April 16, 2010

Head-Shaking Record-Breaking

The 2009-10 Warriors were not your garden-variety bad team... they set a number of all-time league and franchise records. As you can imagine, most of them aren't the kind of lists you want your name on. Nevertheless, this season will feature in the history books for some time to come. Here are just a few of the marks we saw broken this year.

• We started tracking this story four months ago, and it has indeed come to pass... the '09-'10 Golden State Warriors were the worst-rebounding team in NBA history. Their opponents grabbed 792 more rebounds than they did, an average of 9.66 a game... that disparity just edged the 789-board deficit racked up by the previous record-holder (Nellie's '89-'90 Warriors). The current team played at a slightly slower pace, to boot, so on a percentage basis, the gap is bigger. The '89-'90 Dubs grabbed 44.66% of all possible rebounds. The current crop grabbed only 44.42% of all possible rebounds. Just to reiterate: this team was worse at a core basketball skill than any NBA team has ever been.

• The Warriors fielded more starting lineups than any NBA team ever had, and not by a little, either. Larry Brown claimed this record four years ago -- in his nightmarish season with the Knicks, he used 42 different starting lineups. Nellie and Keith Smart used 49 different starting lineups this season. In fact, in his 72 games on the bench ("at the helm" would be overstating his level of engagement), Nellie used all 49 iterations of those lineups. Nellie did not use a single starting lineup more than three times.

Monta Ellis recorded the highest Usage Rate by a Warrior in the 33 seasons for which that metric has been calculated, edging Purvis Short's '84-'85 showing.

• Monta's reward for all that gunnin'? A net plus-minus of -11.73, the worst net plus-minus by an NBA starter (50%+ of team's minutes) on record.

• On the bright side, Stephen Curry broke the NBA record for most three-pointers made by a rookie. Who says we've got problems?!?!?!?

April 15, 2010

2009-10: A Season Punted

The Warriors' thrilling win in Portland last night capped off a 7-5 finish to the season, easily the year's most successful stretch. It was a fun closing run, with big moments and big performances from a number of guys -- in each of the Warriors' final six wins, a different player led the team in scoring. The players remained enthusiastic and chipper throughout the dying months of the season, something many bad teams, and many Warrior teams, have not done. It's hard to remember a group of players as likeable as the current crop, and you may well be feeling pretty good about them right now.

As the glow of those final games fade, however, you'll again be confronted with the cold realities of the team's ineptitude. In a season that was supposed to represent a bounceback from the moped miseries of the yesteryear, the Warriors regressed by three games. Their 26-56 record was tied for the fourth-worst in the league, was the Warriors' worst record since 2001-02, and was the tenth-worst record in the 64-year history of the franchise. (Actually, tied for tenth-worst: the Dubs also went 26-56 in '94-95,the year Chris Webber, Don Nelson and Jim Fitzgerald cruelly morphed into Donyell Marshall, Bob Lanier and Chris Cohan. Let's hope this year doesn't leave scars as lasting.)

This wasn't simply a bad year. This was a horrible year, a disaster, an unmitigated embarrassment. The Warriors got a hard-working and largely healthy year from Monta Ellis, a fabulous, career-best season from Corey Maggette, and an eye-opening rookie turn from Stephen Curry. They still couldn't reach the "heights" of the '08-'09 squad. Why not?

The franchise's various mouthpieces have already made it clear what they want the narrative to be: injuries, with a splash of ref bias. Poor team health was, indeed, a huge issue, and maybe we can chalk that up to pure bad luck (though that's probably a generous assumption). But even if you account for injuries, the Warriors still underperformed. As we've discussed in the past, injuries, even crippling ones, don't have to nuke a team as quickly and thoroughly as they nuked the '09-'10 Warriors. You could blame a 36-46 season on injuries. When you're 26-56, you've still got a lot of 'splainin' to do. As for ref bias -- the Fitz talking point that if Monta had gotten the star calls he deserved, if the league hadn't cheated the Dubs out of a win in Denver in January, the season might've gone a little differently -- it's an excuse that's too pathetic to even merit a debunking. Let's not be children, here.

Was lack of talent an issue? To be sure... the Warriors' talent level is not particularly high. But it's not particularly low, either, and given the energy and hard work displayed by the majority of the roster, it's hard to figure how you only eke out 26 wins in a season. The Pacers have an overrated star and a crap supporting cast around him, and they still managed 32 wins. The Pacers resolutely refused to tank, but then the Warriors didn't tank, either... the Warriors had more wins in their final twelve games than they'd had in their previous thirty games, and they even cost themselves a draft spot or two with a 5-3 record in April. If they weren't talentless, and they didn't tank, how'd they end up on the short list of the worst teams in Warrior history?

April 14, 2010

#82: GSW @ POR 4/14/10

Portland Trail Blazers
Record: 50-31 (t-9th) • Point Differential: +3.4 (t-10th) • Pace: 87.6 (30th)
Off. Efficiency: 110.8 (8th) • eFG: 49.8 (14th) • TO: 13.9 (3rd) • OReb: 28.3 (3rd) • FT/FG: 25.0 (5th)
Def. Efficiency: 106.9 (t-13th) • eFG: 50.1 (17th) • TO: 15.3 (t-14th) • OReb: 25.2 (7th) • FT/FG: 21.9 (t-13th)

Another lamentable Warriors season ends in the City of Roses tonight, against a playoff team that may have surprisingly little to play for. If the Spurs lose their season-ender to the Mavs (they're currently down by twelve), the Blazers are locked into the sixth seed no matter what happens in Portland tonight. But Nate McMillan ain't the type to phone it in, and while Brandon Roy is sitting out, it's not like the Blazers' cupboard is bare. The Miller/Fernandez/Batum/Aldridge/Camby starting lineup they're likely to resort to doesn't have many holes, and at least two of those guys are much better than any healthy Warrior...this team excels at rebounding, and they very rarely cough up the ball. The Dubs have been playing with impressive (if ill-timed) fire of late, and there's no reason to expect them to start phoning it in just as the curtains close. But this is the second half of a back-to-back, on the road, against a good team that matches up well against them. Don't be surprised if the Dubs can't make this one a thriller.

Warrior To Watch: Stephen Curry. Put some nice finishing touches on that ROY portfolio, young man.
Blazer To Watch: Marcus Camby, just so you can remember what defense and rebounding look like.

April 13, 2010

#81: UTA @ GSW 4/13/10

Utah Jazz
Record: 52-28 (7th) • Point Differential: +5.5 (3rd) • Pace: 93.7 (9th)
Off. Efficiency: 111.0 (6th) • eFG: 52.6 (4th) • TO: 16.0 (t-23rd) • OReb: 26.8 (14th) • FT/FG: 25.3 (4th)
Def. Efficiency: 105.2 (10th) • eFG: 49.2 (t-12th) • TO: 16.1 (6th) • OReb: 24.7 (5th) • FT/FG: 26.9 (30th)

The Warriors need a loss to keep pace with the Wizards and Kings in the Suckitude Sweepstakes. Happily, the season's final game in Oracle brings a Utah team that, having won 33 of its last 44 games and with improved playoff seeding to play for, should be more than willing to provide that loss. (If this sounds familiar, well, it should.)

There are few teams that present tougher matchup problems for the Li'l Dubs than these Jazz, but if the Warriors are hell-bent on competing tonight, the Four Factors data above suggests how they might go about doing it. The Jazz are above-average in every component of the game except for two: they turn it over a lot, and they send their opponents to the line more often than any other team. If Curry and Monta are aggressive in the passing lines and Maggette drives early and often, the Warriors could make this a game. Here's hoping they don't.

Warrior To Watch: Stephen Curry, natch. He's averaged 14 points on 12.5 shots and 6.5 assists against 7(!) turnovers in his first two games against the Jazz, and will be looking to excel against them for the first time.

Jazzman To Watch: Deron Williams, a down-ballot MVP candidate who figures to make that a tall order.

April 11, 2010

#80: OKC @ GSW 4/11/10

Oklahoma City Thunder
Record: 49-30 (10th) • Point Differential: +3.6 (10th) • Pace: 93.0 (13th)
Off. Efficiency: 108.1 (13th) • eFG: 49.2 (t-19th) • TO: 16.0 (t-23rd) • OReb: 28.5 (3rd) • FT/FG: 26.8 (2nd)
Def. Efficiency: 104.2 (8th) • eFG: 48.2 (4th) • TO: 16.3 (5th) • OReb: 26.6 (t-18th) • FT/FG: 22.7 (17th)

Losing last night's game took some effort, but this one should be a piece of cake. The Warriors are performing the dreaded road-and-home back-to-back, returning to Oracle to take on a rested Thunder team that's won 25 of their last 34 games; OKC hasn't shown much interest in losing to the Dubs this year, and seeing as a loss would greatly increase their chances of playing the Lakers in the first round, these guys ain't hurtin' for motivation. If the outcome's in doubt when the fourth quarter starts, it'll be a surprise.

Since this is the last time we'll see the Thunder for awhile, it's worth pausing and marveling at their situation. They are, however you care to slice it, one of the ten best teams in basketball. They are the youngest good team in league history. Going into the summer, they'll have eleven players under contract (Durant, Westbrook, Harden, Ibaka, Sefalosha, Green, Maynor, Krstic, Collison, B.J. Mullens, D.J. White), two obvious and easily filled needs (a three-point specialist, a big banger), the reigning Coach of the Year, $11.8 million in cap space and five picks in June's draft. It's not simply that the Thunder have a brighter future than any other NBA team -- they have one of the brightest futures any NBA team has ever had. God, it must suck to be a Sonics fan.

Warrior To Watch: Stephen Curry has this distinction nailed down, with a 2010 that just keeps on truckin'. On New Year's Day, he was averaging a mere 11.5 points a game... last night's performance upped his season scoring average to 17.1. However, if he 's looking to increase his ROY chances today, passing, not scoring, is probably the way to do it. Curry's assist/turnover ratio currently sits at 1.92. If he can nudge past Tyreke and over the 2.00 mark, he'll allow voters to promote him as the superior passer and all-around player. The odds are very much against his doing this -- even if he only turns it over once in each of the last three games, he'll need twenty-five total assists to reach 2.00. But the odds have been against a lot of things Curry has already accomplished. At this point, the kid definitely bears Watching.

Thunderer To Watch: James Harden, one of Curry's fellow rookies and one of the most slept-on young players in the league. Don't be fooled by the low minutes (22.7 a night) and ugly field-goal percentage (.395)... this guy is a beast. His per-36 numbers -- 15.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 2.2 turnovers, 1.7 steals -- reveal the well-roundedness of his game, and thanks to his three-point stroke and propensity to get to the line, his scoring efficiency is actually slightly above the league average. Most importantly, he is the rare rookie that rates as a genuinely good defender. Adjusted plus-minus lists Harden as the seventh-most effective player in all of basketball. He ain't that, but he's damn good, and the Thunder is the rare team that doesn't have to kick itself for having passed up Stephen Curry.

April 10, 2010

#79: GSW @ LAC 4/10/10

Los Angeles Clippers
Record: 27-52 (23rd) • Point Differential: -6.5 (28th) • Pace: 92.4 (16th)
Off. Efficiency: 103.1 (28th) • eFG: 49.0 (t-22nd) • TO: 16.9 (29th) • OReb: 27.2 (11th) • FT/FG: 20.8 (t-24th)
Def. Efficiency: 110.2 (t-22nd) • eFG: 50.9 (21st) • TO: 14.0 (25th) • OReb: 26.2 (t-12th) • FT/FG: 21.5 (t-11th)

The season's most important game is upon us, and we can only hope that the Warriors have noticed. A top-heavy draft class looms, a scrum of teams are still jockeying for position... both of these teams can help their standing with a loss here tonight. To the vanquished go the spoils.

It won't be an easy task for the Dubs, for as bad as they've been, the Clippers have been much, much worse: by point differential, they're the third-worst team in the league, and the fourth-worst team, Detroit, ain't exactly nipping at their heels. These guys stink on both sides of the ball, and the only thing they do decently is rebound (which makes you wonder if Blake Griffin will really be the panacea most people expect). These guys have lost their last seven games, by an average margin of 14.6 points, to boot. It's pretty hard to bet against them in a suckoff. The Warriors have been known to forget how to play on the road, though, so it could get a little interesting.

The Players To Watch are, of course, the starting point guards. While Stephen Curry surely realizes the upside of a loss here, he also knows that a big finish to the season could push him past Tyreke for Rookie of the Year... don't expect him to go half-speed. You shouldn't expect Baron Davis to go half-speed, either, but only because quarter-speed is more likely. His second year as a Clipper has been healthier and less bricktastic than his first, but his production is still worse than it was in any of his four seasons as a Warrior, and the departure of Mike Dunleavy hasn't perked him up one bit. The Dubs have made tons of mistakes in the last several years, but cutting bait on this guy probably wasn't one of them. At this point, Baron, as much as we all still love him, is no Corey Maggette.

April 8, 2010

Great Job, Guys! Now Tank.

Rooting for a clueless organization sometimes forces you to root for strange things. I was rooting hard for Nellie to pass Lenny Wilkens, not for his sake -- he's way too damaging of a presence right now for me to care about his legacy, and I don't really think he cared much about the record anyway -- but for the sake of the team's future. A franchise this stupid has enough trouble doing business in a vacuum, let alone in an environment filled with distractions. (The sad irony, of course, is that stupid franchises beget distractions, and thus the bulk of the season has been spent discussing the soap-operatic relationships between key figures, not the horrible product on the court.)

Nellie's record hunt, though ostensibly a positive distraction, was a distraction. Now that it's done, there's at least a chance that the Warriors braintrust will take a glance at the facts on the ground. If they do, they will come to two quick conclusions:

1) Jesus, we suck.
2) Now is no time to stop sucking.

The first point is both obvious and frequently made, but worth reiterating once more: this team is extremely bad, in a way that transcends injuries or luck. There are a number of variables in play here, not all of them reflecting an innate lack of talent: this roster is poorly constructed and execrably coached, and a few savvy trades and more competent on-court guidance could improve the team's results. Nevertheless, there is no reason whatsoever to think that this team has enough talent to compete for a playoff spot in the Western Conference going forward.

Which brings us to the second point, and the only stat line that matters.

April 7, 2010

#78: GSW @ MIN 4/7/10

Minnesota Timberwolves
Record: 15-62 (29th) • Point Differential: -9.3 (30th) • Pace: 96.1 (3rd)
Off. Efficiency: 101.6 (29th) • eFG: 47.7 (27th) • TO: 16.7 (28th) • OReb: 26.9 (13th) • FT/FG: 20.5 (27th)
Def. Efficiency: 111.2 (27th) • eFG: 52.2 (t-28th) • TO: 14.7 (22nd) • OReb: 26.2 (13th) • FT/FG: 21.9 (14th)

So the Dubs pasted the Knicks in Oracle last week, and then kicked off their road trip in style, edging the Raptors in a sloppy popcorn thriller that got Don Nelson a share of the all-time wins mark. The stars were aligned for a record-breaking win in Washington yesterday. Nellie got some ink on ESPN.com, giving Marc Stein a long but characteristically blunt and charming interview. The Warriors even managed to get a tour of the White House, though not, as you might imagine, for their basketball exploits. In the nation's capital, against the franchise that drafted him, with three of his beloved D-Leaguers in the lineup... it sure seemed like Nellie's night.

Instead, the Warriors got throttled, in a game that served a reminder of just how small and clueless they currently are. A horrible Wizards team not only beat the Dubs at their own game, but embarrassed them at it, with castoff Cartier Martin serving witness. Instead of becoming the winningest NBA coach of all time, Don Nelson became the first NBA coach to give up a monster game to JaVale McGee. It doesn't matter how the stars align if you can't get a damn rebound.

Tonight, the Warriors play the honest-to-God worst team in the league, a team that sucks at almost everything. But the Timberwolves do not suck at rebounding. And if the Warriors get hammered on the boards, whether through shorthandedness or miscoaching, even these Wolves can make them pay. The Warriors do not fare well on the road, nor on the second half of back-to-backs.

Nellie deserves his record, but for reasons that have nothing to do with this Mickey Mouse outfit. Pray the waiting game ends tonight, but don't be shocked if it doesn't.

Warrior To Watch: Stephen Curry, who's wrapping up a likely silver-medal rookie performance. These Wolves passed on him twice, and he has yet to put in a signature performance against them to rub their noses in it.
Wolf To Watch: Jonny Flynn, a likeable guy who can't lace Curry's shoes.

PostThoughts -- Warriors 116, Wolves 107
A little diciness towards the end there, but a fine take-care-of-business win, and nice to see some smiles on the boys' faces.

The Warriors outrebounded the Wolves here, which was unsurprising for two reasons. The obvious one was Jefferson's absence; the subtler one was the alignment of talent that Nellie had on hand. When you dress three bigs and only one small guard, it's just about impossible to overdo smallball. On his record-breaking night, the big man was at least partially saved from himself.

This Stephen Curry is really starting to be somebody. Hootie hoo, what a game.

April 1, 2010

#74: GSW @ UTA 3/31/10

PostThoughts -- Jazz 128, Warriors 104
While the Golden State Warriors will learn how to compete on the road again someday, that process just isn't going to start in Salt Lake City. This was every bit the drubbing that it looked to be when the season schedule came out.

Say this for the Dubs: offensively, their hearts were in the right place. They attempted 26 three-pointers and shot 42 free throws, and when you spend that much time in high-value situations, you're likely to win. The Warriors made only four of those threes, and didn't fare well from two-point land either... only Chris Hunter hit half of more of his shots, and he only took four of them. A teamwide cold-shooting night isn't a problem. The problem is that on a cold-shooting night, you have to do some other things -- defense and rebounding and such -- and the Dubs got outrebounded by 22 and let the Jazz record 37 assists.

The Warriors used their 45th starting lineup, extending their miserable league record. Also, that soft "click" you heard yesterday was the door slamming shut on Stephen Curry's ROY chances... his weak line, combined with Tyreke's 20/7/13 showing in Minnesota, has pretty much sealed the deal. Weep not for Stephen Curry, America. This team has several dozen bigger problems.

Back home tomorrow night for a sprint with the Knicks, and then it's off on the season's easiest road trip. The Warriors aren't likely to run the table and match last year's (thoroughly shitty) record, but winning three of eight and getting Nellie atop Mt. Wilkens should be more than doable. Of course, with three determined tankers nipping at their heels and a draft with a clear-cut top four, the Warriors might be well-served to crank up the suckin'. As tonight showed, they've still got plenty of it left.