TrueHoop: Golden State Warriors

Clips, Warriors at odds with foul judgments

April, 19, 2014
Apr 19
9:58
PM ET
Shelburne By Ramona Shelburne
ESPN.com
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LOS ANGELES -- The narrative leading into this first-round playoff series between the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors was that some sort of MMA fight was liable to break out at any time.

These teams really don’t like each other!

No really, there’s bad blood!

Bad things could happen!

Beware!

So, naturally, the first game was refereed with extreme caution, and the end result had two of the best players in the series -- Blake Griffin and Andre Iguodala -- sitting on the bench at the end of the Warriors' thrilling 109-105 win.

"I thought all the hype absolutely had an impact on how the game was called," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "There’s no doubt about that. A lot of tight, touch fouls. I thought Blake, of the six [fouls], three of them were probably touch fouls. Same thing with [Chris Paul, who had five fouls].

"But the way I look at is, both teams have to play under the same rules. They did a better job of playing under the same rules that we had to play under."

In all, the referees in Saturday’s game called 51 fouls, 29 in the first half, in which Iguodala collected four fouls in 11 minutes and Griffin was limited to less than four minutes with three fouls.

The 51 fouls is not an obscene number -- the four regular-season games between the teams averaged 47 fouls -- but it did seem to affect both the flow and outcome of the game.

"It's frustrating," said Iguodala, the Warriors' best perimeter defender. "Because you put in so much work for these moments. To have a few things not go your way and you know you're not wrong, it can be tough."

For his part, Griffin thought it actually took the expected physicality of this series out of the game.

"To be honest, it felt like just a regular-season game as far as the physicality goes," Griffin said. "I know the series we played last year [against the Memphis Grizzlies] and the years before that were way, way, way more physical. So it’s kind of hard to know what you can get away with and what you can’t.

"But I just I have to be smarter in that area and not put us in that situation."

Or maybe things will just loosen up and Griffin and Iguodala will be able to influence the series, like one would’ve expected.

Proximity sparks modern playoff rivalries

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
4:13
PM ET
Adande By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com
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If you can't wait for the Los Angeles Clippers-Golden State Warriors series to begin, if watching the "Bad Boys" 30 for 30 documentary made you all nostalgic for back-in-the-day rivalries, you'd better hope the NBA keeps the conference playoff format.

This year's West-East disparity has people rushing to their keyboards to scrap the geographic divide and simply take the teams with the 16 best records, regardless of their location. That way everybody's favorite lottery-bound team, the Phoenix Suns, would have a place in the postseason party instead of a seat in Secaucus. The sub-.500 Atlanta Hawks could stay home.

But you know what else would not happen in the first round under that scenario? Clippers-Warriors, the series even players and coaches on other teams are talking about with anticipation. This is the matchup that generated nine technical fouls, two ejections and one flagrant foul during four regular-season meetings. It's the series that Clippers forward Matt Barnes said will include "some hostility and animosity and hatred."

If you took the top 16 teams, you'd have the Clippers against the Washington Wizards. Where's the history there? (Ummmm... one-time Clippers draft pick Danny Ferry is the son of former Washington general manager Bob Ferry?)

[+] EnlargeBlake Griffin and Andrew Bogut
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsThe Clippers and Warriors have met eight times in the past two years, sparking a heated rivalry.
Proximity, as much as familiarity, breeds contempt. That's why divisions and conferences haven't completely outlived their usefulness. Even though this is the first playoff meeting between the Clippers and Warriors, they've had eight contentious regular-season games the past two years. There have been hard fouls, outright mocking from the sidelines, turf battles and stare downs. It's as much a part of this series as the superstar point guard matchup between Chris Paul and Stephen Curry.

"I'm not sure you can leave the emotions behind," Blake Griffin said. "I think both teams need that, to a certain extent. You can't be too emotional to where it's affecting your play, but you've got to play with some emotion. You can't take that out of the game."

And thanks to this playoff format, you can't make it easier for these teams to hide on opposite sides of the bracket.

Conference playoff formats played a huge role in the Detroit Pistons rivalries, too, as seen in the "Bad Boys" documentary. The most amazing statistic in the film was the 24 games the Pistons and Boston Celtics played in two seasons, thanks to two lengthy playoff series and 11 regular-season meetings, back when there were only 23 teams to fill out the 82-game schedule.

Of course, the most memorable part was the footage of the hard punishment inflicted by (and against) the Bad Boys, with such little punishment from the officials and the league.

"It was incredible," Barnes said. "It was physical -- the stuff they did to [Michael] Jordan and [Larry] Bird.

"It was just physical basketball. They may have even tried to hurt each other back then. You kind of just wish that the game [today] could be a little more physical.

"If I did some of those fouls last night that I saw, I'd have to find a new job. Take my kids out of private school, cut my wife's allowance. We'd be in trouble."

What the documentary didn't show was the real aftermath of the Bad Boys, who showed that superior talent could be taken out by rough play. The New York Knicks took it from there, and by the mid-'90s some of the grace of the sport was lost. When Jordan took his sabbatical from 1993 to 1995, what was left was a league of slower play and lower scores.

Clippers-Warriors gives us a modern-day remix of the old rivalries. It's ornery, but artistic. There will be elbows at close range, but also long-distance shots by Curry and Klay Thompson. There will be trash talk, but also high-flying jams by Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.

The primary common link to Pistons-Celtics or Pistons-Bulls? The conference playoff format made their meeting much more likely.

Bogut-less in April

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
10:54
AM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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Andrew BogutRocky Widner/Getty ImagesWith Andrew Bogut sidelined, the Warriors will need to alter their approach in the playoffs.
Warriors fans will grouse about what could have been against the Spurs last season in the Western Conference finals, but in reality, Golden State had no shot of winning that series. It wasn’t just because the Spurs were great, which they were and continue to be. It was because Andrew Bogut and Stephen Curry were spent.

After the series was finished, both gingerly limped to their exit interviews. They had been pushing through searing foot ailments, buying breaks from the pain with injections. The end brought more relief than regret because there was little else to give. The end also brought hope, because imagine what this team could be at full health. Curry and Bogut might have walked like old men sauntering off into the sunset, but their pain-stricken accomplishments promised new beginnings.

Now we’ll never really know what this team could have been, as Bogut will be sidelined indefinitely. His ribs suffered the effects of what may as well have been the chestburster scene from "Alien." We might have an idea based on what transpired this season, but with Bogut out, we won’t see a fully realized Warriors squad in the playoff crucible. That’s a shame.

This isn’t like the time David Lee got injured in last year's playoffs. Carl Landry was a capable Lee understudy, and the Nuggets couldn’t punish Golden State for going small. The outlook is a lot bleaker this time around, especially if the Warriors face the Clippers.

DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin already had the ability to crush Golden State on the boards before Bogut went down. Now Golden State will be relying on Jermaine O’Neal, a solid backup but also someone who jumps once in the time it takes Blake Griffin to jump twice.

Matchups aside, it’s difficult to replace someone with a fair claim to “best defensive player in the conference.” O’Neal can replace some of that rim protection, but it won’t really be the same. Bogut is a bit of a contradiction because his fragility belies an intimidating presence on the court. He’s a confrontational shot-blocker, often latching an offhand paw on his opponent while spiking the shot back from where it came. His offense might be even scarier, as he sets the kinds of screens that would get him fined by Roger Goodell.

Bogut will do anything to win, personifying team play with his defense, passing and willingness to take on physical contact. But he doesn’t exactly fit the bill of “team guy” in sense of office politics. The Aussie is a bit of a loner in this setting, and he’s blunt with assessments of teammates.

In February, Bogut had a bizarre clash with coach Mark Jackson over whether the center had injured himself sleeping. While Bogut never openly criticized Jackson after the oustings of assistant coaches, his “He’s the coach. He makes the decisions. We’re not silly enough to believe anything else” comments didn’t exactly mirror teammates’ glowing praise of their embattled leader.

Now that embattled leader, someone who evangelizes on the benefits of off-court harmony, is tasked with proving that togetherness can compensate for the loss of a 7-foot mercenary. Jackson has an exceedingly tough job, but there are ways in which Golden State could pull off the improbable.

In yet another playoffs, the Warriors must shrink themselves in pursuit of an upset. Small ball worked against the Mavs in 2007 and against the Nuggets in 2013. The future looks grim in 2014, but at least there’s a general precedent for success. Here’s the blueprint for an upset.

Lee in his old Knicks role
[+] EnlargeDavid Lee and Stephen Curry
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe pressure is on David Lee and Stephen Curry to step up in Andrew Bogut's absence.

Lee, the occasional fall guy for GSW shortcomings, gets an increased role doing what he does best: slipping screens and diving to the rim as a small-ball center. This ultimately isn’t a sustainable way to go long term, but such lineups can put up points in the right situations. If Lee is healed coming off this latest back injury, expect him to perform well offensively in the playoffs.

More Draymond Green

Draymond Green should see more time, especially at the 4 spot. Jackson has already said that he likes the Lee at center, Green at power forward lineup and that he will use it in the playoffs. This look makes for an intriguing playoff experiment, especially if Andre Iguodala plays within it. Green and Iguodala have comprised a vicious defensive one-two punch this season. Can they do it with almost no rim protection in the background? The Lee-Green-Iguodala-Klay Thompson-Curry lineup held opponents to a stingy 89.2 points per 100 possessions over the 105 minutes they shared.

Jermaine O’Neal as Bogut facsimile

It’s the backup’s time to shine. O’Neal is Bogut’s opposite in terms of locker-room demeanor -- hand him a mike and he could be mistaken for Jackson’s agent. Now he has the chance to step up for his coach in a huge way.

The Warriors need O’Neal to be a hero, but to pull it off, he must cool it with the hero ball. O’Neal’s 2001 isolation post-ups are fine when he’s sharing the floor with Marreese Speights and Jordan Crawford. When he’s getting minutes with Curry, he needs to be more of a screener, less of a scorer. O’Neal doesn’t screen as severely as Bogut, preferring to evade contact and dive toward the rim. For the Warriors to score at a series-winning pace, they have to adjust O’Neal’s role.

Defensively, O’Neal is just fine. He’s not quite Bogut with the rim protection, but he’s not far off.

One big to rule them all

I’ve long been a proponent of “Bogut, plus shooters,” but the truth is that Golden State’s one-big lineups seem to thrive no matter who the big guy is -- as long as it isn’t Speights, I should say. It might be tempting for Jackson to use two traditional bigs against lineups of size, but Golden State cannot pull off an upset as a conventional, weaker version of itself. To win, the Warriors need to stretch and prod the opposition’s traditional approach.

Stephen Curry needs to do cool dribbling stuff and hit ridiculous shots

Duh.

It’s unfortunate we’ll never get to see that battered 2013 playoff team realize its potential in the 2014 playoffs. That hope is dead. In its place, the possibility remains that Golden State can once again shock the world. It’s unlikely, but it’s probably no more unlikely than Bogut finishing a season wire to wire.

Bad home losses piling up for Warriors

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
3:01
AM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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The first quarter reminded us of how Oracle Arena can be a harrowing place for visitors. Andre Iguodala put the ball behind his back before violently yanking it back across his body, sending Quincy Miller into an embarrassing tumble. Fans stood in a sudden wave, jeering Miller's misfortune. The older-style concrete stadium makes for disorienting acoustics. The crowd noise spills from the rafters, bounces around the walls and descends on opponents and disliked referees with a force that feels almost dangerous. In last year's playoffs, the Warriors were struggling to hear play calls on the floor. The crowd energy, and its subsequent ref-intimidation powers, was worth it, though.

Given their vaunted "Roaracle" advantage, why are the Warriors suffering embarrassing home losses to lesser opponents? Since Feb. 1, they've suffered home losses to Charlotte, Cleveland, New York and now Denver.

The trouble at home has frustrated owner Joe Lacob, who back in February told Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News, "The road’s been fine. But at home we’ve lost a couple games -- to Minnesota and to San Antonio when they played their scrubs, if you remember ... and Denver and Charlotte. Maybe another four games that we just absolutely should’ve won. We didn’t. And I’m not sure why. The team wasn’t ready in those games. I can’t explain it -- why we don’t play so consistently at home as we should. We have a great home-court advantage, great fans, great atmosphere. It’s not clear."

Thursday night's game ended in a one-point loss, sealed by a tough Kenneth Faried post-up fadeaway. It's easy to dismiss that as poor luck for the Dubs, but Denver's energy far outmatched an opponent who could have clinched a playoff berth with a victory.

Andrew Bogut was regularly mauled by Timofey Mozgov, who finished with 23 points and 29 rebounds. In total, the Warriors ceded a staggering 25 offensive rebounds to their bizarrely galvanized opponent.

"There's a lot of reasons this is such a terrible feeling in the locker room," a downcast Stephen Curry said after the game. "We could have taken care of a playoff spot."

When asked about what it means in the big picture, Curry said, "We gotta learn these lessons, man. Simple as that. We can't take off possessions, we can't take off quarters and just expect to turn it on when you need it."

Draymond Green expressed disappointment about Golden State's rebounding effort but felt the loss came from getting too comfortable: "We got up 20, took our foot off the gas pedal, and when you're playing a game against a team like that, who doesn't necessarily have the best shot selection and nothing to lose, if those shots start falling, you're in for a long night."

The loss means the Warriors likely won't get to play an ailing Houston Rockets team in Round 1. To emerge from the first round, they'll probably have to go through one of the West's big-three teams (Clippers, Thunder, Spurs) as a substantial underdog. Losing to bad teams put them in this position, but at least they'll have incentive to conjure necessary energy against the West's elite.

The situation could also be worse, too. A Mozgov foul sent Stephen Curry flying at a cameraman, where he landed awkwardly but safely. After the game, that cameraman apologized to Curry and expressed his relief over Steph's healthy status. The Warriors are in a tough spot, but they still have Curry and a few more chances to redeem themselves.

The Warriors come together amid turmoil

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
10:24
AM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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Draymond GreenAP Photo/Ben MargotWhile the Warriors' off-court woes continue to mount, they may have figured things out on the court.
In January, the Warriors released a genius piece of marketing. Set to the bouncy rhythms of Pharrell Williams' "Happy," the stunt showed the Oracle experience at its most idyllically fun-loving. The dance-along video was funny, harmonious, and above all, happy.

The Warriors are just a cheerful bunch, you might conclude from their tweets and Instagrams. Steph Curry loses to Mark Jackson in a 3-point contest, to much good-natured laughter. Then Draymond Green beats the coach in another round of the contest, and teases him relentlessly. On Jackson’s April 1 birthday, the equipment manager surprises every player with a shirt that has Jackson’s cartoon face emblazoned upon it.

That’s the image the team likes to present. That’s the image Jackson likes to present when he boasts that there will never be a problem in his locker room.

Behind the scenes, it’s not so happy. Warriors owner Joe Lacob publicly put the heat on Jackson by broadcasting his as-yet unmet expectations. Assistant coach Brian Scalabrine was demoted to the D-League after a disagreement with Jackson. Shortly after, widely respected assistant coach Darren Erman was fired for reasons that remain undisclosed.

With the Erman axing, the Warriors gave the Bay a bizarre brain teaser by providing clues instead of an explanation. According to the organization, he’s gone for reasons unrelated to basketball, unrelated to Jackson, and firable at any level of the company. They’re also rooting for him to continue his basketball coaching career. Confused? So is Curry, who was kept in the dark about why one of his favorite coaches was canned. Curry also found out about the Scalabrine ousting after Scalabrine was absent at a practice -- not before. It’d be hard to blame a franchise player (on a team-friendly contract) for not being so happy in these turbulent, secretive times.

Let’s not sugarcoat it: The Warriors are a mess behind the scenes right now. After the recent purgings of Scalabrine and Erman, Golden State retains three of the original five assistant coaches it started the season with. When stacked against other teams and their crowded benches, the Warriors look like a ghost ship.

Here’s a rundown of what the remaining three are best known for on the coaching circuit. Pete Myers, a friend from Jackson’s playing days, has the most extensive NBA track record among Jackson’s remaining assistants. He’s 0-3 as a head coach and was forced off Chicago’s coaching staff by an arriving Tom Thibodeau. Lindsey Hunter (another Jackson friend) ran a "give the ball to Michael Beasley" offense in Phoenix, where he accrued a .293 head-coaching record. Now that Hunter is out, Phoenix is winning again. Jerry DeGregorio boasts an unimpressive .200 head-coaching record on the college circuit, but he did serve as best man at a Kardashian wedding. Even Scalabrine couldn’t offer a résumé fact so novel.

Maybe the remaining guys are wizards behind the scenes, but it’s difficult to have confidence in this staff at this juncture. Erman worked extensively at improving Golden State’s defensive standing, and it’s a tricky pose for Jackson to lavish praise on his former assistant while maintaining that it all doesn’t matter, and that his team will be fine.

Meanwhile, as the Warriors are falling apart behind the scenes, they just might be coming together on the court. With David Lee suffering nerve damage in his knee, the team has stumbled upon a potentially potent lineup of Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Green and Andrew Bogut. The lineup, which Bogut calls their "killer lineup," had played a grand total of 35 minutes before Sunday’s victory over Utah. It’s a lineup that includes the top two defensive wings in basketball according to defensive real plus-minus, a top defensive center and a pair of elite 3-point threats -- one of whom is arguably the best shooter in NBA history.

It might be a happy accident that Golden State found this combination, but it’s no coincidence that they ignored it for so long. They were fighting the sunk-cost fallacy along the way, hoping against hope that they could stick with personnel they’d invested more resources in. Harrison Barnes is a lottery pick and Green is a second-rounder. So it makes sense that the Warriors tried to get Barnes going all season at the expense of Green’s minutes. Barnes' miserable March (6.0 points, 1.6 assists, .296 FG percentage, .184 on 3-pointers) finally forced Green ahead of him in the rotation. While the Warriors would prefer that Barnes succeed over Green, Barnes was loudly failing, losing them games in a tight playoff race.

[+] EnlargeMark Jackson
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsMark Jackson's seat is getting a bit toasty, but he may have found a winning combination by the Bay.
With Lee, Golden State will contort themselves into funnel cakes to avoid admitting he's a role player with star minutes. The investment in his contract is too vast, his relationship with management too chummy.

Last season, the Warriors wildly exceeded 2013 playoff expectations after Lee got hurt. Rather than learn from the stretchy lineups (Bogut and Curry plus shooters) that won them playoff games, Warriors GM Bob Myers didn’t trade Lee, and Jackson soldiered on with Lee in his old role. Myers even stuck up for Lee in a January Grantland interview with Zach Lowe: "And to assume you can replace someone who is a part of that -- well, you don’t just replace someone like that. A lot of his detractors have been proven patently wrong, and they should admit they jumped the gun." The Warriors are 8-3 without Lee this season, with all three losses coming in games Bogut missed.

Of course, Lee provides some utility. He's especially potent when used as a screen-slipping center in certain bench units, and he's much better than his backup, Marreese Speights. The issue is that the Warriors won't face up to how a big who struggles defensively and now struggles with his shot (38 percent from midrange this season) has the wrong role on perhaps the wrong team. Lee has played the Clippers well, and could be quite helpful in that potential series. But he won't be helpful if the denialist Warriors play him to the detriment of lineups that defend and space the floor better.

Spacing the floor is key for any team, but it’s especially true of Golden State, the team with the point who shoots better off the dribble than anyone in league history. When Curry gets a high screen in a lineup with three other shooters, it creates situations in which the opposing center must rush out to the 3-point line while the paint is totally empty. This defense-breaking approach could have been Golden State's future, had they accepted it. Instead, they trundled along with Lee taking up space in the paint and on their books.

What's funny is that it could be Golden State’s future, after they willfully rejected it. Green isn’t a good 3-point shooter, but he’ll hit them if wide-open and thus demands a closeout. As added bonuses, Green sets crushing screens, moves the ball wisely and, as a defender, can switch onto almost any matchup. The "killer lineup" might not save Golden State from the ashes of #fullsquad, but it gives them a chance.

The Warriors publicly refuse to admit anything’s deeply wrong as their coaching staff gets shaken up like a Boggle board. Denial carries the day in the Bay, a land where fortunes can be made off abstract technologies that lack any kind of business plan. Times are great. Don’t worry. They’re happy. And, through a lineup that such denial caused them to avoid, the Warriors just might save their season.

Defensive value becoming harder to ignore

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
9:35
AM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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Andre IguodalaRocky Widner/NBAE/Getty ImagesAndre Iguodala is used to being overlooked, but new metrics will make it tough to do so any longer.
What will happen when defense finally matters to basketball fans as much as offense does?

If we’re ever getting there, real plus-minus (RPM) and its defensive component (DRPM) make for a step in that direction. ESPN’s latest tool seeks to isolate a team’s performance when a player is in the game, placing equal value on offense and defense. This approach can lead to results that challenge what is “known” about a league that most view with an offensive gaze.

Andrew Bogut was once asked about SportVU’s player tracking technology, specifically how the defensive metrics showed Bogut to be a great rim protector. "I don't need to check that to know that," he joked. We might want to celebrate great defensive players with numbers that reflect their skill, but it’s hard to tell a great defensive player anything about his defense. Top defenders boast perceptive court awareness -- the ones I’ve talked to largely assume they have it all figured out anyway. You have a new stat? Cool. I see where everyone’s going on the floor like a casino camera.

Defensive specialists like Bogut have been long resigned to how much of their work gets ignored. It’s not about the credit. It’s about doing the job, helping the team and making a handsome living off the teams that value stopping the opposition. Credit and validation do not come with this gig. To quote “Mad Men,” “That’s what the money is for.”

So you’ll excuse wry, crusty Andre Iguodala if he views his impressive RPM with some suspicion. Asked about his top ranking among wing defenders, Iguodala replied, “They say numbers never lie. I’m the opposite of that; I think numbers always lie.”

Iguodala has, on occasion, mentioned the lack of credit he’s gotten for a career so focused on the defensive end. His contract in Philadelphia was the source of derision, despite his immense impact on defense.

Fans and even the stats themselves tend to obsess over who has the rock. "The stat sheet is geared more toward the ball and where the ball's at,” Iguodala says. “I'm more how the ball's being defended or how the ball's being impacted on the defensive end." Apparently we sports fans aren’t so different from the dogs we own: Show us a bouncing ball and we’ll be transfixed into noticing little else.

Iguodala, like Bogut, has expressed resignation when speaking of what gets ignored. He’s been in this game a long time, and ignoring being ignored has become almost a badge of honor.

He tells people not to call him “Iggy,” even if it’s an easy nickname that plays well in 140 characters. On that particular medium, Iguodala is cryptically vague. He intentionally cuts out the context when tweeting, becoming inscrutable to a vast majority of his followers. Sometimes it’s a Vine or a funny story that inspires Iguodala to broadcast unexplained phrases. “A word pops up in my head, and then I tweet it. No one has a clue what I’m talking about,” he says while laughing. “Some people figure it out though. Some people are pretty good.”

[+] EnlargeIguodala/Green
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty ImagesReal plus-minus is a big fan of impact defenders like the Dubs' Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala.
"I'm not really an attention whore. I don't always like doing media," Iguodala says while smirking to attendant media. "When you're younger, you're in the league first five or six years, you want the attention. You want to be known as this or that."

Draymond Green, Golden State’s young defensive ace, was more receptive to the new stat. He is second in defense among wings in RPM, behind Iguodala. Golden State’s video guys showed the stat to Draymond. Then he checked Twitter and saw a lot of fans praising him on his high ranking.

“I’m definitely happy to see it,” Green says. “A lot of times, [defense is] overlooked.”

New defensive stats are coming at just the right time for guys like Green. Building a defensive reputation isn’t easy. It’s nice to have stats on your side at the beginning of a career. It’s ammo in the arsenal of the agent, fan or TV pundit who wishes to defend your honor.

Iguodala lacked that kind of tangible defense early in his career. In 2012, Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote, “For 8 years, Philadelphia fans have been trying to form a relationship with 76ers forward Andre Iguodala. For the most part, it’s been like trying to grab a fistful of water.”

While Iguodala is suspicious of the numbers, he sees the value in what they might accomplish. “As a player, the whole analytics thing, you take the analytical side and the player's side, and there's that fence. And there's kind of a rift between the two. And I think for the game to evolve to become what everybody wants it to become, there has to be some kind of resolve between the two."

If the stats credit winning basketball, they just might help fans understand an NBA player’s job. If the stats credit winning basketball, they might just help people appreciate what they’re seeing.

Not-so-Golden State

April, 8, 2014
Apr 8
10:49
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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Turmoil on the sidelines, and an assistant fired under murky circumstances, with the playoffs right around the corner. Ethan Sherwood Strauss is here to tell us about the state of the Warriors.

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Do Warriors have faith in Mark Jackson?

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27
1:02
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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Mark JacksonKyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsWarriors coach Mark Jackson is a man of deep faith. But is there enough belief in him by the Bay?
The last time Warriors fans saw Brian Scalabrine was on Saturday, and he hardly looked like a man who’d disappear. The 6-foot-9 (now former) Golden State assistant coach leaned in and attacked a halftime interview with gusto, as though he’d been waiting a while for this moment. Mark Jackson’s assistants are not permitted to speak to the media, save for these regular in-game snippets wherein they usually mumble platitudes. “Scal” could not be contained by such a format, though. The “White Mamba” is a big personality. He might sign autographs, but he follows no script.

Scalabrine has since been demoted to Golden State’s D-League affiliate in Santa Cruz. Jackson isn’t explaining the specifics of why this happened. Warriors owner Joe Lacob and Warriors general manager Bob Myers have yet to speak publicly on the matter.

Why did Jackson banish such a popular figure? And what does one make of the report from Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports that Jackson would go weeks without speaking to former assistant coach Mike Malone, who now coaches the Sacramento Kings? The information void invites speculation about Jackson and his job status, of which there has already been plenty this season.

You could understand how, from Jackson’s perspective, the media swirl seems insane. The Warriors are on pace for their best record since 1991-92. They exceeded expectations in last season’s playoffs. They haven’t even fallen short of realistic expectations this season.

Yet there are questions about whether he will remain in Oakland after this season, and whether he’ll be coaching for his job this postseason. The Warriors are the top-ranked defensive team in the Western Conference, and their coach can’t help but wax defensive.

Back on Feb. 10, Jackson looked at the assembled media and said, “I mean, we are 10 games over .500. Some of you guys haven’t seen that in a long, long time. So keep on acting like you have.” The Warriors had just clobbered the 76ers, but Jackson was dealing with some strange public dispute with Andrew Bogut over whether the ailing center had “hurt himself sleeping.” The news conference may well have epitomized this season. Jackson wasn’t really winning.

A day after the Bogut dispute, in an interview with Tim Kawakami, Lacob followed up some Jackson compliments with: “But some things are a little disturbing -- the lack of being up for some of these games at home, that’s a concern to me.” Lacob then set the expectation bar high, saying: “My expectation was that we would be a serious competitor to be in the top four in the West.” The Warriors are currently clinging to the sixth seed, and Jackson, who has one year left on his contract, lacks a lucrative extension.

But Jackson believes in belief and believes in his guys. Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, and Festus Ezeli all saw substantial roles as rookies. Green shot miserably throughout last season. Jackson reiterated his faith in Green’s game, kept feeding him minutes, and Green came through big for Jackson in the playoffs. The second-rounder has emerged as a valuable defensive player in his second year. Jackson promotes confidence, bragging outright about his players and their capabilities (he has compared Green’s defense to that of LeBron James, for example). His strategy is to raise internal expectations through effusive praise, in hopes that the power of positive thinking shifts the paradigm of a historically awful franchise.

If he was just an evangelist for confidence, it would be far less complicated. His positive qualities are tethered to matters of some controversy, though, matters that extend far beyond the realm of basketball.

The ordained pastor has obliterated whatever divide might exist between church and sport. He has boldly done it despite answering to an owner who has a different religion. His quotes are peppered with mentions of God, church and Jesus. After a victory over the Denver Nuggets, airtime was given to a celebratory team prayer. His faith-based ethos has seeped into the team culture. From an article by the Mercury News' Marcus Thompson II during last season’s playoff run: “How does it show itself in Oakland? Richard Jefferson's chapel notes taped to his locker. Rubber wristbands reading ‘In Jesus Name I Play’ spilling out of Stephen Curry's cubby. Rookie center Festus Ezeli reading pastor Rick Warren's ‘The Purpose Driven Life’ before a game.”

It’s part of the workplace environment at Oracle now. Jackson sermonized on the arena floor after a loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers as part of a “Friday Fellowship” drive.

If you’re looking for a reason as to why a seemingly successful coach lacks fan support, you might tilt your head in this direction. The Bay Area isn’t the Bible Belt, after all. According to The Atlantic, it’s actually the least religious major metro area of the country, with only 24 percent of residents claiming “very religious” status. Factor in how NBA fans skew young, plus how young people skew secular, and you have a less than ideal audience for Jackson’s (literal) preaching. After games, Jackson is sharing an intense, sincere worldview with many who either disagree or lack the context to relate. Locally, it doesn’t help matters that the preacher was caught up in a sex scandal early in his Warriors tenure. The slipup served as snarky joke fodder for those who were already cynical about messengers of faith.

[+] EnlargeMark Jackson and Stephen Curry
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezSteph Curry backed Mark Jackson. Will the franchise player get the final say over his coach's fate?
There’s anecdotal evidence that Jackson’s religiosity helps the Warriors. The quite religious Jermaine O’Neal signed a reasonable contract with Golden State. Noted Christian Andre Iguodala built a relationship with Jackson before heading west from Denver. In Iguodala’s introductory news conference, he mentioned getting to know Curry (and Kevin Durant) over chapel sessions at the 2010 world championships.

By all indications, the great majority of Warriors players like how faith intermingles with work. And this is where a certain sweet-shooting superstar comes into the picture. Curry, who points to the heavens after every 3-pointer, likes Golden State’s locker room culture.

In response to the questions that came with Scalabrine’s ouster, Curry, who references “Philippians 4:13” on his sneakers, supported Jackson: “Coach made a decision and we back him 100 percent.” It’s easy to dismiss such a response as “what else is he supposed to say?” but it means something that Curry didn’t deflect. Curry even spoke for the team as a whole, saying, “I know everybody in that locker room supports him 100 percent,” and later adding, “I love Coach and everything he's about. I love playing for him and that’s all that matters to me."

Curry is one of those guys Jackson believed in, and yes, there was a time when doing so wasn’t an obvious choice. Whereas Keith Smart before him benched Curry over turnovers, Jackson let his young star play through mistakes. Smart ultimately sided with giving the offense to Monta Ellis, and it got him fired. Jackson gave Curry free rein, and it got him to the second round.

It’s not a given that Curry’s influence can or will keep Jackson in Oakland, but his opinion certainly matters. When asked if he should have some sway over Jackson's future, Curry responded: “I hope they ask, yeah, for sure. I’ll give them my honest opinion, and hopefully that means something. Obviously at the end of the day I’m not the one making decisions, but I have an opinion.”

The basketball world is used to considering the whims of guys like LeBron, Carmelo, Kobe and Chris Paul. We’re not so used to considering Steph's sway. He's a go-along, get-along type -- thought to be too nice for these kinds of games. This could be a young, amiable superstar’s first major act of political leadership, though. Does Curry leave all of the decision-making to ownership, or does he leverage his star status and loudly stump for the coach who helped him become a franchise player? And can Curry's belief in Jackson trump Lacob's apparent lack of it?

In the meantime, it would appear Jackson enters April coaching not just for his job, but for the entirely unique team culture he built with it. If Jackson can afford to oust the popular Scalabrine, it’s because that culture supports the coach with an uncommon degree of faith.
Performance-enhancing drugs were a hot topic at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. Here, Warriors assistant GM Kirk Lacob (who studied "science, technology and society") at Stanford suggests to Ethan Sherwood Strauss that the NBA should be open-minded about PEDs.

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A counterpoint, also from Sloan, comes from admitted former doper Tyler Hamilton. He nearly died from complications of a banned blood transfusion, and tells Henry Abbott that the stress of his double life made returning his Olympic medal more satisfying than winning it. He is an outspoken opponent of doping.

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MIT Sloan 2014: Oh, the humanity

March, 4, 2014
Mar 4
10:41
AM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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The MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference isn’t about stats anymore. Not coincidentally, it’s much-improved.

Stats really never stood a chance at Dorkapalooza. As Danny Nowell demonstrated, a belief in information as currency quickly begets a reluctance to share information. If you think stats are the future, you’re hoarding the future a la Biff and his Grays Sports Almanac in "Back to the Future Part II."

Yes, there are still academic papers at the conference up for discussion. But the stars of the show are the stars -- the nationally famous owners, general managers and coaches.

So don’t attack this conference as a bunch of geeks trading slide rule war stories. The convention is no longer proliferating the academic advancement it symbolizes. They moved this thing away from MIT, remember.

Instead, SSAC 2014 offered us an enticing look at the future of sports entertainment. Paradoxically, that future has all to do with messy, imperfect humanity, and little to do with statistics.

Malcolm Gladwell grilling newly minted NBA commissioner Adam Silver on James Dolan’s tax benefits? Yes please. Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck and Kings owner Vivek Ranadive getting into it over which of their teams is tanking? Don’t mind if I do. Stan Van Gundy mocking the Sixers in extreme language? Pass the popcorn already.

After so much focus on the rather dehumanizing process of commodifying athlete performance, the Sloan Conference somehow managed to commodify the humanity of its speakers. Nearly everyone at Sloan believes in the competitive power of data, but Sloan, like sports, is a personality-driven business. Selling tickets to Phil Jackson talking extemporaneously is easier than selling tickets to a guy you’ve never heard of expounding on rebounding.

It’s hard to beat live, reality TV. Adam Silver seemed a bit nervous and it was riveting. Stan Van Gundy waxed angry and it was hilarious. In their panel on negotiations, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and Golden State Warriors general manager Bob Myers appeared vulnerable and it was cathartic.

The latter event was the least contentious, which is funny when you consider how these men are supposedly tasked with swindling each other up until trade deadlines. Morey and Myers both vented about the travails of dealing with GMs who try to lecture you on what’s best for your team. They expressed frustration with peers who seek to win the trade as opposed to finding common ground. The normally opaque general managers dropped the veil and conveyed the exhaustion of working in a world so steeped in secrecy and paranoia.

Most memorably, Morey dished on his fear in response to Golden State’s deal for Andre Iguodala. Morey revealed how he thought the trade might put Houston’s Dwight Howard venture in jeopardy: “This is where my emotion takes over. I go into a complete panic. I really did. I thought it was down to us, Dallas, L.A." What followed was an anecdote about how a frantic Morey called Mark Cuban to inquire about Dirk Nowitzki (Cuban assumed that Morey was sarcastically taunting him).

Morey is among the most media-friendly GMs -- he invited the media to this conference that he co-founded, after all. “Friendly” doesn’t necessarily mean “open,” though. But alongside Myers, Morey was startlingly open.

That’s the secret for turning a suit into a storyteller. He needs some company up there on stage, people who hail from his cloistered world and can validate the statements. This is how many of these panels evoked the loose, conversational, and at times, contentious comedy of shows like HBO’s "Real Time" and ESPN’s "Pardon the Interruption."

The Parade of Loosened Ties has yet to reach the mainstream in the way many advanced statistics have. The Sloan conference is more entertaining than ever before, but it still (intentionally) plays to an exclusive audience. In Boston, we can see the future of how sports leagues will feed the fan’s increasingly voracious appetite: Get the most powerful people in sports together and get them talking.

Might you enjoy a panel of GMs discussing team needs a week before the trade deadline? Would you listen to two famous coaches razz each other for your amusement?

Suit-based sports entertainment would be the natural outgrowth of the statistical revolution that turned Billy Beane into someone Brad Pitt plays in a movie. And even though “suit-based sports entertainment” sounds terrifyingly corporate, the results at the Sloan petri dish were captivating.

Information is currency, so owners, GMs, and coaches won’t spend it on us. But celebrity is the rare currency that earns as you spend it. If the analytics movement pulled "the geeks" into the spotlight, it’s only a matter of time before those geeks grab the mike and make use of their newfound fame.

Warriors still learning how to use Curry

February, 21, 2014
Feb 21
4:06
AM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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OAKLAND, Calif. -- Stephen Curry presents a difficult problem for opposing defenses while also testing the decision-making of his own team. The star point guard excels at creating offense on and off the ball. Although that’s an enviable combination, it’s difficult to know how exactly to profit off the embarrassment of offensive riches.

The Warriors eventually figured it out on Thursday en route to a 102-99 overtime win over the Houston Rockets, a team that has bedeviled them in the recent past. After suffering poor results with a series of late David Lee isolations, Golden State put the ball in their star’s hands down two points with six seconds left in regulation. It wasn't the worst of plans.

Curry received the inbounds pass at the top of the key in what looked to be a setup for a catch-and-shoot. Instead, with Chandler Parsons hot on his tail, Curry sharply turned and went right at Dwight Howard’s hulking frame. Somehow, Curry’s lefty layup sneaked over the top of Dwight’s enveloping presence and saved the game for the Warriors.

“Truth be told, the last play of regulation I set it up for him to shoot a 3 and left it in his hands,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said after the game. “It shows you how far he’s come as a basketball player that he didn’t settle. He made a big play for us.”

The Warriors just traded for Steve Blake, after trading for Jordan Crawford earlier in the season. The goal of both moves is to help Curry by easing his burden. To ensure that Curry doesn’t wear down, others will be tasked with bringing the ball up and creating offense. That’s a difficult balance, considering that “easing the burden” can mean taking shots away from your best player.

When asked about the juxtaposition of feeding Curry versus getting other players involved, Jackson said, “You just read it. Fortunately as a point guard in this league and a point guard my whole life, those are decisions I had to make my whole life.”

Curry backed up that sentiment, reducing these seemingly difficult decisions to a matter of basic basketball literacy.

“It’s just about reading the situation,” Curry said. “When you have mismatches, you feel pretty confident in guys to make plays. Obviously you want to make the right call and the right adjustment each play down the stretch.”

Those calls, those adjustments, were made difficult Thursday by an absolute pest of a defensive presence. The Rockets' Patrick Beverley is about as unknown a name as you’ll find when listing starting players on playoff teams, but he’s one of the best at humanizing opposing playmakers. The most interesting aspect of his biography, that he played professionally in Russia, just speaks to his relative anonymity. The league’s best point guards know who Beverley is, though.

“He makes me better,” Curry said of Beverley, who fouled out in overtime. “I love that challenge. You know that’s his mission on a night: to come in and stop you.”

Through six meetings between them, Curry has shot 39 percent with Beverley on the floor. Perhaps this game represented a shift in Curry’s tactics and his success.

Beverley wasn’t the only person flaunting a dogged defensive game. The Warriors rank third in the league on that end and managed to hold Houston’s vaunted offense to a night of 36.6 percent shooting. If the play of the game wasn't Curry’s sneaky floater, it was definitely Jermaine O’Neal’s vicious block of Chandler Parsons' dunk attempt with 23 seconds left in overtime.

"[O'Neal] timed it well at the rim. It was just perfect timing on his part," Parsons said.

The Warriors, contrary to public perception, are carried by their defense. To truly be a multiround playoff threat, they must find a way to improve their much-talked-about offense. Right now that offense implodes when Curry takes to the bench, scoring 18.4 fewer points per 100 possessions.

Although the Warriors' offense runs far better when Curry is in, it can get into ruts where there’s little ball movement and many post-ups to ball stoppers like O’Neal, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes. Now that they’ve added more pieces through trades, the Warriors must strike a more favorable balance. The task likely won’t be as easy as “just read it.”

Monday Buzz Bullets

February, 17, 2014
Feb 17
6:23
PM ET
By Staff
ESPN.com
EASTERN CONFERENCE

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Where in the world is Harrison Barnes?

February, 17, 2014
Feb 17
11:48
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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Harrison Barnes has a reputation as something of a Renaissance Man -- but that does not mean the former Tar Heel enjoys being compared to Shane Battier, who attended rival Duke?

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Warriors' #fullsquad now coming up empty

February, 6, 2014
Feb 6
11:12
AM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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“What's our record, Jordan, with our full squad? What's our record? Full squad. When we have everybody? Does anybody know what our record is? When we've got Andre and Steph and everybody in the lineup? We're pretty darn good." -- David Lee, to WarriorsWorld’s Jordan Ramirez

With that, Mark Jackson’s “no excuse basketball team” gave way to a new slogan for the new year. “Full Squad” was a grand vision of what the Golden State Warriors would be with their vaunted starting lineup, and the phrase doubled as a bulwark against criticism. If you’re judging this team right now, just wait -- we’ll be truly great with our starters back.

On the day “Full Squad” was born, Golden State was a lukewarm 17-13, struggling to find their footing after losing Andre Iguodala to a hamstring strain. The phrase looked prophetic when the Warriors ripped off 10 straight wins with Iguodala in tow. “Hashtag Full Squad” became an Internet sensation and an invincible starting lineup. As with so many Bay Area startups, it seemed the good times would last forever.

But cold reality has set in. With all their starters back, the Warriors have dropped five of their last seven home games. Their supposedly flashy offense has plummeted to 16th in the league, right behind the 19-30 New York Knicks. The low point happened Tuesday at Oracle Arena, when the Charlotte Bobcats crushed a team once dubbed “The New Showtime” 91-75. As if getting killed at home by Charlotte wasn’t bad enough, owner Joe Lacob was in the announcing booth for much of the second quarter, forcing banter before the spectacle of a shockingly feeble offense.
[+] EnlargeDavid Lee
AP Photo/Ben MargotThe Warriors rallied behind David Lee's impassioned words, but they've lost seven of their past 11.

How is the famed Splash Brothers offense collapsing around Stephen Curry’s best season?

The short answer: Nearly everything else is going wrong. The longer answer begins with the man who started “Full Squad” (Lee, not Ramirez), who happens to actually be having a fine season, on balance. Lee was rolling offensively until he crashed into Roy Hibbert on Jan. 20 and suffered a shoulder injury. Since then, Lee is shooting 44.9 percent and nabbing only 7.6 boards a game. He’s taken injections for the injury, but their palliative effects haven’t prevented a drop-off in quality of play.

The other injury-compromised starter is Iguodala, who’s averaging 7.8 points per game since coming back from that hamstring injury. He’s never been defined by scoring in his decade in the league, but 7.8 is illustrative of just how adrift the post-injury Iguodala has been. Somehow, he’s still able to haunt passing lanes and chase guys around screens on defense, but a lack of acceleration is killing his offense.

It might be because Lee and Iguodala have shrunk Klay Thompson's spacing, but Thompson is in the kind of malaise that Russian novels are written about. Over the past five games, he’s shooting a miserable 27.4 percent from the field. The attached problem is that the Warriors can’t shrug off a Thompson slump the way Memphis might if Mike Miller starts missing. Like John Starks in the 1994 NBA Finals, Klay will fire away as though encouraged by the last shank. He’s averaging 17 shots and 13.8 points in this nasty five-game run. Over the same span, Curry is averaging more than twice as many points on three more shots. Also, unlike Klay, Curry does other things on offense besides shoot, sans conscience. Lately the Splash Brothers' family dynamic reminds of Michael Bluth working overtime to compensate for Gob Bluth's loud setbacks.

Harrison Barnes’ struggles have been enumerated, but they’re felt no less acutely since last week. In Friday’s game against Utah, he missed three layups in a single possession. Video-replay reviews move the game along faster than Barnes’ ball-stopping post-ups, but his number keeps getting called.

Strangely, Barnes continues to see heavy minutes in the role of wing creator that he has yet to succeed at, even though another combo forward, Draymond Green, is outplaying him. This brings us to Jackson, the focus of much fan criticism. Jackson deserves credit for leading a franchise from the doldrums to national relevance in less than three seasons. If that seems like the kind of compliment that presages harsh assessment, that’s because it’s exactly that.

Despite the aforementioned injuries, a team this talented shouldn’t be this mediocre on offense. The Warriors appear to atrophy their strengths and accentuate their weaknesses. While their “Full Squad” starting lineup dominates, most other combinations betray a lack of sensible structure. Golden State tends to lean on isolation post-ups as though Jackson is their point guard and not the coach. Even when post-ups aren’t the goal, the offense often stalls out after the defense disrupts Curry or Thompson from getting open.

Jackson rarely uses the free-flowing “Andrew Bogut plus four shooters” strategy that sent Denver packing in last year's playoffs. There’s nothing resembling “Bogut plus four” in Golden State’s 10 most preferred lineups. A unit that included Marreese Speights, Kent Bazemore and Toney Douglas actually has seen more floor time than any Bogut small-ball combination, and Douglas has been off the team for three weeks.

Golden State’s small-ball aversion perhaps wouldn’t be an issue if they could space the floor with two bigs. Teams have adjusted to the fact that Bogut can’t shoot, and they’re increasingly content to sag off Lee (36.8 percent from midrange this season). Throw in how the Warriors arguably lack an above-average 3-point shooter outside the Splash Brothers duo, and it’s a wonder Curry can run a set without an oxygen mask.

Basically, conditions have to be perfect for the Warriors to get offense. To be reductive about it, they have to either play Lee at center (untenable if they wish to maintain a defense) or have the full complement of all their starters. So far, they’ve shown neither the structure nor the bench talent to deal with anything less than ideal circumstances.

That’s the unfortunate, tacit admission of the “Full Squad” slogan. It’s another way of saying, “Conditions must be perfect for us to win.”

The good news? The Warriors are fourth in defensive efficiency, and four of their banged-up starters can rest over the All-Star break. Also, it’s only February, and a 29-20 record is far from a sinkhole they can’t emerge from

The danger is relying on perfect conditions in a sport that’s sure to bring about complications. Full squad or not, a “no excuse” team should find a way to persevere through the trials and tribulations of a season. That’s what a title contender does, at least.

Harrison Barnes' new brand: Bust?

January, 31, 2014
Jan 31
11:19
AM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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Harrison BarnesRocky Widner/Getty ImagesAfter building a buzz last postseason, Harrison Barnes has crashed back to earth -- hard -- in Year 2.
In a moment, Harrison Barnes reminded fans that the hype isn’t wholly empty. On Thursday night against the Clippers, he raced behind a weaving Jordan Crawford, received the pass, then soared past Willie Green for a powerful and-1 dunk. If the crowd's crazed reaction for a merely cool second-quarter jam was a little over the top, it may be attributable to a certain nervous energy regarding the Barnes situation. He’s been adrift on this roster this season, and the murmurs of doubt and disappointment have been growing louder.

As Anthony Bennett hogs the national “draft bust?” spotlight, it’s easy to forget that there are other young players under local scrutiny. In an ideal world, we wouldn't hold these young men to expectations they didn't set, but that change isn't happening anytime soon.

In Barnes’ case, the expectations don’t stem just from being the No. 7 pick. There’s more to the anxiety of “Is this it?” than his lottery status. First, Barnes didn’t storm the scene just last season as Bennett did en route to becoming the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 draft. Barnes is coming off his rookie season, but the former No. 1-ranked recruit has been underwhelming nervous fans for years now.

Barnes played for a high-profile North Carolina program and was featured before a March Madness TV audience that dwarfs that of Warriors games. His freshman year at Chapel Hill was underwhelming, albeit mildly so. Barnes scored, but didn't do it that efficiently, and did little else. He still probably would have been a top-three pick if he had opted for the draft then, but he elected to stay a year, which worked out badly for his draft stock, if not his “brand.” Sophomore Barnes played like freshman Barnes. His "NBA body" continued to move as though animated by what draftniks might call a "low motor." His handle remained stilted, his shot remained average, and his disappearances from the team’s offensive attack remained frequent.

As Barnes drifted through his final college season, the Warriors set about a deliberate course. They tanked mightily in pursuit of a top-seven protected pick. The process was excruciating for just about anyone who followed the team closely out of either obligation or habit. It made a grim mockery of Mark Jackson’s first season as head coach as he strove to prove himself with suited stars and a massive organizational incentive to lose, lose, lose.

Barnes was the prize, the guy who would vindicate the intentional indignity of 2012. And in the 2013 playoffs, after Warriors fortunes had dramatically reversed for the better, Barnes appeared to do just that. His rookie season was uneven, but Barnes got something of a spotlight during Golden State’s first-round upset of the Denver Nuggets. David Lee went down with a hip injury, and Barnes, who had seen almost no time at power forward to that point, was called upon to be the replacement.

Barnes thrived with more space on the court, using his long strides to sail toward the rim. Denver frequently left him open beyond the arc, allowing Barnes to shoot 40.6 percent from deep in the series.

The following Spurs series didn't help Harrison’s efficiency, but it did bolster his national cachet. Tony Parker "hid" on Barnes defensively, which goaded the Warriors into bogging their offense down into repeated post-ups with their rookie. The result was plenty of points for Barnes (an average of 17.3 over the six-game series), but at a below-average 51.4 percent true shooting mark. Since raw point totals still command a lot of respect, many filed Barnes’ series as a breakout performance.

The Warriors themselves were reputed to be highly optimistic about Barnes during last summer’s training camp, even if they did bring Andre Iguodala in to take his starting spot. Rumors about Barnes' killer training camp set off yet another drum roll in a career comprised of so many anticipatory drum rolls.
[+] EnlargeHarrison Barnes
Rocky Widner/Getty ImagesBarnes has struggled to produce despite ample opportunities.

Barnes began this season with a foot ailment, and he’s been, to put it bluntly, quite bad so far. It's not often that you’ll see a player with a 9.95 PER get so many opportunities. Jackson continues to post Barnes up as though his high-flying wing is Al Jefferson waiting to happen. The results have been miserable, mostly because Barnes claims neither the shooting ability nor passing vision to capitalize on frequent post-ups. It’s not all Jackson’s fault, though. Barnes dribbles with the stultifying caution of someone who fears the ball might set off land mines. He also holds on to it with the slow, deliberate focus of someone consulting a Magic 8 ball. To summarize, he’s a ball-stopper, but without the gaudy individual offense that many ball-stoppers can conjure up in isolation.

Though blessed with the body of an elite perimeter defender, Barnes has shown none of the instincts this season. While it’s understandable that a younger player might struggle on defense, Barnes’ flaws on that end are highlighted by the dogged defensive efforts of less-touted second-year man Draymond Green.

Draft disappointments don’t just let fans down on their lonesome, as disappointment needs a comparison to some better, imagined outcome. Sam Bowie wouldn't be “Sam Bowie” without Michael Jordan. Perhaps the most agonizing aspect of draft pick disappointment is the emerging picture of the alternatives. As the draft pick hindsight gets more clear, less blurry, it shows Andre Drummond dunking off a high screen lob from Stephen Curry. It shows John Henson blocking a shot simultaneous with Andrew Bogut. It shows Terrence Ross claiming membership as a Splash Brother with a 51-point opus. It shows Terrence Jones as an even better stretch 4 than Barnes in the Denver series. It shows Jeremy Lamb as what Kent Bazemore was supposed to be defensively. Depending on the day, it might even show the better side of Jared Sullinger, Kendall Marshall and Tony Wroten.

Barnes still has time and still has plausible excuses (remember the early-season injury?). Mark Jackson repeatedly extols his work ethic. Nobody on the team has criticized Barnes for a lack of desire or effort. If you’re hopeful about Harrison, you’ll have to lean on the subjective because the statistical profile is looking bleak. If you’re looking for optimism, you’ll have to consider what Curry said about Barnes after the victory over the Clippers: “He’s still young. He’s still trying to, you know, find his way. New role this year, obviously, coming off the bench. He’s going to get it. We still have confidence in him, we keep staying in his ear; he has confidence in himself, and obviously he’s shown that he can make a huge impact.”

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