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OAKLAND – Jerry West is The Logo, the official silhouette of NBA basketball. He has won championships as a player and as an executive. He a sharp eye for talent and even sharper opinions he is willing to share.
After a long and distinguished career, mostly with the Lakers, West, 76, joined the Warriors in 2011 as an executive board member. Don't be fooled by the title. He serves as an adviser, a mentor and a sounding board for everyone in the building, from CEO Joe Lacob to players in the locker room.
I spent a few minutes with West on Thursday to get his impressions on the early-season Warriors, who are off to the best start in franchise history.
Question: A little more than a month into the season, the Warriors are playing extremely well. You've watched them for almost four years. What are your impressions?
Answer: You have a lot of different assets on this team and one of them is depth. If you look at the age of our team, it's players who have played a number of years and players who are young but have experience, players still getting better. And we also have some really young players starting to blossom. So I'm pleased.
We've had a very favorable schedule. We've beaten every team we should have beaten; that's the most important thing. We lost some really disappointing games last year, games at home where you just scratch your head and wonder what happened. But we're playing completely different. Our bench is better. We've had a couple of changes in our starting lineup. We've missed DL, who is a very good player. Getting him back will help, particularly when we're having trouble scoring. And he competes every night.
Q: What do you think of the Warriors, with Curry playing an important role, being No. 1 in defense?
A: In Steph's case, he spent the summer with the select team playing with a coach who probably demands you stay in front of people. Sometimes, because we ask him to do so much, his concentration level might be a little bit different.
But there's been a real emphasis on our team defense. We've got a bunch of guys who are long and can switch everywhere. Teams are not getting a run to the basket. And Bogut really is a rim protector. If you don't get the right angle on him, he's going to block it or really alter your shot.
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Q: Any surprises on offense?
A: Bogut is showing a special skill I don't think our fans saw. And that skill is passing. He can make plays from just about anywhere on the floor. He has a great feel for the game, much better than I think people realized.
And Marreese Speights, playing in this offense, has been really good. We have him out there at 15 to 19 feet. And he's a 15 to 19 foot shooter, a pick-and-pop player. And these guys look for him. He has a joy on his face when he plays. That comes from playing with players who recognize what he does best.
Q: Do you have any thoughts on the progress of Harrison Barnes?
A: He's rebounding. He pursues it, rather than letting it come to him. His confidence level is up, so his offense has improved. Moving him into the starting lineup has been a real plus for him. Watching him now, I think he's really turned the corner.
Q: What we're seeing from Curry, is he actually playing better? Or is the system benefiting him?
A: Last year, because he was such a point of emphasis, people were waiting for him. It tends to wear on you when that happens. He's got more help this year. He's one of those guys that can shoot 10 times and score 25 points. He doesn't need 20 shots. He's really . . . I can't say he turned the corner because he did that two years ago. But I honestly think if this team continues to win and play well that at the end of the year, he's one of those players that you would think would draw an awful lot of attention as the Most Valuable Player in the league.
Q: Klay Thompson is the No. 1 player in the league for total efficiency, accounting for his presence on both offense and defense. Are you surprised by that?
A: No, not at all. He's going to get better. He and Steph really like to play. You can see that they really work on their games. When somebody is as skilled as they are and work on their game as hard as they do, it has a residual effect on those around them. Those other players are going to follow. He and Steph drag people along with them. Those two, in many ways, are going to get better together. It's fun to watch them. We can be 9 down with five minutes left, and then we might be up 3 after four possessions. Honestly. Can you imagine what they're going to be like in three or four years? Klay is rebounding better and he's getting to the basket more. Now Klay can be a little more effective around the basket, in terms of finishing. He's missing shots he knows he should make. It's coming. But that’s a pretty special backcourt.
Q: Are there one or two things you see that you think this team still has to fix to reach the highest level?
A: Honestly, I wish we wouldn't pass up so many good shots and turn it over. Sometimes we can be too unselfish. Now that's a great trait to have, but sometimes you can't afford to pass up the shot you have. And I also think this team has another gear that we haven't seen.
Q: Are you seeing anything that you haven't seen before?
A: I have never seen a group of basketball players like this. The way they interact with each other. How nice and accommodating they are. But they're a highly competitive group. To me, it's important thing to have.
Q: Any player you really enjoy watching?
A: I like what I'm seeing from most of the guys. But I really love Draymond Green. They say he's 6-7. He's probably 6-51/2. But he's got great wingspan and he'll get up on anybody. He's a bulldog. I love him. I love him. Fans might not remember where he was when he started. I can remember when you didn't want to see him shoot. But he has developed. He's making shots. They have to come out and guard him. He can make shots.
But it's been fun watching our overall development. When we're winning games, everyone feels better about themselves. We've got a long way to go. We've got a challenging schedule coming up. We still have to go out on the road and prove we can do it against the good teams.
Q: Is this team tougher than it used to be?
A: They're different this year. They know we've got a lot of weapons. That makes it a lot easier. But there's a looser feeling. There was some tension at times last year that's not there. There's a great coaching staff. These guys do stuff we haven't seen before and we're seeing the difference.