By Tyler Lashbrook (@lashy)
Arbitrary lists don’t hold much value, but they do provide a fun way to gauge how a team is positioned amongst other teams. Each week, we will take a look at how three different Power Rankings lists evaluate the Warriors and if those rankings are fair, unfair or just about right. With that, let’s begin.
Last week ESPN, Sports Illustrated and CBS Sports all listed the Warriors at No. 11—as if the three sports conglomerates worked together cohesively, as to not misplace the boys from the Bay Area. This week, after two wins and a two-point loss to the Spurs, both SI and CBS Sports have bumped the Warriors up to No. 9.
Placing Golden State ninth is fair, but it’s important to note that the Warriors are ninth in the Western Conference and would miss the playoffs if the season ended today. Only two Eastern Conference teams – Miami and Indiana – are unanimously better and the middle of the Western Conference is a bit of a logjam, with three games separating fifth place from ninth, so it’s not some shocker to place Golden State in the Top 10.
ESPN’s Marc Stein lists the Warriors at No. 10, with the team leap-frogging a confused Timberwolves squad, but not getting past the surging Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks have won three games in a row, but every game has been at home against teams with losing records. Atlanta’s offense is slightly better – for now – than Golden State’s, but its defense is a few ticks worse. The Warriors last three losses have all came against winning teams – Houston, Phoenix, San Antonio – and have been by a combined 10 points.
Stein’s ranking is fair. Keeping the Warriors in that 9-11 range is optimal and ranking them in either direction tips the scale towards unfair. Stein does reference a week-old article in which Mark Jackson expresses his disapproval of the team’s desire, and Stein calls it “worrisome.” Take that how you will, but I think it’s a bit of an overreaction from the ESPN scribe. The real atrocity in his rankings is that he has Minnesota, at 13-15, above Denver who is 14-12 and currently sitting in the No. 8 seed.
Power rankings aren’t built on last week’s slip ups, and ranking the Warriors lower than No. 11 – where they were last week – would completely ignore that the Warriors played almost a full month without Andre Iguodala. CBS Sports notes that the Warriors look better with Iguodala, but it’s also important to note that Iguodala himself hasn’t looked the same. The team is 2-1 in his return, but he hasn’t really done much in those three games, averaging just four points, two assists and two rebounds in 24 minutes. It’s hard, however, to imagine a scenario in which that mini-slump continues as Iguodala is one of the most versatile – offensively and defensively – wing men in the NBA.
Golden State, on the season, is better with Iguodala. With him on the floor, the Warriors’ offense jumps up to 109.1 points per 100 possessions and the defense tightens up to 94.7 points per 100 possessions. That +14.4 net rating is 10.4 points per 100 possessions better than the Warriors, as a team, so, yeah, the Warriors are better with a healthy Iguodala. Now it’s just a matter of getting him healthy and back into a rhythm.
Man, though, that Spurs loss wasn’t good. I mean, it was a trap game and it seems (no statistical evidence to back this up) like the Spurs are just as good when their main players get a rest, but losing to any team without three of its most important components is a bit of a slap in the face. Especially when two guys – Stephen Curry and David Lee – combined for 62 points.
But Golden State should hit some sort of groove sometime soon. It hasn’t won over two games in a row since mid-November, and it’s tough to imagine a scenario in which the team doesn’t rip off four or five wins straight soon. Monday’s game against the Nuggets starts a tough, three-game stretch against Denver, Phoenix and the Los Angeles Clippers. From there, the team heads out east for a seven-game road swing. Road trips are never easy, especially from one side of the country to the other, but, outside of a game in Miami, their lowly opponents are a combined 60-98. If ever there were a time to find a rhyme, it might be in the form of an easy Eastern Conference swing.