Will new head coach Keith Smart make the Golden State Warriors less fantasy-friendly?
Don Nelson, you will be missed, my friend. For years, Nelson's up-tempo offensive scheme, dubbed "Nellie-ball," was synonymous with "fantasy-friendly." Say what you will about Nellie's quirky lineup decisions and complete lack of emphasis on defense, this guy was an offensive genius. As evidence, let's take a quick look at the Warriors' scoring averages the past four seasons:
2006-07: 106.5 ppg (2nd)
2007-08: 111.8 ppg (1st)
2008-09: 108.6 ppg (2nd)
2009-10: 108.8 PPG (2nd)
*League rank in parentheses
Needless to say, the Warriors were filled with quality fantasy options during the Nelson years. And that collective gasp you may have heard on Sept. 27 when Nellie announced his retirement was the fantasy community wondering what his departure would do to our beloved Warriors.
Enter new head coach Keith Smart, a former Indiana Hoosier and Nellie's right-hand man as an assistant coach for the past seven years. Many fantasy owners are worried that Smart's emphasis on rebounding and defense will negatively effect the Warriors' fantasy firepower. It's a valid concern, so we had ESPN Stats and Information dig up some numbers on the 10 games in which Smart served as acting head coach for the Warriors last season when Nelson was ill:
Golden State Warriors, 2009-10 breakdown
It's a small sample size, but you can certainly see some differences between the two coaches, notably the points scored per game from 109.7 under Nelson to 102.5 under Smart. Still, 102.5 points per game would have been good enough to rank sixth in the league in scoring. For a reference point, Mike D'Antoni's New York Knicks scored an average of 102.1 points per game and D'Antoni didn't have a problem creating fantasy stars in New York.
I should note that Smart has said publicly that when he stepped in for Nellie last season, he coached the way Nelson would coach. But bear in mind that Smart also took on more responsibilities than most assistant coaches. He ran some practices, organized training camp and gave pregame speeches. So while we haven't seen the Warriors under the full control of Smart, we have already seen a lot of his influences on the court during the past four years.
And with that in mind, I have a hard time seeing how this team will do a complete 180 under Smart, particularly when looking at the roster. Sure, the Warriors brought in a guy who will pull in a ton of defensive rebounds in David Lee and added a perimeter defender in Dorell Wright, but overall this is a roster that is still built to play Nellie-ball. The Warriors' bigs (Lee and Andris Biedrins) can get up and down the court quickly and their guards (Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis) form one of the quickest backcourts in the league. Perhaps more importantly, neither Biedrins nor Lee are great scorers with their backs to the basket. They aren't going to be posting guys up on the blocks and going to work, which is essential in a half-court offense. The Warriors will be at their best offensively when they rebound on the defensive end and push the pace through Curry and Ellis.
This is why I am hesitant to say that Smart will have a big negative fantasy impact with Golden State. Of course we can expect a slightly slower pace, but it will have only a minor impact in the fantasy game. It's nothing that's going to cause me to drop players like Stephen Curry, David Lee or Monta Ellis too far in the rankings. If anything, the slower pace will affect the fringe and bench players much more than the regular rotation guys. Remember when we used to pick up Warriors because "anything can happen in Golden State"? Those days may be over now that Nellie is gone, but there will still be plenty of fantasy goodness to go around.
In fact, I think Smart could actually have a positive fantasy impact. Yes, I said it. Think about it: If there was one thing that we hated about Nelson it was his inconsistent and quirky roster decisions. Smart has already said that his rotations will be more traditional, which will bring some consistency and structure to the lineup that was lacking under Nelson. We should like this kind of talk as fantasy owners, even if it means that we might not be able find lightning in a bottle off the Warriors' bench like we did with Reggie Williams last season. Additionally, Smart's emphasis on defense and rebounding should be good news for Andris Biedrins (who Smart visited in Latvia this summer) and Dorell Wright (who should secure a starting spot thanks to his defense).
Overall, the Warriors should remain a high-level fantasy team under Smart. They'll slow it down a little offensively but will still be forced to push the pace due to their roster limitations. And with that in mind, I'll leave you with a quote from the aforementioned second-year forward Williams: "It's not like there's a brand new coach coming in. We'll still get up and down the court. We still have weapons." I couldn't have said it any better myself, Reggie.
Brian McKitish is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.