OAKLAND — Warriors coach Don Nelson said he is approaching tonight's game against Lietuvos Rytas at Oracle Arena like a dress rehearsal for the season opener Oct. 29. Then, reluctantly, he named his starters for tonight, the final exhibition game.
Stephen Jackson will start at shooting guard and Corey Maggette at small forward. Al Harrington will be at power forward and Andris Biedrins at center.
And, at point guard, DeMarcus Nelson.
Not Marcus Williams, the former understudy of NBA star Jason Kidd. Not C.J. Watson, the returning backup who knows and fits the system best. But, if the season started today, Don Nelson said he's going with the undrafted rookie, a training-camp invitee who wasn't even the point guard at Duke.
"That says a lot about DeMarcus," Jackson said after Monday's practice at the team's downtown facility. "That says a lot about his work ethic, and not about how Williams has been playing. Coach knows exactly what he wants and what he needs for this team while Monta (Ellis) is out. Right now, it looks like DeMarcus is what he's looking for."
It does say something about Williams, according to coach Nelson. It perhaps also illustrates the team's uncertainty at the position since losing Baron Davis via free agency this past summer.
After Ellis, anointed Davis' successor, was knocked out of action by ankle surgery, the Warriors signed Williams as insurance, and he was expected to step right in as the starter. Having been a star at Connecticut and a first-round draft pick by the New Jersey Nets in 2006, he had the most credentials of any point guard on the roster.
But just over a week before the season opener against the New Orleans Hornets, he hasn't impressed Nelson enough to win the job.
"I expected more," Don Nelson said. "We haven't seen it yet. It's getting late."
Williams said he's been hesitant, hasn't been vocal and the offense was "a lot more complicated" than he expected. Nelson, who has coached such point guards as Davis, Steve Nash, and Tim Hardaway, likes his point guards sure and in control.
Now that he's comfortable with the offense, Williams has been more vocal and aggressive lately. Nelson said Monday's practice — in which Williams flashed his passing ability, created his own shot, even posted up — was his best yet.
"I definitely can be doing better," said Williams, who in four exhibition games has made just 4 of 14 shots. "I'm trying to find my way more so, and it's taking longer than I would've expected. If I'm not (the starter), that would be my fault."
Watson figured to be the starter if Williams didn't claim the job and, at one point during training camp, was Nelson's starting point guard.
Watson said he likes the progress he's made. He has experience under Nelson having played with the Warriors last season, plus he's the quickest of the three point guards, which fits the team's style of play. But Watson acknowledged committing too many turnovers and his shot hasn't been falling. Plus, there's that other obstacle Watson has to play through, being 6-foot-2, 175 pounds. Nelson likes big point guards.
"I'm trying to be aggressive at all times," Watson said. "Trying to get to the paint and make something happen for teammates."
The shortcomings of Williams and Watson have created an opening for DeMarcus Nelson, and he has capitalized.
By most accounts, he's not as true a point guard as is Williams, and he isn't an up-tempo scoring point guard like Watson. But, at 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, he is physically superior. Most important, Nelson is a stout defender, as one might expect from the 2008 ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
"It's been a dream come true, me getting the opportunity to play here," said Nelson, who played at Vallejo and Sheldon-Sacramento high schools. "There's no pressure on me. I'm a rookie coming in. I have a lot of scorers. My job is to get the ball to those guys in scoring situations and then do the rest of the things on the court I do, playing defense, rebounding and making the hustle plays."
Note: The Warriors will hold their annual league-mandated open practice on Sunday at Oracle Arena. Practice starts at 1:30 p.m. and will include an intrasquad scrimmage (quarter lengths to be determined). Admission and parking are free.
Contact Marcus Thompson II at email@example.com.