Q&A with Stan Van Gundy
Stan Van Gundy is quite the personality.
SVG was a participant in two panels at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston this past weekend, a conference explaining and expanding the growing movement that is the use analytics in sports.
Whether being brutally honest about the Dwight Howard situation in Orlando during the “It’s Not You, It’s Me: Break-Ups in Sports” panel or candidly admitting that he is the only member of the “Basketball Analytics” panel who is currently unemployed, SVG is a treat.
On Saturday, SVG took some time out of his ridiculously busy schedule to talk (I was also joined by Frank Gomez of Bay Area Ball and The Bay Area Sports Report) about everything Golden State Warriors. Topics included the Warriors second half, Stephen Curry’s ceiling, whether Andrew Bogut can be a real difference maker for this team, David Lee’s defense (or lack thereof) and more. SVG, always known for being a great interview and better person, didn’t disappoint.
Q: What have you seen from the Warriors so far this season and what do you see for them going forward? Do you think they can maintain the sixth spot in the Western Conference?
A: Well they’ve got a lot of home games left. I’m not sure if I were them I’d worry about the sixth spot, I’d worry about just getting into the playoffs. I think people in the Bay Area since early in the year have started to take that for granted. I think that’s not at all a sure thing. Now, their schedule is favorable and they play a lot of home games down the stretch. But the problem that has happened with the Warriors, all you got to do is look at the numbers. Up through December they were a top ten defensive team in the league, since January 1st they’ve been a bottom five team defensively. That’s a dramatic shift. I think Mark Jackson and his staff did a great job, they were coming out of training camp and they understood they needed to improve defensively and on the boards and they did that for two months — November and December — they defended, they rebounded, now they do neither again. They’re sort of back to the old Warriors who can score points but we don’t guard anybody and we don’t rebound. Now it puts too much pressure on your offense and so if you don’t have a great shooting night you can’t win and that’s where they are right now. They need to defend and I don’t now how they’re going to get back to that at this point.
Q: Andrew Bogut has obviously been in and out of this lineup this season, frustrating not only Warriors management but also fans. Its come to the point now where many people believe this team is better without him on the floor. When Bogut does come back into this lineup and is fully healthy, do you think he can take this team to another level?
A: Oh absolutely. Andrew Bogut, when he plays, is a very good player. Unfortunately, and we have a lot of big guys like this in the league — Andrew Bynum, Andrew Bogut — who are very talented guys who have great size and can really help you. There’s one big problem: they don’t play very much basketball. They just don’t play very much basketball. That’s been their history. Fans are disappointed when they go out and it’s almost to be expected, those guys miss a lot of games. I almost think now if you’re the Golden State Warriors you’ve got to look at anything Andrew Bogut can give you as a bonus. It’s hard to count on and I feel bad saying that. I don’t think Andrew Bogut’s a guy who doesn’t want to play or doesn’t have game tolerance or anything like that. Sometimes I just think with bigger guys there’s just structural problems that make them very injury prone and they can’t get through it.
Q: Despite their recent struggles, how surprised are you at the Warriors success this season?
A: Well, it definitely was surprising. I was surprised as to how well they did. But when you look at the numbers it wasn’t that hard. I can say it for most teams. The Knicks have gone through it for example. They come out of training camp, those teams who had both been good offensive teams seem to have really made a commitment to get better defensively. They get off to great starts but the problem is the offense for both of those teams became easy, they were scoring points easily. I think the players, I don’t think it’s the coaches, the players defensive commitment declines, declines, declines and declines. Both of those teams have gone back right to where they were a year ago. They score points, they don’t play any defense, the record reflects it and both of those teams since January 1st have been mediocre teams, the Warriors actually have been below .500 since January 1st, the Knicks a little bit above .500. You’ve gotta play both ends of the floor, but I think if you look at the numbers on teams that have gone a long way, you find out that over time defense will get you further than offense. I thought the Warriors players understood that to start the year but it appears now they didn’t get it.
Q: Speaking of defense, I know you were in the room for “The Dwight Effect” panel. David Lee…
A: Yeah…(laughs). He didn’t get a great review on that panel. Look, that has never been David Lee’s strength. If you’re going to evaluate David Lee strictly as a defender, yeah, he’s not very good. But it’s like every player, everybody has strengths and weaknesses. You’d like to see David Lee be better there but he’s a tremendously skilled offensive player, he rebounds the basketball, he’s an unselfish guy, he’s a guy of high character, so you’ve gotta take the bad with the good. And I think in putting together a basketball team you have to decide what’s important to you and what you can get on the market and everything else. And I think what the Warriors looked at is, “Well, we’re gonna have Andrew Bogut.” So, Andrew Bogut is going to be protecting the basket and that’s not really what David Lee is built to do. Now what they’ve had to do is play David Lee significant minutes as the center because of the injuries. A lot of times they go small when they’re playing Harrison Barnes at the four, Klay Thompson and Jarrett Jack. David is going to have problems, that’s just not what he does well. The study is right, and if that’s all you were looking at on David Lee you can disparage him, but that’s just not at all who he is. He does a lot of other very good things.
Q: Stephen Curry is now facing elite defenders, one example being last night’s game against the Celtics with Avery Bradley. Can Curry continue to be successful with the new defensive strategies coming his way?
A: Absolutely, he’s good enough. He’s going to get shots. That’s what all the great players have to go through. I think Mark [Jackson] last night made great adjustments. When he saw he was struggling with Avery Bradley’s ball pressure he brings Jarrett Jack in the game and had him handle the ball. That allowed Steph to run off screens and Avery Bradley had a hard time chasing him off screens. I think Mark and his staff have done a good job of finding ways in every situation to get him shots. I think in the long run he’ll be fine. And of course, they’re on a long road trip, he’s going to wear down a little bit at times but he’ll get that back. If they can get in the playoffs the playoffs are far less fatiguing, the travel is not as bad, you’re not playing back to backs like they are tonight. Everything changes.
Q: Can Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson form a formidable NBA backcourt?
A: I think they definitely can. When you look at Klay Thompson, he’s basically a catch and shoot guy. Now he can put it on the floor a little bit but basically he’s a catch and shoot guy. Stephen Curry is a very unselfish guy. In addition to his shooting he does a great job at getting the ball to open people. What Klay Thompson does is he opens up the floor to give them space. You’ve got to stay home on Klay Thompson. The question with those two guys is will they defend well enough to play together? That’s the question for the Warriors. I think they’ve done a great job at maximizing their offensive potential. I thought coming out of training camp they were committed defensively, they’ve lost that. To be a good team they’ve got to get that back somehow and they’re just not doing it. I think their defense of late — and the numbers will back that up — has just not been good enough.
Q: What’s Stephen Curry’s ceiling as a point guard in this league?
A: I think he’s already one of the top four or five point guards in the league, probably. He’s a great offensive player. He can handle the ball, he can get to where he needs to get on the floor, he can shoot both off the catch and off the dribble, he can even take the ball to the basket when you really get up on him. Offensively he really doesn’t have a lot of limitations. His improvements really have to come on the other end of the floor.
Q: One final question, this one not pertaining to the Warriors: what are your thoughts on what LeBron James is accomplishing this season?
A: Oh my God. No really. He went through that 12 game streak where he was averaging almost 30 points a game shooting 65% from the floor. We really haven’t seen perimeter play at that level in the NBA maybe ever. It’s just unprecedented. This guy has been incredible. His shooting has really changed his whole game. There was a great stat in one of the analytics panels the other day: in 04’-05’ he was the second worst jump shooter in the league amongst players who shot more than 400 jump shots. Now, there are only two players better than him as jump shooters, which opens up his entire game. Now when you try to get out on the floor to play him you can’t guard him. It used to be you can back off, you can’t do that anymore. You’ve got to give a guy credit who’s made that much improvement in that area of the game.