In advance of the (traditional?) Christmas Day matchup with the rival Golden State Warriors, Nate Parham of Golden State of Mind and I exchanged some questions. The Warriors are off to the best start in the history of a storied franchise, and have been hands down the best team in the NBA, let alone in the Pacific Division. After two straight Division titles behind Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, the Los Angeles Clippers had come to think that the Pacific was there's for the taking, but clearly that is not the case this season. The NBA is now viewing Clippers-Warriors as one of the marquee rivalries of the NBA, so this game is going to be a big deal.
Nate is here to help us make some sense out of the white hot Warriors start and explain what it is that has turned them into the best team in the league. I answered his questions as well, so be sure to stop by Golden State of Mind to see that.
Steve Perrin: Draymond Green was well below .500 in true shooting percentage in his first two seasons in the league. So far this season, he's at .562 true shooting. Is Green's incredible shooting improvement sustainable? Is there an explanation for it? Did he completely re-work his mechanics during the off-season? Get a blood transfusion from Stephen Curry?
Nate Parham: Kirk Goldsberry essentially answered the Draymond Green question for you and I encourage you and your readers to read that because it was just a great read about Green's development all the way from high school to now:
Green himself alludes to mechanics and I have noticed that his arm motion is slightly different this year (he clearly has a higher release point at times, though I'm not sure it's consistent yet). But I think it really is mostly a combination of the offensive philosophy, teams keying in on Curry/Thompson, and Green's ongoing development as a 3-point shooter: when opposing teams leave him to chase/trap Curry/Thompson, Green gets wide open looks on the wing/top of the arc and he's making people pay for leaving him. As he says, what option does a defense really have, right? Would you rather him shooting or Curry or Thompson? The choice is pretty easy there.
SP: Green's been starting in place of the injured David Lee, and the Warriors are off to the best start in franchise history. What happens when Lee comes back? I assume Green remains the starter, but do you have a feel for how Lee will react to being demoted?
NP: Going back to the point about Green making people pay from beyond the arc, there has been talk of how much better Lee would be with three point range the last few years for those exact reasons and it just never really came to fruition. So when you have the choice between a do-everything "stretch four" who can defend and another hard working empty rebounder who is not nearly as versatile a defender (to put it lightly), who do you choose? I can't imagine Kerr can look at what Green is bringing to the team now and shake things up just to accomodate someone who started for the last regime. And Bogut does what Lee does as a post passer better than Lee. So barring some other consideration that is not immediately obvious, I see Green remaining the starter.
As for how Lee will react to that, for all the bagging on him for his shortcomings that goes on, he's a hard-working team guy and I just find it really hard to imagine him accepting the move to the bench with anything other than grace. The other thing is that the second unit could really use his scoring ability and, in the event they wanted to make hockey subs, he'd be the offensive focal point with guys like Livingston and Iguodala able to hit him off the cut. That does bring up the issue of his cost as a sixth man, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.
SP: The Warriors have the best defensive efficiency in the league by a wide margin, yet they have at least one starter in Steph Curry who is considered a poor individual defender. Where does the defensive prowess come from? Bogut in the middle? Schemes? Length on the wings? All of the above?
NP: Well first, I think we need probably need to at least consider that Curry isn't quite as bad as his rep, at least this year: point guard defense in the NBA is probably a topic of discussion unto itself, but Curry is actually getting in a stance and moving his feet as well as he ever has on defense this year. And that career-high 3% steal percentage is from his activity and awareness off the ball, where he's been about as alert a defender as he has ever been. Hard to say how much of this is personal vs. coaching, but it's noticeable for anyone who has followed his career closely.
But to your bigger point, let's be honest: he's playing with Bogut behind him, Thompson next to him and Green filling in the blanks. There are times when the Warriors can afford to have Curry on the third or fourth best wing if they so choose and that ability to maximize the defensive capacity of their lineups with that versatility is huge. Having Bogut in the paint allows guys to gamble a lot more as well generally and, thought they aren't a high-risk defensive team, they're willing to go after it.
SP: Teams don't go from 51 wins to best in the NBA without making major changes. I mean, it seems to have happened in this case, but it doesn't happen, know what I mean? How do you explain it? Is it Steve Kerr? Development of Green and Thompson? Addition by subtraction with Lee? A healthy (healthier?) Bogut?
NP: The Lee point is so tempting to take on, but I'm not going to take that bait to go all shock blogger on you - Lee will only make this team better as he gets back to 100% and comes off the bench and I'll leave it at that. ;)
It is a mix of just about all the things you mentioned, from Green's much-touted improvement to Thompson's increasing comfort as a ball handler/driver to MARREESSE SPEIGHTS!!!!! But two major things really stand out: one, Steve Kerr's system just does a far better job of maximizing this talent than anything Jackson did prior. Goldsberry noted that Green is taking less mid-range jumpers, but the same goes for Curry and others. They're moving the ball, making teams pay for the choices they make and are a far better defensive unit with Green on the floor over Lee.
But second, we can't ignore the improvement that Harrison Barnes has made. I didn't even want the Warriors to draft him after that tankfest to keep that #7 pick, but it was always clear where he'd be best: as a guy who could play off others and score off cuts rather than creating for himself. He still makes ball handling mistakes that illuminate his glaring weaknesses, but Kerr has put him in a position to succeed by surrounding him with passers (Curry, Bogut, Green) and having him get to spots where he can score from.
It's not rocket science, but Kerr has done a masterful job of implementing this system and getting buy-in. Some of that is undoubtedly having a previous working relationship with Gentry, but whatever it is it's working. To be totally clear, that's not to bag on Jackson but I think Kerr has done all the little things that help to maximize the talents of this roster and bring them together into a more coherent whole.
Thanks to Nate for these insights. Merry Christmas everyone; it should be a great game between the Clippers and the Warriors.