Taking Requests – The Golden State Warriors

Yesterday I noted how one can use offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency, and Wins Produced to examine how well NBA teams and players are performing this season. At the end of the post I said I would take requests. As I noted earlier today, apparently people are reading The Wages of Wins Journal and thought enough of my analysis to make such requests (which is kind of neat).

The first request came from Jeremy, who asked for more on the Golden State Warriors. Although my rule is one post per day, I don’t feel like doing much on my research today (or writing my syllabi for the next quarter). So here are some thoughts on the Warriors.

One paper I am currently working on is an examination of NBA coaching. The paper is co-authored with Mike Leeds (Temple) and Mike Mondello (Florida State) and gradually it’s nearing completion. Our tentative results thus far indicate that some coaches, although not all, appear to have a positive impact on player performance. One of these coaches is Don Nelson.

If we look at the Warriors in 2006-07 we see some evidence consistent with what our coaching research indicates. A number of Golden State players have improved. This list includes Andris Biedrins, Baron Davis, and Mickael Pietrus. Given what Golden State’s player did last year one might expect this team to win around 30 games. Yet after 30 games this year the team is on pace to win 42 contests. Is this the impact of Don Nelson?

Well, it might be. Cause and effect is difficult to pin down here. We do see Nelson coming on the scene and an up-tick in player performance. So there might be something to Nelson’s coaching.

Speaking of Nelson’s coaching methods, a few days ago Matt Buser – whose insights at Yahoo.com have proven quite useful for my fantasy basketball team – offered the following about Don Nelson’s use of a three-guard line-up:

Warriors coach Don Nelson had been using a three-guard lineup that included Baron Davis, Ellis, and Richardson as starters. But Nelson has made it clear that he won’t stick with it, saying “JR’s inability to rebound at the small forward kind of forces me to make that maybe a finishing team, not a team that I would play much.”

A few days ago I noted that Isiah Thomas’s extensive use of a three-guard line-up has cost the New York Knicks victories this season. This quote from Don Nelson illustrates why such a line-up might not help. Yes, a third scoring guard might help a team’s production of points (although it might not if the guards are inefficient scorers). But playing three guards typically hurts a team’s rebounding, and often that’s a trade-off that doesn’t help a team win games.

A final note on the Warriors: Although the team has received a boost for a number of players – including Matt Barnes who I failed to mention earlier – the team has received very little from Monta Ellis or Jason Richardson. Ellis can score, but he turns the ball over at a rate far above the average for his position. Richardson was quite productive last year, but this year has declined considerably. He has been hurt and the numbers suggest his injury has impacted his performance.

If Richardson can return to form and is able to take minutes from Ellis, this team could do even better the rest of the way. So things are looking up for Golden State. Again, is this Nelson? We don’t know for sure. But it doesn’t look like he’s hurting this team (and we are finding coaches who do).

– DJ

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