Playing for Keeps: Warriors Backcourt
With the players’ union and owners fully entrenched in labor talks (although it seems debatable just how invested both sides are to get a deal ironed out anytime soon), we have been robbed of summer league play, free agency, trades and more importantly trade rumors. Indeed, around the time of the NBA draft, Monta Ellis’ name had been involved in several rumors. The one that seemed to gain the most momentum had him and Andre Iguodala swapping spots.
The idea of the deal sparked a huge debate amongst Warriors fans; some would welcome the move whereas another faction felt as though anything short of Dwight Howard coming to town in a deal would be unacceptable. At the heart of it all though, Ellis’ name was floated into trade rumors because of the perception that backcourt composed of him and Stephen Curry could never fully prosper in the NBA given their lack of size as well as the perception that their games do not mesh together.
I have already stated on record that there is hope for the backcourt, provided that a solid defensive structure is presented to the team; something that was severely lacking last season. For all of their shortcomings on the defensive side of the ball, it is worth noting that coach Smart did not seem to place a huge emphasis on the team playing sound fundamental defense; preferring instead to focus most of his attention on how the group functioned on offense.
And yet, despite the offensive options that Golden State employed, far too often they seemed to rely on Ellis to bail them out. Between Monta Ellis, Stephen Curry, Dorell Wright, David Lee, Reggie Williams and Vladimir Radmanovic, the Dubs had plenty of players ready and willing to put up shots and score some points for the Warriors. However, too many times, Monta was the primary option in sets that the team ran.
According to Synergy Sports, Monta Ellis was featured in 484 isolation plays (6.1 per game) during the 2010-11 regular season, and converted 37.3 percent of his shot attempts in those situations. Also, the Warriors starting shooting guard was the ball handler in 543 pick and rolls (6.8 per game) and converted 49.5 percent of his field goal attempts in those situations (for comparison’s sake, Kobe Bryant had 9.0 isolation plays per game and 4.1 pick and rolls per game last season).
Synergy Sports tells us that Stephen Curry on the other hand “only” saw 197 isolation plays last season (2.7 per game) and made 43.1 percent of his shots that stemmed from isos. Also, the former Davidson star was involved in 392 pick and rolls (5.3 per game) and sported an impressive 49.1 percent field goal shooting and 39.1 percent 3-point field goal shooting in those situations.
In the grand scheme of things, this information is relevant in the sense that we can observe that the Warriors star guard benefitted from the proverbial green light in comparison to the team’s second leading scorer (Curry). Perhaps a philosophy that calls for less isolations and a little more ball movement might result in better offensive production overall from the team’s stars. Ponder this point for a moment: Ellis shot 44.9 percent from the field last season and yet a huge chunk of his field goal attempts came by way of isolation plays where he shot a fairly low percentage. Logic would dictate that if the team relies less on his one-on-one skills in the half court, the Warriors might well in fact become a more efficient team on offense.
As far as the defense goes, several share the opinion that the backcourt’s inability to consistently limit opposing guards overshadows their offensive production. That point is not without merit, however when a team devoid of good defensive players struggles on defense, there is more than one place to point the finger. For instance, do we blame Mark Whalberg and John Leguizamo because The Happening was a terrible movie? Of course not. They obviously deserve part of the blame, but clearly the director, screenwriter and executive producer need to be held accountable for the movie (by the way, I still want my money back after seeing the movie; and I’m not even the one that rented it).
Thus, in the case of the Warriors, the backcourt is at fault, but are they truly the biggest reasons for the team’s ineptitude on the defensive side of the ball?
Have a look at the five-man units the Dubs used last season and how they fared in the minutes they were on the floor (information obtained from 82games.com):
After having a look at the graph above, the one thing that stands out is that the Warriors’ worst lineup played the bulk of the minutes last season. Indeed, the quintet of Steph Curry, Monta Ellis, Dorell Wright, David Lee and Andris Biedrins were together on the court for 688 minutes and were actually the starting five early in the season.
If we dig deeper, the Warriors second best five-man unit last season came as a result of the demotion of Andris Biedrins. The insertion of Ekpe Udoh into the starting lineup led to the Dubs outscoring their opponents by 44 points.
That information is valuable when taking into account how the team performed with their starting backcourt on the floor. Have a look at some key plus-minus figures compiled by 82games.com:
|Player||On court||Off Court||Net|
The narrative about the Dubs has been that their starting guards inability to defend results in them getting outscored. And when we have a look at the on court/off court numbers, they seem to corroborate the theory. However, there is one wildcard in that equation: Andris Biedrins.
The Latvian center had by far the worse net plus-minus figure of any Warriors starter last year. Given the fact that the backcourt played the bulk of their minutes last season with Biedrins, doesn’t it stand to reason that their less than stellar net numbers would take a hit?
And yet, most people will have you believe that Curry and Ellis are completely doomed to fail…