by Irv Soonachan

When Golden State ousted Don Nelson in favor of Keith Smart, the mantra was defense, defense, defense. The Warriors would still play up-tempo on offense, the team said, but with far greater emphasis on the defensive end.

But thus far in the preseason, the most noticeable change might be on offense. Smart has borrowed the playbook of Utah disciplinarian Jerry Sloan to give the Warriors a more patient approach to the half-court game.

“We want to be able to control the tempo a little bit,” Smart said at a press conference this weekend. “If there’s a night where the break is really going and guys are making shots, we’re going to let them play that way. But when we’re not shooting well, we have to make sure we get good shots and get to the free throw line.”

Though Smart wouldn’t reference Sloan or Utah by name during his press conference, players and staffers say that nobody is hallucinating if they flash back to John Stockton, Karl Malone, and Jeff Hornacek. Or for that matter to Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer.

The Warriors are working on an offense very similar to Utah’s time-tested 1-4 high post set, usually with Stephen Curry in the Stockton/Williams role, David Lee in the Malone/Boozer role and Monta Ellis as Hornacek. They’ve also experimented (unsuccessfully) with Ellis at the point.As in Utah’s scheme, the offense features a multitude of UCLA cuts to free up the three primary scorers, and options where the small forward (Dorell Wright) controls the ball.

Like Stockton and Williams, Curry has the freedom to dictate which option the team will follow by his first action. The main difference is likely to be that Curry, who isn’t as strong as Stockton or Williams, will not be asked to set back screens on opposing big men as often as Utah’s point guards are.

When the Warriors follow the script, they have been able to generate quality shots in half-court sets, something they didn’t do consistently last year.

Smart said the move to a new style of play has been relatively easy, thanks in part to the team’s massive roster turnover this offseason. “I came in new to coach a team that is brand new,” he said. “Only a couple guys are left from the old system, and the players who were here last year have transitioned well.”

It would be more accurate to say that his players – holdovers or otherwise – are still learning the system. Sometimes cuts are forgotten, sometimes early threes are jacked up even as the other players are starting the offense. Whether it’s successful or not, one thing is clear: Smart and GM Larry Riley, both formerly considered “Nellie guys,” are not hesitating to completely undo the work of the previous regime.

Game Notes
-When Smart removed Curry from a preseason game against the Clippers and left Ellis to run things, the Clippers immediately moved into a full court press. Ellis couldn’t handle it, and the Warriors were forced to put training camp invitee Aaron Miles into the game at the point.

-Power forward Lou Amundson is out with a sore back but says he’ll return sometime later in the week.

-The all-but-forgotten Vladimir Radmanovic is working his way into the Warriors’ rotation through a strong training camp showing.

-If you haven’t watched the Clippers play yet, Blake Griffin looks like everything he was billed as last year… though his free throw shooting is a disaster.

-Clippers first-round pick Al-Farouq Aminu is making strides–and learning how to leverage his length and eye-popping quickness on both ends of the floor.