The Four Factors of basketball success are as follows: shooting (40%), turnovers (25%), rebounding (20%), free throws (15%). That’s a thought easy and novel enough, especially when considering the assigned weight of each category. It makes sense that shooting is almost twice as influential to a team’s success than any other facet, just like it does turnovers are next on the list followed by rebounding and free throws. Those four categories encompass all the intricacies of basketball as a whole when examining them below the surface, drawing and committing fouls relating to free throws as strategy on either end does to rebounds.
Dean Oliver, author of Basketball on Paper and oft-cited as the Bill James of hoops, is credited with this revelation even though it’s actually anything but revelatory. Are you surprised that shooting a good percentage, rebounding well, not turning it over, getting to the free throw line and keeping the opponent from doing the same are such overwhelming corollaries with respect to winning? Of course not, but where James deserves recognition for the Four Factors is that it keeps things simple in the infinite world of advanced statistics.
That’s not to say there aren’t other meaningful stats out that don’t fall under the Four Factors umbrella. Far from it. But those that do – effective field goal percentage, turnover rate, offensive rebound rate, and free throw rate – combine to do the best job of quickly illustrating why a team is winning or losing.
So how do the Warriors fare in the Four Factors so far? Read on for a breakdown of Golden State’s early-season strengths and weaknesses, some of which paint a stark contrast to those of 2011-2012.
- Own: 46.85% (17th)
- Opponent: 47.00 (13th)
- Net: -.15 (14th)
There are encouraging signs here. First and important for projection’s sake is how the Warriors are limiting their opponents. Ranking 13th in opponent eFG% would obviously be disappointing for traditional defensive juggernauts like Boston and Chicago longterm, but for a Golden State squad that finished 23rd in the same category last season this is a major step in the right direction. And considering Andrew Bogut has missed several games and been extremely limited even in the ones he’s played, it’s reasonable to suggest that number at least won’t get worse as the season wears on. Take into account the early and unsustainable struggles of marksmen Stephen Curry (a brutal 44.2% eFG) and Klay Thompson (46.5% eFG), and this is a team clearly ripe for improvement on an already respectable net ranking of 14th. So there are good vibes for the Warriors in basketball’s most important factor, impressive considering the mitigating circumstances – injuries, rotation questions, continuity issues, etc. – of the early season.
- Own: 15.20 (20th)
- Opponent: 14.30 (15th)
- Net: .90 (21st)
First a look at Golden State’s marks from last season in the same categories: ninth, 18th, 13th. Those numbers are solid considering all the moving parts of 2011-2012 and thus looked to be a potential strength of the team a year later. That hasn’t been the case so far, though, a development which could be explained by the same circumstances that made last year’s marks impressive: new players, new schemes, etc. So expecting improvement here offensively is reasonable as the rotation gets consistency and players become more comfortable with one another, just as the health of Bogut and continued growing comfort of Harrison Barnes speaks to the same on defense. A quick individual note which will hardly surprise – Festus Ezeli’s turnover rate of 16.64 ranks seventh-worst among centers playing at least 15 minutes per game, a fact made worse by his lack of offensive responsibility and paltry 12.64 usage rate. He’s not Kendrick Perkins bad here, but he might be the NBA’s next best – wait, worst – thing.
- Own: 26.34 (16th)
- Opponent: 24.90 (ninth)
- Net: 1.44 (12th)
The Warriors ranked second-worst in offensive rebounding last season and worst in defensive rebounding, yielding a predictable net rate that was the NBA’s worst. If not for a historically pathetic offensive rebounding showing by Boston, they would’ve ranked last in rebounding by a wide, wide margin. The Celtics had their reasons for their woes on the boards, though – an upside-down offense and refusal to allow fast break opportunities. Golden State? Not so much. Thankfully, the Warriors have fared much, much better so far in 2012 and seem primed to continue this pace. They added two active and strong bigs in Carl Landry and Ezeli, and Bogut has always been a very good rebounder when healthy, too. If GS is to prove good on optimistic preseason expectations and sneak into the playoffs, this may prove the reason why.
- Own: 30.5 (eighth)
- Opponent: 37.0 (29th)
- Net: -6.70 (23rd)
There’s some interesting stuff here. Of no surprise is the Warriors foul-happy defense; Golden State ranked fourth-worst in opponent free throw rate in Mark Jackson’s first season, and David Lee, Barnes, Thompson, and Curry each rank among the league’s leaders in fouls per game so far in 2012. Golden State’s three rugged frontcourt acquisitions are a factor, too. It’s exceedingly likely, then, that the Warriors will continue to struggle here just like they did last season. But unlike 2011-2012, the Dubs are drawing some fouls of their own this year, improving their own free throw rate ranking by 21 spots. Whether that’s sustainable or not remains to be seen, but it seems possible if not likely; Landry has always been a free-throw machine and Curry and Thompson are getting to the paint more than ever. That latter development is likely contributing to their shooting woes, though, so maybe they’ll settle more as the season goes on. But regardless, it’s clear the Warriors will earn more easy points this season than they did last season. The problem is that the opponent will still be at the stripe more often, one that plagued GS in 2011-2012.