It was exactly what Warriors coach Keith Smart had feared.
Kwame Brown – yes, Kwame Brown – got the ball in the paint with Warriors’ rookie Ekpe Udoh on his back. The Warriors’ lead was five with just over two minutes left. Brown, now a wily veteran, took advantage of Udoh. Lost him with an up-and-under move for an easy layup. And the foul. With starting center Andris Biedrins on the bench facing fouls, Brown came alive down the stretch, scoring six points in three minutes (would’ve been eight if he made his free throws).
Smart was right about how Udoh’s inexperience in the league, and at center, would be easily exposed by NBA big men. He is perhaps wise for trying to protect Udoh. With that said, Friday’s game underscored why Udoh needs to play more.
On the Warriors’ four-game losing streak, they have had a hard time against physical, sizable, long, athletic, tough front lines. First it was the Los Angeles Clippers, led by Blake Griffin and DeAnDre Jordan. Then it was San Antonio, which isn’t athletic, but Tim Duncan and DeJuan Blair, and Tiago Splitter off the bench, are big and/or bulky and play hard and physical. Wednesday, New Orleans’ just worked over the Warriors with David West and Emeka Okafor. And Friday, the Warriors’ had a tough time in the second half with Gerald Wallace, Nazr Mohammed, Kwame Brown and company.
The Warriors bigs have a hard time with athleticism and size. Lee has the skill, and he plays with effort, but he falls short dramatically in the physicalness and athletcism category. Biedrins is the most agile, but he’s just not strong enough. Amundson, based on reputation has the energy/scrappiness thing down. But he lacks the athleticism and offensive skill. Gadzuric is the most physical, but that’s about all he has. Brandan Wright is long and athletic, but not nearly strong enough.
Of all the big men, Udoh has the best combination of size, athleticism, strength, skill, toughness and hustle. Though he lacks experience and isn’t a good rebounder (three rebounds in 20 minutes, though all three were offensive), the Warriors can’t afford to go without those traits. In the last five minutes of the game, the finesse tends to do more harm than good and (mental) toughness and grind are at a premium.
Golden State is going to need Udoh on the court, even if that means he has to take his NBA lumps. The next few teams coming into Oracle Arena – Utah, Milwaukee, Chicago – they go hard in the paint. Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap are a load to handle. Milwaukee is one of the better defensive teams in the league because they are legitimately big and physical, led by Andrew Bogut. Chicago won’t have Joakim Noah. But Warriors fans have watched Carlos Boozer bully the Warriors for years.
Smart said he looks at this stretch of physical, tough teams as a good barometer for his team.
SMART: “It helps you to understand how hard you have to climb to get to the next level. … They’re going to challenge you offensively and defensively. And you’re going to have to match that. And when you don’t, it shows you where you really are and how far you have to go.”