Friday, May 4, 2007

Some Thoughts Following the Warriors Win...

The Golden State Warriors' first round upset of the Dallas Mavericks revealed a lot about both teams. A few undeniable truths that emerged during the Warriors' spanking of the Mavericks:

A healthy and happy Baron Davis is as devastating as any point guard in the NBA. As good as Davis' numbers were (25ppg, 6.2rpg, 5.7apg, 1.83spg, 54% FG, 45.5% 3pt), his impact on the series extended far beyond statistics. Baron Davis' ability to get into the paint at will opened up the floor for the Warriors' shooters and set the tone for Golden State's domination of the Mavericks. He's the perfect point guard for Don Nelson's run-and-gun, small-ball system- he's Tim Hardaway with better instincts and more of a killer instinct. As always, his health is a concern, but when he's healthy, he's as dominant as any lead guard in the NBA.

Sure he’s crazy, but Stephen Jackson is a damn good player!
Yes, he was suspended for following Ron Artest into the stand in Detroit; yes, the Indiana Pacers were so eager to get him out of town that they agreed to the worst trade of the past few NBA seasons; and yes, he was ejected from two the games against the Mavericks, but Stephen Jackson is a damn good NBA player who comes through in the clutch, does not make bone-headed plays, and has championship experience (11.8 points, 28 min/game in 80 games with San Antonio in 2002-03). Jackson lifted his game in the Dallas series, averaging 22 points per game and making 47.5% of his 3-pointers, including a series-high 33 points and 7-of-8 3-pointers made in Game 6, and a physical defensive presence against Dirk Nowitzki.

“Small ball” is no gimmick, it’s the next frontier in the NBA. Their styles may not be as frenetic as the Golden State Warriors or the Phoenix Suns, but several NBA teams are ditching the post-up big man and adopting a more up-tempo style of play centered around pure point guards and versatile 6'4"-6'9" wing players who can grab a rebound and start downcourt without having to stop and look to pass to a guard. These teams are tough match-ups for slower, less mobile big men like Shaquille O'Neal and Yao Ming, and even those as versatile as Elton Brand and Dwight Howard. In addition to the Suns and Warriors, the Dallas Mavericks (unless they're playing Golden State), Toronto Raptors, Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets, San Antonio Spurs (if they choose to), Detroit Pistons, Chicago Bulls and (if they ever get a point guard!) even the Atlanta Hawks always have three (in many cases four) players on the floor who can rebound, dribble, pass, shoot from the outside and drive to the basket. For the foreseeable future, the trend in the NBA is to build a team of multi-talented athletes rather than use high draft picks, cap space and minutes on the floor looking for a low-post scorer.

Dirk Nowitzki is not a SUPERstar. He's a fantastic player, the likely MVP, and one of the most skilled big men the NBA has ever seen, but Dirk Nowitzki is NOT a superstar. Superstars do not vanish the way Dirk did in Game 6, and even before his heroics in Game 5 (a Dallas win), he had taken just 2 shots in the first 21 minutes of the second half. Which superstar, down 3-1 and on the verge of being on the wrong side of a historic upset, play with so little aggressiveness? When a true superstar is having an off night, you never forget that he's on the floor. He's an All-Star, the probable MVP and a fantastic player, but until Dirk Nowitzki gains a better sense of the moment and his role in big games, he will not truly be a SUPERstar.

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