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.
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:
- You are behind in the game.
- 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.
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.]