Pointing the way
Golden State learns to appreciate Davis' leadership
In light of the recent friction between Stephon Marbury and Larry Brown -- in case you missed it, Marbury became frustrated and asked to be moved to two guard -- it is interesting to note what is happening at Golden State.
The Warriors, under the direction of Baron Davis, another powerful point guard capable of scoring in bursts, are off to their best start in a decade at 7-5 (which tells you as much about the Warriors' start as it does their last decade). Davis' numbers so far are not great -- his tweaked hamstring has clearly limited his effectiveness, and he's shooting 32.5 percent this season -- but his effect has been profound. "No disrespect to the point guards who were here in the past, but Baron's the type of point guard that makes everybody better," says backcourt mate Jason Richardson. "He gets in the lane and just finds guys. I been waiting for a guy like him to come and he took my game to another level."
This is not, incidentally, the type of quote one reads about Marbury, despite his career averages of 20 points per game and 8 assists. But this type of appraisal, I would argue, is a simple, but fail-safe way to assess any point guard: do his teammates like playing with him?
Think of the top point guards in the league -- Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Davis -- and their teammates tend to speak of them with an affection rarely heard from heterosexual men discussing other heterosexual men. And with good reason: a top point guard can turn an average player into a good one, and a good one into an All-Star (see Kenyon Martin in New Jersey), and in the NBA that's worth a lot of zeroes come contract renewal time.
Take Troy Murphy, the Warriors' forward. A banger for most of his career, he's shooting a career-high 47.2 percent and hitting 1.2 three-pointers a game, or nearly one more than his career average coming into this season, in large part because Davis is creating wide open looks. Says Murphy: "He's made my life easier. He's so strong for a point guard that he forces other teams to double him and the kick out is to me for a three. He gets me a lot of easy baskets."
Warriors center Adonal Foyle is particularly impressed by Davis' instincts: "Most of the time if you do what he says, you'll be in the right spot --" (and here Foyle mimics finding a ball magically delivered in his hands) "It's like, 'Hey, it's Christmas!'"
The praise isn't limited to current teammates. Jamaal Magloire, who played with Davis in New Orleans, says of his former teammate: "He's able to make everybody feel their worth, I know that from experience. Baron's a good fit anywhere he goes."
So how, exactly, does one make teammates speak of you with the enthusiasm of Rex Reed reviewing a big studio film likely to quote him in its print ads? In reporting a story on Davis for this week's issue of SI, I asked Davis if he had a philosophy of point play. His answer could serve as a primer for aspiring point guards or those who are being 'converted' -- a process I'm dubious of -- such as Joe Johnson. "Everybody needs special attention, especially from a point guard," Davis explained. "It's about learning my teammates and their personalities. Being a point guard is about making the guys around you confident to where they feel like they want to play with you because they know that you're looking out for them. I study guys and know where they like the ball and where they are effective. When I played with David Wesley and P.J. Brown, I knew where they liked it and tried to get it to them in those areas."
He then listed off the Warriors shooting preferences -- Murphy likes it at the top of the key, Dunleavy on the wings and baseline, Fisher likes the baseline three and so on.
Davis also has strategies for how to communicate with teammates: with Dunleavy, it's pumping him up, as he did against Chicago a week and a half ago, telling Dunleavy in mid-game that he'd "had a dream he was going to hit the game-winning shot" (he didn't, but no matter); with Murphy, it's getting on him to exert more effort. Late in a win over the Bulls last week, Davis could be seen berating Murphy, even thought the Warriors were up 20 with three minutes left. Turns out he was getting on the big man to go after rebounds. "He keeps me in the game mentally," Murphy said after the game. "I mean, at the end of the game, he's yelling at me to grab every rebound like we're up two points, not 20. No one would say that to me, and he's the one who says something like that."
(Davis' critiques can be even more pointed, not to mention profane: against Milwaukee last week, after Mickael Pietrus dribbled head-down and turned the ball over, not seeing Davis ahead of the pack for a wide-open layup, Davis yelled. "That's f----d up man, f----d up." Pietrus, who normally passes only on holidays and special occasions, proceeded to immediately, and sheepishly, dish it off the next four times he touched it.)
Apparently, Davis welcomes a two-way street. According to two Warriors assistants, Davis set a precedent when, four games after joining the Warriors last season, he pulled aside the whole coaching staff after a loss and said, "If I'm not getting it done, get on me. I might get mad, but I'll listen." Says assistant Keith Smart: "For a player of that stature to say that, that's impressive."
So, as you see, Stephon, it's easy. Merely learn your teammates' preferences and personalities, get them easy shots, create double teams, know whose confidence needs boosting and who needs a tongue-lashing and be open to criticism. Then your coach and teammates will love you too. You might even win some games in the process.
http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2005/w ... index.html