Warriors

Analysis: Gifted young stars no match for Warriors' group of veteran big men

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USATSI

Analysis: Gifted young stars no match for Warriors' group of veteran big men

When the Warriors brought back 37-year-old David West, 33-year-old Zaza Pachulia and 29-year-old JaVale McGee back for second seasons, the common response was a yawn and a shrug.

OK, fine, maybe that’s enough to do it again. Maybe.

The Warriors stayed pat at center because they liked what they had. Three veterans, none close to All-Star status, dividing playing time were good enough for them to sprint to a record 16-1 postseason and an NBA championship.

At a time when the NBA is rife with gifted young big men, the Super Team Warriors are content with part-timers. Hmm. Weird? Perhaps. Recent results, however, indicate they’re onto something.

The vets, with assistance mostly from firebrand Draymond Green, are teaching harsh lessons to the gifted youth -- and sometimes simply dismissing them from the classroom altogether.

The latest to be schooled by this tag-team was Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns on Wednesday night. His name may be the most popular answer to the hypothetical question: If you could pick any player to start a franchise, which would you choose?

Towns played 27 minutes, his second-lowest total of the season. He gave the Timberwolves 16 points, on 5-of-11 shooting, and 12 rebounds. The man who shoots 55.4 percent and averages 22 and 11 didn’t quite disappear, but he was barely there.

Before Towns there was Hassan Whiteside, averaging 18.3 points and 14 rebounds when coming into Oakland with the Miami Heat on Monday. He’s coming off a season in which he was the league’s No. 1 rebounder and a top-10 paint scorer.

Whiteside lost his courage early, lost it so transparently that Heat coach Eric Spoelstra benched him for good barely a minute into the third quarter -- after Pachulia opened the half by scoring four points in 59 seconds. Whiteside lasted all of 16 minutes, delivering three points (1-of-9 shooting), six rebounds and one block.

Some of this forgettable performance was on Whiteside; he’s a head case. But some of it was his reaction to the opposition.

Whiteside had 21 points and 17 rebounds one night earlier, against Clippers big man DeAndre Jordan. Two nights after being stifled by the Warriors, Whiteside hung 23 and 10, with four blocks, on the Suns.

Before Towns and Whiteside, there was Denver’s Nikola Jokic, who in the six games before facing the Warriors averaged 20.1 points and 14.7 rebounds. And that’s with an 8-point game in which he had 16 rebounds and 10 assists.

The Warriors never let Jokic get anything close to a rhythm. Facing different looks from four different players, five when Kevin Durant got involved, he played a season-low 20 minutes and finished with 8 points on 2-of-6 shooting, seven rebounds and three assists.

Three nights later, Jokic lit up the Nets for 41 points, along with 12 rebounds and five assists -- all before fouling out in 31 minutes.

That’s one of the telltale signs. The gifted youth look like stars before facing the Warriors and against afterward. The NBA’s Player Efficiency Ratings has Towns, Whiteside and Jokic all among the top 12. They’re fabulous.

The Pachulia-West-McGee tag team puts up terrific numbers, combining for 15.4 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks. Their collective field-goal percentage is 58.4. West is ninth in PER, while Pachulia and McGee are posting strong plus-minus numbers.

They offer little in the way of spectacle, aside from McGee’s soaring slams that bring citizens of JaVale Nation coming out of their seats. They are, McGee included, decidedly blue-collar but highly effective, kind of like reliable pickup trucks.

It’s early, yes, but Pachulia, West and McGee have been precisely what the Warriors need. They’re budget friendly, combining for less than $8 million in salary. They have different skills, span the athletic spectrum and give coach Steve Kerr and his staff a lot of flexibility at center.

They’re shining right now, and here comes another youngster to test them: Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, if healthy, will step into the classroom Saturday.

The lesson of this second-place Warriors team at the All-Star break

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AP

The lesson of this second-place Warriors team at the All-Star break

And so ends a thoroughly confusing half-season for the Golden State Warriors – doing all the things you love and hate them for in one fell swoop.
 
In losing, 123-117, at Portland, they showed their full game. Big game by one of the Gang Of Four (Kevin Durant this time)? Check. Lousy start? Check. Big rally after lousy start? Check. Defensive lapses? Check. Impassioned yet disgusted pregame soliloquy by Steve Kerr on the manifest inadequacies of modern American thought? Check, and mate.
 
Of those things, the Kerr attack on the Florida school shooting was the most meaningful development of an otherwise meh evening, but Kerr’s having to explain to us again what we should already know is almost a default position now – like everything else about this season.
 
The Warriors go into the All-Star Break in second place in the Western Conference, which is pretty much what they deserve. They have lost the standings initiative through the sin of boredom, and even if leading the conference at the All-Star Break is essentially meaningless (which it is), it is still fascinating to see so many people buying the argument that “they’ll get it together when they need to get it together.” Never has the argument that the regular season doesn’t matter been put so succinctly; not even Sam Hinkie and his Process fetish did it as well.

In other words, Kerr's latest attempt to re-focus the players lasted about as long as you figured it would.

Things can certainly change between now and June; most NBA observers are still banking on it. The notation “pulled attention span, questionable” does not enter their thoughts. They still see the Warriors as clearly superior in any series, and barring catastrophic injury regard them as essentially invulnerable over a seven-game series – which is an interesting analysis given that they’ve only played two, and lost one of those.
 
But unless the Warriors put on a game-by-game pyrospectacular from this point forward and wipe out all traces of this half-plus of the season, this year will be remembered as the oddest of their run. They seem to have given in to their own hype, believing as we all do that they are merely a toggle switch that only needs an educated thumb to start the engines churning again – which they might well be, no matter how occasionally dissatisfying that may seem to the proletariat.
 
If they win their third title in four years, they will meet expectations without exceeding them, and this season is the first of their four long and delightful seasons that actually seems to be providing more length than delight. This is not condemnation, but rather a reminder that not every plan goes according to plan, and winning gets harder each time it is accomplished. That is the lesson of 2018 – so far, anyway.

Is anybody listening? Steve Kerr and the sports world louder than our leaders

Is anybody listening? Steve Kerr and the sports world louder than our leaders

Steve Kerr is hurt and disillusioned and angry. He is completely fed up with government inertia in the face of epidemic gun violence that frequently manifests itself in mass shootings such as that which occurred Wednesday in Florida.

The Warriors coach is on this subject among the broadening chorus of voices, every one of them existing in a vacuum.

Everybody hears it, every time, but those within power structure never listen, for if they truly did they would take responsible preventive action.

In the wake of this latest tragedy it was evident Kerr, even as he prepared to coach the Warriors against the Trail Blazers in Portland, was particularly shaken.

His visage wore the news of another unhinged soul shooting up a school. At least 17 are dead, the vast majority of them students at Majory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland. And the casualty count is likely to rise.

“Nothing has been done,” Kerr said with visible contempt. “It doesn’t seem to matter to our government that children are being shot to death, day after day, in schools. It doesn’t matter that people are being shot at a concert, at a movie theater. It’s not enough, apparently, to move our leadership, our government, the people who are running this country, to actually do anything. And that’s demoralizing.

“But we can do something about it. We can vote people in who actually have the courage to protect people’s lives and not just bow down to the NRA because they’ve financed their campaign.”

Yes, he went there. Kerr urged American voters to seek out and support political candidates independent of the powerful National Rifle Association and, therefore, willing to generate momentum toward enacting responsible gun laws.

He barely bothered to address the current government, opting instead to plead with the voting public. Is anybody listening?

Anybody?

There is every indication that voices such as that of Kerr will not be silenced. He spoke passionately and from personal experience. His life was touched by gun violence in the most extreme fashion when his father, Malcolm, an educator, was assassinated at a school in Beirut 34 years ago last month.

Kerr is not alone in this quest for action. Many others joined in.

Former player Steve Nash, a Warriors consultant bound for the Hall of Fame, expressed his feelings on Twitter: “The rest of the world is having success prohibiting access to guns. I don’t see what the debate is about. It’s not working here. People are dying at alarming rates. If you value guns more than life and safety I don’t understand.”

Jared Dudley, a member of the Phoenix Suns and one of more respected veterans in the NBA, spoke up via Twitter: “So sad man! Gotta change theses Gun laws! I’m tired of the slogan guns don’t kill people only people kill people.. Change the Law!”

Utah Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell kept his message to six words, printing “End gun violence” on his right shoe and “Pray for Parkland” on his left.

Mitchell’s mother is a teacher.

Here’s Tom Garfinkel, CEO of the Miami Dolphins: “How do we stop this? When will there be proactive change from our government leaders to address the complexity of why this keeps happening? Praying for those affected in Parkland. And Orlando, and Columbine, and Sandy Hook, and every other senseless and tragic shooting.”

And former NFL player Damien Woody: “I’m just over here thinking about how we as a society use the term ‘pro life’ . . . days like today doesn’t do it justice.”

And Seattle Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin, quote tweeting the obligatory “prayers and condolences” tweet from President Trump: “Yea.. but the fact is that they AREN’T safe. Just more rhetoric and no action. WAKEUP!!!!”

Is anybody listening?

Anybody?

Wednesday was the 45th day of this calendar year -- and the 18th school shooting. Quick math tells us that equals two every five days, 10 every 25 and 20 every 50.

Many children of color grow up with violence. Studies have proved that the experience traumatizes them to varying degrees. There are neighborhoods all across these United States in which children are as afraid of law enforcement as they are of street gangs. It’s how they grow up.

The powerlessness and apprehension is growing each day. And each time our elected leaders choose to look the other way while holding open their duffle bags to accept NRA cash, the sense of despair gets deeper.

How many children will go to school today and tomorrow and all the days after that feeling anxieties they should not have to bear in a so-called civilized society?

They’ll be looking over their shoulders. They’ll be wondering about the student whose temper is a bit too quick and hot. They’ll be trying to avoid the student who is too much of a loner or makes threats. They’ll be wary of the bully and the bullied. They’ll be trying to escape those that pose with firearms on social media.

The despair is real, and if you look into the eyes of the young you can feel it.

“Hopefully, we’ll find enough people first of all to vote good put people in,” Kerr said. “But, hopefully, we can find enough people with courage to actually help our citizens remain safe and focus on the real safety issues, not building some stupid wall for billions of dollars that has nothing to do with our safety, but actually protecting us from what truly is dangerous, which is maniacs with semiautomatic weapons just slaughtering our children. It’s disgusting.”

Kerr is among those willing to speak up and advocate for change. There are others. And they will be joined by many more who will make it their mission to follow the example of most every civilized society.

If the horrible events of Sept. 11, 2001, a single day, could persuade our government to take steps to make air travel safer, how many deadly events does it take to grow the principle and power to say no to the NRA and yes to the safety of children?

Is anybody listening?