Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Golden State Road Warriors? Only with Monte Ellis

With the National Basketball Association heading into its All-Star Game, it's about time for me to start picking up the scent of the season's developing storylines. The 2008-2009 campaign has several very interesting ones going—will the Boston Celtics repeat, will LeBron James essentially deliver the Cleveland Cavaliers to the promise land single-handedly, will Kobe Bryant finally get his ring-sans-Shaq, are the Orlando Magic for real, and many others.

I'm gonna focus on one closer to home: what might have been if the Golden State Warriors had Monte Ellis for all 82 games?

That might seem like an odd question to ask after one of Monte's less-than-stellar games. During last night's win over the New Orleans Hornets in the Big Easy, Ellis put up the following: 6-12 for 15 points, five fouls, four turnovers, three rebounds, two steals, two assists, and a block in a pear tree. That doesn't tell the whole story, though, because he also played pretty nice defense on Peja Stojakovic.

Not a bad game and we shouldn't dismiss D'ing up Peja even though he's getting older so he's lost a step that he probably didn't have to begin with. But it's not great for a Monte Ellis who's hitting on all cylinders (obviously, Monte isn't yet).

Except I'm not a stat guy.

The most significant thing I see is a 15-32 Warrior squad who just went into New Orleans and hung a loss on a 28-15 team that currently sits comfortably in the playoffs with home court in its first round. A team that would be leading the NBA's Northwest Division and features one of the brightest young stars in the game (Chris Paul). I know, Tyson Chandler was in street clothes.

So what? Golden State didn't have Marco Belinelli.

Nah, just kidding. Chandler is a good player and much more important to the Hornets' chemistry set than Belinelli is to the Warriors'. However, it's not like the guy is an unstoppable force of nature who is known for putting the squad on his shoulders and carrying it to victory.

He's still just Tyson Chandler—maybe he would've helped on Andris Biedrins, but maybe not. Maybe the presence of a big name guy would have spurred Andris on to even greater numbers (6-7, 12 points, nine rebounds). Andris might've been even more engaged. If you don't know about Biedrins, you better learn because the 22-year-old kid is going to be a monster. Kinda already is.

But back to Monte.

I saw his mere presence (even showing considerable rust) open the floor for the other weapons on the team. Guys like Stephen Jackson, Jamal Crawford, Corey Maggette, C.J. Watson, and Biedrins had plenty of room to operate/shoot because of Monte's ability to slice and dice a single defender. That said, I saw the miss a lot.

I saw the Warriors defeat a very good team at home by shooting poorly, playing solid defense, and hitting big shots down the stretch. Hmmmm.

And don't forget, the victory in New Orleans was just Monte's fourth game back and second on the road.

In Ellis' season debut, the Warriors were a LeBron buzzer-beater away from taking down one of the NBA's best teams in Oakland. In his second game, the Warriors beat the Los Angeles Clippers in Oak-town. In his third (and first road game of the year), Golden State got trounced by the Dallas Mavericks (a playoff team at the moment).

In those four games, Golden State has shown more life than in any of the previous games I've seen this year (admittedly, not a lot to date). They've given arguably one of the three best teams in the entire league a run for its money, taken care of business against a bottom-feeder, suffered humiliation at the hands of good-but-not-great Mavs five, and taken down one of the best teams in the Western Conference in its own building.

That ain't too shabby especially when you consider where the Warriors have been. And where they've been is listlessly lingering around the depths of the NBA's nether regions.

It all makes me wonder what could've been had Monte not suffered a stupid, selfish, yet serious injury in the offseason. Where would the Golden State Warriors be right now had they started from the jump with Monte alongside Jacks, Biedrins, and Maggette before adding Crawford via trade?

Because the Warriors' season has a fork in it that only a miracle would remove.

Golden State sits in 11th place, which doesn't sound too bad considering the top eight make it. Of course, the Warriors trail the eighth place Phoenix Suns by 11.5 games with less than 40 to play. They also sit 11 games behind the ninth place Utah Jazz and must hop the 10th place Minnesota Timberwolves to boot.

That's not impossible nor is it even remotely probable.

It would take a celestial finish by Golden State and—not one—but two awful finishes by teams who haven't exactly shown terrible weakness to date. In fact, you could argue both are only as low as they are by virtue of injuries and acclimation to new moving parts.

That makes the prospect of Phoenix and Utah going limp in the second half considerably more unlikely—the worst-case scenario might just be both teams treading water.

Too bad because these Golden State Warriors are really fun to watch. And they're dangerous, too. Watching them in the postseason would be a treat.

Unfortunately, it looks like the return to form will be too little, too late.

Let's just hope our guys have learned from Monte Ellis unfortunate example. Let's hope they can resist that intoxicatingly-sexy siren song of the moped.

The 2010 NBA Playoffs may just ride on it.

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