Golden State’s ‘could’ve-been-Wizards’ making noise


We are not Wizards! (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

The Wizards have their back court of the future set with John Wall and Bradley Beal, but the back court that they could’ve had is already making noise in the present.

Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson – the sharpshooting sons of NBA players whom the Wizards passed on in the respective drafts before they selected Wall and Beal – have shot the Golden State Warriors into a 1-1 tie in their second-round series with the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs. And the Warriors could easily be up 2-0 on the once-heavily favored Spurs if not for an epic collapse in Game 1.

Golden State was supposed to be rattled and scarred after blowing a 16-point lead with less than five minutes left in a double-overtime loss in the series opener. But there the Warriors were, dancing in the tunnel before Game 2 and shouting “YOLO” (“you only live once”) in team huddles. There Curry was, shooting a contested, running three-pointer off one leg in the first quarter. And finally, there Thompson was, putting on an incredible first-half shooting display, hitting three-pointers as if he were playing a game of around-the-world and leading his team into the locker room up 19 at halftime.

Warriors Coach Mark Jackson, the former ABC/ESPN analyst never short on hyperbole, has sung the praises of his duo all season, and they have repeatedly backed him up.

“I said I’ve got the greatest-shooting back court that’s ever played the game,” Jackson said after the Warriors beat San Antonio, 100-91, on Wednesday at AT&T Center. “Call my bluff.”

Thompson finished 8 of 9 from beyond the three-point line and tallied his first career double-double with career highs of 34 points and 14 rebounds. With his 29-point first half, Thompson was able to gain some redemption after fouling out in the final minutes of regulation in Game 1, which allowed the Spurs to close the fourth quarter on an 18-2 run.

“It was amazing,” Curry said. “The shots he was hitting, to go 8 for 9 in a game from the three-point line in the playoffs is just unheard of. He was just aggressive. He was confident in every shot he took. He was just feeling it. You ride a guy that’s feeling that hot, especially when he’s in rhythm.”

Curry had an off night, missing 13 of 20 shots, but he still had 22 points and made a ridiculous under-handed scoop shot and a long pull-up jumper to put the game out of reach. He obviously was the focal point of the Spurs’ defense after coming off a 44-point, 11-assist performance in the first game.

“I thought it was polite of them to at least take turns and not both be on fire on the same night,” Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich said of Curry and Thompson.

Having upset the Denver Nuggets in the first round, the Warriors have quickly gone from an inexperienced, overmatched upstart to a team that has a decided advantage in athleticism and enthusiasm against the Spurs. And they have built their team primarily with players that the Wizards had an opportunity to acquire – Curry, Thompson, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green.

But the Curry and Thompson slights stand out the most to Wizards fans.

Curry’s desires to join the Wizards as the fifth pick in the 2009 are well known by now, just as the names Mike Miller and Randy Foye continue to haunt the franchise. The Wizards dealt the No. 5 pick to Minnesota the day before the NBA draft, balking on the chance to take either Curry or Ricky Rubio, the Timberwolves’ eventual choice.

At the time, Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld didn’t think that there was a player available that would be able to immediately contribute to a team featuring Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison that was built to win. Coach Flip Saunders called the deal for Miller and Foye – which also cost Washington Etan Thomas, Darius Songaila and draft bust Oleskiy Pecherov – a “no-brainer.”

But a league source with knowledge of the Wizards’ thinking at the time recently revealed that the impetus for the trade was that Grunfeld was given orders from the late Abe Pollin to use the pick to get rid of long-term contracts. Four years later, the trade actually worked out for Saunders, now that he has returned to Minnesota.

Curry had an impressive interview with the Wizards during the pre-draft camp in Chicago but they still had him ranked below Rubio on their draft board. The Warriors gladly took Curry seventh overall and he has blossomed into the most lethal shooter in the league, already breaking Ray Allen’s single-season record for made three-pointers. He has also torched the Wizards nearly every time the teams square off. He has averaged 23.1 points in seven career games against Washington, his fourth-highest average against any team.

Thompson is now beginning a represent a problem for the Wizards, especially because his overly physical play resulted in Wall getting ejected when the two teams met in March.  The Wizards didn’t trade the sixth pick in 2011 but have received minimal, at best, production from Jan Vesely, who went five spots ahead of Thompson.  At the time, the Wizards weren’t looking for a shooting guard because the team was still developing Jordan Crawford and Nick Young was about to become a restricted free agent. Crawford and Young are both already gone.

In this series against the Spurs, Thompson is proving to have a well-rounded game as he has served as the primary defender against Tony Parker, using his size and quickness to fluster the perennial all-star.

“I try to be the most complete player I can be,” Thompson said. “I’m not just a shooter-scorer, but I try to perfect my defense as well.”

In his first season, Barnes has been a solid complementary player, averaging 15.1 points and six rebounds in the playoffs after averaging 9.2 points and 4.1 rebounds in the regular season. He was taken four spots after Beal, who went third overall. Beal finished three spots ahead of Barnes in rookie of the year balloting after averaging 13.9 points, but Barnes appeared in 81 of 82 games and has found a solid role with the Warriors.

Fellow rookie Draymond Green,  a second-round pick, started in Game 2, with David Lee still out with a hip strain, and has been a hound on the glass and one of the Warriors’ better interior defenders. He was taken at No. 35, three spots after Tomas Satoransky, who played last season in Spain.

So, while the Wizards wait to someday end their playoff drought, the “could’ve-been Wizards” play on.

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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Michael Lee | May 7, 2013