Hoping for the Worst from the Golden State Warriors: Part 3

September 16th, 2013 | by Dan Clayton

The Jazz organization and its fans are about to enter a third straight season of intense Warrior-watching. Once again, the two franchises’ futures will be simultaneously and inversely determined.

The better the play by the bay, less help comes Utah’s way. But if Golden State slips, the Jazz’s young core could get even better. ‘Twas ever thus, or at least it seems that way, as the two teams destinies have been linked in recent memory.

Two years ago, we kept our eyes on Oakland hoping they’d be bad, but not bad enough to keep a top-7 protected pick. Last year, they were clearly out from under protection so we hoped they’d falter some. Now, with a new and completely unconditional draft debt, a couple millions are simply hoping a rising Golden State squad can be as bad as possible.

“How good/bad will the Warriors be?” is once again a question that matters to Jazz fans.

Forecasting the Ws

ESPN had a 215-member panel try to forecast the West, and they left GSW sixth, but with three more wins than last year. That seems to be the consensus if you look at different forecasts: easily a playoff team, but not yet elite.

Without a doubt, they’re considered a team on an upward trajectory, which I suppose is fair. But it seems like a lot of that optimism is based on a playoff run in which they beat the hobbled Nuggets and then gave the Spurs some fight before surrendering a six-game decision. Those seem like narrow parameters for determining that a team has arrived when for 82 games before that they were perfectly mediocre, with the +0.9 point differential of a fringe playoff team.

The Andre Iguodala acquisition is nice, but numbers say it won’t add that much to their win total, especially since they had to mortgage their depth to do it. Iggy’s Win Share number last year was 5.6, and their other three acquisitions (Jermaine O’Neal, Toney Douglas and Mareese Speights) had a combined WS of 4.3. So let’s round up and say they brought in 10 wins.

To do that, they had to let Carl Landry (6.2) and Jarrett Jack (5.6) walk, and believe it or not Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins chipped in 2.1 WS. So if you’ll grant my logic, which is rudimentary for a number of reasons, those 10 wins they added cost them 14 wins.

Of course, that’s an overly simplistic way of looking at it, because it assumes all these players’ WS – the new Warriors and the incumbents – are going to remain flat. That’s obviously not the case, so let’s look at best and worst case scenarios for GSW (which, of course, translate into worst and best case scenarios for the Jazz).

What could go wrong for GSW

The obvious answer is health. Steph Curry contributed an All-Star like 11.2 WS all by himself, but he did that while appearing in 78 games. If 78 were the under-over for his 2013-14 GP, the smart gambler takes the under every time, to say nothing of the fact that he might not be able to repeat that performance level even if he is healthy.

Which leads us to the second warning light: regression to the mean. Let’s stick with Curry for a minute here. He currently produces about at a fairly elite rate along the lines of James Harden, Kobe Bryant, Deron Williams, and other offensive stars of OK-ish teams. Leaving that 10-12 range would put him in the stratosphere only three reached last season: LBJ, Durant, CP3. Do you see him in their league? I don’t.

The same is true with other metrics and players. Curry’s 272 3-pointers were a league record, so it’s unlikely he repeats that feat. David Lee was the only player in the NBA with 18 & 11 on 1000+ minutes. In short, some of these outlier superlatives by non-superstars might catch up with the Ws.

And speaking of regression, a couple of their players are at a point where they may be facing some age-related declines, most notably Iggy. While I hate the idea that NBA players decline automatically after 30, Andre has already started a downward trend in most advanced metrics. His PER and WS have been pretty steadily falling since 2007-08. If you look at his 2012-13 performance, he’s essentially a player with the same value as Kyle Lowry, Lance Stephenson or (ironically) Jack. And most predictive models would say that, at 30 this season, the decline is extremely likely to continue.

Plus, he creates some positional complications/bench problems that are the fourth reason to be cautious about declaring them a quasi-contender. Jack and Landry fit better with the holes on the Warriors’ roster, where Iggy’s presence will limit the minutes of the Harrison Barnes-Klay Thompson duo that contributed 7.1 wins last year. There’s certainly enough PT for all three guys to get 30+, but it cost them depth where they needed it: at PG and up front. As of right now, Barnes is their only really high quality backup.

But it’s not all doom and gloom…

What could go right for GSW

In fairness, the health issue has an upside, too. While it’s unlikely Steph plays 78+ games again, it’s also unlikely Bogut misses another 50. He had the fifth highest WS per 48 on the team last year, so if he’s able to manage a 60-70 game season, right there the win total should increase.

The most obvious upside area for these guys, though, is the unrealized potential of their young guys. I would venture a guess that Thompson will eclipse his 12.7 PER and 4.3 WS this year. Same goes for Barnes (11 and 2.8). Draymond Green, with his PER of 7 and his 0.6 WS, could become more than just a defensive pest.

But if I’m looking for upside, or evidence to truly believe they can climb higher than last year’s 6th place finish, a lot of it rests on that group.

In summary

The more I look at the list of players whose downside outweighs the upside, the more I think 5th/6th is the ceiling for this team next year rather than the middle of the range.

In other words, if all goes well, I still see them lacking the upside to overtake the Thunder, Spurs, Grizzlies, Rockets and Clippers. And “all goes well” is a pretty high bar: Curry has to stay healthy, he and Lee have to continue producing at their current level, Iggy has to buck the age trend to halt his downward slope, and their bench has to produce way outside those individual players’ norms.

If a few of those things don’t happen, not only will they not have the steam to catch the top 5 group, but they could be overtaken by other teams in a Western Conference that will probably be 10 or 11 deep again.

Either way, the 2014 pick will probably be in the mid teens to early 20s, so not a huge range of variance. But I wouldn’t guarantee their playoff spot just yet, and what the Jazz have coming next summer could actually be a decent asset.

 

 

Dan Clayton

Dan Clayton

Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City where his hobbies include complaining about League Pass, finding good doughnut shops and dishing out assists for the Thoreau It Down team in the Word Bookstore basketball league.
Dan Clayton

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18 Comments

  1. Clint Johnson says:

    Good analysis. Your conclusion is basically where I’ve arrived as well.

  2. dre ball says:

    wishful thinking. The W’s are at least 3-deep at every position, 6 starters and a great coach. Also, any holes they have will be fixed with the 3 big trade exceptions they have. Really, if Bogut(on a contract year) and Curry stay healthy, their ceiling is a top-3 seed

    • Dan Clayton says:

      three deep? who are you counting? ezeli? green? bazemore? jerm? all below-average guys. and you’re right about 6 starters, but take a closer look at those 6 starters. two are young guys who are still sporting PERs below the league average, one is a vet who has already started a steep declining trend, and the other three are fragile. they mortgaged all their depth to get a guy who has fallen from “elite defender and secondary scoring threat” to barely above average overall.

      to be top three, EVERYTHING would have to right for them, and I can’t imagine things going more right than they went last year.

    • Adam says:

      Remind me what proves Mark Jackson is a good coach? I’m reserving judgement until after this season. I’m really not sure if Mark Jackson is smart or if it was all Mike Malone. Remember Jackson is the same guy that tried to run Stockton out of Utah when he was still playing……….

  3. Yikes says:

    Wow! Why is this guy writing about the NBA? Sounds a bit bitter and a lot more ignorant and uninformed, if you ask me (or anyone else that actually knows what’s going on out there).

    • Dan Clayton says:

      You’re right, I’ve only covered the NBA for over a decade. Tell me where I said something that is wrong and I’ll be glad to discuss.

      • Casey Greer says:

        It drives me crazy how overrated Thompson and Barnes have become. I mean come on, they both had below average PER’s last season (as you pointed out). This hype came from big performances in the playoffs, but their season as a whole was pretty meh. It’s expected that they develop, but how much?

        The one thing that I disagree w/ in this analysis is the expectation that Curry will regress. Now while this is the usual case when it comes to record breaking seasons, I think Curry is the anomaly. His 3% might decrease, but what made him special the second half of last season was his 3PTA increased from 6.9 to 8.9 per game. He was essentially given the green light to shoot from deep any chance he got. Even if his 3% were to decrease, I expect this trend of very high 3pta volume to continue. Of course, this is all contingent on his continued health. All in all, really good article.

      • Yikes says:

        You sound like a dude more interested in reading spread sheets on PER’s and such. How ’bout actually watching a game or two to see what’s taking place on the court?
        “…but numbers say it won’t add that much to their win total”. Get out of Salt Lake City and watch some real basketball instead of looking at stats all day long. Thus, my handle is “Yikes”!

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  5. Johnathan Jazz says:

    Wow, terrible analysis, no wonder you talk about a local failure of a team and you can’t even do that right. Go back to writing about some high school buddy.

  6. WindyCityWarrior says:

    Not bad analysis, though a little statistics dominant. What is really going on with the Warriors, that is not revealed by numbers, is the emotional maturity that is now forming a winning culture.
    The defensive intensity from Bogut, Iguodala, Green, Thompson, Barnes, and Bazemore (clearly NOT a “below average” player, with what he adds to the team in inspirational value — and I’m betting he will produce in more minutes this coming season…) cannot really be measured with the PER…I am a little worried about the mechanics of the Warriors’ late game play-calling…Malone was the one running up plays in the huddle.
    prediction: 54 games…

    • Yikes says:

      My prediction for the Warriors… 78-4. The four losses, of course, coming at the hands of that vaunted Jazz team. Man, what a buzz saw over there in Salt Lake!

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