Don Nelson is gone, but his legacy remains, which is a problem for the Warriors.
Nelson liked to play smaller-but-quicker players who could score a lot of points. Defense? No problem. We’ll just outscore other teams.
When Keith Smart took over as coach before last season, he said his emphasis would be on defense and rebounding.
How did that work? Well, when new coach Mark Jackson and general manager Larry Riley met with the media Thursday, Jackson said, “Watching the videos, I saw a team that was very good at the offensive end, scoring a lot of points, but didn’t buy into the concept of playing tough defense.”
So, Jackson was talking defense Thursday. “It’s just a matter of wanting to do it, whether it’s individual defense or team defense. You’ve got to work at it in practice because if you don’t do it in practice, you’re not going to do it in a game. It isn’t that hard. If I could play defense, as slow as I am, anybody can.”
Perhaps the players will listen to Jackson, who had a 17-year career in which he had 10,334 assists; only John Stockton and Jason Kidd have more.
But the Warriors don’t have the two main ingredients for good team defense: a big man blocking shots in the middle and guards who can stop — or at least slow down — the opposing offense out front.
The physical and emotional problems of Andris Biedrens have drastically reduced his effectiveness.
“I see a player who was developing into a big rebounder and shot blocker and finishing shots at the basket,” Jackson said. “I’ve seen good players who took a jolt [to their confidence] and became just average. We have to see what we can do to build up his confidence.”
Last year’s No. 1 draft pick, Ekpe Udoh, showed flashes, but the Warriors still don’t know whether he should be a center or power forward. Basketball people think David Lee is better suited to being the sixth man, but he’s the starting power forward because the Warriors have nobody better.
The backcourt has two undersized guards, point guard Stephen Curry and shooting guard Monta Ellis, which isn’t working well. When the 6-foot-5 Baron Davis was the point guard, he could defend the shooting guard on the other team and Ellis could take the smaller point guard. Now, he has to take the shooting guard and he’s frequently overpowered.
There have been rumors that Ellis would be traded — though Riley said there are no untouchables on the roster, Curry is the least likely player to be traded — but nothing appears to be imminent.
In fact, though Riley wouldn’t talk specifics, it’s unlikely that there will be significant trades or free-agent signings. This year’s free agent group is an unremarkable one, so significant help probably won’t come until next year’s draft, expected to be a good one because more college players stayed put, no doubt aware that an NBA season might not happen.
So, Riley talked often Thursday of a bright future. But the present? Probably more of the Nelson pattern, an exciting offensive team but without the defense to get to the playoffs.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.