David Lee

The Warriors need a point guard

Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry each had for 6 turnovers tonight, in a game they should have won. Yes, should have won. The Dallas Mavericks came into the game on a 9-game win streak, but the Warriors still know how to play Dallas as effectively as any team from the tricks Nellie taught them.

Plus, this was last year’s Mavs team they were facing. Tyson Chandler took a sick day, and he’s been the only real difference between this year’s Mavericks and the Quilted Northern Mavericks of last season. But while the Warriors shot well, Dorell Wright played a good floor game and the team got a boost of energy from Lou Amundson’s Warriors debut as well as Dan Gadzuric, the lasting image was a turnover from Curry with less than a minute remaining and the game still in doubt.

Curry decided he was going to make something happen without a plan (or a play to run, it appeared), and in avoiding a steal attempt from Shawn Marion passed the ball to David Lee, who was covered. Ball deflected away, Mavs get the ball, 2 free throws and the win.

And after watching the Warriors flail around at the end of three consecutive games they way they have, it’s becoming clear that this team’s problem isn’t that they don’t have a good enough backup point guard, but that they really don’t have a point guard at all. They have two small shooting guards who are being stretched to the boundaries of their playmaking abilities, and it’s leading to a disastrous stretch of games that could derail this season before it really starts.

It’s not that Curry throws too many one-handed passes (although he could use a little self-censorship in that department), or that he’s having a bad season. Curry’s very efficient offensively (at least in terms of scoring), and he’s the same foul-crazed, gambling defender he always was. But while he can dazzle you in the middle of the game with a deft pass through traffic, unless the decision is “pull up for a 3” he really doesn’t have a good handle on how to handle late-game situations offensively.

Ellis’ defense isn’t much better, although his increased activity makes him seem like a better defender these days. And he’s made about as many slick passes as Curry — which makes sense since Curry averages 5.8 apg and Ellis averages 4.9 — both while turning the ball over around 3 times per game.

That brings us to the problem the Warriors face. Not that their two best players don’t like each other, but that their two best players do too many of the same things on the court, both good and bad. And while that little bit of analysis isn’t breaking new ground, it’s getting clearer by the night that the Warriors can’t go on much longer like this and expect to win as many games as they lose, now and in the future.

In a way it’s Curry’s fault; Monta came in this year as a much better shooting guard. Curry came into this season as a … combo guard. And Curry isn’t much better at anything than he was last year, except getting to the free throw line and fouling people. It seems like Curry was better at point guard tasks before playing with Team USA and deciding he needed to prove he was the best pure shooter on a team that included Kevin Durant.

As NBA observers, we often fall victim to expecting incredible improvement from season to season early in players’ careers, and we have all the players who entered the league from high school to blame. We thought nothing of the improvement from the hot-dogging infancy of Kobe Bryant’s game as an 18-year-old rookie to the superstar he became by the time he turned 22. Or KG going from 10/6/2 as a 19-year-old rookie to 23/12/5 at age 23. When guys come into the league at age 21 or 22, the improvement from year to year might not be so meteoric.

It’s still possible that Curry, 22, could become a “floor general” type of player in the next couple years. After all, Monta has improved quite a bit from last season to now and he’s 25. But Curry won’t become the next Steve Nash with Monta around. And having a guard-dominated offense dominated by guards who can’t play defense isn’t a recipe for anything besides continuing to be the west coast version of the Wizards or the Nets, at least record-wise. The Warriors either need to get a point guard by trading Ellis so Curry can concentrate on playing the point, or trading Curry and finding a point guard who’s sure-handed enough and headstrong enough to take some of the playmaking responsibilities away from Monta and handle the ball at the end of games.

With Monta’s spectacular scoring and improved attitude, and Curry’s mental lapses throughout the first quarter of this season, it’s not as clear which player the Warriors should keep as it once seemed. But one of them needs to go. The two best players on the team play the exact same position, and the team isn’t winning. How could it be more obvious that something needs to change, especially if both guys are young and talented and either one could bring the Warriors back a talented player or two?

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