Warriors stage a solid show
All right, Virginia, so the Golden State Warriors aren't perfect; so there are better and deeper teams this season in the National Basketball Association. But if you like points and you're into showtime, the Warriors come across like a well-coached Broadway production, even if they do play their home games in the Oakland Coliseum.
Basically this is a solid team that goes hard on offense, has improved its defense, hustles for 48 minutes a game, and looks like a playoff club again for the first time in four years. But there are still weaknesses.
For example, second-year 7 ft. center Joe Barry Carroll should get more rebounds, and the team could use more experience in its backcourt. There are times, too, when the defense turns to cardboard. But these are only temporary problems that probably will have been reduced to acorn-size by the end of the season.
The Warriors have their own Mary Poppins in Al Attles, an optimist whose umbrella is always turned upside down and who carries the dual title of vice-president and head coach, the former in this case another name for general manager.
Attles is a teacher-type and a gifted motivator who only recently became the sixth NBA coach in history to post 500 career victories. Al, of course, was also in the driver's seat when the Warriors won their only world championship in 1974 -75.
In what had to be one of the biggest shakeups ever on a pro basketball team, Attles started last season with eight new players on his roster (several of them rookies) and almost made the playoffs.
Golden State's biggest change was at center where Carroll, a business economics major from Purdue, played like a veteran everywhere but on the boards. Joe Barry, who finished with an 18.9 scoring average while shooting more than 52 percent from the floor, also led the Warriors in minutes played.
Although they weren't nearly as publicized as Carroll, Attles also got solid performances from guard Lorenzo Romar of Washington, forward Larry Smith of Alcorn State, and backup center Rickey Brown of Mississippi State.
''There is so much more to rebounding in pro basketball than just size and strength that you have to make allowance for a kid like Carroll,'' Attles explained. ''Veterans in this league know how to move a rookie out from under the boards, even when he gets there first, and that was one of Carroll's major problems. But we worked a lot on this in training camp and I think experience will probably complete the job.''
What the Warriors do best is run, spread the defense, and catch opponents off balance. Starting up front with Carroll are Bernard King and Sam Williams, a 6 ft. 8 in. rookie who looks as though he had been rustled out of a herd. The guards are Lloyd Free and Mike Gale, with a lot of help off the bench from Joe Hassett.
Free, who likes to be called All-World and who is one of the best free-lance players in the NBA, only recently had his first name legally changed from Lloyd to World. He already gets flight pay from the Warriors for playing so much of his game in the air.
In fact, whenever Free and rookie forward Lewis Lloyd are breaking up court at the same time, it often looks like a space chase from Star Wars.
Attles himself is an unbelievable story. Al was a fifth-round draft pick from North Carolina A&T by the old Philadelphia Warriors back in 1960 when players taken that low seldom ever made it to training camp.
What kept Al around was his defense, his aggressiveness, and his willingness to dive for loose balls without any consideration for his safety. The amazing thing is that 11 years later he was still doing it.
When owner Franklin Mieuli made Attles the coach in 1970, he did it more out of a blind faith in Al's ability to adjust than anything one might get off his resume.
''Although the Warriors were going bad at the time, the problem wasn't with coach George Lee, but with his players,'' Attles explained. ''I argued with Mieuli against Lee being fired and that seemed to satisfy him for a few hours.
''When Franklin came back a second and a third time to persuade me to take over, I finally said yes. But I never looked at coaching as a longtime thing and I certainly never thought I'd be around to post 500 wins.''