January 31, 2010

#46: GSW @ OKC 1/31/10

New, darker clouds are gathering over the heads of the '09-'10 Warriors. For while this has been a crappy team for awhile now, it's been a pretty chipper crappy team: the players seemed to be keeping their spirits up and enjoying one another's company. In the last several games, those improbably happy vibes have been less evident. Monta's eyes are glazing over a little more than usual... Maggette looks grumpy... even Curry seems listless. The needle on the season barometer may have finally pushed past "bad" into "bad and not happy about it".

Things don't figure to get better this afternoon, when the Warriors take on a Thunder team with the 11th-best point-differential in the league. Stylistically, they're a pretty close match for the Bobcats: they defend, crash the offensive boards and get to the line. Interestingly, their solid rebounding totals are mainly due to their perimeter guys -- Westbrook, Harden, Sefalosha and Durant all rebound extremely well for their positions -- so smallball would be an even worse idea than usual today. The Warriors will need a big game from Biedrins here, and who knows if Nellie will even give him the chance to have one. (Another thing the Warriors could use: a heavy-minute outing from Jeff Green, the only NBA starter with a plus-minus worse than Monta's.)

Warrior To Watch: Stephen Curry, who posted a nine-assist/one-turnover game up in our mugs on Friday. Can he have similar playmaking success today?

Thunderer To Watch: Kevin Durant, natch. Already a legitimate All-Star, he needs only to become an effective passer to reach the very top tier; on the season, his passing numbers are worse than Corey Maggette's. It'll be interesting to see his decision-making process on the rare occasions when the Warriors bottle him up today.

January 29, 2010

#45: CHA @ GSW 1/29/10

It's been over two months since Stephen Jackson left town, and I, for one, am looking forward to seeing him. As overrated as he was and is, as excruciating to watch as he could often be, and as interminable as his last days seemed, I can't say that I still harbor any ill feelings. He got traded to our Mickey Mouse franchise, he bilked it for three extra years of big money, and then procured himself a ticket out of town. More power to the guy, I say.

What's funnier, the one bitter consolation for Warriors fans in his removal -- that he'd still be missing the postseason -- is now looking pretty wrong-headed. Even after losing three of their last four, Jack's 'Cats stand at an even .500, which has them three games up on Milwaukee for the eighth spot in the East. (Cue Bob Fitzgerald pointlessly complaining about the disparity between the conferences, as though there were some alignment that could get the Warriors some love.) Charlotte's path to decency has been exceedingly simple: they're the second-best defensive team in the game, rating in the league's top third in each of the Four Factors. They stink on the other end, but they do get to the line a good bit, a trait that should serve them very well against the NBA's second-most foul-happy team.

To win, the Warriors will need to crack the first strong defense they've encountered in weeks, and they'll need to avoid whistles a bit more often than usual. They'll also need to slow down Gerald Wallace, and it's not immediately obvious how they'll do that with the talent at hand. Nellie's starting lineup is normal-sized tonight, a heartening early sign -- Anthony Tolliver will get first crack at Wallace-wrangling. He's rebounded well and avoided foul trouble thus far, so maybe he can hold the line for a bit, with Maggette shadowing the less-threatening Boris Diaw and Monta, inevitably, covering Jack. If Tolliver scuffles, it'd be a good night to play Ronny alongside Biedrins. Don't hold your breath on that front, though.

Warrior To Watch: Corey Maggette, whose metronomically high production has fallen off this week, and who'll be facing off against a fearsome defender in Wallace. Can he get it going again?

Bobcat To Watch: Jack will be hard to forget about, but keep an eye on Nazr Mohammed, a guy who's having one of the strangest late-career renaissances in years.

GSW Advanced Stats Through 1/29/10

Courtesy of the always-lovely Basketball Reference... the ugly compression of the numbers is my doing, not theirs. To mix things up, we'll walk through by stat, not by player. (BBR provides a glossary for these stats here.)

The players are listed from best to worst in that wacky Player Efficiency Rating all the kids are buzzing about; by that metric, Maggette, Randolph and Monta are the only Warriors to rate as above-average players in significant minutes. Curry and Biedrins are rising in the ranks but still rate a bit below average overall... Ronny, Vlad and the D-Leaguers fare pretty wretchedly here. PER does not quantify defense much at all and may overreward inefficient scoring a bit, so grains of salt are advisable, but if you want to rank the Warriors in terms of effectiveness, you could do a lot worse than this order. Besides the briefly-appearing Azubuike, two Warriors rate as elite by True Shooting Percentage: Maggette, still sixth-best in the league despite his weak recent performances, and Morrow, still 15th-best despite an extended cold streak. If the Warriors want to improve their offense, feeding him frequently upon his return would be a pretty good way to start. Biedrins, Deavan, Curry and CJ rate above the ~.540 league average here, Monta and Randolph are a bit below, everyone else is downright horrible.

January 28, 2010

Missing The Point

A listless loss last night pushed these Warriors to 13-31. They continue to "boast" the third-worst record in the NBA; what's worse, they now have the fifth-worst home record in the league. Don Nelson needs a total of 24 victories this year to pass Lenny Wilkens for the all-time wins record... if the Dubs continue to lose at this pace, he won't get win #24 until the season's final game. Talk about going out with a whimper.

These are dark days, and the last thing Warriors fans need is something else to fret about. But the time for fretting is, nonetheless, upon us. There's trouble brewing in Oakland, of a type that most observers have neither noticed nor acknowledged. And while we Worriers have hinted at it before, hinting will no longer do; this issue has become pressing. It's time we faced our fears. It's time we talked about the elephant in the room.

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to lament the passing of Stephen Curry, because it just hasn't been very good. And the odds of him ever becoming a quality NBA point guard aren't very good, either.

We will now take questions.

January 27, 2010

#44: NOH @ GSW 1/27/10

Monta's back, and thank heavens... in lamenting the inefficiencies of his Superman routine, it's easy to forget how badly the Warriors need him to compete. For while Stephen Curry tried gamely to keep things going, in Monta's absence, the team was clearly a weapon short (well, at least one). And tonight, for the first time since the latest Denver heartbreaker,they're facing a team that's playing well. Since getting CP3 back from injury in early December, the Hornets have gone 17-9. And while they recently dumped both Devin and Bobby Brown to get under the cap, the increased playing time that opens up for Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton may actually make them a better team... it'll certainly make them a more exciting one. It's not a bad time to be a sports fan in the Big Easy.

The action's back in Oracle, where the Dubs continue to play credibly -- despite an 9-11 record there, they've outscored visitors by 1.2 points a game -- and the Hornets are only 8-16 on the road. No reason not to expect a competitive one tonight. The Hornets play slowly, take care of the basketball better than any team except the Hawks, and neither draw nor commit many fouls, so it's one of the bigger style clashes on the schedule. The team that determines the pace of the game is likely to come out on top.

One final word of warning: for the first time in two weeks, Don Nelson has all three of his guards available. The floor time for the suicidal three-guard lineup had already diminished before CJ went down, so maybe the big man has found religion on this. But last night showed he hasn't gotten smallball out of his system, so beware the Curry/Monta/CJ three-headed mini-monster.

Warrior To Watch: Monta Ellis. The Dubs have been helpless in the halfcourt without him, and the Hornets' transition D is stingier than that of most teams. He'll need to get back to creating shots in a hurry here.

Hornet To Watch: Chris Paul, one of those players who makes the game's beauty self-explanatory.

36 Special

There are many statistical ways to slice and dice these Warriors of ours, but one of the simplest and most informative is to correct for varying amounts of playing time. If we want to compare, say, Chris Hunter's contributions to Ronny Turiaf's, we have to account for the fact that Ronny plays nearly twice the minutes per game that Hunter does. And while small sample size issues exist here as in every other corner of the stat world, we're not overly worried about bench players' stats being artificially inflated. All evidence suggests that, if anything, the opposite is true: players tend to produce better when given extended stretches on the court, as their increased comfort zone outweighs the increased level of competition they might face. (See the Millsap Doctrine for more on this.)

So let's take a look at each Warrior's stat line, when prorated out to 36 minutes per game. (Data is taken from the excellent Basketball-Reference.com, and awkwardly compressed so's Blogger won't mess with it.)

Who Is Stephen Curry?

In his short career, Stephen Curry has been compared to many players. People throw around the idea that he's the next Steve Nash so blithely that Google actually suggests Nash when you type in "stephen curry" followed by an S and a T; more sanely, he is often compared to his father. Around these parts, we've suggested a couple guys whose careers Curry's might resemble -- Mark Price (which would be great), Jason Terry (which would be okay). Will Curry end up resembling one of these guys, or someone else altogether, or nobody in particular? We just don't know. But what we do know is that young #30 is having himself a helluva January:

39.7 minutes, 19.7 points on 15.8 shots, 4.7 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 2.5 turnovers (1.83 A/TO), 1.9 steals, 3.7 fouls

For a moment, let's forget about all the hype and the daydreaming and the Nellie and Bobby Knight quotes. Let's just look at Stephen Curry's numbers in this, his breakout month. Which NBA player's numbers do they most resemble? Who is Stephen Curry playing like right now?

Probably this guy, who we'll call Player X:

37.1 minutes, 20.7 points on 16.5 shots, 4.7 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 2.9 turnovers (1.71 A/TO), 1.5 steals, 2.9 fouls

Curry's taken slightly better care of the ball and grabbed a few more steals; Player X, however, has done slightly more in slightly fewer minutes, and has committed fewer fouls. In most ways -- scoring efficiency, rebounding, passing frequency -- they're pretty damn close. So who is Player X?

January 26, 2010

#43: GSW @ SAC 1/26/10

As games between the third-worst team in basketball and the sixth-worst team in basketball go, this one threatens to be pretty watchable. Two regional rivals, both young and eager to run, led by leading ROTY candidates, with the winner getting back bragging rights in
the all-time series? Sign my shit up.

It's tempting to say that the Warriors will have an easy time tonight, too, for the Kings have been in free-fall; they've lost 12 of 13, and are an incredible 1-10 when Kevin Martin plays. The conventional wisdom is that Tyreke and Martin is a loser of a combo, and that certainly seems to be true...

...but they're going to win again at some point, and tonight could easily be the night. For at least one of those two is going to be defended by a li'l fella at all times, and, well -- Tyreke's 6'6" and built like a linebacker, Martin's 6'7" with freaky-long arms. Curry and CJ have their work cut out for them. (Nellie's decision to open with a Curry/Cartier backcourt is a sound one.)

If Curry outplays Evans, the Warriors will win, and have a boatload of fun doing it. But if he doesn't -- if he has a cold shooting night, or if he struggles to find halfcourt openings as he did in Phoenix -- G-State will need a big night from an X-factor guy. The Kings' frontcourt is thin and unimpressive, so Anthony Tolliver, I'm looking at you.

Players To Watch: Stephen Curry! Tyreke Evans! Basketball! AMERICA!

Warriors Plus-Minus Through 1/25/09

There you are, 82games update, you old rascal! Let's see how the last six games have juggled the numbers. We've removed 'Buike, Jack, Law and Bell, on account of small sample size/team departure/both. Kept Mikki on there for the LOLs, though.

What we're seeing here, more than anything, are distortions caused by our recent improved play. Folks who've been around for it (Martin, Tolliver, etc) have taken a leap... folks who haven't (Randolph, Morrow, CJ, etc) have thus moved down the totem pole. Grains of salt, people, especially when looking at the dudes who haven't played much.

There are no caveats when it comes to the numbers of Corey Maggette. Well, his opponent PER might be a tad higher if you corrected for positional effects, but it's not like our defense collapses when he takes the floor. Our opponents actually shoot worse against our Maggetted defense than they do against the Corey-free version, but when he plays, we don't pick off as many passes and send our opponents to the line a bit more often. And if you factor in the yeoman's work he was doing against fours for much of the season, you could easily argue he's been no worse than an average defender. On the other end, of course, he's been anything but average: Maggette is the league's most efficient scorer and one of the ten most effective offensive players overall. As a matter of fact, Corey Maggette is having the most efficient scoring season ever by a Warrior. You must respect this man... do not make him barrel into you, jerk his head back as if shot and throw the ball eighty feet in the air, hoping for a whistle.

January 25, 2010

Better Coaching... or Less Coaching?

The updated numbers at left reflect the Warriors' incremental improvements of late. After a long spell as the 28th-best team in the NBA, we now rate as maybe the 24th. Our rebounding totals, though still the worst in the league, no longer project to be the worst in league history. We've even climbed out of the basement in eFG% allowed, finally passing the lowly Nets over the weekend. If you're looking for green shoots, you can find a few.

The narrative being advanced by the team and its adherents is that those green shoots are due to Don Nelson... that our recent solid play springs primarily from some inspired coaching. As some would have it, Don Nelson has cobbled together some competitive units, through Scotch tape, bubble gum and a heapin' helpin' of genius.

This narrative is not only not true, it is the diametric opposite of true. You can not get farther away from the truth than this narrative is. If the truth resides here on Earth, this narrative is pushing against the farthest edge of the universe with all its might, braving spacetime distortions, straining to get that little bit further away. This narrative is some straight-up bullshit. For we have not been playing better because Don Nelson has creatively worked past our injuries. We have been playing better because injuries have prevented Don Nelson from creatively screwing us up.

A Trade Idea That'll Blow Your Mind

T.J. Ford for Vladimir Radmanovic and Devean George. FEEL THE HEAT.

Boring as it is, it'd accomplish a couple things on our end. Ford is, unlike Vlad, a type of player we could use... even if Curry's playmaking blossoms as hoped, we'll need a backup PG next year after CJ's gone. It'd also clear a roster spot, allowing us to sign Anthony Tolliver for the rest of the season once we lose our hardship exemptions. Finally, it'd give us a slightly bigger '11 expiring to dangle in trade offers next season.

I'm not gonna pretend it's a deal that would thrill the Pacers, but they'd clearly love to get Ford off their hands, and they're not likely to get much back for him. This deal would net them about $1.6 million in cap relief next season, and give them another big body to replace the almost-sure-to-be-traded Jeff Foster. And if Vlad rediscovers his three-point stroke, they'd undoubtedly be glad to let him use it... they're sixth in the league in three-point attempts but only 26th in three-point percentage.

For Indiana to bite, we'd probably either need Vlad to come back and shoot better, or for things to turn particularly noxious between Ford and Pacers management. But it'd be worth making the call, if nothing else. It wouldn't kill us to have one ginyoowine point guard on the roster.

January 24, 2010

Dave Berri's Guide To The Warriors

The Wages of Wins guru has posted his midseason stat reports, listing WP48 (Wins Per 48 Minutes) for every NBA player... the Warriors ratings (based on games through the New Jersey win) have already sparked discussion over at GSOM. WP48 is by no means a perfect metric. Like just about every other production-based measurement, it mistakenly deems Troy Murphy to be an excellent player. WP48 by no means ignores defense -- Ben Wallace rates excellently here, for instance -- but the stat has its quirks, and is perhaps most useful when balanced against plus-minus data (which exposes Murphy as the detriment he is).

An average-quality NBA player produces 0.100 wins per 48 minutes (which makes sense, as with five guys like that you'd win about 50% of the time). LeBron, the top dog in this stat as in all others, produces 0.420 wins per 48... if you produce 0.150 wins per 48, you're pretty good, and if you produce 0.200 wins per 48, you're borderline elite. Negative numbers are more than possible, and a couple dozen players actually rate worse than -0.100 wins per 48.

1. Kelenna Azubuike, 0.256
2. Andris Biedrins, 0.203
3. Corey Maggette, 0.188
4. Anthony Randolph, 0.117
5. C.J. Watson, 0.103
6. Stephen Curry, 0.099
7. Anthony Morrow, 0.084
8. Devean George, 0.058
9. Monta Ellis, 0.049
10. Stephen Jackson, 0.035
11. Cartier Martin, -0.010
12. Vladimir Radmanovic, -0.048
13. Mikki Moore, -0.059
14. Ronny Turiaf, -0.070
15. Anthony Tolliver, -0.116
16. Chris Hunter, -0.131

In his brief but excellent season, Kelenna Azubuike posted a higher WP48 than all but 21 other NBA players. That undoubtedly overstates his case, but he was off to a blazing start, combining aggressive, efficient offense with the best individual D of any Warrior. Here's hoping he can muster some of the same next year. Andris Biedrins rating this highly will disgust some, and he's probably also getting overrated a bit here, but if you think he hasn't been good, think again. A guy who rebounds like mad, passes brilliantly for a center and plays game and decent defense will help you win games. Did you really think it was an accident that we started playing better when he came back?

Our Struggles, Summarized

Why are we 13-29?

There are a number of ways to answer this question. You can point to our rash of injuries; you can point to our inexperience; you can point to Monta's inefficiency; you can point to Nellie's poor coaching. And indeed, all of these explanations help to explain why we fail. But they don't explain how we fail. Put all the individual players and the contextual specifics aside for a moment, and try to think of the Warriors as a single basketball-playing organism. What does this organism do well, and what does it do poorly? By what processes does this organism fall short?

To answer this more fundamental question, we will scrutinize the '09-'10 Warriors using Dean Oliver's Four Factors (with the help of the excellent resources at KnickerBlogger). Oliver delineates four goals for an NBA offense, listed in decreasing importance: 1) shooting efficiently, 2) avoiding turnovers, 3) grabbing offensive rebounds, and 4) getting to the line frequently. Conversely, a defense must strive to 1) force their opponents to shoot poorly, 2) cause turnovers, 3) grab defensive rebounds, and 4) keep their opponents off of the line. By examining these eight vectors, you can get a more or less complete picture of how effective a team is.

And to give this some context, we will compare our current showings to those of the '07-'08 Warriors, the one truly effective team we've fielded in the last sixteen years. Baron's swan song should still be fresh in most fans' minds, and that team's style of play was not much different from the one we currently (try to) use... maybe we'll be able to identify why this team has failed where that team succeeded.

So. How does this Warriors team look through the prism of the Four Factors? And how does it compare to the '07-'08 Warriors, when seen through the same prism? (Numbers in parentheses indicate a team's overall league ranking in a category.)

January 23, 2010

#42: GSW @ PHO 1/23/10

The Warriors begin Act Two without their headliner. Monta Ellis has played more games and minutes than anyone could've expected coming into the season, but he is not in Phoenix tonight. In his absence, Stephen Curry steps fully into the spotlight for the first time.

Curry has been coming on strong of late... he has had about as productive a January as any rookie in the league, and set career-highs in both points and field-goal attempts just last night. And for us to have a chance here, he may need to break those highs again. For he and Corey Maggette will be the only two Warriors in uniform tonight who've shown any ability to create offense. Against the Phoenix Suns, they'll need to create plenty of it.

Tonight, Stephen Curry faces off against the legendary playmaker to whom he is so often compared. Their first showdown was far from competitive, but it occurred in Curry's second NBA game... he is a more assertive scorer and better defender than he was then. Their second showdown saw the Warriors come out on top, but Nash again outshined Curry, who rarely saw the ball. That will not be the case here. Tonight, Stephen Curry will have the ball more often than any rookie has all season; he will have the ball more often than most NBA players ever do. Curry will be tired and defensively hamstrung -- as our only guard, he can't afford to get in foul trouble. And while the Suns' defense is horrible, Curry has not yet shown that he can consistently make plays in the halfcourt. His task is comically difficult.

There is no doubt who the two Players to Watch are here tonight... everything boils down to Steve Nash against Stephen Curry. The game will probably not go our way, and may not even be competitive. But it's not likely to be boring. Tonight, we'll get a better sense of just what this young man can do.


Tonight's game was our forty-first, and you know what that awkwardly arbitrary number means: we have just completed the first half of our schedule. Let's use this twenty-hour midseason hiatus to reflect on the season to date.

The Warriors are 13-28. You could call this the third-worst record in the league, but me, I'm no hater... I'd call it the 28th-best record in the league. And our -3.3 average point differential is far better than that record suggests, with this Nets blowout adding some polish. We were third-worst in this category a few weeks ago, but have since edged the Pistons, Wizards and Pacers; we're now tied with the Kings, just behind the Bulls, and within shooting distance of the Clippers and Sixers. John Hollinger's stat-based Power Rankings now peg us as the 23rd-best team in the league. And while the remaining schedule doesn't figure to be easier than the first 41 -- our brutal early schedule was essentially canceled out by this rest-heavy homestand -- it doesn't figure to be harder, either. We will probably catch a few teams in the overall league standings before the season is done. Basically, we're looking pretty good for that coveted eighth pick in the draft.

Nellie needs 24 wins to pass Lenny Wilkens... he is on pace for 26. Never let it be said that the big man doesn't know drama.


January 22, 2010

#41: NJN @ GSW 1/22/10

The season's longest homestand ends tonight with what is, on paper, the season's easiest game. We'd found these Nets a tad threatening last time around, as they'd just won two of three after dropping their first eighteen; they lost that game to us, however, and eighteen of the nineteen games since. They have the league's worst offense and the league's third-worst defense... even we outdefend them, albeit barely. They're on pace for both the worst record in league history and the worst point differential in league history. They've lost each of their last five games by at least eleven points. And if they lose to us tonight, this will be their third ten-game losing streak in 42 games. These guys just aren't having a fun year.

Tonight, we have to shelve all the woe-is-us/walking-wounded/look-at-all-these-D-Leaguers excuses. We are the happier, better, luckier team in this game, and if it's still a game by halftime, we'll have only ourselves to blame. In truth, we should probably win this one by twenty or more, as our injuries would prevent us from playing a full garbage-time lineup even if we wanted to. And while we do create dysfunction where you'd think none could exist, I'm expecting a lot of dunks and smiles tonight. The players deserve a laugher heading into the season's second half.

Since the scoreboard probably won't bear close watching tonight, let's Watch two players from each side...

WebWideWorries, January 22nd

What are other people saying about the Warriors? Find about, in today's linkin' park.

Ray Ratto thinx Monta shoots 2 much. Ray Ratto is a bit of a boob. On the other hand, Monta is shooting too much, and Ratto is the most high-profile Bay Area journalist to acknowledge that so far. It'll be interesting to see if either Monta or Nellie deems this worthy of a response.

• A John Hollinger chat from yesterday... he scoffs at the idea that Monta is All-Star material, for the same reasons we've been mentioning. As with Ratto, however, Hollinger does not acknowledge the role of coaching apathy in Monta's inefficient, gunnin' ways.

• In BBP's latest Prospectus Hoops List, we rank 27th. Bradford Doolittle thinks Curry should get the ball more, and to his credit, he does implicate coaching as a problem here, if only obliquely. But Doolittle's ode to Curry's crossover move betrays his college-centric eye for the pro game. Monta's not stopping Stephen Curry from beating defenders. Defenders are stopping Stephen Curry from beating defenders.

• Speaking of which, the Bay Area Sports Guy thinks some people (including us) are giving Steph Curry short shrift; he makes good points about potentially unfair perceptions of the kid relating to his looks, his favored status with Nellie, his reaction to our drafting him, etc. For my part, I can only say that I don't blame Curry for being overhyped, and I don't begrudge his prettyboy looks, GQ column, or ambivalence about becoming a Warrior. I like him, and I think he'll be a good player for us. I just don't think he shows much potential as an NBA point guard.

• A fun blog post from Neil Paine at Basketball Reference, listing each team's minute-weighted age, height and weight. We've only fielded the seventh-youngest lineups in the NBA -- the Thunder, Kings, Wolves, Grizzlies, Raptors (!) and Nets have been younger -- but our lineups have been the league's shortest and lightest by far. The average on-court Warrior has weighed just 204 pounds this season, while every other team's average on-court player has weighed 212 or more. (Needless to say, this has worked out fabulously for us.)

• Finally, more Curry/Monta discussion over at GSOM, prompted by a pro-Curry post by a member who goes by (ironically) monta.da.boss. Gets into some specifics that we haven't really delved into over here, including the critical point -- stated well by a fella named Missing Barry -- that Curry's lack of athleticism threatens to prevent his being a capable playmaker, no matter how good his passing eye is or isn't.

January 21, 2010

Monta Ellis 2K10

Lil' Monta Ellis went the distance on Wednesday for the third straight game... according to ESPN's preview of tomorrow's game, the last NBA player to do that was Allen Iverson, back in April of his rookie year. Monta's a decent bet to go another forty-eight tomorrow, something which "no player has done over the last 23 seasons". Which sounds like an ESPN stat guy's code for "Basketball Reference only has sortable data going back to '86-'87 and I'm not going to dig around just for some filler for a fucking Warriors/Nets preview."

Point is, Monta continues to be a beast. He's leading the league in minutes and turnovers, is second in steals and field-goal attempts, fifth in scoring, and eighth in usage rate (nerdspeak for "hoggin'"). It's almost enough to make you tape two of your fingers together and mime "who me?" while making a Bill Cosby face.

We've discussed his prolific production before, mainly to note that it hasn't actually helped the team very much. That's still largely the case, as our offense ranks below the league average overall. But the subject is worth revisiting nonetheless, and not simply because the young man has become the alpha and omega of this franchise. As the new decade unfolds, Monta Ellis's game is still changing. In particular, there are two striking trends in his January numbers that may portend well for our future.

Unhappy Endings

The Warriors have been playing much better basketball of late. In the last four weeks, our opponents have outscored us by a total of only fourteen points... we lost eight different games by at least that many earlier in the year. And we lost to Portland by sixteen in the middle of this current stretch -- if you throw that game out (as the Warriors essentially did), we've actually played even up. A combination of home cookin', the return of Andris Biedrins and improvements from various players has the Warriors playing consistently competitive basketball for the first time all season.

You'll be forgiven if you haven't noticed. For the most vivid memories of the last couple weeks have come not from the five wins, but from the closest of the seven losses: Monta whizzing by J.R. Smith and drawing a whistle, Anthony Tolliver's dying quail at the end of regulation last night. Some of these near-misses have been extremely painful.

They seem to be taking their toll on Nellie, too; his postgame interview last night was short, and not what you'd call sweet. On some level, you've got to feel for the guy... the NBA's-winningest-coach-to-be has sure had to swallow a lot of close losses lately. But is Nellie simply a victim of the growing pains of a young team? Or is he complicit in our crunch-time struggles?

Let's look at our performance in close games this year. We'll call a game "close" if A) either team has a chance to tie or take the lead at any point in the final two minutes, or B) the game goes to overtime.

January 20, 2010

#40: DEN @ GSW 1/20/10

There's just no good way to spin this one: we're in a lot of trouble. The Nuggets have lost seven of eight on the road, but they're fully rested and fully healthy, and have started employing a Billups/Lawson double-point backcourt that's fearsome indeed. As promising as the Monta/Steph combo has looked lately, it ain't better than Chauncey and Ty. As awesome as Maggette has been lately, he doesn't exactly give you an edge over 'Melo. As spry as Biedrins looked on Monday, he's not better than Nene, and not even Nene's equal, if he can't hit a free throw. And on the off chance that our marquee quartet manages to battle theirs to a draw, we still have to counter Kenyon Martin, the Birdman and J.R. Smith with Devean And The D-Leaguers™.

We've shown a lot of spunk on this homestand, but it's hard to see where a win would come from tonight. We'll need some really favorable refereeing, a surprisingly good performance from a D-Leaguer, and a surprisingly great performance from one of our starters.

Warrior To Watch: Steph Curry, who's heating up and facing a rookie rival. We need him to play with discipline and swagger.
Nugget To Watch: Ty Lawson, who's been the better player thus far, and will surely want to keep it that way.

Sweet Face, Spicy Hands: The Stephen Curry Whistle Watch

While Stephen Curry's role may be changing, one aspect of his game hasn't: the kid is still smacking the shit out of people. Curry leads all NBA guards in fouls by a laughable margin... he's averaging 3.5 a game, and no other guard averages more than 3.0. (ESPN lists Dahntay Jones as a guard, but in truth he's mainly played the three in Indiana.) And he's only getting better as the season progresses; his 3.9 fouls-per-game rate in January is higher than any NBA player's except Jason Thompson's. Don't let that angelic expression fool you. We've got an adorable little thug on our hands here.

Overall, Curry is on pace for 284 personal fouls. This pace is not record-breaking... many NBA guards fouled this often in previous eras. But he is in contention to record the most fouls by any guard in the last 20 years. Gilbert Arenas (perhaps you've heard of him lately) is the leader in the clubhouse with 286 fouls, a mark he needed 42.5 minutes a game to reach in '05-'06. If current trends continue, Curry should outviolate Arenas with ease.

The three keys to success:

1) Health. Let's not anger Shaq anymore, kid.

2) Fewer minutes for CJ. The less effective/available CJ is, the easier this will be for Curry; it not only maxes out his floor time, but ensures that he'll be facing off against a fellow guard, the type of dude he likes slapping best.

3) A continued lack of coaching. We have to pray that Nellie's apathy holds through the rest of the season. Now is no time to start teaching defensive basics, not when history is on the line.

Curry's Quest continues tonight against Denver. The Nuggets draw more fouls than any other team, so this could be a big game for our young rascal. Keep your finger crossed, superfans.

January 19, 2010

The Warriors' Dirty Little Secret

After yesterday's win over the Bulls, Don Nelson said of Stephen Curry, "...I don't know any rookie point guards better than him, that I've seen." This was a lie, but an understandable one. For while Stephen Curry is clearly not the best rookie point guard thus far -- Evans has played better, Collison and Holiday have passed better, Lawson and Jennings have done both -- he's an exciting young player who's having his best month. And hey, you gotta support your team, even if you have to fudge things a little bit. Nellie's just acting like he's got the best rookie... nothing wrong with that.

But Nellie made a somewhat odd comment in that same answer:
Tonight I actually played Monta more at the point guard and him at the two, because they were denying Monta on his catches. It was easier if he just brought the ball up and ran the point, which left Curry as the two-guard and he makes open shots. He’s used to playing that role.
This wasn't a lie... Monta did initiate the offense most of the time against Chicago. By my count, the Warriors faced a set Bulls defense eighty different times; eight plays were initiated by Maggette, Biedrins or Martin, twenty-one by Curry and the other fifty-one by Monta. Monta not only ran just about every play in the fourth quarter, but ran more plays than Curry in the first quarter, too, contradicting Nellie's claim that this alignment was purely reactive. And Curry, while he had a helluva game overall, initiated rarely and poorly in the half-court. The twenty-one plays he led included a dribble off his foot out of bounds, a dribble off his foot resulting in a jump ball, a whip underneath that was deflected and very nearly picked off, a drive that he kneed out of bounds and got a lucky call on, and a drive-and-kick to a Bull, with no Warrior within feet of where the pass was aimed. The passing results were pretty stark: Monta had eight assists and two turnovers, Curry had six assists and five turnovers.

Monta definitely played the point yesterday. But it was strange that Nellie thought this was worth noting. For the truth is, Stephen Curry is not only not the best rookie point guard in the NBA, he is not the point guard of the Golden State Warriors. Monta's our point guard, and has been for a while now.

January 18, 2010

The Maggette Fallacies

Our man Corey has been getting a little recognition of late, as will often happen when you average 28 points over the course of a month. It's nice to see an oft-maligned player get some credit. But much of this recent praise has been as wrongheaded as the criticism that preceded it... a year and a half into his Warriors tenure, most fans are still not seeing the guy with clear eyes. As such, it seems like a good time to identify and eradicate the ten most common misconceptions about Corey Maggette.

1) That he only recently became good. Corey Maggette didn't just get good in January... this is the third straight month that he's shot over .540 from the field. He didn't just get good this season, either; while his .640 TS% would represent a career-high, he's been over .580 in each of the four previous years and stands at .581 for his career (the 44th-best mark in league history). When you account for pace, you find that he's scored this often before, he's rebounded this well before, he's passed this well before (actually much better than this), and he's defended this well before. His current level of production is in keeping with what he did in his last five seasons with the Clippers. Corey Maggette is a good player, and has been for years... if you play him at his natural position (something that you'd think wouldn't be all that hard), he will help your team win games.

2) That his selfishness hurts your offensive rhythm. Offenses always profit from the presence of Corey Maggette. This season, we score 4.6 more points per 100 possessions with him on the floor than we do without him. Last season -- his least effective in six years, as he was injured and playing out of position -- we scored 1.1 more points per 100 possessions with him. The '07-'08 Clippers scored 4.8 more points per 100 possessions with him; the '06-'07 Clippers scored 4.4 more points per 100 possessions with him; the '05-'06 Clippers scored 7.4 more points per 100 possessions with him. Every offense he's ever played for, good or bad, has scored more points when he played, and more often than not, his presence has made a big difference, to the tune of four points per game or more. I don't know about you, but I measure "offensive rhythm" by how good a team is at scoring, y'know, basketball points. And Corey Maggette, both through scoring efficiently and pushing your opponent towards the penalty, always helps you score points.

#39: CHI @ GSW 1/18/10

An excellent win, and our biggest since November in terms of scoring margin. The four scrubs were scrappily scrubby, rebounding well to make up for their offensive shortcomings... let's take a closer look at the four core guys that carried us here.

Stephen Curry had one of his finest games here, scoring 26 on 18 shots, grabbing a surprising ten boards and playing some excellent defense on Derrick Rose for stretches. He's still fouling too much, and he's still not making plays well, but hot dog, this feller can shoot.

In fact, we might do well to think of him as our "shooting" guard, because for all intents and purposes, Monta Ellis has been running the point for a couple weeks now. He did so quite nicely tonight, with eight assists against a mere pair of turnovers. That made up for an afternoon of unforgivable gunning, as -- credit to Geoff Lepper for the find -- Monta became just the twelfth player since '86-'87 to take 39 shots in a game. The passing, D and stamina were choice, but those 33 points did not come cheap.

Corey Maggette had just another day at the office, with 32 points on 14 shots, six boards and excellent passing numbers. He continues to make a pretty compelling case for an All-Star bid that will go unnoticed in the sea of Monta hype... he's scoring more efficiently and rebounding and passing better than Durant, and scoring more efficiently than any non-big except for Steve Nash. It's a sad joke that many still think this guy isn't a winning player... that's what you get for signing with the Warriors, I guess.

Finally, we told you: Andris Biedrins is fine. If anything, he was underused offensively here, as we could've used a few more screen-and-rolls when Monta went cold. Still a good center, still better than Joakim Noah, still underappreciated, still greasy. Attaboy, Andris.

Next up, the Nuggets come to town, with all the weapons they were missing the last time. That doesn't figure to be a pretty one, so it's a good thing that we scored a win here... the Oracle fans deserve a bone thrown their way every now and then.

January 17, 2010

Warriors Get Much-Needed Injection of Anthonyness

With Anthony Morrow set to miss up to a month with a sprained MCL, the Warriors have been granted another hardship exception, which has just been used to sign Anthony Tolliver out of the Idaho Stampede of the D-League. This will be Tolliver's third stint in the NBA, after quick cups of coffee this year with Portland and last year with San Antonio.

Tolliver is a very weak blend of Anthony Morrow and Anthony Randolph; an undersized but long PF/C with mild scoring, rebounding and passing chops who has, oddly, recently started to play like a three-point specialist. He is also described as a very smart player, offensively and defensively. Maybe he can coach!

January 16, 2010

Warriors Plus-Minus Through 1/12/09

Tell us a story, 82games, a story that takes us through Monday's loss to Cleveland...

For all the Monta hype, you simply can not find an advanced basketball metric by which he rates as Corey Maggette's equal thus far. Monta may deserve more credit than defensive measurements give him because he's so often had to defend our opponents' stars; by the same token, though, Maggette may deserve more credit than defensive measurements give him because he's so often had to defend our opponents' power forwards. Maggette has pretty clearly been our best player, and any wistful All-Star talk should be pointed in his direction.

As discussed recently, both Anthony Morrow and C.J. Watson have seen their personal production decline, but both continue to post plus-minus numbers that are solidly in the black; interestingly, we defend better with each guy on the floor, dramatically so in CJ's case. Anthony Randolph sits on the other side of the spectrum, with plus-minus numbers far less impressive than his production would imply; this may have more to do with boxing out than anything else (another topic we discussed recently).

Monta Ellis's plus-minus has gotten significantly less horrible since the last time we checked, and it now seems safe to say that he will not, in fact, make history in this department. It's still damn bad, though, with all of the damage continuing to occur on the offensive end... the obvious prescription here is more rest. Ronny Turiaf's personal production has been piddling (understandable, given his injuries), but he has defended and passed well enough to rate as a viable player. Stephen Curry remains a below-par Warrior by plus-minus, and for obvious reasons... his poor defensive on/off showing is the diametric opposite of CJ's.

Chris Hunter no longer looks like much of a player, but his defense does move the dial at least a little, as only Ronny's results have been better amongst our bigs. Andris Biedrins will continue to rate poorly in plus-minus for a while, thanks to a Wade-induced minus-27 against Miami... we, however, are not Worried. Vladimir Radmanovic has a surprisingly decent showing here, but one that doesn't seem related to anything he's doing; we have allowed fewer free throws with him on the floor, despite him committing a good number of fouls himself. With all due respect to the big man, this one seems more or less like a fluke.

Mikki Moore has been wished well in his future endeavors, but his showing here is too striking to exclude. These numbers reflect the results of our first 36 games, a stretch in which we went 11-25 and played every bit that badly... our opponents outscored us by 4.4 points per 48 minutes. But the 77% of the time that Mikki had not been on the floor, our opponents only outscored us by a point per 48 minutes. We played like a 29-53 team overall, but like a 38-44 team whenever Mikki-less. That's not to say that all of our struggles in our 405 Mikki'ed minutes were his fault, but, man -- maybe it wasn't such a good idea to play him that much.