Warriors

In midst of torrid start, Splash Brothers better than ever

curry_thompson_usatsi.jpg
USATSI

In midst of torrid start, Splash Brothers better than ever

OAKLAND -- Game after game this season it is becoming evident that, contrary to countless projections, the Splash Brothers have not gone dry.

That Stephen Curry’s long-distance shooting still puts fear in the minds of opponents, same as ever, and now he’s also embracing the call for playing smarter, better defense.

“He’s a very good defender in this league,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr says. “We always talk about two-way guys. Steph Curry is a two-way guy. We’re not trying to hide him on defense. We don’t change schemes to protect him. He’s very much a part of what we do defensively.”

And Curry’s sidekick in the Warriors backcourt, Klay Thompson, is off to the best start of his six-year career.

“That’s all based on experience and him actually caring about his performance to start the year,” Curry says of Thompson. “He worked hard this summer, came in in shape, came in sharp with his skill set. It’s no surprise, really, once you do that that it turns into results on the court in games.”

You may recall over the summer, as teams in the Western Conference rebuilt largely on the backs of such Eastern Conference players as Carmelo Anthony, Paul George and Jimmy Butler, that some questioned whether the Warriors could repeat their feat of last season, when they sent four players to the All-Star Game.

With Kevin Durant and Curry as former MVPs and Draymond Green as the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, it was Thompson’s spot that seemed most imperiled.

Thompson’s response, intentional or not, has been a searing campaign showcasing his skills at both ends.

“Just taking great shots, not settling for good shots. It’s my fourth year with Steve and the coaching staff,” he explains. “I’m used to the offense, I know I’m going to get my looks and I know where my teammates want me to go. I’ll just say familiarity with the offense and being in great shape.”

Thompson is averaging 20.3 points on 50.8 shooting, including 45.2 beyond the arc -- fourth among those who take at least six treys per game. Though he continues to defend the opponent’s most feared backcourt player, he has had three games with at least six rebounds and two with at least five assists.

“I think his playmaking has been the best it has been in his career,” Kerr said.

“You’re seeing another step up when it comes to efficiency,” Curry says. “We obviously know he can score; he can shoot the ball with anybody in this league. His presence on both ends of the floor has been huge and he’s taken a step in playmaking as well, with the ball in his hands, setting up guys in the occasional pick-and-roll situation or when he’s able to draw a couple defenders off pin-downs to find the open guy. That’s been huge for us.

“Teams are going to adjust how they defend you; they want to take away his catch-and-shoot opportunities and he’s found a way to be effective all over the floor.”

Meanwhile, Curry is averaging a team-high 25.7 points (47.3 percent from the field, 39.6 from deep, 93.2 from the line), along with 6.4 assists and 4.5 rebounds. His on pace once again to do only he has done in each of the past three seasons: average three triples per game and at least 1.5 steals per game.

He’s quietly making a bid for another season in the ultra-exclusive 50-40-90 Club (shooting at least 50 percent from the field, at least 40 from deep and at least90 from the line) he joined in 2015-16, when he became the league’s first unanimous MVP.

The latest Basketball-Reference MVP probability tracker lists Curry as behind only Rockets guard James Harden among the candidates. Curry’s player-efficiency rating is the highest on the Warriors and ranks just ahead of Harden’s.

The popular preseason MVP predictions listed such names as Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Harden and Durant. And while most of this bunch remains in the discussion, Curry also has slid his way in.

Even as Kerr continues to experiment with rotations, there is at least one thing he has settled on. At any time other than the fourth quarter of a blowout, either Curry or Thompson -- or both -- will be on the floor.

“Klay is always going to be out there at the beginning of the second quarter because we like to play Steph the whole first,” Kerr said. “Steph is most comfortable doing that. We’ve got to have the shooting that Klay provides when Steph is out. Klay is almost always going to be out there barring foul trouble.”

There is plenty of basketball to be played. There is much than can change. But Curry and Thompson are in the primes of their careers and it shows. They hear the slights and rather than voice dissent they’re opting to reply on the court.

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

warriors-confused-us.jpg
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?