Friday, November 04, 2005

Will the real sleeper please stand up?

The Warriors are a very popular dark horse pick to make the playoffs this year. Not as popular of a pick, the Utah Jazz are, however, seen as a team with some high hopes as well.

These two "sleepers" square off tonight in a battle of youth and potential.

After seeing the results of their Opening Night manhandling of the Dallas Mavericks, one cannot help but wonder just how much sleep is really in the Jazz.

Younger than even the Warriors, the Jazz will rely heavily on players in their 4th years or less of experience. Their frontcourt of Mehmet Okur, Carlos Boozer (when he returns from injury), and Andrei Kirilenko is a dangerous one, and from the looks of the game vs. the Mavericks, rookie Deron Williams may be a significant contributor right away, tallying 18 points, 3 assists and 3 rebounds in the Jazz' first game. Kirilenko is the most experienced of that group in his 4th season, while both Boozer and Okur are in their 3rd years.

Their bench could be a problem, though, as the Jazz don't seem to have a lot of firepower beyond their starting five besides Matt Harpring. Both Greg Ostertag and Jarron Collins provide some veteran stability, but neither are going to do more than provide rest for the emerging frontcourt, while the rest of the bench has unimpressive careers thus far, though many of them have two years or less of experience.

So, who's the real sleeper? While Utah's frontcourt is intriguing and there is high hopes for Deron Williams, the Warriors have two bonafide stars in Baron Davis and Jason Richardson, potential youth in Mike Dunleavy, Troy Murphy and Ike Diogu, and solid bench contributers in players like Derek Fisher, Mickael Pietrus, and Calbert Cheaney, each of whom has a year or more in the past where they have proven what they can do. Unless their bench steps up or their starting five really clicks, the Jazz look like they'll be sleeping for another year or so, to me.

The Warriors could be wide awake this very season.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

First Impressions

Impressions of the Warriors first regular season game last night, which they won over the Atlanta Hawks 122-97.

We'll start with the first half, which saw the Warriors down 57-47 to the Atlanta Hawks:

  • Sloppy. Mike Dunleavy, he of the large new contract on which the ink is still dry, came out with six turnovers in the first two quarters, and looked just like I didn't want him to: lost. Opening night can have plenty of jitters and overflowing adrenaline for veterans as well as rookies, but Dunleavy looked to be having trouble figuring out just where he should be on the floor. The team had 13 turnovers in the first half, which isn't even a small number of turnovers for an entire game.
  • Free throws are free. Missed free throws are expensive. The Warriors got to the line plenty of times (23), but only converted 12. Not good, but I'll shrug it off for now.
  • Troy Murphy looked very good, but early foul trouble clouded his first half line of 13 point and seven rebounds.
  • Baron Davis looked good running the team, but couldn't finish his drives or hit his jumpers. 1-6 first half shooting.
  • Off the bench, Zarko Cabarkapa was very active, showing some nice athleticism, and Chris Taft made me feel much better about the Warriors inside defense outside of Adonal Foyle with a couple of nice blocks.
  • Both Bob Fitzgerald and Jim Barnett were spot-on in a comment at the end of the 1st half, saying that while it was obvious the Warriors could play much better, the same wasn't the case with the Hawks. They played their best basketball, the Warriors looked like they were near the bottom of their game, and the Hawks parlayed that into a 10 point lead. It was easy enough to believe they could come back.

Second half:

  • Poor start with more turnovers in the first couple of minutes, but the defense began to spark fastbreaks, and the comeback was on. Drives to the basket and three-point field goals were both there. After the comeback was complete, the rout was on. A 27-2 run saw the Warriors up by 15 after being down by 10. They ended up outscoring the Hawks in the 3rd quarter 39-16. Woo hoo!
  • Baron goes down with a leg-something-or-other, and every Warriors fan within 100 square miles of Oakland collectively rolled their eyes. I mean, I'm under the impression it wasn't a season-threatening thing, but to quote Steve Irwin, "Krikey!" Can't we watch this team for a week without this stuff?
  • To the team's credit, they kept rolling immediately following Davis' departure. Tell you what -- I heard Lakers' fans saying for years they wanted an upgrade of Derek Fisher at the point, but he makes a damn fine backup at the point. No, you don't want him starting, but off the bench you're not going to find better.
  • Dunleavy looked completely different in the 2nd half. He was live, active, and into the game.
  • Man, the Warrior Girls look particularly good this year, don't they?
  • Tyrone Lue is a punk. A little, annoying, punk. I've decided that I do not like him. Joe Johnson, while perhaps not a punk, made a punk play late in the game, along with Royal Ivey. I guess just being on the Hawks does something to you, knowing you won't win anything. All three fouls were flagrant, unneccessary, and stupid.
  • The youth of this team can and will be a spark at times this season. Taft, Aaron Miles, Mickael Pietrus...their athleticism and energy is evident. I like Miles' quickness -- he looks lightning fast, quicker than Davis, even. Both Taft and Miles were able to play significant minutes because of the injury to Davis and the foul trouble of Murphy. And think, Ike Diogu won't even lace 'em up for a couple of weeks.
  • Oh yeah, Jason Richardson. His scoring repertoire was fully utilized last night. Catch and shoots, feeds on the break, step back jumpers, drives to the basket, couple of post moves...very nice.
  • I'm wondering at the possibility of Pietrus eventually becoming a nicer, not-quite-as-tough-defensively Ron Artest. Just saying, you know? Just gotta polish off those offensive moves. Sometimes he looks...well, awkward.

It sure is nice to have garbage time for the team this early in the season, isn't it? It looks as if Davis' injury is a hamstring pull, not deemed serious at the moment.

They ended up shooting 58% from the floor (37% on threes) and had 24 assists, moving the ball around and doing a good job making sure the offense wasn't stagnant. Defensively, they shut down the Hawks in the 2nd half, only allowing 40 points and holding them to 42% shooting with 10 steals and eight team blocks. Very nice.

Things I didn't like was the Warriors getting outrebounded by nine (Atlanta had 20 offensive...ick) -- Foyle only played 21 minutes and Murphy had the foul trouble, so I'm assuming this had something to do with that. The turnovers were annoying in the 1st half, but they really cut it down in the 2nd half, so I won't gripe.

Can't wait for Utah on Friday...

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Dunleavy overpaid?

Yes. No. Maybe.

If you haven't heard, Mike Dunleavy's going to be a Warrior for a while longer. He and the team agreed on a 5-year, $44 million extension on Halloween night, which for some people, I'm sure, is a spooky thought.

Dunleavy has improved his statistics every year he's been with the club, but has had obvious holes in his game since day 1 with the Warriors. His shot has been inconsistent, and his defense has been non-existent. But he's been insistently persistent at every instance...oh, nevermind.

This year would have been a make-or-break year for Dunleavy, had the Warriors not jumped the gun and signed him. It is an interesting trend, lately, as the Warriors seem much more inclined to lock players up before free agency becomes an issue. Perhaps it's the influence of Chris Mullin, but owner Chris Cohan has opened up the wallet at every opportunity.

But is the deal good? We won't really know until after this year, but I find it interesting that as the Warriors have more options to take away minutes and shots from Dunleavy, they give him this contract. He averaged 11.5 shots per game last season, and I can't really see that total going up by much at all. One thing the Warriors need is more inside scoring, and this would lead Troy Murphy, and possibly Adonal Foyle getting another shot or two per game (hopefully not Foyle, though), and the team will need to start figuring out what they have in young hopefuls Andris Biedrins and Ike Diogu, when he comes back from injury.

Dunleavy's biggest asset and weakness is his versatility. He can play a few different positions if you need him to (off guard, small and power forward), but isn't particularly adept at any of them. He's slow for a shooting guard, having trouble separating from or guarding smaller guards on offense and defense, respectively. He's a natural small forward, but the quickness problem is still present there, too, and he's not quite a good enough ballhandler to create his own shot. He's large enough and a decent enough rebounder to be inserted at the power forward from time to time, but has strength issues there, and doesn't really have any inside scoring moves.

So, what gives? The size of this contract dictates that Dunleavy become a better player to earn the money, but the situation of the team makes that less of a possibility than it otherwise would be. He averaged about 32 minutes a game last year, but to earn that contract, I'd think he'd have to get much closer to 40 minutes a game to put up the numbers.

Does anybody see Dunleavy playing eight more minutes a game this year? They're not only going to have to find more minutes for Dunleavy, but also for Mickael Pietrus, who made a huge leap in development last season. Pietrus played 20 minutes a game, and I just can't see that not increasing by at least a few minutes a game. The odd man out would have to be Calbert Cheaney, but I'm sure they'll want him on the floor some to provide some veteran presence at times, so it's a bit difficult to see him shuffled to the end of the bench.

In any case, we won't really know how good or bad this contract is by the end of this season, but it is nice to see the Warriors spend some money.

Will this be the year?

For many NBA teams, that question is asking, "Will they be able to win the championship this year?".

For the Golden State Warriors, it asks, "Will they be able to make the playoffs this year?".

This year is a huge problem for me. Normally, I'm quite pessimistic, and with the history of this team over the last 10 years...well, it's very easy to go with the flow. But while I won't just dump my pessimism yet, I will make one statement:

I want to be optimistic. And that's pretty significant in and of itself.

Tonight it begins against Atlanta, and while I'm not one to act like the first game of a season means more than any of the other 81, for this franchise, it would do a lot for the fanbase to get off to a quick start. Against the Hawks, at home is the situation for it.