Half-Way Crooks: Magic 117 Warriors 109

This guy don’t wanna battle, he’s shook
Cause there ain’t no such thing as half-way crooks. — Eminem*

This game against the Orlando Magic was extremely interesting in the questions it has raised.  Was the Hack-a-Dwight a good strategy? Would Don Nelson have done the same thing?  Did the Warriors miss Kwame Brown in this game? Did the Warriors have a good game plan in this game?

Could this game have been won?

My one word answers to these questions, in order:  No.  No. Yes and No. (That’s three words I guess, sorry.)  No.


Surprised by these answers?  Well, I’m going to surprise you further: I’d like to show you some very simple stats to support them. Yes, this avowed stat hater is going to convince you of the rectitude of his positions by trotting out some very simple stats.            

The Hack-a-Dwight

Let’s get this out of the way fast:  Mark Jackson’s Hack-a-Dwight was a completely moronic strategy, and there is no way in hell that Don Nelson would have done the same thing.  Want immediate proof?  Here it is:

Did Don Nelson ever break Wilt Chamberlain’s free throw record against Shaq? Did he ever come close?


Now let’s dig a little deeper.  Dwight Howard’s career FT% is 60%.  Last night he shot 54% from the line.  The Warriors shooting % this season is 45%  (although they happened to shoot lights out last night at 52%).  I’m too lazy to look for their true shooting percentage, which would be slightly better, but trust me, it won’t matter for my analysis.  In fact, let’s just assume that the Warriors TS% is 50, which is far higher than it really is.

Given those percentages, is hacking Howard something you’d want to do all game long, if you had the fouls to give?  The answer is obviously not. The Heat would be scoring 1.2 points (.6 x 2) every trip, while the Warriors were scoring only 1 point (.5 x 2).  In what possible way could this be a winning strategy?

I have no idea what Mark Jackson, and his “genius” on the bench Mike Malone were thinking when they trotted out this strategy in the first half, with the Warriors up 8.  It was moronic.  And it was moronic in more ways than just the simply mathematical one.

For one thing it extended the game by stopping the clock.  You never want to extend the game against a superior opponent when you are ahead, right?  Quite the opposite, you want to shorten the game.  And as Steve Kerr noted, it completely took the Warriors out of their own (putative) running game, forcing them into half-court basketball.

Are you confused now?  Wondering why, if all this is true, that Don Nelson ever invented this strategy?

Here’s why:  It is an excellent strategy under the following two conditions:

  1. You are behind in the game.
  2. Time is short.

What the Hack-a-Shaq is ideally intended for is to make up a big point deficit in a short amount of time.  It allows you to potentially trade 3 points for 1 or none. And it extends the game by stopping the clock.  With Nellie’s willingness to go for the quick three, the Warriors could cram a huge number of possessions into the final few minutes of a game.  That is a winning strategy, when behind in the game to a superior opponent.

Nellie did occasionally employ the Hack-a-Shaq in the first half.  The very end of the half, not like the extended fiasco of last night. It may have been a psychological ploy. It could change the momentum entering the lockerroom. And it planted the seed in Shaq’s mind.

“You know what’s coming, big fella.”

The Warriors Game Plan and The Kwame Brown Era

Do you think Andris Biedrins and David Lee looked overmatched by Dwight Howard last night?  Well, of course they did, left on an island with him as they were by Mark Jackson’s utter refusal to double team!  This was a completely inexplicable decision to me.  Did any team ever beat Shaq by refusing to double team him? Wilt Chamberlain? Jabbar? How about Tim Duncan? I mean, the mind boggles.

The Warriors did not allow Biedrins and Lee to front Howard.  They did not send  an immediate double to force the ball out of his hand.  They did not send delayed doubles to disrupt his dribble when he began his move.  And they did not even try to block his path to the middle or challenge his shot. Simply incredible.

Was the Warriors coaching staff trying to make a point for Joe Lacob? THIS is why we signed Kwame Brown for $7 million? THIS is why we’re immediately going to go out and sign Fat Fess or some other big stiff to clog the Warriors middle?

Or was this just a continuation of the ethos of no-excuses personal accountability that Mark Jackson is trying to instill?

Whichever, it was completely ridiculous.  Yes, I know the Orlando Magic make you pick your poison.  I know their three point shooters are absolutely killing it this year.  But what is Dwight Howard’s singular weakness?  If anything, it is his passing ability.  So make him use it.

The way Don Nelson forced Dirk Nowitzki to use his passing ability, back when We Believed. Remember?

I actually thought Biedrins looked pretty good against Howard at certain points. He blocked his shot twice, something Kwame couldn’t even think about doing.  And Lee has the strength to body Howard out of the lane. For a time. But not an extended five second eternity while Howard dribbles and bangs his way through the paint.

I just simply could not believe that Mark Jackson would abandon Biedrins and Lee to that kind of treatment.  Dwight Howard CAN be defended by those two guys, and WOULD HAVE been defended by those two guys under Don Nelson.

With HELP.

So was Kwame Brown missed last night?  Well, yes, of course, given Jackson’s remarkable defensive game plan. If you refuse to double Howard, you’ll need a player who won’t get flattened like a pancake.

Would he have helped the Warriors win? That is a far more complex question, that brings the offensive side of the game into the picture.

It’s time for some more stats.

The Kwame Brown Era

This season, the Warriors have given up 99.2 points a game.  Last season they gave up 105.7.  Quite an improvement, right?  Mark Jackson’s focus on defense and playing a big stiff in the middle has really shown results!

Well, not so fast.  Let’s look at the rest of the story.

Last season, the Warriors scored 103.4 points a game.  This season they are scoring 93.9.  That’s an eye-opener, isn’t it?

How about this?  Last year, under the universally scorned Keith Smart, the Warriors point-differential was -2.3.  Under the universally admired Mark Jackson, the Warriors point-differential is -5.3.

In other words, the Warriors have demonstrably been a hugely worse basketball team under Mark Jackson in the Kwame Brown era.

Here’s a few other stats to consider.  Last year, the Warriors had the 5th highest pace in the league.  This year they are 14th out of 30.  Middle of the pack!  The Warriors! With Monta Ellis! Dorell Wright! David Lee! And even, for a couple of games, Stephen Curry!

14th in the league in pace.

Last season, the Warriors scored 19.6 points off turnovers.  This season 14.8.  Last season, the Warriors scored 18.8 fast break points a game.  This season, 11.  Last season, the Warriors shot .461 from the field.  This season, .447.  Last season 39% from three.  This season 34%.

All of these stats are directly related to The Kwame Brown Era and Mark Jackson’s philosophy of basketball.  The shots are a lot tougher, a lot more closely contested, when they come out of the half court.  Particularly when your low post go-to guy is not Patrick Ewing, not Rick Smits, but Kwame Brown.

The Warriors walked the ball up the court last night.  Even though they had fabulous athletes like Monta Ellis, Nate Robinson, Charles Jenkins, Brandon Rush and David Lee going against the likes of Jameer Nelson, JJ Redick, Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and Ryan Anderson.

Even though they were walking straight into the gaping maw of Dwight Howard, the premier defender in the league.

Does that make any sort of sense to you?

It does to Mark Jackson, apparently.  The guy who before the season promised that the Warriors would run.

I heard Mark Jackson in an interview the other day, before the Heat game. His interviewer remarked that Spoelstra had really upped the tempo of the Heat, gone to an all-out running attack.  Jackson’s response: “Yeah, but it’s hurt their defense.”

Here’s what I have to say about that:  Last season, the Heat gave up 94.6 points a game. 6th in the league. This season they’re giving up 97.7, 25th in the league.

Bad, right?  Not quite.  Last season, the Heat lead the league in point-differential, at +7.5.  This season they’re at +8.7.

In 2007-8, Baron Davis’ last season with the Warriors, and one year after We Believe — and with Don Nelson coaching the last relatively intact team he ever had — the Golden State Warriors gave up 108.2 points a game, the most in the league.

Their point-differential was +2.2.

The sins of the past, indeed.

Frisco Joe Lacob

Rewatching the TNT broadcast last night after I got home from the game, I had to laugh at this exchange back in the studio.

Ever Truthful Charles Barkley: “Whoever the GM is out there in Golden State, that was a great pick-up in Nate Robinson.”

Ever Politically Correct Ernie Johnson: “Uh, Larry Riley as a matter of fact.”

Uh, that would be incorrect, Ernie.

Joe Lacob has stated that he wants his team to be a cross between the Kendrick Perkins Boston Celtics and the Don Nelson Golden State Warriors. One glance at the stats can tell you how that idea has been working.

Or you can just let Eminem give it to you straight:

There ain’t no such thing as half-way crooks.

*[Edit: I’m quoting Eminem’s character Rabbit from the movie 8 Mile, but the term “half-way crooks” was originated by Mobb Deep on the track “Shook Ones (Part II)” from the album The Infamous.  Thanks to dpkp for pointing this out in the comments below.]

37 Responses to Half-Way Crooks: Magic 117 Warriors 109

  1. Felty: Everyone should read your post. It’s a collector’s item. Please send it to Joe Lacob, and ask him to read it everyday.

  2. Great analysis.

    One last thought on Hack-a-Howard, the obvious one. Jackson had to save Lee for the last few minutes when they most needed him, when they still had a chance. I was surprised by Lee’s last foul late, why he wasn’t protecting his fouls himself–frustration? Or was he doing what he was told?

  3. In last year’s win over Orlando, the Warriors outscored 123-120. Both teams shot very well from the 3. Howard took 10 free throws and only scored 13 points (but he played 46 minutes–anybody remember what happened, how he was defended?). 23 assists from Curry+Ellis. I assume they ran.


  4. Now we know why Biedrins can only play during the beginning of quarters, and never when the Warriors are in the Penalty – Hack a Biedrins. Why they didn’t Amnesty this stiff I’ll never know…

    I agree that Hack-a-Howard was ill conceived, especially when you were up 10+ with the running game. Given the Warriors weakness in the half-court set, this ill fated strategy totally took them out of their game or best chance to win.

  5. Ish Smith has been waived. Prepare yourself for Lurch, Part Deux.

  6. Uh… you’re sourcing that line to Eminem? wow.

  7. One other reason Hack-a-Howard was foolhardy: Orlando had played the night before; the Warriors had not. So, instead of running Howard and the rest of the Magic off the floor we gave them about 20 mini-timeouts to shoot free-throws, get their points AND their rest. Brilliant!

  8. The hacka routine last night was a bad idea from every angle, and a shameful surrender for the team. Let’s hope it was at least a learning experience for Jackson. The moron. The Warriors could have won that game with a halfway decent defensive plan.

    I guess with Robinson on board the dubs could afford to let Ish Smith go, but I’m afraid you’re right that his departure means that an even less-skilled, budget Kwame stand-in is on the way.

    I wonder if Mbenga can find the hoop yet.

  9. You need to give the W’s a bit of a break here – if you want to talk stats, here is the biggest one – the cumulative record of the W’s first 10 opponents is now 65-31. There is not one that does not have a winning record right now. The only team that they have played that is not a lock solid playoff team is Utah, who is nonetheless 6-4 now. They haven’t played a single game since opening night without at least one major player (Lee, Curry, Ellis and now Brown) and have been competitive in every game except Philadelphia and perhaps Phoenix. Even with a 3-6 record, GS’s RPI was tied for 11th before last night – now its slipped a bit, but still, for a losing record . . .

    So, if you can legitimately tell me that the cumulative record of the teams Keith Smart coached against last year was .700, then I’ll buy your silly “point differential” argument against MJax to date

    And just to further nitpick, coming into the game, Howard had shot more free throws that anybody in the league and was averaging 45%. Which makes it (0.9 points per trip, not 1.2). Keeps shooting his season average and its four fewer points last night. Think that would have made a difference?

    You try coaching a team without two and a half starters. Now, that said, i agree a bit of doubling on dwight would have been a good idea, just to mix it up a bit

    • You are dead on!!! For the record how many NBA Titles has Nelly Ball won?? ZERO

      Sure it is fun to watch but it does not win titles. If the Warriors were ever going to go anywhere they needed to change the philosophy.

  10. Rick Barry says he’d help. If he could get Howard on board Biedrins would probably meekly fall in line.


  11. Felty, you’ve hit the nail on the head and beat me to the punch. (Where have I heard that before?) I’m talking about point differential, which has been percolating in my mind for awhile, and you’ve illustrated it perfectly.

    Who gives a rat’s tail if my defense is great — but you score more points than I do? Who gives a dang if my offense is unstoppable — but you outscore me? It’s about point differential, which is a statistical way of saying balance!

    The Warriors defense has been better this year. Has it translated to winning? No, because the offense sputters so much. Now I realize the Ws have played a number of games with at least one scorer missing due to either injury (Curry), illness (Lee), or personal leave (Ellis). But the way the offense is being run is the most frustrating and boring I’ve seen in a long time. After watching Miami Tuesday run a fast-break on a high percentage of plays, it’s painful to see the Warriors contrasting style — fast guards like Monta and Nate just walking it up.

    Mark Jackson already sounds like Mike Singletary, and with every game he’s beginning to look just as clueless about offense. The hope is that when he gets an injury-free roster, we’ll see some fireworks on offense, together with solid defense. Please, Mark, I’m counting on you.

    • So you are challenging Mr. Lacob’s basketball philosophy and Mr. Lacob’s play calling?

      How dare you! Mr. Lacob has the highest Basketball IQ in the league.

  12. carb1@11

    The Ws have also played 6 home games against 4 road. But I take your point, the sample size is ridiculously small and skewed. My point remains the same, though: we can all see what has happened to the Warriors style of play, and there is more than one way to look at the results. The only real way to grade it is by reference to point differential.

    As for Howard’s FT percentage, would you care to wager whether he finishes the year closer to 60% than 45%? It is you who are guilty of using a small sample size here.

    And as for this: “You try coaching a team without two and a half starters….”

    I’m guessing you stuck up for Don Nelson a lot? You must have, right?

    • I just don’t understand how Jackson doesn’t watch the tape from the Warriors win over the Heat and try to duplicate that 4th quarter. Let Monta, Nate, Lee and Curry run!

  13. @feltbot 15

    Actually, just spent 18 years in LA, where we only started paying attention around the second round of the playoffs. But I’m 6 games into my second year of season tickets up here and looking forward to the long climb up.

    I just find the judgements on mjax and the current team performance awfully harsh, given the circumstances and where we are in the season. No proper camp, no preseason games, a different starting roster pretty much every game and – to date – the toughest schedule in the NBA according to opponents win-loss (and just common sense – i fully expect everybody so far but utah and phoenix so far to have home court in the first round).

    Compare to last year, this is a MUCH deeper team and they play MUCH harder on defense. Offense will come – especially when we start getting some of our players back consistently. But yes, if you are going to be a lockdown defensive team, one of the things you have to learn is running a half court offense. That is a serious shortcoming right now, which my fingers are crossed are attributable to Curry’s absence. I don’t have the sense that we have too much going on in that department on the coaching front and the compressed year will make it awfully hard to fix that.

    Point differential is down, but the reality is that in ten games against that competition, the only game they were really out of was Philly). Sure, there were some late surges that blew out close games to bigger margins (like last night), but this team is generally competing hard every night. I did not see that last year. The losses against the clippers (late blowout) and the 76ers alone add a -4.7 to our ten game average plus/minus, so i have difficulty taking that number too seriously at this point in the season. My eyes (which have seen five NBA championship teams up close) tell me this is a competitive team.

    What i like about this team is that it seems that we can seriously go ten deep with various permutations of capabilities. I think – healthy – this ten could compete for a playoff slot, assuming jackson can coach (which i have yet to see enough to determine one way or another). More importantly, we have enough pieces that we can make a serious trade package for a superstar including some mix of starters and reserves without utterly decimating ourselves. Last year’s second five of Williams, Bell, Law, Admundson and Vlad might have seriously been the shortest, slowest, least competitive bench i ever recall seeing in the NBA and was virtually useless as trade pieces.

    And yeah, you are right about Dwight’s FT%. The only thing i would say against it was that given who we had available in the post last night for D, Dwight’s average trip down the floor without the hack-a-howard would probably have been 2.2 or so. I actually think it did keep us in the game to some degree. But i too would have liked to have seen some double teaming and some zone mixed in.

    • And really, no opinion on Nellie one way or another.

      • Good response, I like much of your analysis. And I have had different reactions to Jackson’s coaching, as eg. after the Knick game. Unfortunately, I am embarrassed by that post now. I hope you’re right that it is too early to judge what is happening with this team, but I think all signs point to Jackson and Lacob not believing in what this team was designed to do: Run.

        • But show me the last “run first” team that’s won a title? Since the Bad Boys clubbed the Lakers finally in ’89, it hasn’t happened. Nash and the Suns may have had a shot for a couple years, but the cookie didn’t crumble that way they never even made it out of the West.

          We’ve actually got plenty of pieces to trade now and going ten deep is going to consistently show off those pieces and make them more appetizing to be part of a trade package. Which is the perfect scenario for The Logo. This team is going to be redesigned from the ground up and creating a defense oriented bench that goes 10 deep is by far the best way to start. Whatever we have left of Monta, Curry, Lee, Wright, Rush, Thompson, McGuire (who keeps surprising me with some fluid offensive moves in the post) after shuffling the cards for a true Level 1 player will still have enough firepower to put the ball in the basket. Assuming we eventually design a half court offense. Depending on the components of that trade, we’re then 7-9 deep, but built around somebody serious, rather than two shoot-first, undersized guards.

          Rome wasn’t built in a day. And yeah, this team wasn’t built by Nellie and to to be a lockdown defensive unit. But no point to coaching purely to the past paradigm (run) when you know its just going to be temporary as personnel shift. You get the defense, the (situational) running will come.

          • “show me the last “run first” team that’s won a title?” Show me the last winner who refused to play to their own strengths.

            “…built around somebody serious, rather than two shoot-first, undersized guards.” Monta had 11 assists against Orlando. That’s not a “shoot-first” stat for the best scorer on the team.

            “…no point to coaching purely to the past paradigm (run) when you know its just going to be temporary as personnel shift.” Should the Warriors play to win, or to demonstrate that we can’t win now? They could have beaten Orlando. They’ve done it before with a team that wasn’t even as strong or deep.

          • George Karl after the Nuggets ran the Heat out of the building last night:
            “My emphasis at every timeout was don’t stop running,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “Try to run every possession. I don’t know if they didn’t want to play that pace, but Wade getting hurt probably helped us.”

            From: http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/recap?gid=2012011307

            Monta, Steph and Nate need to be unleashed.

          • carb1,

            “But show me the last ‘run first’ team that’s won a title?”

            Show me the last team period that’s won a title in the last two decades without one of a handful of utterly dominant players and still had enough talent behind them. Actually, Detroit comes to mind (was this a down period in the league? I’ve forgotten), Boston only if you downgrade KG.

            In the Nelson era, the problem wasn’t the coaching strategy, but rather the inability of the team to get and retain the kind of players it needed to tip the scales, especially in the front court, this largely due to front office woes. As for the top players, these are hard to come by and often it’s a matter of luck–or having the venue pull and big bucks the Lakers have.

            Our current owners see Howard as the solution. But I wonder if they could fare much better than the current Magic–not title contenders–especially when you consider how much the Warriors would have to give up to get him, how difficult it would be to find the other talent needed.

  14. Nate is Great! He wants to run, cannot wait until Curry gets back and we have the running 3 Amigos…Oh wait MJacks will be the coach and demand a half court offense with a fully accountable defense. Oh well…

  15. MT: Hack-a-Howard not so great? (BTW, I was a bit surprised that today in a “Sportsnation” poll on ESPN 63% of the more than 54,000 who voted gave thumbs up to last night’s intentional foulfest of Howard.)


  16. Chris Mullin last night on ESPN said Jackson was a great hire who would continue to learn. One thing I liked about his approach was that he was trying to be innovative. Being at the game, it also took the fans out fo the game- a big mistake for everal reasons- and was really inexplicable why he did it in front of the Warirrors basket- why not play defenbse and see if turnovers could be created beofre fouling. To say that the warriors win with dffense and then to say they hae no way of defending is an oxymoron- or maybe just moronic. I say lewts give it more time. I have seen postives and negatives so far. And its still har d to know who is calling the shots. Clearly the owners b ut who do they listen to? Very good post, thanks

  17. Charlotte:

    Well, at least we got a football game. Man, Smith was sharp with those three long passes the last five minutes. My favorite scene was at the opening, when Harbaugh was doing a helmet slap with Smith, pumping him up with his manic enthusiasm. I won’t make any comparisons tonight.

  18. “We didn’t show up, and, as a coach, that’s on me,” Jackson said. “I’m embarrassed as a coach and disappointed in my team’s effort. It cannot and will not be tolerated.”

    Actually, the loss was largely Jackson’s fault, but not because of player motivation. Charlotte was far better prepared for the Warriors than the Warriors were for Charlotte. Jackson was outcoached. If he were being totally honest, he’d take responsibility for that.