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.
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.