Talent Blossoming for Golden State

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» Tue Oct 18, 2005 9:45 pm
Talent blossoming for Golden StateBy Chad Ford
ESPN Insider

LAIE, Hawaii -- Five observations from Warriors camp:

1. Tuning up and D'ing up: This Warriors team has a lot more going for it than Baron Davis and some swagger.

Davis, for the first time since joining the team, is getting a chance to synch with teammates Jason Richardson, Mike Dunleavy and head coach Mike Montgomery in practice.

"Last season we didn't really have a lot of time to practice together once Baron joined the team," Montgomery said. "This camp is really our first attempt to put all of the pieces together. I know what we have here now and it's going to be easier to put them into spots that allow them to succeed."

Last season began disastrously, with Montgomery's slowing down the team to emphasize defense. The Warriors started the season 3-12, averaging just 84 points per game while giving up an average of 96 ppg.

"I was asking guys to do a lot of things they couldn't do," Montgomery said. "Now I know what we have and can help our team play to our strengths."

Once Davis entered the starting lineup, Montgomery had the team's offensive woes solved. The Warriors averaged 110 ppg over the last 18 games of the season, putting them on par with the Phoenix Suns as one of the most potent offenses in the league.

"We can score with anyone in the league," Davis said matter-of-factly.

That shouldn't change this year with Davis, Richardson, Dunleavy and Troy Murphy all capable of scoring 20-plus points on any night.

Now the emphasis is back on the defensive end. During that same 18-game, end-of-season stretch, the Warriors gave up 105 ppg. Overall the Warriors were a mediocre 17th of 30 teams in John Hollinger's Defensive Efficiency Ratings. Can Montgomery find a way to get the Warriors to defend better without slowing down the offense?

Montgomery has spent a majority of training camp trying to come up with schemes that hide the defensive weaknesses of players such as Dunleavy and Murphy.

"We know that we're going to have defend better if we're going to be a playoff team," Montgomery said. "We have a lot of talented offensive players who know how to score. The question is whether we have the heart to defend."

2. J-Rich's game gets richer: Jason Richardson is coming off his best season as a pro and appears to have worked hard all summer to improve his on-again/off-again 3-point shot.

Last season, Richardson's 3-point shooting improved dramatically once Davis joined the team. Richardson shot 37 percent from 3-land in the last two months of the season and, from the looks of things in training camp, he could improve on that mark this season.

"I try to work on all areas of my game in the summer," Richardson said, "but I definitely wanted to work on my jump shot. With Baron on board, it takes a lot of pressure off you. I don't get all of the double teams anymore and he has the ability to drive and kick to me on the wing."

That's the good news. The bad news is that the Warriors are still trying to figure out how to motivate Richardson to put the ball on the floor and get to the line. Once Davis arrived, Richardson averaged just 3.5 free throws a game.

3. Dunleavy in limbo Mike Dunleavy showed up at camp as bulked up as we've seen him.

"Late last season coach played me some at the four," Dunleavy said. "When the team goes small I wanted to be able to handle the banging down low."

Dunleavy is entering the fourth year of his contract and is eligible for an extension this fall. Mullin told ESPN.com that the team is trying to sign Dunleavy to an extension and was encouraged by the progress the two sides have made. He sounded confident that they'll be able to get something done before the season begins.

With Tayshaun Prince getting close to making a five-year, $45-million dollar deal with the Pistons, look for both sides to use that as a measuring stick.

Mullin said that Dunleavy's progress this season could be the major difference on the team.

"We need Mike to defend and rebound," Mullin said. "Everyone knows how talented and versatile he can be on the offensive end. If we can get a big year from him, I'll feel really good about the team."

4. International Warriors: Though Mullin says it isn't intentional, the Warriors have taken on a definite international flavor on his watch. Three international players -- Mickael Pietrus, Zarko Cabarkapa and, potentially, 19-year-old Andris Biedrins -- figure to have a big impact off the bench for the team this season.

Of the three, Pietrus appears the most ready to have a breakout season. Pietrus is an amazing athlete and was the Warriors' best perimeter defender for most of last season. But his inconsistency on the offensive end can be maddening. One night he has zero points in 23 minutes against the Nuggets. The next week he's dropping 25 points in 26 minutes on the Lakers.

However, during the final 14 games last season, Pietrus scored 17 or more points seven times.

"It's all about consistency for Mickael," Mullin said. "When he plays well, he usually gets it going at the defensive end. That fuels his offensive game. If he stays focused on that, he could have a breakout year for us."

Obviously Pietrus feels that way too. He created a few waves on the first day of camp by insisting that although he doesn't want to start, he thinks he should be finishing the game for the Warriors.

That's become something of a running joke all camp. Davis has teased the incumbent, Richardson, incessantly that Pietrus is coming after his job.

"I'm not going to let anybody come and take my spot," Richardson said. "He's going to come in and challenge me? Yeah, you challenge. But nobody's going to take my spot."

Richardson has nothing to worry about, and Pietrus could get his way. When the Warriors go small, with Dunleavy seeing time at the four, Pietrus is the logical pick at the three.

Carbarkapa should see regular minutes backing up Murphy off the bench and Biedrins, despite his inexperience, has looked great in camp.

That shouldn't come as a surprise to hard-core Warriors fans who watched Biedrins post decent numbers, especially on the boards, during the last month of his rookie season. He spent all summer working out with the Warriors' staff and it shows. Not only is his body stronger, but it's clear he has a better handle on what he's doing on the floor.

Watching his unorthodox game is going to begin to draw the inevitable comparisons to Andrei Kirilenko.

"If I was trying to prepare for him, I'm not sure what I'd do," Mullin said. "His game is very difficult to define. But he's got a great nose for the ball, he can really fly up and down the court and he's just really difficult to stop. He's got a bright future."

5. Young, gifted and not ready: The Warriors had, by most accounts, a stellar 2005 draft. First-round pick Ike Diogu has drawn comparisons to a young Elton Brand ("I hope that's right," Mullin says with a laugh) and the Warriors' two second-round picks, Chris Taft and Monta Ellis, were both projected as locks for the first round just a few weeks before the draft.

So far, however, it's been slow going for all three. Diogu looked a little lost the first week of camp, blowing defensive assignments and struggling to get his shot off in the paint. His predraft critics wondered if his relative lack of size (he's 6-foot-7 without shoes) and penchant for playing below the rim would hurt him in the pros. So far, the answer is yes. The fact that he broke his left hand during the first week of camp hasn't helped matters. Still Mullin sees a bright future.

"Ike has a bigger adjustment than a lot of guys are going to have," Mullin said. "His game is about spacing and angles. Guys are going to take that away from him in this league and he's going to have to adjust. But whenever you have someone that strong, who can rebound and score in the paint, it's just a matter of time. He fit a need for us and I think in time he'll be an important piece on our team."

Ellis, who made the jump straight from high school to the pros, has impressed with his quickness and ability to score. Leave him alone to break down a defender and get to the basket and he looks great. His jump shot has also been falling fairly consistently in scrimmages. He is pretty fearless for someone so young.

But put the ball in his hands and ask him to run the point (his likely position in the pros) and it's a different story. Expect him to spend much of this season perfecting his craft in the NBDL.

Taft sat out of action for the first week because of a strained back. However, he's dropped much of the weight that hampered his sophomore season at Pitt and Mullin, who attended the same high school as Taft years ago, believes he will have a bright future in the league.

"He's big, long and athletic and he's a better player than people have been giving him credit for," Mullin said. "We had Taft in to workout against Diogu early in the draft process and the two were really close [in terms of talent]. I think this is the perfect situation for him."
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» Tue Oct 18, 2005 9:52 pm
sounds great but Pietrus shold not be linked to SG but SF! Dunleavy playing defense........... let's hope so
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» Tue Oct 18, 2005 10:00 pm
Pietrus' natural position is shooting guard... he may end up playing some small forward when he subs for Mike, but he plays SG a ton.
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» Wed Oct 19, 2005 6:02 am
He is better suited to SF, both offensively but especially defensively
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» Wed Oct 19, 2005 6:56 am
migya wrote:He is better suited to SF, both offensively but especially defensively

He's one of those players that should be playing SG, but whose game translate better to the SF position.
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» Wed Oct 19, 2005 7:58 am
It depends on what kind of team you run. If you're running a team like Golden State (who's second ball-handling option is Dunleavy over JRich), you'd probably want the guy who can't dribble (Mickael) to just jog up the floor at SG than attempt to handle the floor at SF. I think he's a great substitution for Mike Dunleavy, but he'd play SG on any other team he played for.
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» Thu Oct 20, 2005 5:41 am
He has a far better chance of getting the SF position than the SG position over JRich!
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» Thu Oct 20, 2005 8:21 am
Right... that's if he starts. But the main aim right now might not be to start him. Remember, he's very raw at this point. Dribbling, passing, fundamental stuff like that still needs improvement. He's a great shooter and a high flyer, with good defense, but he's still too raw to start.

Besides, a player's natural position shouldn't revolve around "how we can squeeze him into the starting lineup". I'd still call Baron Davis a point guard even though he can play shooting guard next to Derek Fisher during games. Mickael Pietrus plays shooting guard the best at the moment.

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