Until tonight’s exhibition game, a 126-92 win against the New Orleans Hornets, I was of the persuasion that starting rookie Stephen Curry with Monta Ellis in the backcourt would be a disaster. Ellis is not a good defensive player, so there’s no chance you could ask him to guard shooting guards in that pairing. And Curry has a slight frame at 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds. Thinking he can guard guys like Kobe Bryant, Brandon Roy, and the rest of the big shooting guards in the West, is a pipe dream. But Curry’s performance in Thursday night’s game might be enough to persuade me that putting this defensively challenged pairing together in the backcourt is a good option for the Warriors.
I must disclaim that Curry wasn’t playing against a legitimate NBA lineup tonight. The Hornets rested nearly all of their stars in the blowout loss.
Chris Paul? Didn’t play because of an upper respiratory cold (sure).
David West? Didn’t play because of a left ankle sprain (OK).
Emeka Okafor? Didn’t play because of a sprained toe on his right foot (right).
I understand that it’s preseason. Worse than that, it’s late preseason, which means you can’t really use these games as an accurate barometer for anything.
But again, Curry’s line was awesome. He played 38 minutes (starter’s minutes are an average 36). He scored 14 points on 6-13 shooting, including 2-6 on 3-pointers. That’s a huge victory on its own. Curry was a fantastic shooter and scorer at Davidson. But since he started playing against NBA (or semi-NBA) talent, he’s been horrific. He shot 32 percent in the Vegas Summer League. Prior to Thursday’s game, he was shooting about 34 percent in preseason games.
That’s not good.
But Don Nelson had an interesting quote following tonight’s game about Curry’s shooting.
“All the concerns I had have been eliminated, and the one thing that I didn’t worry at all about was the shooting stroke. So he hasn’t been able to shoot the ball. But he’s one of the best shooters in college basketball for as long as he played at Davidson. We assume that’s just going to come around.”
Good point. Curry was fantastically fun to watch when he was in college. He could create his shot against anybody and he had range beyond the NBA 3-point line. So, Nelson is probably right. Give Curry the minutes and he’ll probably find his shooting stroke.
And really, even if he doesn’t, he does so many other things well, it’s not a deal-breaker. Oklahoma City Thunder second-year starting point guard Russell Westbrook struggled with his shot last year, shooting 39.8 percent. But he did so many other things well that he’s considered one of the better young point guards in the game. Curry can have the same kind of effect, even if he doesn’t find his shooting stroke as a rookie.
Let’s look at the rest of Curry’s line. We established the 14 points and decent shooting percentages. But in addition to that, he grabbed six rebounds, dished out 10 assists and had six steals. In the interest of full disclosure, he also had five turnovers and five fouls. But I’ll take a 2-to-1 turnover ratio from a starting rookie point guard. That’s fine with me.
Curry is a fantastic talent. He is a good rebounder for his size, and has shown an ability to create shots for other players all preseason. The importance of that can’t be discounted. The Warriors don’t really have a player who creates for others, except for maybe Stephen Jackson. Monta Ellis isn’t a great passer and his court vision and awareness isn’t anything special. Those aren’t his strengths. C.J. Watson, for as nice a story as he is, isn’t really anything more than a decent backup.
When you look at the options Don Nelson has at point guard, it makes sense to throw the rookie out there and see what sticks.
Is Curry a better option than Watson? I think so.
Is he a better option than Ellis? I think so. I don’t think Ellis has shown in the past couple seasons that he can be trusted to man that position. He’s a great player, but he is a great shooting guard trapped in a point guard’s body, and the Warriors shouldn’t try to convince themselves any longer that he’s a good option at point.
So, what happens if the Warriors start Curry and Ellis together? Offensively, it will be great. Both are playmakers, both are great scorers, and both are good shooters (Ellis within the 3-point line, Curry outside it, according to his college reputation). Both are good rebounders from the guard position, especially for their size. Both are fit to play in Nelson’s get-out-and-run offense. So, that all looks good.
Defensively, it could be a mess. Let’s not mince words here. Watching either Curry or Ellis try and match up with big shooting guards (Bryant, Roy, Manu Ginobili) could be really, really ugly. But looking at the Warriors’ roster, I don’t see a shooting guard that Nelson can pair with either Curry or Ellis who would be a better option on defense. I love Anthony Morrow, he’s very fun to watch, but he’s not going to be able to guard talented two guards in this league any better than Curry or Ellis. Plus, for all his shooting prowess, he doesn’t provide much else to the lineup. He’s not a great rebounder, he’s not much of a passer, and as we established, he’s not a great defender. Putting him at 2 isn’t really an upgrade. What are the other options for shooting guard? There aren’t any. The Warriors could put one of their forwards there (Stephen Jackson, Corey Maggette, Kelenna Azubuike), but that just creates a different kind of matchup problem for the Warriors.
If Golden State had a legitimate two guard with legitimate two guard size on its roster, I’d say you start Curry at the 1 (who is more of a point guard than Ellis) with this phantom shooting guard, and you bring Ellis off the bench as your offensive wunderkind sixth man. But as far as shooting guard goes, I think the Warriors’ best option is Ellis.
And at point guard, it’s becoming more difficult to convince me that there is a better option than Curry. Watson, Acie Law, and Speedy Claxton won’t cut it.
So start Curry next to Ellis. Live with the defensive shortcomings and enjoy the spoils on offense.
That would make my ideal starting lineup as follows (assuming a healthy Anthony Randolph):
In an 8 or 9-man rotation, the main bench contributors would be Maggette, Morrow, Turiaf and Azubuike, in that order. CJ Watson would get spot minutes backing up the point guard.
What do you think? Do you want to see Curry in the starting lineup? What about the rest of the lineup? Who would you start?
Here’s a link to an Associated Press write-up on Thursday night’s exhibition game: http://pressdemocrat.stats.com/nba/recap.asp?g=2009102209&home=9&vis=3
Here’s a link to the box score: http://pressdemocrat.stats.com/nba/boxscore.asp?gamecode=2009102209&home=9&vis=3&final=true