Rants and Raves: Curry should go
The spotlight here was on the Golden State Warriors' dynamic duo, Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry, the top-scoring backcourt combo in the league.
However, is what they do good enough to provide a foundation for a winning team? Do their defensive shortcomings negate all that scoring? How well do they work with each other? Should one of them be traded? And if so, which one?
His numbers Wednesday against the Nuggets demonstrate what a potent point-maker he is – 16-for-30 shooting, 37 points. Indeed, Ellis can score every which way – catching and shooting, pulling and shooting, dribbling through the bosom of a defense, finishing in heavy traffic, nailing treys and/or creating contact with a defender to draw fouls. And he's not afraid to take win-or-lose shots -- his last minute 3-ball provided the Warriors with their winning margin.
Passing is not really his thing. Three of his five assists occurred when he couldn’t create a shot for himself and made a desperate pass-out to a teammate, who then canned a long jumper. Three of his four turnovers came on lazy passes. Indeed, Ellis exhibits sticky fingers when the ball is in his hands, but that’s business as usual for elite scorers.
He did make one nifty backdoor move but missed the resulting layup. And he also curled nicely around a few weak-side screens, of which he makes optimal usage. But Ellis would rather not move without the ball and, instead, holds his position and waits for the ball to come to him.
Ellis' defense is, at best, desultory. All three of his steals resulted from bad passes hitting him in his hands. Ellis is passive in defense of screen/rolls, and rarely rotates in any defensive situation. When he does look to provide help, he invariably wanders too far from his assigned defender and is unable to recover.
But every team has to have a designated scorer, and Ellis fits the bill for Golden State.
He was relatively laid back during the game at hand – 5- or 9, 13 points. Operating mostly at point guard, Curry focused more on getting the ball to the right player at the right time. (Actually, virtually every half-court set wound up in some kind of isolation sequence, for Ellis, David Lee, Reggie Williams, or Dorell Wright.)
Even so, too many of Curry’s passes were sufficiently off target to prevent the receivers from cleanly catching and shooting. Both of his assists were recorded when long jumpers capped his kick-outs. In other words, Curry failed to demonstrate any playmaking capabilities. Also, his three turnovers were entirely self-inflicted.
Midway through the initial quarter, Curry’s own number was called – a curl off a double-screen – but he shot an air ball. Although he did exhibit a smooth release in dropping three subsequent jumpers, Curry was also guilty of two bad misses. It seems as though he’s more comfortable (and more accurate) pulling and unloading rather than catching and shooting. A high-flying floater under severe defensive pressure was, however, the highlight hoop of the game.
On defense, Curry was hypnotized by the ball. On several sequences he wandered too close to the ball and lost touch with J. R. Smith, a dangerous shooter who fortunately missed the subsequent open shots.
Otherwise, Curry was a diligent digger whenever he was in the neighborhood of a posting opponent and, whenever he lost his man, he usually found a passing lane to poach. Yet his rotations were horrible, his double-teamings were late and he committed too many silly fouls. In fact, two reaching fouls early in the third quarter sent him to the bench and limited his playing time to 29 minutes.
Together, Ellis and Curry notched 50 points, with the former doing the most damage. It should be noted, however, that neither the Warriors nor the Nuggets offered anything more than token defensive resistance. And despite not being seriously challenged by Anthony Carter, Arron Afflalo or Ty Lawson, Ellis and Curry yielded 25 points in mano-a-mano confrontations.
That’s an outstanding (and a winning) 2:1 ratio.
Even so, with Wright (23 points) and Williams (18 points) quite capable of blitzing the scoreboard, one of the team’s starting guards is expendable. This is particularly true since Ellis and Curry don’t really play well in tandem. Of the 10 passes that were completed from one to the other, eight gained no advantage and only two were meaningful.
It says here that Ellis is too explosive to deal, and that obtaining a true point guard in exchange for Curry would greatly accelerate the Warriors' evolution into a solid playoff team. Somehow getting hold of a husky big man whose interior scoring necessitated double-teaming would be another huge improvement.
In addition, the Warriors require more teamwork on offense and someone, anyone, who is committed to, and capable of, playing solid defense. As it is, the Warriors have half of a team, which is why the best they can hope for is to win half of their games.
Forget about all the parity blather claiming that a wide range of teams have a legitimate shot at winning the championship. In truth, only four are in serious competition to win the last game of the season.
All of the following should be considered pretenders and absolutely not contenders.
ORLANDO: Too many important players have substandard athleticism – Hedo Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick. Gilbert Arenas hasn’t been there and hasn’t done that. Quentin Richardson’s erratic play has been responsible for him changing teams five times in the past two years. The league’s elite teams understand how to minimize Dwight Howard’s offense – bang him at every opportunity and have a helper waiting to jump on his spin moves. There’s no way the Magic can get past either Boston or Miami.
ATLANTA: A bad combination of old legs and young heads.
CHICAGO: The Bulls are the dark horse in the postseason race but are hampered by having too many guys who can defend but can’t score, and vice versa. Derrick Rose is the only explosive point-maker, but he’s still making too many poor decisions with the ball in the lane. Carlos Boozer is immobile. Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson are terrific role players. The key to the Bulls' postseason fortunes is Luol Deng. If he can ring up points with any degree of consistency, then Chicago could be a scary opponent. Even so, despite their outstanding defense, the Bulls are a bit short in the talent department.
DALLAS: The Mavericks' two go-to scorers – Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry – have a common history of folding in clutch situations when the Mavs venture deep into the playoffs. Caron Butler’s offense is sorely missed. Jason Kidd is on the verge of his 38th birthday and can no longer take the ball to the hole. Tyson Chandler is having a career year, but the Mavs are still not close to being a championship contender.
OKLAHOMA CITY: The Thunder's lackadaisical play of late is surprising, not so their sieve-like defense and their inferior rebounding.
UTAH: Except for the Jazz's rebounding and defense, they’re a championship squad.
NEW ORLEANS: There's not enough help for Chris Paul and David West.
One of these four teams will win the whole shebang.
L.A. LAKERS: They have championship experience to go with Kobe’s killer competitiveness. But Andrew Bynum must stay healthy, and Ron Artest must regain the fire that helped stoke the Lakers' last title. The return to action of Matt Barnes will almost compensate should Ron-Ron continue to be overwhelmed by off-court distractions. Moreover, the Lakers will never make their way out of the Western Conference playoffs if they can’t improve their screen/roll defense and switch on their collective A-game once the money season commences.
MIAMI: Their Biggest Three are incredible one-on-one scorers. And despite the fact that only Dwyane Wade and Joel Anthony are excellent defenders, the Heat play championship-quality defense. The key to their championship hopes is LeBron’s ability to routinely drop perimeter jumpers.
SAN ANTONIO: As the season progresses, look for Tim Duncan to resume his almost full-time presence in the low post, thereby adding a further menace to the Spurs' precision offense. To spread defenses, the Spurs must hit their outside shots, especially Manu Ginobili and young Gary Neal. Exceptional help defense, a one-man fast break in Tony Parker and total discipline make the Spurs as likely to cop the gold rings as anybody else.
BOSTON: A powerful defense backed by plenty of beef in the middle is abetted by Rajon Rondo’s warp-speed, baseline-to-baseline adventures. The Celtics also have the most versatile offense in the league. Their championship mentality, unselfishness and bottomless courage are tough to beat. Even so, Ray Allen must plug most of his 3-ball attempts to create room for his teammates to maneuver themselves into makeable shots.