The Warriors have reached the quarter pole of the season, and I feel it’s time to take their temperature. Let’s see…
The Warriors are leading the league with a 22-3 record, behind Steve Kerr’s revamped Nellieball offense. Or is it Alvin Gentry’s? No, Kerr is the big boss and enabler-in-chief, so he deserves the credit. But I’ve always loved Gentry’s Nellieball coaching chops, and given the way the Warriors are pushing the pace, playing a stretch-four, and springing smallball traps, it seems likely he’s having quite a bit of influence, so I have to credit him as well. And isn’t he the “Associate Head Coach”? No one in the media seems to remember that.
Ron Adams’ name also crops up a lot. And not just regarding the defensive scheming, at which he’s an acknowledged master. But also with regard to little details on both sides of the ball, like how Bogut should make himself big in the lane (with his arms up), and how wing defenders should close out on three point shooters (with their arms up), and how Harrison Barnes should shoot his threes (stepping in, not fading).
Yes, Warriors fans and Mark Jackson apologists, coaching matters.
Just not in this post. At least not in Part One of this post. Nor in Part Two. As much as I admire what the Steve Kerr Band have done with this Warriors team — and my admiration is literally off the charts, along with Don Nelson’s — I’m going to start my review with a look at the Golden State Warriors players.
From a fantasy basketball perspective.
Methodology: Regular readers know I have a rather dyspeptic relationship with stats, and those who rely on them for their analysis. Particularly with regard to what I have termed “Sausage Stats”, those stats which are concocted by esoteric formula, and purport to give us a general conclusion about players and teams beyond what can be communicated by simple boxscore stats.
I think sausage stats — like RAPM, and PER, and WinShares, and Pace, and even the current favorite of Warriors announcers, Field Goal Percentage Against (a sausage stat disguised as a simple stat) — are garbage. They are garbage because the assumptions they are built on (the “meat” that goes into the grinder) are bogus. And thus the conclusions they churn out, with regard to a player’s skill level, or effect on the game, or efficiency, or a team’s style of play or defensive efficiency, are perforce bogus as well. Garbage in, garbage out. These stats bite off more than they can chew.
I’ve dissected RAPM and PER and Pace at length in the past, so I’m not going to go into them here (except perhaps when I get to Andre Iguodala, last year’s league leader in RAPM). I will give you a quick take on Field Goal Percentage Against (FG%A) , however, which has been cited repeatedly as evidence that the Warriors have the best defense in the league (to my great annoyance):
Does FG%A take into account how many free throws a team is giving up? No, it does not. So a bad defensive team can artificially improve their FG%A by hacking a lot? Indubitably. And can a bad defensive team also artificially lower their FG%A by playing zone, packing the lane, and giving up three point shots? Why yes, they can, all while getting killed in the score. And does FG%A in any way account for a team’s ability to create turnovers? No, it does not.
So why in the world are we quoting this bogus stat in broadcast after broadcast?
There is a very simple and readily available stat that is a much more accurate indicator of defensive efficiency than FG%A: defensive Points Per Possession (PPP). In other words, how many points a team gives up per opponent’s offensive possession. It cuts through all the bullshit, like hacking strategy, and three point strategy, to get right to the chase.
(And even this stat isn’t perfect. It can be manipulated by coaches who are willing to sacrifice offense to improve their defensive credentials, by taking the air out of the ball, like Mike Fratello, Mike Brown, Keith Smart, Mark Jackson and Mike Malone.)
Guess what, the Warriors are also currently leading the league in defensive PPP, at .960, while playing at one of the fastest paces in the league. Their defensive efficiency is off the charts. All I’m saying is, stop feeding the fans a bullshit sausage stat. Care enough about your profession to get it right. Thanks, Fitz!
OK, sorry for this extensive digression. It’s time we got to the meat of this post, which is where I take back everything I just said, and pull out a sausage stat of my own invention. Here it is:
The Feltbot Fantasy Indicator (FFI): This indicator is simply the 8-category ranking employed by fantasy basketball leagues. The 8 categories are points, FG% (weighted for attempts), 3 pointers, rebounds, steals, assists, blocks and FT% (weighted for attempts).
My plan for this series of posts is to use my patented stat as a way into my player analysis. So, you may well ask, am I preparing to violate my own precepts regarding the use of sausage stats? My answer is yes and no. Yes, because what I’m doing is partially tongue in cheek (I kid the statphreaks!). And no, because unlike the other stats I mentioned, my patented stat actually works. At the very least, it works better.
Every season when I look at the top of the RAPM and PER charts, I do a spit-take. I see multiple players that simply don’t belong anywhere close to the top of the league in rankings. That literally never happens to me when I look at fantasy basketball rankings: for some reason, simply giving equal weighting to these 8 stats does a remarkably good job of ranking NBA players. The counting stats separate the high minute players from the scrubs. Efficiency counts for a lot. And there are enough defensive stats to perfectly balance the rankings of defensive players with offensive players.
Witness this: Stephen Curry and James Harden are currently in a dead heat with Anthony Davis atop the rankings. And Kawhi Leonard and Carmelo Anthony are also in a dead heat, at 26th and 29th, respectively. And so on.
OK, armed with this new and incredibly powerful statistical weapon, let’s get started trying to separate fantasy from reality in this Warriors season:
The MVP: Towards the end of Stephen Curry’s rookie season, I began to feel like I was looking at a future Hall of Famer. I don’t think there can be much doubt about that now, as Curry has this season joined the select company of front-runners for MVP of the league.
And rightly so, based upon both his leadership role on the team with the best record in the NBA, and his individual performance.
Curry’s performance level is so elite at the moment, that he happens to be among the statistical leaders of the entire NBA. As mentioned above, he, Anthony Davis and James Harden are essentially neck and neck at the top of the 8-cat fantasy basketball rankings. And neck.
I used to write a lot about Curry, back when I had to make the case for his greatness. In general, I like to point out things that I believe others aren’t seeing, or correct things that I believe others are getting wrong. That’s what gets me going. But at this point in his career, when everyone in the world is seeing the greatness in Curry, I find myself unable to write about him. I don’t feel like I can add anything anymore. I’m reduced along with everyone else to saying, “Did you see that?”
I will add this: I have never gotten more pleasure from watching a basketball player in my life. And I lived in Boston when Bird was Bird and Magic was Magic, and every spring the entire city stopped what it was doing to have a heart attack.
Klay Thompson: Before the season began, I predicted a major statistical leap for Klay based on his increasing skill level, and a higher usage rate because of David Lee’s absence, Kerr’s motion offense, and the acceptance and encouragement of his veteran teammates. And so far this season, this is exactly what has happened. His scoring has jumped from 18.4/g last season to 21.6/g this season. His free throws attempted per game have jumped from 2.3 to 4, a reflection of his increased determination to take the ball to the rim.
And very interestingly, to me at least, his FT% has increased from .795 to .874. You may remember me last season bemoaning his quick release at the free throw line. He used to shoot them all in one motion, like his jumpers. This season he’s pausing and cocking before shooting. A subtle adjustment, but it might be the difference.
Last season, Klay was the 57th best fantasy player in the NBA. This season he’s ranked 11th.
Remember Kevin Love? His name came up in the offseason in conjunction with Klay’s. Last year, Love was ranked 7th. This season, 33rd. As you can see, it is sometimes useful to think about coach, team, system and role when evaluating a player by his stats. (This point might be made again when I get to young Mr. Barnes, and old man Iguodala.)
Draymond Green: Jeff van Gundy is right. The Heartbeat of the Warriors (thank you, Steve Kerr) is going to get PAID next season. The only question is whether it will be by the Warriors, or by another team.
I happen to believe that the Warriors have to choose between keeping Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes (not to mention Iggy) at small forward. The rest of the world — led by rising ESPN entertainer Ethan Strauss and the hacks at the Merc — seems to believe that the Warriors have to choose between Green and David Lee, at power forward.
One thing I’m completely certain of: Joe Lacob and Jerry West will side with me on this issue. Neither of them wants to know what a stretch-four is, and I’ll bet a case of Pliny the Elder that neither of them view the 6-5″ Green as a long-term solution at power forward. (Thank you, Chris Webber, for confirming Green’s height for me on the TNT broadcast. And that is the first and last thing I will ever thank Chris Webber for.)
Not that I’m citing them for authority. Or even care what Lacob and West think. I’m just telling you how it is in Warriorsland.
I form my own opinions, with my own eyes. And I believe Draymond Green should not only start at the small forward for the Warriors, but is a top ten small forward in the league. The extraordinary defensive talent that he possesses should not be wasted at the power forward. It should be deployed as a STOPPER. Against the likes of Lebron, Melo, Durant, and Kawhi Leonard.
And just like those great players, he should slide to the stretch-four in crunch time. Where he can be a STOPPER against the other great stretch-fours in the league.
- Lebron James, 6-8″ 250 lbs. (closer to 270 last season)
- Carmelo Anthony, 6-8″ 240 lbs. (closer to 25o last season)
- Draymond Green, 6-7″ (listed) 230 lbs.
Why do I list these players? Because both Lebron and Melo played almost exclusively at the stretch-four the last two seasons. Because both Lebron and Melo gave up playing the stretch-four this season to return to the small forward position. Because both Lebron and Melo were taking extreme punishment playing the four, and no doubt felt that it was shortening their careers.
And because both Lebron and Melo are FAR BIGGER than Draymond Green.
- Charles Barkley, 6-6″ 250 lbs
- Kawhi Leonard, 6-7″ 230 lbs.
- Draymond Green, 6-7″ (listed) 230 lbs.
Why do I list these players? Let me ask you something, do you think Draymond Green is the next Charles Barkley, a rebounding prodigy who couldn’t guard your grandmother, and never got a title? Or the next Kawhi Leonard, a defensive prodigy on the wing who can STOP your best player, and a developing offensive talent who can slide to the stretch-four in crunchtime and absolutely bury you?
Who do you think Draymond Green believes he is? How about his agent?
I’ll make you a little prediction: If the Warriors don’t promise Draymond Green the starting small forward position next season, he will be gone. Forever.
Oh yes, weren’t we discussing the Feltbot Fantasy Indicator (FFI)?
Last season, The Heartbeat shot .407 from the field, .333 from three, and .667 from the line. This season, he’s at .452, .345 and .753 (and religiously following Feltbot’s Law).
Last season, the Heartbeat had an FFI of 145. This season, he has an FFI of 27. Yes, he is the 27th ranked fantasy player in the NBA.
One spot behind World Champion Kawhi Leonard.