New coach Keith Smart will help them win more games because he's going to be more defensive-minded, and they won't give up completely on defense as they did for Don Nelson. But they have a flawed roster that lacks good individual defenders. That means they'll still have to be an offense-first team, and so Smart will be limited in the changes he can make. They don't have enough good players and they aren't deep enough, which means it's going to be up to the first unit to carry them.
Their best player is Stephen Curry, with David Lee serving as a close second. Curry has an incredible knack for the game as a young player. He understands where he fits in, he's a good and willing passer, and he shoots the three. He's not a great defender, but he's a more willing defender than Monta Ellis, who is basically a gambling-steals defender. So that backcourt is going to have to be shored up defensively as they move forward.
Curry got better as his rookie year went along because he got more opportunities. He can be a long-term point guard because he has great vision and he's savvy. He's a very good shooter who demands that you play him out to the three-point line, and that's why he can get by you. My concern for Curry was that he'd get the crap beat out of him and he'd be posted up because he's light in the rear end. But I didn't see a whole lot of that, because he understands the game. At the other end, he has a deceptively quick first step. He's unselfish -- which makes him the opposite of Ellis -- and he should be good in the pick-and-roll with Lee.
To succeed with Curry and Ellis in the backcourt, the Warriors are going to need one or two more big guys to set screens and help free those guys without the big men demanding touches. But ultimately I think they'll look for a way to trade Ellis and start to move in a direction of more traditional play.
Ellis is an offensive machine. He has great speed and change of direction, and he can finish at the basket. But he also has the negative of poor shot selection. He doesn't look to pass, and defensively he plays for steals, and it didn't help that Nellie failed to hold him accountable for that. He is relentless as a scorer, but his attitude is almost the opposite at the other end.
He is an undersized shooting guard, and there have been guys like him who have had success in that role. But over the last three years he has been in the best situation he could ever have with Nellie creating offense for him, so it's going to be hard for him to go to another team and replicate that success. Maybe the Knicks could plug him and get the same numbers, but most other places will be concerned with his limitations. He'd be a great fit as a scorer off the bench for a winning team; the only way he could start would be if he played alongside a pass-first point guard who had no interest in shooting.
The difference between Ellis and Ben Gordon -- another undersized 2-guard -- is that Gordon is more patient in his shot selection. Gordon knows he has to take a step back sometimes for his team to be successful. And Gordon is also far and away stronger than Ellis, who is better athletically but not as explosive physically as Gordon.
Lee will be their frontcourt scorer. He gets most of his points on hustle plays, though he continues to improve his skill level. Lee has gotten better every year. He's come a long way offensively from the limited player he was as a rookie. Last year, the Knicks ran a lot of offense through him and he showed he's a pretty good passer and driver with a strong feel for the game. I always like guys who will rebound like Lee. He does the dirty work. He's not a great defender but he's good enough. He plays through each play defensively as a hustler, and that makes it harder to take advantage of him. He'll work to front people in the post and he'll play at a high rate of speed that will wear down a lot of his competition.
The thing with Lee is that you need to pair him with a long, athletic center who is defensive-minded and can score on the block without needing touches to play hard. Andris Biedrins has his strengths, but he is not that guy they need to go with Lee. Smart will be more forgiving with Biedrins, who was in Nellie's doghouse last year. Despite what Biedrins can bring to the table, Nellie was always down on him. Biedrins' biggest problem is that he's not a great defender. He has some touch on the block. He's a hustling rebound guy, and his skill set replicates what Lee does best. I would expect they would try to move Biedrins this year. Before last year he had value, but between Nellie killing him and his production going down, his value is no longer what it was.
Charlie Bell is a good pickup for the backcourt as a defender off the bench. They're going to miss Anthony Morrow as a consistent three-point threat who helped to keep the floor spread. Reggie Williams was good in the summer league as a shooter, but they're going to need him to be reliable throughout the season. They'll also be bringing Vladimir Radmanovic off the bench as a shooter at small forward, though I wonder if he's at the point with a team like this where he's just happy to get his paycheck.
Louis Amundson [who will miss the start of the season after having finger surgery] fills a role off the bench, but he's another guy who is not so different from what Lee does well. They aren't necessarily clones, but Amundson's skills are based on his effort. He plays with energy, sets hard screens and rolls to the basket.
Up front, they also have rookie Epke Udoh, who is rehabbing from wrist surgery. At this early stage, Udoh is mainly a weakside shot-blocker. He's raw offensively and he's a pretty good -- but not great -- rebounder.