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These new Warriors display what assistant Keith Smart calls "a controlled cockiness," which begins with Davis. "We didn't have a guy like that," says forward Troy Murphy. "We're all quiet guys, but Baron took over right away." Davis constantly talks to teammates--before games, on the court during games and even in timeouts--cajoling, supporting and, if necessary, castigating. During the preseason, Davis asked to scrimmage with the white team, the reserves, to give them a boost. He's the one who made the rookies sing their fight songs at a preseason team dinner, who gets on Murphy about rebounding more and, in Murphy's words, "makes me accountable, which most guys don't have the nerve to do."
He is, at all times, the center of attention for the Warriors. Second-year coach Mike Montgomery--who had long since given up on the idea of a collegiate-style, motion offense--tailored an up-tempo offense to Davis's strengths when he arrived. This allows Davis, whom Smart classifies as "a probing guard," to attack with his dribble, either off a set play or in transition. Once defenders come toward him he can find the open man, whether it's a cutter or a spot-up shooter. Each Warrior benefits differently: Murphy gets open three-point looks from the top of the key because Davis drags Murphy's defender with him on the pick-and-roll; Mike Dunleavy receives weak-side kickouts; high-flying shooting guard Jason Richardson has someone to reliably feed him on the break, and even Foyle is rewarded with the occasional easy basket underneath.
Davis sums up his approach simply: "Give my teammates confidence and make sure they like playing with me." It's an ethos that he learned at age five, when a coach named Bobby Watson took him under his wing in South Central Los Angeles, and that he applied through two seasons at UCLA and five more with the Hornets. "I can tell by body language who wants a shot and who's going to make it and who's going to take a bad shot," says Davis. When Richardson is feeling it, for example, he has "a certain bounce, like a slow trot," while Murphy has "a look of hunger, almost anger" when he has it going. The 26-year-old Davis also displays an intuitive feel for the game, something Smart demonstrates by pulling up a series of video clips on his laptop one day after practice. "He manipulates our plays depending on what he sees," explains Smart, showing a half-court set in which Davis subtly waves off Foyle, who was coming out to set a high screen. "In this case the defense is telling you to wait, so he tells Adonal to go away. You can't teach that."
If Davis is so good for the Warriors' offense, why hasn't the Warriors' offense been all that good? After averaging 105.4 points on 44.3% shooting after Davis's arrival last season (compared with 95.2 points and 42.4% before the trade), Golden State was averaging 94.1 points and shooting 41.4% through Sunday's games. Part of this falls on the team's marksmen-- Dunleavy has been mired in a lengthy slump, and while the Warriors attempt a lot of threes, they don't often make them (31.7%). Also, Montgomery wants the team to run, but Davis has been hampered by a left hamstring injury since the season opener. Still, at week's end he was third in the NBA with 8.8 assists per game and, despite having trouble finishing because of his hamstring, was averaging 16.1 points. "If he's hurt now," says Stotts, "I'd hate to see him when he's healthy."
With Davis limited, the Warriors have focused on their half-court attack this season while developing an effective defense anchored by Foyle, the quick-handed Davis (2.30 steals per game) and 6'6" sixth man Mickael Peitrus, who can be deployed, Bruce Bowen--style, to blanket opposing scorers. But with Davis's history of injuries--he's missed an average of 28 games over the last three seasons--his availability is always a concern.
Even if he isn't at full strength, Davis may be enough to get these young Warriors into the playoffs. One should never underestimate the power of confidence and teamwork, nor the impact of a strong beginning. Indian summers never last long, but their benefits can linger deep into winter.
The Davis Effect
Like Milwaukee with Ford, the Warriors are a much more prolific offensive team with Davis on the floor. Here is a breakdown of his impact on Golden State's scoring from the start of last season through last weekend.