Andris Biedrins

How good are Anthony Morrow and Monta Ellis?

After last night’s stirring 111-106 win over the Portland Trailblazers, it seems like we know less about the Golden State Warriors than ever. Without Moped Monta and facing an early schedule that seemed harder than taking a Calculus final and the Bar Exam in the same day, just staying ahead of Memphis, Oklahoma City and Minnesota sounded like a tough order back in October.

How wrong that was. The Warriors still face a tough climb to reach the playoffs, even in a Western Conference that by the end of the season will probably have to stop bragging about its superiority over the East. However, the Warriors are still a dangerous team without Baron Davis or Monta. They rebound better, defend better, and if last night’s 33-for-35 performance was any indication, shoot far better from the line than they did last season. Since interest in the team has been piqued as they prove a lottery pick in the 2009 NBA Draft is far from guaranteed, let’s ask some questions about this team as they prepare for a monstrous stretch where they’ll play eight of their next ten games on the road.

Just how good is Anthony Morrow?

That’s what Don Nelson is about to find out. The man is obviously the best shooter on the team, and this team has been absolutely CRYING for a guy who can actually shoot (unlike Stephen Jackson, Al Harrington and departed players like Mickael Pietrus and Matt Barnes, who think they’re shooters). Morrow’s also a decent defender, defers to the veterans and is a pretty decent rebounder for his size.

However, Morrow handles the ball about as well as J.T. O’Sullivan, so he is by no means perfect. In fact, am I wrong in saying that Morrow seems like a bizarro Rajon Rondo? They look somewhat alike, but Morrow’s bigger and can shoot from anywhere. Rondo is smaller, faster and can handle the ball better than Morrow, but would never be confused with a pure shooter.

Unless Morrow somehow forgets to shoot (which seems unlikely, given that the pressure of playing in the fourth quarter didn’t seem to bother him last night), he’s going to be as useful as Nelson makes him. Nelson is surely going to install some plays for Morrow in the next two off-days before Friday’s home game against Chicago, in hopes of giving the Warriors their second-most consistent offensive option behind Andris Biedrins.

How good is this team with a healthy Monta?

The Warriors probably suffer a little defensively when Monta comes back, but offensively they become a top-five squad. Even more important than what Monta provides is what he takes away from StackJack: namely minutes, shots and the ball. With the ascensions of Kelenna Azubuike and Morrow, Jackson won’t need to play 43+ minutes per game like he has in this season’s first eleven games. Even more importantly, Jackson will need to work to get open with Monta controlling the offense, as opposed to just dribbling the ball down and heaving some off-balance shot early in the shot-clock.

Last night Jackson’s stat line read 20/8/8. Pretty awesome, except he went 5-for-18 from the field. If Monta can keep those kinds of shooting displays from Jackson to a minimum, the Warriors’ offense is going to be nearly impossible to stop.

As long as Nelson keeps playing Morrow, that is.

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