While the Warriors eight player trade could go a long way towards getting them the playoff birth they covet, the development of Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrins into legitimate starters has been the highlight of this season. One could even argue that Ellis and Biedrins are the key components to the Warriors playoff aspirations. Regardless of whether or not the team gets into the postseason, the Warriors have certainly found two players who they can build around in the future.
29.3 Minutes, 10.2 Points, 9.6 Rebounds, 1.1 Assists, 2.0 Blocks, 1.5 Turnovers 61% FG
Andris Biedrins game isnt comparable to the stereotypical European bigman. When the Warriors drafted him 11th overall in 2004 draft, scouts raved about his atypically physical post game and desire to mix it up inside. While it took Biedrins some time to adjust to the level of play in the NBA, he has come on extremely strong this year under Don Nelson. After taking the starting center spot away from much maligned Adonal Foyle, Biedrins seized the opportunity and has become a candidate for the Most Improved Player award.
The aspect of Biedrinss game that stands out the most is the consistency of his effort level. He has a non-stop motor and doesnt get discouraged when things arent going his way. His hustle has not only made him one of the leagues best rebounders and shot blockers, but it has also translated into success on the offensive end. A large portion of Biedrins touches come off of cuts to the basket outside of Don Nelsons offense. He is constantly in motion on the offensive end, and he finds himself open for uncontested layups, dunks, and put-backs on a regular basis.
Biedrins has always had a great motor, but the development of his back to the basket game is the part of his skill-set that has allowed him to play at another level. He has looked exponentially more comfortable than he used to with the ball in his hands, and has a surprisingly easy time getting into the lane with drop-steps. While he is still developing his ability to finish with left and right handed hooks, his willingness and ability to make moves to get open looks from inside of five feet is extremely encouraging.
As time goes on, the development of this part of Biedrins game will determine his long term skill level. When he uses his drop step, he sometimes finds himself too close to the rim to get off a good shot. His jumpshot is still a work in progress, but it doesnt hurt his numbers because he doesnt force attempts in games. However, it does hurt him at the foul line, where he shoots 52%, which is over 20% better then what he shot last season. Biedrins occasionally makes some bad decisions in the paint; usually in the form of running hooks against better defenders.
Biedrins strengths and weaknesses both came to the forefront in a November 24th loss to the Denver Nuggets. Biedrins scored 31 points on 14 of 17 shooting while tallying 10 rebounds, seven of which came on the offensive end. Biedrins put his skills on display, scoring on numerous put-backs, cuts, and pick-and-rolls. Despite his excellent output offensively, Biedrins recorded 7 turnovers. Defensive pressure from the likes of Eduardo Najera and Marcus Camby forced Biedrins to turn the ball over on three consecutive occasions at one point. The game served as a showcase of Biedrins potential, but also provided a reminder of how much he still can improve.
On the defense end, Biedrins is always aggressive. He works hard every time down the floor, but he frequently gets overly physical leading to foul trouble. Amongst players with more than two games played, Biedrins is leading the league in fouls per game. This had been a huge problem for him during his first two years in the league, as he couldnt stay on the floor for more than a few minutes without putting his team at risk of going into the penalty. As time goes on, Biedrins will need to learn to pick and choose his spots when contesting shots and be more cerebral on the defensive end if he wants to play more minutes. It is good that he wants to contest shots, but he shouldnt do so at the expense of his playing time.
The Warriors have already picked up Biedrinss option for the season ending in 2008, so they will have him locked up for a minimum of two years before he becomes a restricted free agent the following summer. If this season has been any indication of the progression Biedrins is capable of, there is a distinct possibility that he could become one of the better centers in the Western Conference before his contract expires. Biedrins should cut down on his mental lapses as he gains experience, and this should go a long way to solidifying the Warriors as a playoff team.
33.6 Minutes, 17.0 Points, 3.0 Rebounds, 3.9 Assists, 1.4 Steals, 3.2 Turnovers 47% FG
After being selected in the 2nd round of the 2005 NBA Draft out of high school, many analysts questioned Monta Ellisdecision to declare. This season, Ellis has silenced the critics that questioned him and then some. He has nearly tripled his offensive output of last season, shot a significantly higher percentage from the field, and proved to be a capable defender. The hiring of Don Nelson has been the catalyst for Ellis rapid development as a player. His uptempo offense is geared towards players sharing the same offensive versatility that Ellis possesses.
The first thing that becomes abundantly obvious when watching Monta Ellis is the confidence he has in his mid-range jump shot. Ellis go-to move is a quick pull up jumper off the dribble right in his defenders face. Rather than looking to create space with his dribble in transition, Ellis often dribbles straight into his defender before elevating for his shot. At times, it seems like Ellis almost shoots better with a hand in his face. His mid-range jumper is extremely consistent, and he does not get rattled when he is closely defended.
In contrast to his consistency from the mid-range, Ellis is still struggling to adapt to the NBA three-point line. His form changes noticeably when he steps out of his perceived range, so his 26% shooting from downtown is indicative of his inconsistency. If Ellis can improve his consistency from the outside, he should have absolutely no trouble eclipsing the 20 point per game mark by next season. This should be his area of focus in the future because his range is the only thing preventing him from being an elite scorer.
At 6-3, Ellis has the height of a point guard, but he really doesnt have the game of one. He has above average ball-handling ability, but he doesnt use his drive to find open teammates. He likes to take the ball to the rim once he gets within 10 feet, and has the explosive leaping ability and body control which we uses to finish effectively. Nearly all of the shots he takes going to the rim are with his right hand, but he has improved his left hand since last season. While Ellis is quick enough to get by most defenders, he tends to be indecisive when defenses close around him, leading to turnovers. On the perimeter, he makes good passes when moving the ball, but is sometimes lazy with his post entries leading to deflections.
On November 20th, in a 110-113 loss to the Phoenix Suns, Ellis showed his immense potential as a scoring guard. He tallied an impressive 31 points on 13 of 26 from the field and recorded 7 assists. Throughout the game Ellis put his entire skill-set on display. He finished a spinning and-one on Amare Stoudemire, and hit numerous mid-range jumpers off the dribble. He also drew a clutch charge, and threw down a spectacular dunk over Leandro Barbosa. What was most impressive about Ellis performance was the way he beat people with his first step and finished creatively around the basket. At times, it was almost as though no one could stay in front of him when he decided to attack the rim. On one specific occasion, Ellis dribbled the length of the court before exploding from the elbow for a double pump finger roll surrounded by Suns defenders. His play reflected his confidence, and he really put on a show.
While Ellis game against the Suns was the best of his career, it wasnt without its flaws. Ellis made a handful of bad passes leading to the turnovers, and made a few small errors when rotating defensively. Fortunately for Ellis, he has the size and speed to make up for his inexperience on the defensive end. He applies good ball pressure, and has extremely quick hands which should pay dividends for him in the long run.
Much like Biedrins, Ellis has a legitimate shot at the Most Improved Player award. His improvement really came out of nowhere, and he could be one of the better scorers in the league if it continues. Once Ellis improves his outside shot and left hand, he could become the focus of the Warriors offense. It would be nice to see Ellis cut down on his turnovers and improve his point guard skills, but that wont happen in the short-run with Baron Davis and Jason Richardson out of the Golden State lineup. The Warriors are paying pennies on the dollar for Ellis at this point, so he will see a significant pay raise when his contract expires in the summer of 2008.