First Quarters, Defensive Rebounding and Harrison Barnes
The Warriors are bleeding. Since capping a five-game winning streak on February 2nd to go a season-high 13 games above .500, Golden State has lost 10 of 13 games and finds itself facing doubts not felt since this season’s early stages. The Warriors are still four games ahead of the ninth place Los Angeles Lakers and seem a relatively safe playoff bet, but the sure-thing optimism gleaned from January is long gone.
Why? Defense. Since a 113-93 win at Phoenix on February 2nd, Golden State’s defensive efficiency is a mind-boggling 109.9. On five occasions during this humbling stretch have the Warriors allowed at least 115 points, and in half of their remaining four losses has the opposition reached 108. Those other two games, defeats at Memphis and Boston, Golden State has kept the winners below 100 points but surrendered shooting percentages of 46 and 48 percent.
Yikes. This is not the same team that rode a revamped near-top 10 defense to such great success in the season’s first three months. Instead, the Warriors are the collective sieve the Bay’s been accustomed to over the years, the one we expected to see so much of in 2012-2013 despite realistic preseason playoff hopes.
Offense was to be this group’s calling card, and from a big picture perspective that’s been the case; Golden State currently ranks ninth in offensive efficiency at 103.9. But since that win over Phoenix what seems like a lifetime ago, the Warriors have compiled a humdrum rating of 101.4. With a defense finally regressing to mean or even worse, middling offense won’t cut it.
And that goes without saying, but it’s even truer when a team’s consistently playing catch up after the first quarter.
The Warriors have been outscored by 71 points in the opening stanza during this timeframe, an average post-quarter deficit of 5.9 points. It’d be preferable to pin their early game struggles on a specific side of the floor, too; instead, they’ve been almost equally bad on both.
Golden State’s first quarter defensive rating since February 2nd is a sky-high 119.6, a full 10 points worse than Sacramento’s league-worst season-long mark. But wait, there’s good news! The Warriors’ first quarter efficiency on the other end over the last 13
games wouldn’t rank last in the NBA. Instead, their 97.3 offensive rating outpaces 30th-place Washington’s by more than a point. In these dire straits, it’s best to look at things glass half-full.
There’s many reasons for Golden State’s putrid play in the game’s first 12 minutes, but none stands out with respect to the remaining three quarters like rebounding. The team’s been lauded all season long for its near 180-degree prowess on the defensive glass, going from dead last in 2011-2012 to fourth this season in that category. And, interestingly, the Warriors 50.8 total rebounding rate since February 2nd is just a hair worse than their season-long, 10th-ranked number of 51.1.
Which is amazing, considering Golden State is grabbing just 46.6% of available rebounds over the same time period. What’s that number for the remainder of regulation? A robust 52.2. There are two sides to the rebounding game, obviously, and the Warriors’ offensive mark has remained pretty static all season; with regard to quarter, specific calendar sample, whatever. In the last month, though, their defensive rebounding rate (DRR) has hit seismic lows in the initial 12 minutes of the game.
Golden State’s first quarter DRR since 2/2: 71.2%. The rest of regulation: 79%, a mark almost four points better than New York’s league-leading total number. The question, then, is why? Such a major discrepancy begs more analysis, but tiny sample sizes robs us of any valuable five-man lineup data. Instead, we have to make due with individual numbers.
First thing’s first – David Lee, Andrew Bogut, Draymond Green, Festus Ezeli, Andris Biedrins and Carl Landry aren’t the problem here. They each posted a better or similar DRR prior to the sample size than they have during it. Basically, this can’t be blamed on the frontcourt. Klay Thompson and Steph Curry aren’t the culprits, either, and though Jarrett Jack’s seen his DRR dip from 11.0 to 7.2, he comes off the bench.
Believe it or not, the biggest reason for Golden State’s major dip in first quarter DRR is the play of Harrison Barnes. Before February, the rookie boasted a solid DRR of 15.7; the typical small forward grabs 14.9% of available defensive boards. So while he wasn’t quite elite in that arena, Barnes was more than holding his own and certainly a boon to Golden State’s efforts on the glass. Over the last 13 games, though, Barnes has posted a paltry DRR of 8.8. For reference, both Curry and Thompson’s marks are well above 10.0. Barnes, for whatever reason, has recently had the same impact on the defensive backboard as Luke Ridnour. For any small forward, let alone a player with his considerable physical profile, that’s simply an unacceptable truth.
There’s more to Golden State’s month-long woes than poor first quarters, there’s more to poor first quarters than suddenly deficient defensive rebounding, and there’s more to deficient defensive rebounding than Barnes’ abominable individual figures. Ancillary factors privy to only those on the inside like scheme, new responsibilities or even off-court contention present some surface reasonable doubt. But this is an investigation, and all evidence – analytical or otherwise – that could lead to best understanding the Warriors plight deserve a fair chance at trial.
There’s no judge here ready to pound his gavel one way or another, no jury deliberating whether to support or defend these assertions. But, certainly, it’s all worth more scrutiny. And should Golden State continue these losing ways and fall closer to losing their once firm grip on the postseason, first quarters, the defensive glass and Barnes’ low impact on them will probably have been a reason why.
Statistical support for this article provided by NBA.com.
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