By TED SILLANPAA
The Golden State Warriors’ 2-1 start to this season has been noteworthy in that management has made a conscious decision to identify their cornerstone players (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Andrew Bogut) and to build around them. The Warriors have been building around a young player or two, off and on, for years. This is the first time that the rebuilding process didn’t include a high-priced star player that some other team was willing to unload.
Point guard Jarrett Jack and versatile forward Carl Landry are proven professionals who give an honest night’s effort, finding ways to help the Warriors every minute that they’re on the court. Small forward Richard Jefferson suddenly finds himself in a key role, with Brandon Rush out for the season with a knee injury. Jefferson has played well for playoff teams, yet doesn’t seem to bring the me-first ego that has hurt so many Warriors teams that did have some young talent. Those three join David Lee to give Golden State four professionals who will contribute without holding Curry or Thompson back.
It’s a great deal better for Harrison Barnes, the small forward chosen in the first round of the draft, to be learning the NBA ropes from Landry and Jefferson instead of, just for example, Stephen Jackson. Jackson’s a talented player who helped lead the last Warriors’ playoff team, but he did as much damage off the court as he did good things on it. Barnes, Curry, Thompson and the rest need hard-working, stabilizing influences like Landry and Jack more than they need a Cap’n Jack type insisting he’s the go-to guy who just must lead the way.
The Warriors seem, right now, to be playing better with Jack at point guard alongside Curry. That means Thompson, the best all-around player on the team, swings to a wing spot. It has been working because Jack knows how to distribute the ball, making Curry and Thompson better able to shine on the perimeter. And, Jack can hit the mid-range jump shot, a skill that often seemed completely lost on past Warriors’ teams.
The mix of interesting, young talent and veteran leaders who finds way to positively impact a game on the court while they make a positive contribution off it should be really encouraging. Far more encouraging than teams built around, going way back, big-name players like World B. Free, Bernard King or even Baron Davis.
Center Festus Ezeli is going to be very important with Bogut’s minutes limited as he comes back from his injury. Ezeli started and showed he’s an athletic big guy with good hands and developing skill around the hoop. He’s not the latest, big stiff the Warriors called on in hopes he can help. Ezeli’s a true talent who is honestly learning the game in the NBA.
Another encouraging thing about these Warriors is that they decided to move forward with veteran Andris Biedrins on the bench, his rich salary isn’t moving them to try to get him minutes. His fall from grace has been unfortunate and perplexing. But, for whatever reason, Biedrins hurts the club whenever he’s on the court. So, unlike Warriors teams that would’ve been insistent on trying to get something of their money’s worth on Biedrins, this group has no intention of using the center often, if at all. With Bogut out of action Saturday and Ezeli starting at center, Biedrins didn’t play a single minute. (He got into the game in a free throw situation at the very end of a quarter but his line shows he didn’t play a minute.) When Ezeli was on the bench, David Lee moved to center and Landry was an undersized power forward.
The Warriors finally have the right idea.