Nobody in the NBA gets away with jogging or slowly trotting down the floor for long. Everyone puts out effort, expends energy, plays harder than an average human could dream of without feeling nauseated after 90 seconds.
Playing hard in the NBA is relative, and the difference between playing normally and playing with enough extra passion to make a tangible difference is subtle. However, unless new coaches know what they’ll get from night to night in terms of effort, and that what they’re seeing is nothing less than the maximum possible from their players, it’s hard to know what they have.
At least, that’s what I gleaned from Mark Jackson’s comments after the Golden State Warriors’ 102-96 win over the Phoenix Suns. Especially when Jackson said that even during losses he tells his players, “Fellas, give us a chance to make an adjustment. If what we’re preaching does not work, at least go after it with energy, effort and passion, so then we can make the adjustment.”
That’s probably why Jackson’s been turning to Nate Robinson, Ekpe Udoh, Klay Thompson and Brandon Rush with increasing frequency over the team’s recent warm streak (the Warriors have won six of their last nine and haven’t suffered what could be called a “bad” loss in about a month).
A little on Thompson and Rush later … this was Udoh’s game.
Udoh wasn’t just a plus/minus wizard again versus the Suns. He was all over the court defensively, showing on pick-and-rolls and covering 3-point shooters like he was on the 10th day of a 10-day contract and his career depended on it. That’s what “playing hard” means, but such effort is nothing new from Udoh. The unique thing about Monday night was Udoh’s offense. Usually either stilted or nonexistent, Udoh had successes both from 10-to-15 feet out and close to the basket, where he converted a fairly difficult left-handed hook from four feet away that effectively sealed the game for the Warriors late in the fourth quarter.
Okay, Udoh only made 3 shots. But with defense as good as his, and how much better the team performs both to the eye and the stat sheet when he’s on the floor, incremental offensive improvement is like seeing the sun come out on a day off from work — you were already content, but now everything seems so much better.
Here’s what Jackson had to say about Udoh’s performance after the game:
Now before we listen to Udoh talk about whether the midrange or post game is most important, or how he answered my questions on his varied responsibilities on defense and the emotion he showed after hitting that basket with 35.9 seconds remaining that put Golden State up by 5, here’s a little game I’d like to call:
LET’S … TRANSCRIBE … NATE ROBINSON!!!
I’ll send a crisp $10 bill to the first person who can accurately write down in the comments exactly what Robinson is saying in the background from the showers while we’re interviewing Udoh. If you aren’t either Nate Robinson or in his family, and you can accurately decipher every word he says here, $10 probably isn’t enough. Let’s make it $11.
Recovering from the Acie Law error
The Warriors are probably stuck in no-man’s land again, facing an uphill climb to make it to the postseason and distancing themselves from a possible lottery pick in the NBA Draft with every win. Still, it’s clear in watching this team that there are a lot of positive changes from last year … beyond the fact that they at least attempt to play defense every game.
Jackson plays no favorites, which is different from last year when Ellis could do no wrong. This isn’t just about Ellis and Curry though, it’s also about Rush getting time when he’s showing more than Dorell Wright. Or Udoh playing important minutes as the team’s only real shot-blocker while Andris Biedrins sits.
Robinson didn’t just provide entertaining ambient noise in the locker room, he also gave the Warriors a boost on Monday, like one of those energy shots they sell at convenience stores. Robinson’s contributions came on a night when Ellis wasn’t shooting well and Curry tweaked his *other* ankle. And there’s also this:
When Robinson was on the floor with Udoh, Lee, Thompson and Rush, the Warriors were a legitimately impressive defensive squad. Not perfect, but far more interested in challenging shots and winning loose balls than any 5-man unit the Warriors utilized last season. Then again, it also helps when you have a long-armed power forward who can block a shot on one possession and hound a Hall-of-Fame point guard around the perimeter on the next.
A couple last notes on the bench…
— The Warriors didn’t offer Rush an extension when they could have, which probably made sense for a couple of reasons. First, it’s tough to budget around mid-level talent these days with the new CBA. General Managers are now looking to surround stars with bargains. Second, Rush is playing his ass off in hopes of taking advantage of what should be his prime years as a pro — no need to alter that dynamic on a team that needs all the help it can get.
— We focused on Thompson’s improving game yesterday, and his performance was equal parts efficient and aggressive against Phoenix. He keeps showing different areas of his game that, admittedly, I wasn’t expecting. Like in the second quarter when Thompson caught a pass behind the three point line on the right elbow. Thompson pump-faked, drove left toward the middle where he met Marcin Gortat mid-air, seemed to draw the contact on purpose and slightly pulled back as he flew toward the hoop, away from Gortat so he could drop in a mini-floater from 2 feet away without worrying about Gortat blocking his shot attempt. Thompson plays pretty good defense too, including an excellent transition stop against Grant Hill. The cheers for Thompson at Oracle are getting louder every night.