run the show didn’t hurt Monta in 2007-08, when Ellis averaged 20.2 points on 53 percent shooting. Having Billups run the show didn’t stop Richard Hamilton from shining during the Pistons recent glory years. The Blazers are versatile in how they get the rock to Roy.
In addition to pick-and-roll, Ellis should be posting up. He should be coming off screens. He should get isos from various spots, instead of just bringing the ball up the court. There should be plays that are designed to get Ellis easy looks where he doesn’t have to work so hard (kind of like the lob off the inbounds they hardly do any more). LeBron, Carmelo, Durant and Wade all average more points in fewer shots than Ellis. Roy, Granger and Joe Johnson aren’t too far behind with significantly fewer shots per game. Clearly, there is a more efficient way.
Ellis knows he is unstoppable scoring. He knows he can get by anyone. He knows he can finish from multiple angles and despite defenders. He will always be his first option. The Warriors need someone handling the ball who has a broader view of the game. Someone who knows when to call his own number, when to find the hot man, when to go at a guy who has foul trouble, when to get a guy going who hasn’t been involved. Someone who is comfortable giving the ball up early, who won’t kill breaks while they saunter up court (drives me crazy!).
Certainly, Curry will have his struggles. He still gets too cavalier with the rock at the wrong times for my liking. But he’s the best the Warriors have as a floor general. He should not be a glorified spot-up shooter. Nellie sounds like he agrees, if you read between the lines, anyway.
Monta and Maggette are obviously good scorers, but can you explain how your team scores so efficiently tonight with them out?
NELSON: “Well, you know, since we don’t really have a post-up game without Maggette, we have to move the ball more. And that’s a factor. And we don’t have a go-to guy, so there is more ball movement. But there were a lot of openings, too. It really helps to have Morrow on the floor because they don’t leave him and that really opens up the middle for our rolls. They were coming off of our 4-man and tonight our 4 made jump shots. So they were between a rock and a hard place on how to guard our screen-and-roll. And then Curry is a terrific assist man. He can find creases and areas where he can make the pass and we had the screen-and-roll game really going tonight.”
How do you duplicate that kind of performance by Curry when Monta’s back on the floor?
NELSON: “(Laughs) Well, I don’t know. He’s the point guard and actually I’ve been looking for a point-forward for how many years now. Even when we had Karl the idea was to get both those guys moving off of screens and being more as a shooter.
Point guard, when you initiate a play you don’t get it back oftentimes, unless you’re running the screen-and-roll. Tonight we kind of did that with C.J. He can a lot of the offense and opened up some shots for Curry.”
Could you see a time even in the near-future where Curry is more of an offensive focus for you than Monta?
NELSON: “Well, Monta’s an offensive genius, like scorers, so that’s what he does.”
But does he bog you down sometimes?
NELSON: “You can be the judge of that. I think they’ve done a pretty good job of playing together this year. Doing a good job together. It’s worked a lot better than most people thought it would. When we don’t have Monta, which isn’t often, then Curry gets to handle the ball that much more.”