Nobody knows NBA teams better than beat writers, save for those who draw paychecks with an NBA owner’s signature on them. The reporters who are with the teams they cover every day gain an intimate knowledge of the players, coaches and executives they write about and develop sources who help them break news and stay on top of rumors.
We at Hoops Rumors will be chatting with beat writers from around the league and sharing their responses to give you a better perspective on how and why teams make some of their most significant moves. Last time, we spoke with Gery Woelfel of The Journal Times about the Bucks. Click here to see all the previous editions of this series.
Hoops Rumors: It’s stunning, really. No team had ever won more than 15 games in a row to start the season, and now here are the Warriors at 22-0. [We talked to Poole before Golden State’s win over the Pacers on Tuesday that sent the team to 23-0] What sets this team apart from everyone else?
Monte Poole: I think it’s a couple of things. One, the system that they put in last year really did two things. It made their offense open up a little bit, and it showed them the value of defense leading to offense. They really did a great job of it last year. This year, I think their defense has fallen off a little bit, but they know that they can find that defense in spurts, four of five minutes here, five or six minutes there, and turn games around. So, you have that, plus the fact that you have Steph Curry, the most creative scorer and distributor in the game today, and you’ve got a pretty good recipe. You have a deep team, and several guys who are pretty unique around the NBA in terms of what they can do, leading off again with Steph and Draymond Green.
Hoops Rumors: It’s early, but has Green already proven that the five-year, $82MM deal he signed in the offseason is a bargain for the Warriors?
Monte Poole: Well, it’s already proven that they didn’t overpay the guy, that he’s not going to rest on his laurels, because that’s not his makeup. He’s had to fight for everything he’s gotten. He came into the league as a second-round draft pick, and he will be the first to tell you that he heard a lot of rejection from other scouts, and teams told him he wasn’t good enough. They pointed to things that he couldn’t do and didn’t focus on the things that he can do. So, he came into the league believing that he had to prove to people that he deserved to be picked higher, he deserved to be more respected, and I would say that he’s gotten that. I like to say three years ago teams were looking at Draymond Green and saying, “Nah, we don’t think so,” and “No, we don’t think so,” “He can’t do this,” “He can’t do that,” and now, guess what they’re doing. They’re looking for the next Draymond Green.
And it’s heart. He’s got a tremendous competitive heart. He’s one of those guys that really sort of personifies the underdog, and actually Steph has some of that, too. Both of these guys know what it’s like to be told, “You’re not good enough.” You think about Steph, and how both of his parents went to Virginia Tech. And Virginia Tech [said to Steph], “Nah, we don’t think so. Thanks, but no thanks.” Now, generally speaking, when both your parents went to a school, you can kind of get in there without a problem, but they weren’t swayed. And Coach K at Duke [Mike Krzyzewski] never looked twice at him. And he says now, “Big mistake,” but if you’re Steph Curry, it doesn’t help you out to hear that. And so, you look at those two guys, the two leaders of this team, and both of them came into the league believing that they had to prove to people that they could play. And they take that attitude into each and every game, every night. And that’s what you see. You see a team that, really, they don’t just want to beat you. They want to kind of annihilate you. They want to show you that they can, despite being told that they can’t.
Hoops Rumors: What has interim coach Luke Walton done, or not done, that’s helped the team to its historic start?
Monte Poole: Luke will be the first to tell you that he is basically a product of the system installed by Steve Kerr. He’s a little bit different guy, of course, but what he’s been able to do is keep the system alive, keep it going, and he hasn’t lost the respect of the players. There was some concern going into the season that, “OK, Steve Kerr won’t be around, so will they treat Luke Walton like a substitute teacher?” And there are very little traces of that. For the most part, they understand him, they listen to him, they talk to him, they respect him — that’s huge. So, he has been able to get these guys most of the time at the level they can play at.
Now, I would say there may be one or two things that I think would be different if Steve were around, and one of those things is turnovers. That’s Steve Kerr’s pet peeve. And there have been games this year where the Warriors went over the 20 mark in turnovers, and that would drive Steve nuts. Luke is a little more willing to take it in stride because they’re winning, and he doesn’t want to change anything dramatically because it’s not his team to change. So, he’s going to let them get away with that a little bit as long as they’re winning, and they’ve done that. The other thing is that they don’t play as great a defense as they can for as long as they can. They were better on defense early last year than they are right now. I don’t think it’s a big deal, because, again, they know that they can play it, and that if it’s a close game, and they play their type of defense for five or six minutes, that they’ll a double-digit lead. So, you could say maybe that’s something that Luke is kind of letting slide a little bit, but, hell, he’s 22-0, so it’s kind of hard to criticize the guy.
Hoops Rumors: Harrison Barnes is taking more shots and scoring more points than ever before, and Andre Iguodala said that the team is trying to give him a boost, cognizant that it’s his contract year. Have you noticed Barnes’ teammates looking out for him more often on the court?
Monte Poole: I mean, it’s always been sporadic. Last year, same way. There were times when Harrison would be a focal point for a few minutes of the game. There were times when he would disappear. And I don’t think it’s been that much different this year. There have been times when he’s barely there, and there have been times when you say, “OK, my God, this guy is going full-flight right now.” So, I don’t think it’s a dramatic difference. I do think Andre, he talked last year about getting Klay Thompson paid, and now he wants to get Harrison paid. I think Harrison’s going to get paid no matter what. He will get paid. I don’t see, quote-on-quote, a conscious effort, because, let’s face it, Harrison is like the fourth option in their offense. He doesn’t do a lot of dribbling, a lot of ball-handling. He’s basically a stand-up shooter and occasionally gets to go one-on-one with somebody and tries to go to the hoop, and he’s good in transition. So, he’ll get most of his points off transition baskets and just catch-and-shoot. I don’t think that’s changed a whole lot.
I asked Bob Myers, the general manager, before the season started, and I asked Luke this, too: “Are you concerned at all that maybe Harrison, being in a contract year, might go out of his game a little bit and try to do a little too much?” And Luke said, “I’ve seen guys do that, but I don’t think that’s Harrison’s personality, I don’t think that’s our team’s personality. I’d be surprised if it happens.” I’ve got to say that I don’t think it’s really happened. Any more shots that he’s gotten that he wouldn’t have gotten last year I think are just a product of the team getting deeper into its offense, because last year they were probably at 60% of it, and now they’re probably at 70 or 80% of it.
[Myers] said exactly that. He looked at his roster, and said, “That’s one of the things that I can honestly say about this roster is that I don’t think there’s a guy in the locker room that would say, ‘It’s about me, it’s about what I need and what I’m going to do.'” I think he’s right. It’s a quality team with quality players that have positive attitudes. They’re not all the same, they’re not cookie-cutter, but at the same time, you don’t sense that anybody is ready to make his agenda bigger than that of the team. Harrison certainly falls into that category. He doesn’t do that. He keeps within the team. It’s only in spurts when he gets really aggressive, and they want to see that. They want to see the aggressive Harrison Barnes because he’s effective. So, Bob believes the same thing that Luke does, that it’s not a problem in terms of Harrison going too far and getting outside of his normal game.
Hoops Rumors: Festus Ezeli‘s minutes are up, but it’s clear that the Warriors are at their best when they don’t have a true center on the floor. What do the results of this season say about Ezeli’s value to the team?
He’s actually got pretty good numbers. The metrics on him are pretty good, and [the Warriors] tell him all the time, the message is that, “You play defense, you anchor the back line, you take care of the paint, and anything else you do for us is gravy.” Well, he’s been actually giving them a little bit of gravy this year. They know that Andrew Bogut is prone to injury. He may be 31, but you know, Bogut’s probably going to be playing three to four more years, and they know he’s not going to be around a whole lot longer. So, I think they do value Festus. They understand his value to the team. I think they want to keep him. He runs the floor very well. He’s still got upside, and you’re seeing it every day and every month. He’s better each year because he’s working at it. And assistant coach Ron Adams — who by the way was voted the top assistant coach in the NBA in a poll of general managers — has sort of taken Festus as his personal pet project. And both after practices and before games, you’ll see Ron and Festus off in the corner sometimes by themselves going over video, or going over post moves, or going over defensive tactics and so forth.
So, they are investing in him, and I think they mean to have him around for a long time. He’s the big that can actually run the court like the smalls, and there’s value in that, because there are certain teams that you will need a guy like him on the floor [against], guys that Bogut can’t keep up with maybe. And Festus does a better job of being a big who can run the floor. Yeah, the small team is their most effective team most of the time, but they can’t always rely on that, and there are going to be times when they know they need Festus — and Bogut, too — but Festus is a guy who’s younger, and a little more agile, and a guy who they believe can be a quality starting center in the league for years to come.