I've written about this before and Tim Kawakami recently took my lead and ran his own (brief) version of the issue, but with the December games officially in the can, it's time to update the CJ Watson/Stephen Curry comparison I began at the beginning of December and survey some team trends as we close the books on 2009 in Warriors basketball.
On the season, Watson is a +25, Curry a -127. Over the last ten games, Curry is a team-worst -76 (Mikki Moore next at -68). The preseason hype this year said Stephen Curry would challenge Monta Ellis for playing time, much as the Marco Belinelli hype after one summer league game not so long ago led to the great "Marco shoud start, trade Ellis!" debate of Summer 07 amongst the usual plants and jackasses in Warriors fan forums. Needless to say, they've overstated their hype case yet again as they try desperately to pave the way for a Monta Ellis salary dump. Oh well, still time for the Biedrins dump. Incidentally, Matt Steinmetz assured folks in his latest CSN.com chat that Randolph is safe for now. But no such mention of Biedrens and I think Randolph has hit Webber stage now any way, leaving the Warriors little say in the matter.
CJ Watson has been absolutely pivotal to the team's recent good play, as have Anthony Morrow and Anthony Randolph. Keith Smart figured this out first and revoked Curry's free pass at several points during his interim work while Don Nelson tanned on Maui. It's been refreshing to see some accountability introduced to Nelson's handling of Curry lately, and Smart was largely unimpressive on most other fronts, but Nelson continues to yo-yo playing time for the bigs and will need to show he's aware of how much better the team is with Curry out of the mix if he expects to convince anyone he has the team's best interests in mind. Against the Lakers, he flat out lost the team the game by playing Ronny Turiaf heavy minutes alone with four guards late in a close game despite Turiaf being an ineffective rebounder and an even less effective team defender. And despite Turiaf being obviously gassed while Randolph was having an exceptional game before Nellie benched him for absolutely no reason.
It's been nice to have Turiaf and Biedrins back, despite Nelson's refusal to stick to the most effective use of size even when healthy, but in reality the most valuable play of all has come from the incumbent veteran and undrafted guard rotation and the talented young big Nellie refuses to coddle like he does GQ Free Pass. While Curry throws stupid passes into the stands, lets his defensive assignments score at will, and bricks early clock shots after calling his own number per equal parts natural inclination as a me-first gunner in consequence-free, uncompetitive collegiate games (with very few exceptions) and instructed role as the prototypical Nellieball shitwing... CJ Watson keeps it simple, keeps it clean, keeps it effective.
And the team wins.
Of particular note, CJ Watson's 2.44 AST/TO ratio was 21st among all NBA point guards playing at least 20 MPG in December. Curry's 1.38 AST/TO ranked 44th under the same criteria. With some other teams' games yet to be played this month, both positions could shift. But for now, CJ Watson handed in a phenomenally superior month at NBA point guard relative to the coddled young combo guard, by one of the industry's most oft-referenced point guard measures. Watson's percentages and efficiency measures make him a more reliable, less wasteful offensive feature, too, and the team's play with him on the floor with the A squad and Curry off prove beyond any shadow of a doubt that the team plays much better without Curry's hot dogging selfishness in the way. Watson is nothing spectacular, but he knows his role and how to play it and he makes those around him better. Curry is so focused on getting his own numbers and looking cool, he never figures out how to influence winning basketball in the NBA (hint: he won't).
Curry has gone scoreless in two NBA games thus far in his brief, disappointing NBA career. Not incidentally, they are the Warriors' two most impressive and convincing victories with an even remotely serviceable roster: 121-107 in New York 11/3 (he didn't see the floor) and the Boston victory 12/28. One should bear in mind that Boston has now lost 4 games in a row on a West Coast swing without Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett has been hurting. He did not play against Phoenix in the Celtics' latest loss. Qualifications aside, the game was tremendous. Much better than the sloppy Portland and Pheonix wins.
In the 8 Warriors team wins Curry has hit the floor for, he has averaged nearly 10 minutes fewer played than he has in the team's 22 losses. He takes 4 fewer shots, hitting them at 39%, and of course commits a full turnover fewer than his usual work in team losses thanks to the reduced playing time. He averages about 9 points per game- 4 off his season mark- but the same assists in that limited time, a curious item indeed. A shoddy analysis might simply stop here and suggest that Curry plays effective team basketball only one game out of three and that his scoring focus hurts the team considerably. But clearly, his scoring is wholly irrelevant to the Warriors' best work and his assists do not make a measurable difference to team success. In fact, he often gets his assists VERY early in the game, with little to absolutely no impact upon game outcome whatsoever.
Stephen Curry is, put simply, a totally irrelevant player two full months into his NBA career. Or, more accurately, he is irrelevant when the team plays its best basketball and a glaring weak point in the team's consistent losing and bad play.
He would perhaps make an impact as a bench scoring/lead guard option, despite his irrelevant scoring work as a starter, because he can hit shots at a high rate and he can pass up court on the break when weaker B squad defenders (or early game lazy A squads) are watching him. He is atrocious as a half court play maker of any sort, set up or penetration, so in close game situations when play slows and opposing defenses press full court, he's still useless. And will remain so- his athleticism, speed, and size are not negotiable. We're talking all offense thus far, like good Nellie Heads, and should we care to examine his defense, we'd have an even longer list of limitations and faults to chronicle. The Warriors drafted him to play point guard and look pretty and will only see return on half of the bargain.
CJ Watson, in contrast, averages over 15 PPG in the 6 team wins he's been a part of. He plays 28 minutes, only about 2 more than his minutes in team losses, but scores more than twice as many points than in losses while shooting an incredible 68% from the field, 65% from three! Clearly, those are ridiculously unlikely numbers over a full season. But the Warriors are ridiculously unlikely to win games over much of the season, too. There's an argument to be made, in a team structure founded solely and unabashedly upon high scoring, that CJ Watson's scoring performance has been the key peak variable in Warriors wins! Again, this would be shoddy analysis. Watson also racks up 3.7 APG in team wins, 3.33 steals, and commits 1.2 TO.
Watson is only part of the picture. Morrow? Ten more MPG in team wins (he's played all 9), about 17 PPG, 5 RPG, 2 APG, 1.8 STL, and scintillating 58% shooting, SIXTY-THREE % ON THREES! Anthony Morrow is ABSOLUTELY a key to winning for the Warriors. Arguably, Morrow's success is THE key to wins for the Warriors as Maggette and Ellis produce fairly consistent numbers but to varying degrees of in-game relevance. Morrow was expected to be an important role player for the team, so perhaps his strong work in team wins comes as no surprise. And much was made of his personal travails recently in response to a poor shooting span. Whatever the reason for his shooting issues, he was also held out of games as Curry played 40+ meaningless minutes to pad his Rookie Team stats and the team attempted to avoid the truth, that they failed miserably to improve the team through the draft when better options, short OR long term, were available.
Watson and Morrow have suffered the worst for playing time under the Stephen Curry Show on the Road to Nowhere. Anthony Randolph, more than a year younger than Curry but far more impactful now and much more intriguing for longterm NBA performance, has suffered most under the double standard Don Nelson has always inflicted upon NBA bigmen vs. guards (Steinmetz discussed this in his recent CSN.com chat, as well). But CJ Watson is the direct player parallel to Curry and the incumbent reserve little guard with the most to lose in fishy PR-first rotations.
Watson has already gone toe-to-toe with the Warriors' weird, creepy desire to "control" the fate of players who the league knows want to get away (Barnes and Pietrus, in most recent memory). He had a deal from Orlando and the Warriors refused to let him go play for them. So he took the one year qualifying offer, will risk the RFA game with the snarky Warriors front office snakes again, and hopes to get the playing time he's earned and produces in at some point. It's a shame for CJ, one of the league's best guys by all accounts from the professional media, as he'd be competing for a title with former Warriors executive Otis Smith in Orlando.
The Warriors apparently mess with players all the time in hopes of keeping their price tags and/or league demand low. Andris Biedrins, for example, would have received incentive payments worth millions of dollars had he reached certain games played benchmarks last season. After seeing his minutes decreased while Don Nelson ran small ball with Kelenna Azubuike, and prior to any Warriors injury report manipulations, he ended the season having "magically" played in 3 fewer games than his contract required to secure the incentives. Marcus Thompson wrote that Biedrins had secured his incentives before the season ended last year, in direct response to questions the Warriors fan community had begun to ask about these playing time issues. But that report seems to have been wholly inaccurate, perhaps because the team itself gave Marcus bad information. Biedrins's incentives are currently listed as "unlikely" (which means he's not getting them) according to Sham Sports (see links section, right).
The Warriors' counter-productive roster screw over/hoarding practice also puts the clamps on pending Restricted Free Agents like Mickael Pietrus and CJ Watson. Pietrus spent over a full season trying to get traded to Orlando while the Warriors held him hostage. Marco Belinelli demanded out via trade last season, as well. Players around the league, not surprisingy, refer to the prospect of negotiating with and playing for the Warriors in abject disgust. Amar'e Stoudemire wouldn't even come play for the team because he knew they had no intent or ability to protect his interests. Once he was on the market, he knew they wouldn't help him go to a better team. So why bother? He can get the same 5 years, max money without them anywhere. Phoenix may not help him get the full 6 years this offseason, either, but he's winning and playing where and how he wants with no Nellie/Rowell weirdness to worry about.
Let's not forget what the Amar'e trade would have meant to Andris Biedrins! How many times can they screw HIM over as a Warrior? Then again, playing with Steve Nash and getting tons of consistent playing time? He'd be an All Star center for sure. No complaints, no doubt. Oh, but those pesky "injuries," right Warriors medical staff? He'd be in the same spot he is now, right??? Sure- the player who pushed him in the back after taking Corey Maggette's crap all game or whatever the story is on Biedrins' injury (NBA game-related! Any insurance payments there, Warriors???) would have laid the same shot against a Phoenix team that refuses paint contact at all costs. Who knows, Biedrins would probably show us the scars and assure us he was hurt- folks said he looked pretty bad- but in Warriorland, no team release is ever trustworthy. Remember the "free run" Nellie publicly promised Anthony Randolph after his agent spoke to ESPN about his client's status under Don Nelson? Chris Webber, Part II, is surely in the works after the Lakers game. But Biedrins and Randolph will be well-advised on how to play this by Bill Duffy, one would assume. Hate the player's side of the NBA money game all you want, Duffy's a master of it.
CJ Watson and Anthony Morrow, like Kelenna Azubuike, Anthony Randolph, and Brandan Wright, are all staring the Warriors' Hardball! negotiating tactics in the face now. "Salary Protection," as Robert Rowell famously declared his fiscal strategy after sending Baron Davis packing (where's little Bobby these days, anyway?), dismantled a not good but very famous and alluring small ball playoff darling in less than one calendar year, and signed Chris Webber for no apparent reason to cost the team a second shot at playoff work. It's back to the dark ages of Chris Cohan's early ownership now and creating insurmountable rifts between players and management and coaching is the status quo.
As ESPN and other sources noted after Tim Kawakami checked into the matter, Bill Duffy and Anthony Randolph know the Warriors' game well and are mindful of their best interests as extension periods arrive and playing time diminishes. Randolph isn't up for an extension any time soon and he's playing more total minutes (like Brandan Wright before him- start, first half minutes, etc, but inexplicable yank jobs in bad small ball losses all the while) but the writing is on the wall as Nellie begins to jerk him around with Ronny Turiaf and Andris Biedrins available again. Nelson looks certain to play them near a combined total under 70 MPG, and Randolph is at the end of that rotation. Randolph was pulled in the second half of the Lakers game he was a dominant force in, and played less than only one other player..... Anthony Morrow. Cue up the latest Warriors Stupid Nellie Small Ball, PR-First rotation loss. And absolutely, absolutely, absolutely, brace yourselves for the Chris Webber-style blow up with Anthony Randolph in the very near future. It can still be avoided, but the Don Nelson who drunkenly rambled through a terrible interview with the basketball ignoramus Ted Robinson on KNBR today has to make serious changes in his life if this is to be salvaged. Based upon his comment that he sometimes meets with players to tell them that THEY must "change their loies," one shouldn't hold one's breath long on Nellie changing his tired, tired ways anytime before the Final Meltdown in Oakland.
At any rate, a look at how CJ Watson and Stephen Curry's December stat work stacks up:
4 GS/15 GP
Happy New Year, Warriors Fans