Waving Good-Bye To a Pseudo-Era Out West

A Daily Babble Production

A short-lived era is ending, and it looks to be a rough break-up for all parties involved.

As many of you are already no doubt aware, the Los Angeles Clippers netted the first major catch of the free agency season (Gerald Green notwithstanding) in point guard Baron Davis.

Alas, by virtue of one of the sillier by-laws of the league's collective bargaining agreement, this means that the Baron can no longer be a Golden State Warrior.

Given what fans across the league won't be seeing anymore, I can't help but feel a bit bummed out by this.

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Baron Davis wasn't just the Warriors' best player.  He was the heart and soul of Nellieball.

Don Nelson's system in Oakland didn't just work simply because Nellie rolled the ball out and let the fellas play.  It came together because Nellie found that he had a nearly ideal floor general for the system.

In Davis, Nelson found a guy with the speed, aggressiveness and headiness to make plays in the open court.  Davis loves to get up and down the floor, and he possesses both the scoring ability and passing vision to be consistently effective in a fast-paced offense.

Davis is one of the top-rebounding point guards in the league (his 4.7 per game led non-Jason Kidd points last year), which often allows him to create his own fast breaks and take the ball coast-to-coast.  His sturdy 6-3, 209 pound physique allows him to absorb contact very well on his way to the hoop.

Davis did everything Nelson asked of him, and while it didn't result in championship-level basketball, it did bring a previously morbid Golden State franchise back to respectability (a first-round upset of a number one seed in 2006-07 and 48 wins in 2007-08), and it made the Warriors the league's most exciting team to watch.  There is no question that this team won't be the same without him.  Taking nearly 22 points and 8 assists out of the lineup generally leaves a mark, but beyond that, the Warriors are now likely without a lynchpin. 

Much as nazzbo and I love him, Monta Ellis is the sort of combo guard that is best suited to be playing at the two with occasional stretches running the offense.  He isn't anywhere near the creator that Davis is, and even if the Warriors pay up big-time to keep Monta, the void at the top of this offense will be huge.  It takes a special player to push such a free-wheeling offense to success, and Davis was that player in Golden State.  This team could be searching for quite some time for a way to replace him.

But it was a two-way street as far as the benefits of the Nellieball-Baron relationship were concerned.  The system was great for the Baron as well as it allowed him to be a creator in the truest sense of the word -- he seemed to have complete reign to drive the offense as he saw fit.  Davis has never been particularly efficient in his scoring, and playing in a system that valued more possesssions and quicker possessions rather than slow-down precision was a boon for him.  He was able to take more risks offensively, and as it turned out, the frenetic pace actually benefitted his own personal efficiency, because he wound up getting more open looks for himself via the constant breaking.  Davis shot two of the three highest percentages of his career from the floor (43.9 and 42.6) over his two full seasons in Golden State, and he put up what are easily the two best true shooting percentages of his career (53.0 and 52.3) in that time as well.  Davis' per-minute production reached new highs during his stint in fast-paced Golden State, and he was able to excel in the open court, opening up countless lay-ins for cutting teammates and good looks from behind the arc on kick-outs.

Furthermore, Nellie's system also made great value of Davis' skills on the defensive end of the floor.  He isn't a great on-ball defender by any means, but the Warriors demonstrated time and time again that they weren't all that concerned about playing particularly efficient team defense in general.  Davis is, however, remarkably good at sneaking around the weak side to double big men in the low post and to cause the deflections and steals that start fast breaks.  He is a good gambler and gets his hands in the passing lanes with regularity.  He did an excellent job in help in the Golden State system. 

It isn't a coincidence that the best basketball of Davis' career to date has been played in Oakland.  While prospects for the immediate future are certainly looking up more for him (likely playing with Elton Brand in LA) than they are for his former team (Nellieball sans Baron), it wouldn't be a shock to see Davis' overall production, efficiency levels and overall dynamic play drop a bit in his new home.  That's not an intimation that he won't be very good for the Clips -- here's guessing he certainly will be if healthy -- but simply that there may be just a slight drop-off for him that comes courtesy of leaving the Golden State situation.

Finally, it is we the fans who could be the biggest losers of all.  The Warriors graced us for the last two years with one of the most crazily enjoyable styles of basketball we've seen in quite some time.  For non-Warriors fans, it was a perfect situation.  We didn't get wrapped up enough into the results to start ripping our hair out on nights when the frantic play was heading in the wrong direction, but it was always a pleasure to watch the excitement simply as an outside observer.

I've still got faith that Don Nelson will find a way to keep the entertainment level (if not the wins count) high in Oakland, and there's no doubt that the Brand-Davis combination could make for some watchable ball in Los Angeles.  But for now, we still wave a sad good-bye to the days of the Nellie-Baron combo in Golden State.  Thanks for keeping us on the edge of our seats, fellas.

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