The Golden State Warriors’ acquisition of Steve Blake was not the flashiest move made at the trade deadline.
However, Blake’s contributions may prove to be the most valuable of all those told to wear a new uniform a little more than a week ago. The Warriors have won four of their last five games after the All-Star Break with Blake. It would be foolish to claim all four wins were directly because of the new point guard. However, there seems to be a freshly formed confidence possessed by the players on the court in the passed week. The addition of Steve Blake shifts players into their most effective roles. This should have the Warriors playing their most effective basketball for the rest of the season and into the playoffs.
One of the main themes of this season is the lack of bench presence. The starting five shows dominant early game performances by being incredibly efficient on both ends of the court, only to see a potential large lead whither when the bench unit is in during the second quarter. Seeing the second unit at the scoring table has brought fear and a lack of confidence to fans watching each game. Even if the Warriors starting lineup is among the best lineups in the league, it’s hard to consider a team a contender when everyone is scared seeing an entire group of players play for an extended period.
The bench struggles were caused by a lack of leadership at point guard. This makes sense considering the Warriors had, arguably, the best backup point guard in the NBA last season. By not resigning Jarrett Jack, they went from having satisfactory point guard depth to none. I do not fault Myers for putting the team in that situation. Given the choice of lacking a backup point guard or overpaying Jarrett Jack, I would choose the former every single time. Even if he was playing well for Cleveland, which he is not, you cannot destroy salary cap flexibility with a four-year contract for a backup point guard.
Toney Douglas and Kent Bazemore were not able to consistently take care of the ball or even get the team into the offense each possession. The front office’s first attempt to shake things up was with Jordan Crawford, who had only been playing point guard for less than half a season with Brad Stevens in Boston. After watching this plan unfold, we learned that Crawford isn’t the decision maker needed to lead a second unit. That isn’t a knock on Jordan Crawford; this area is not where his strengths lie. Having Crawford play sub-par point guard is fine for a team with draft pick aspirations, but not for a team with the goal of making playoff noise.
The second attempt to address this issue is trading for Steve Blake. Blake fits the role perfectly by being a veteran presence that can lead a unit and make smart decisions. He won’t wow on the score sheet, but his subtle basketball choices elevate his teammates, making him extremely valuable at a cheap, one-year, price of $4 million.
Blake’s contributions will improve the entire team. Each player now understands his team role and minute allocation within the rotation. This allows players to strictly focus on playing to their strengths.
Below are a few hidden contributions that Blake makes without affecting his own box score.
Since becoming a Warrior, Jordan Crawford has averaged 7.8 points per game. His scoring average has increased to 11.8 points per game since acquiring Steve Blake.
Crawford was in some trade rumors right before the deadline due his inability to grasp Golden State’s backup point guard role. It’s smart management did not trade him because he now possesses the perfect role for this team. With Blake able to play backup point guard, Crawford can come off the bench and be a lethal “heat-check” combo guard.
Having the responsibility of running the offense restricted Crawford’s creativity and fluidity. This destroyed his ability to focus on his strength of scoring points in bunches. I look at him now as a poor man’s Jamal Crawford. If he gets hot from the outside, he has the ability to single-handedly swing the momentum of games.
Stephen Curry has played in three overtime games this season. In the two games before Steve Blake was a Warrior, Curry played for 45 and 48 minutes, respectively. In the most recent overtime game with Blake against the Rockets, Curry played only 38 minutes.
Curry is currently sixth in the NBA in minutes per game. That rank symbolizes the importance of Curry to the Warriors, but also shows their lack of bench depth. Mark Jackson understands the importance of Curry playing less because of the dividends it will pay later in the season. However, the presented dilemma is this team needs to win as many games as possible and cannot afford to limit minutes. This makes coaching an incredibly difficult balancing act for Jackson. This is one of the many problems that come from not having an able backup point guard.
Steve Blake gives Mark Jackson the ability to monitor Curry’s minutes. Jackson understands that Blake will play competent point guard minutes by creating good shots and not turning the ball over. This new luxury allows Jackson to focus on setting a maximum minute allowance for his star player. No longer does he have to panic every time Curry is out of the game. Even if Blake only shrinks Curry’s minutes by five each game, every minute of rest during a long season is significant.
The last key skill that has not been discussed is a rare talent that few players possess. It is the ability to be forgotten on the court by a defender to wind up having wide-open threes on offense. Derek Fisher has made a career out of this maneuver and has driven opposing fans crazy for 18 years. It seems no matter how large the stage, Fisher has always able to have wide-open threes and consistently sink them. Consequently, most people do not care for Fisher unless he is playing for their favorite team. Blake has the ability to get these open shots and makes them at a high rate. He is currently shooting 40% from behind the arc this season.
With this skill, I could see Blake being on the court in the last five minutes of close contests and making clutch shots to win basketball games. He will frequently be forgotten on the court and has the ability to make teams pay for their lack of focus. This is a quality that is very valuable to a team with contending aspirations.
The Golden State Warriors were kidding themselves to assume they could compete with the best in the NBA without a backup point guard. By addressing this need, the Warriors have established a roster with which they can go into battle. Steve Blake brings everything you want in a backup point guard. He has hit big shots, makes quality decisions, and has gobs of playoff experience. This may end up being the best trade of the deadline in terms of the magnitude of contributions the new player brings.
With Blake running the second unit, this team should impress well into March and April.
All data is through 02/27/2014 and provided by NBA.com