For better or worse, Don Nelson loves wings. They can go big against smalls and small against bigs. They’re better shooters than the power players and better rebounders than the ball handlers. Their flexibility is essential for the variety of circumstances Nellie ball creates, so it should come as no surprise that three of the top four players in minutes per game (still left on the team) are on the list below. With the rapidly improving skills of our power players and the quantity (if not quality) of small guards on the roster, we’ll soon see whether the wings continue to dominate the rotation. Here’s what Nelson has to choose from:
What he did: Jackson started off last season asking to be the man (and to be paid accordingly). Then he shot 41% from the field and led the NBA in turnovers (by a full half turnover above second place). I tend to think playing the second most minutes per game in the NBA didn’t help his efficiency or focus, but it certainly did his body no favors. Jackson finally called it a season in the final quarter of the year, logging a total of 59 games. The team went 21-38 (.356) with Jackson and 8-15 (.348) without him. Despite putting up a career year statistically, his absence didn’t exactly decimate the team’s performance. But if his leadership role on the court was thrown into question by his performance last season, his performance this off-season has ended all doubt. Publicly longing for a winning team, Jackson no longer wants to be the man — and certainly doesn’t appear to want to take responsibility for any of what we suffered through last year. Jackson kicked off media day two years ago by showing off his new “praying hands with gun” tattoo. We’ll find out on Monday whether he’s inked “It Ain’t Me” on his body this off-season.
What I’m hoping for: Unrealistically, I’m hoping that Jackson’s relationship with the team (and fans) isn’t beyond repair. If used in moderation on the court, he possesses a mix of offensive, defensive, and ball-distributing skills crucial for the Warriors success. But when played too many minutes and without any accountability for bad decision-making, his propensity for bad shots, gambling defense, and risky passes swamps the positive aspects of his game. At 25-30 minutes a night, I still feel Jackson could add a lot to this team. Realistically, I’m hoping that some GM around the league strongly agrees with the preceding sentence.
The big question: Will he be here? If our double-for-nothing trade with New Jersey doesn’t facilitate a trade for an established veteran, it may go to help Jackson exit stage left. With camp starting on Monday, the logical time for a minimum-disruption trade would be the next three days.
What he did: Corey came to the Warriors with the decked stacked against him given his too-rich contract. He didn’t do himself any favors early in the year by shooting too much, not passing enough, and playing defense only Jamal Crawford could love. He struggled early with persistent hamstring issues and had already lived up to his reputation of being a fragile player within his first few months on the squad. But somewhere in the middle of the year, Nelson moved Maggette to the bench, asked him to focus on aggressively attacking the basket, and reduced his exposure as a back-up power forward. The changes seemed to re-energize him — he played at a faster pace, focused on the best part of his game (getting to the line), and showed sustained bursts of defensive effort. He’s still not worth the money — particularly as a bench player — but his second half performance at least provided a vision of how Maggette could become a regular contributor to a run-and-gun Nelson squad.
What I’m hoping for: As with every year, health will be key for Corey. He’s noticeably more aggressive when he’s comfortable with his body. If his minutes need to be carefully monitored, so be it. We should have sufficient depth this year to make 35+ minute nights for Corey a thing of the past. And although it may be too late in his career for any real hope of change, I’d love to see Maggette find a way to combine his head-down, bowling-ball approach with degree of ball movement. He did a better job looking for his teammates at the end of last year, but there’s still tons of room for improvement.
The big question: Where will his minutes come from? If Corey remains a 3 / sometimes 4, he’ll be fighting for minutes with Jackson, Azubuike, Morrow, Randolph, Wright, Moore, and George. It’s hard to see him getting 31 minutes a night, as he did last year, and unclear how he’ll respond to getting less time. He was a good soldier going to the bench last year — when his minutes were still a sure bet. If he’s on the bench and a lesser player in the rotation, we could have another veteran longing for a new home. Of course, if he’s still getting 31 minutes a night, it may soon be the fans, not Corey, hoping for a change of address.
What he did: Just about everything the Warriors asked him to do. He brought much needed consistency, defense, and toughness. In a season wracked by injuries, he ended up playing the most minutes of anyone on the team. He appeared to force his offensive game a bit at times, to the detriment of his teammates, but those moments were the exception, not the rule. In a perfect world, I still don’t see Azubuike as a starter, but he filled the role admirably last year and has grown into a nice complementary player, adjusting his game to the others on the court. There were lots of problems with the Warriors last season, but Azubuike was not one of them.
What I’m hoping for: I’m optimistic that Azubuike isn’t finished developing as a player. In particular, I’d love to see him continue to focus on the defensive end of the court. With Ellis and Curry to slight to guard bigger, stronger shooting guards and Morrow still adapting to the speed of the NBA game, it pretty much falls to Azubuike and Jackson to be the stoppers. Given Jackson’s uncertain future, more defensive toughness out a Kelenna would be a big boost for the team.
The big question: How much better can Kelenna get? He’s entering his third full year in the league and still seems to be adding pieces to his game. His shooting percentages climbed across the board last year, despite taking significantly more shots. He’s quietly become one of the best three point shooters in the NBA and could benefit greatly this year from a healthy Monta, drawing defenses inside with penetration.
What he did: The short answer, at least for me, is that Morrow (along with Randolph and Turiaf) made quite a few unwatchable games watchable. His starting debut against the Clippers is an instant classic. His jump shot is a thing of beauty, he’s already demonstrated his toughness, and he’s appears to still be climbing the steep part of the learning curve. Even if he never develops an all-around game, his shooting is likely good enough on its own to keep him employed in the NBA for years to come. But fortunately for us, Morrow’s late season surge showed him improving in all areas — from passing, to defense, to rebounding. Randolph and Curry will get all the early attention this year, but Morrow could end up making a bigger jump in terms of consistent quality play than either of them.
What I’m hoping for: Enough defense to keep him on the court. Don Nelson is famous for the individualized (read: inconsistent) standards he holds players to when it comes to errors that will get them yanked from games. Morrow found himself frequently heading to the bench after defensive errors, but avoided getting discouraged and showed significant improvement towards the end of the year. As his passing instincts and rebounding toughness improve, he’ll have other areas of his game besides scoring to justify his time on the court. Hopefully those improvements along with some physical development will allow him to play average NBA defense.
The big question: What type of protest we should stage if Morrow isn’t in the three point shootout this year. The man nearly shot a higher percentage from behind the arc than inside it (.467 vs. .482). Now, if we could just get him the 5.2 three point attempts a night Stephen Jackson had last season.
What he did: Shot under 40% (for the third consecutive year, and seventh year out of ten) and averaged more turnovers than assists. He played nearly 17 minutes a night last year for the Mavs, however, which should give us all pause when considering his place on the current Warriors squad. He looks like nothing more than an expiring contract, but that might be a flawed assumption since the Warriors traded out another potentially expiring deal to land him.
What I’m hoping for: That he lives up to his placement on this list as a wing, and isn’t another undersized Nelson power player. He can’t shoot, his best defensive days are behind him, and there are better reserve options for all the potential skills he brings to the court. The real training camp battle to watch might be to see whether George or Claxton deserves the inactive list more.
The big question: How many times this season we’re going to have to hear that George is a “winner” based on his time in LA.
Ultimately, the Warriors’ problem with the wing spot isn’t a lack of talent. They have four NBA quality players bringing different individual skills to the court. The challenge at the position is figuring out whether any one of these guys deserves significantly more time than the others. And if the answer is no, it’ll be a challenge to keep them all happy playing reduced, but roughly equivalent, minutes. Finding Jackson a new home would not only make him happy, but would also have the added benefit of clearing up a bit of a depth chart log-jam (assuming we don’t just get another wing in return, which would be a classic Warriors move).
Up next, the big men.[/img]
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