Ah yes, the highly anticipated New Year's Eve game between the Sixers and their erstwhile 1962 rivals, the Warriors of Golden State. It's as much a staple of basketball and Auld Lang Syne as you'll find during the turn of the year. With everyone over 65 years old extremely amped for this indefatigable rivalry, I spoke with Nate Parham from Golden State of Mind about the game. You may remember Nate from when I went to Las Vegas for my SB Nation NBA wet dream and played 8:00 AM basketball in the 110 degree heat. Nate's kind an extremely nice leaner that's quite difficult to defend, just for reference.
Read my answers to his questions at GSoM, a refreshingly different blog than ours, which leans towards self-deprecation - a fault that I mostly take on as my own. Anyway, Nate's a good guy so treat his verbose, informed answers to my questions with an above-average amount of respect and limited mockery. As with all Golden State questions, the first one must start with Steph Curry and everybody's boy, Monta Ellis.
LB: Any chance Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis aren't defensive liabilities someday? Can they play with each other on a contender? If one needs to go, which one should?
Nate: That would be nice and with the new coaching staff putting an emphasis on defense to earn playing time maybe one or both of these guys will dig deep and find their inner defensive stopper. However, the bigger question might be whether the combination will get to a point where it's not a defensive liability against the elite and that's somewhat difficult to imagine - simply due to size, the team seems destined to struggle to match up with teams that have any kind of size at the 2.
So most Warriors fans will acknowledge that one of them probably needs to go - personally, I think the team will be better off going forward by just choosing one to build around and going from there. But if I were to choose, I'm pretty firmly in the Keep Curry camp. Curry is a distributor who can score who has better vision and passing ability (and half court alley ooping ability) than I think anyone imagined when he came out of Davidson and his poise running the team legitimately makes the team better. Ellis is more of a scorer who can distribute and is extremely difficult for teams to stop off the dribble due to the threat of a mid-range pull up. But skills aside, while there is room for growth for both players, but Curry has shown more as a playmaker in his first two seasons which makes me think he's the easier 6'3" guy to complement. That's not to say Ellis is a bad player - I think next to a big, playmaking 2, who can defend a team could be successful with him - but Curry is my preference as a guy to build a core around because he makes others better.
LB: What's the feeling like in Warriorland in terms of winning games? There's a core there but it hasn't yet translated. Is this the year the Warriors go down the OKC Thunder path or does another lottery pick need to fall into their lap before the rebuilding can end? I ask because the subject of rooting for losses for the future betterment of the franchise has been discussed ad nauseum the past three seasons at LB.
Nate: What do you mean rebuilding is supposed to end?
That might be a surprisingly complicated question this year. First, when you say "hasn't yet translated", the new ownership team and management believes this is a playoff-caliber roster as it stands now that just hasn't gotten there yet. So although that triggers a knee-jerk Jim Mora "PLAYOFFS?!?!?" response from me, naturally some people are sippin' on that Kool-Aid.
But second, the big issue this year is that the Warriors have a top 7 protected first round draft pick (it belongs to Utah now but the Warriors traded the pick to the New Jersey Nets in return for Marcus Williams, who played exactly 9 games for the team. When you consider what's available in this year's draft...nevermind...let's just not go there.) The Warriors historically have this bad habit of being mediocre enough to put them out of playoff contention but just outside of range to draft a big-time talent in their second home of Secaucus; that will only be magnified this year if they lose the pick altogether. So for those fans who believe the team needs more talent - even after adding Kwame Brown in the off-season - this is ample reason to keep an eye on losing games to make sure the team keeps that pick.
The thing for me is that even in the hypothetical event that this team gets to the playoffs, it would likely be a seventh or eighth seed that would lead to a first round exit and little room for the kind of growth the Thunder have seen (the Warriors don't have a star of Kevin Durant's caliber and the matter of whether the team even has a talent on Russell Westbrook's level has been the subject of some debate). So I'd like to see individual improvement this season and with Mark Jackson getting a lockout-shortened season of experience under his belt for the future I don't mind losses at all. But I understand those who are eying the playoffs - when you've only made the playoffs once in 17 years, at some point it helps to have a break just to get through the next four or five.
LB: The big fake news this summer was centered around an Andre Iguodala-Monta Ellis swap. There are some Sixers fans who view this not happening as a tragedy since Andre tends to be extremely undervalued around town. What's the feeling like around your parts?
Nate: I think it's fair to say that most people around here felt this swap would've been a no-brainer for the Warriors. As noted above, most believe that the Curry-Ellis thing needs to be resolved and doing so by bringing in a perimeter defender like Iguodala would've been a near-perfect way to do so, given that perimeter defense was a huge weakness last season. With Mike Malone coming in this season, it just seemed like an even better fit. For me, it was just cruel to have fake news like that floating around to get my hopes up.
Naturally, one's feeling about this deal would depend on their position on this whole Curry - Ellis debate: if you think Ellis is the man to build around (and there were some who compared him to Derrick Rose in the thread about this deal), then of course you wouldn't want to do this deal. But for most people, this has been one of the best ways "proposed" to resolve this situation.
LB: Golden State seems to have the problem most young, bad teams do - a ton of raw depth up front but not enough skilled players to actually win games. When you look at guys like Ekpe Udoh and Jeremy Tyler on your bench, does it make you wish Andris Biedrins and Kwame Brown didn't exist?
Nate: I think more people just wish that Andris Biedrins returns to the form he was in when the Warriors were a playoff contender in 2007 & 2008. And thus far, he's been looking like a much better player this year - the energy that he has brought on the defensive end has been impressive. His three steals were no small part of shutting down the Bulls' post scoring attack as he's pretty adept at denying post entry passes. And while his numbers aren't overwhelming on offense, he's looked aggressive, which is promising.
When you add Kwame Brown's rebounding ability - don't laugh, he had 10 in 12 minutes against the Knicks and is proving to be a presence on defense despite his notoriety for being a bust - the post rotation is solid defensively. It would just be nice to get some offense from the center position as well. And I'm not totally sure anybody really knows what to expect long-term from Tyler or Udoh.
Tyler's story has been pretty well-documented and given his circuitous path to the league, it's just difficult to know what his adjustment process might be or what NBA skills he can offer consistently. One thing that has been evident is that this guy is an outstanding athlete and could be useful running the floor in transition. But does he have the ability to score in the post or defend in the post? After a couple of preseason games, I'd say the jury is still out.
Udoh is promising - the guy is pure heart and there are some who think his effort alone makes him the best starting center the Warriors have. But like the other guys, it's not clear what he's going to offer consistently on the offensive end although his energy alone will help him get garbage points. And he was injured for a long period last season meaning his career didn't necessarily get off to a great start. He's also 24 already, so there's a feeling that his ceiling is near.
Nate: Not that I'm aware of, unfortunately, but I'll take that to mean you're interested in a discussion about the Warriors' backup point guard situation. Most people were pretty excited about what Charles Jenkins had to offer after the preseason but Ish Smith really stepped up in Curry's absence in Wednesday's win and it appears that he's won those minutes. With Curry back in but Ellis out tonight it will be interesting to see who gets the start. Hopefully TMZ will take up the cause to follow your bromance interest after they're over Kris Humphries.