December 25, 2009

Sizing Things Up

As the din of Christmas songs mercifully lessens, the Warriors appear poised to start a new chapter of their season. Both Andris Biedrins and Ronny Turiaf are due back shortly, possibly as soon as tomorrow night's game against Phoenix; a bigger and healthier roster could lead to an improvement in our fortunes.

It could... it certainly should. It may not, because our coach has been impervious to basketball logic for a good long while now. Don Nelson has coached the last 110 games as though he'd be fined for fielding a quintet with an average height above 6'5". He has treated ironclad rules of basketball as aesthetic trifles. He has opted out of the sport's one battle, the one on the glass, that you truly can't opt out of. Simply put, Nellie has been killing us with smallball. And while he's been saying all the right things about committing to a regular-sized lineup in recent days, he's made similar noises before, only to return to smallball within days and sometimes hours. Chris Hunter's DNP-CD on Wednesday night, in a game where size yet again beat us, speaks volumes.

Nellie is addicted to a loser of a strategy. It's unprofessional. It's embarrassing. It is, in a word, fireable. But you know what? In the spirit of the season, let's forget all that. Let's say that if he wakes up on Boxing Day, regards our predicament with fresh eyes and starts coaching decently again, that we'll let bygones be bygones, and love and defend him forevermore. Seems fair, right?

Okay. So you're Fresh-Start Nellie. You wake up with whatever Christmas hangover you accrued, stumble to your desk and start reading about this 7-21 team of yours. Why are your Warriors are so terrible? Three factors should pop out at you pretty quickly:

This isn't a complicated story. Your opponents get many more chances to score points than you do; your opponents score points with extreme efficiency; you can't keep your opponents away from the hoop. When those three things are true, you will be terrible.

As you drink the brown milk from your formerly-Cocoa-Pebbles-holding bowl and read further, you will see that your three weaknesses have come about for one single, blindingly obvious reason: because your lineups have been tiny. On a team that always plays full-sized lineups, 40% of the minutes are taken by natural centers and power forwards. On the '09-'10 Warriors, natural fours and fives have only played about 28% of your total minutes, and two of those "big men", Mikki Moore and Vladimir Radmanovic, are not defensive or rebounding assets in the slightest. Your team has played small, on the glass and at the rim, and has been bludgeoned every bit as much as you'd expect because of it.

The reasons why this happened -- a combination of injuries, Randolphic immaturity, Smartish love of Mikki Moore and Nelsonian idiosyncrasies -- are not currently relevant. For now, we don't care how you, Fresh-Start Nellie, got to this point. We just want to know where you're going to head from this point.

Any number of answers could be good ones, but by necessity, they all have to fall under the same general umbrella: "we're going big." The lineups need to get larger, pronto... if you have Biedrins, Turiaf, Randolph and Hunter ready to play, you should not bother going small any time in the near future. Unyielding, runaway-train smallball has earned you a 36-74 record over the last year and change. There is no argument, whatsoever, for continuing to put fuel into that strategy. The right move is not only to divert from that strategy, but to run screaming from it, and to chop-block and incapacitate any onlookers who are stupid enough to gravitate towards it. You need to erase our rebounding and shot-affecting deficiencies as quickly and as forcefully as possible, and worry about everything else later. There is no other defensible response to this team's predicament.

So Nellie's post-Christmas assignment is clear. We're not asking him to pay for the many mistakes he's made for the last year and change; we're just asking him to coach with some basic sanity and understanding from now on. If he's capable of that, and he plays regular lineups on a sustained basis -- say, giving at least 80 nightly minutes to real big men over the next month -- we will fall back in line and in love, whether we start winning or not. But if the little-people-lineups persist, then we will know, once and for all time, that this guy has lost the ability to do his job.

1 comment:

FreeZarko said...

Ask and ye shall not receive. Nellie has gone completely insane, and casual NBA observers can't differentiate it from his reputed eccentricity. It's a difference in kind, not a difference in degree. I wish ESPN would cover this more instead of actively trying to run Del Negro out of Chi-town.