Warriors Stumble On 50 Wins?

Jeremy Britton, an SF Bay Area interaction designer at ZURB, fell in love with NBA basketball as a kid while watching Eric “Sleepy” Floyd drop 28 fourth quarter points on the Lakers in front of a bank of TVs at a Bay Area Price Club with dozens of Warrior faithful. The Warriors took that thrilling game, but dropped the series 4-1. From Don Nelson (part 1), to Run TMC, Chris Webber, Latrell Sprewell attacking PJ Carlesimo with a 2×4, and their amazing “We Believe” run three years ago, Jeremy has inexplicably remained a part of the Warrior faithful but rarely been rewarded.

Hapless Warrior fans have focused their “we believe” energy almost exclusively on the chance reclusive, litigious owner Chris Cohan might sell the team to a more motivated owner this August. Yet even if the curse of Cohan is lifted, it’s not clear potential new owners Larry Ellison or the 24-hour Fitness guy can put a management team in place capable of assembling a winning team. If these owners aren’t shrewd with their money or their judgment of talent, they might dip too far into their own deep pocket and saddle Warrior fans with a version of the Knicks West.

But Wait…

A funny thing happened the day after the “The Decision” and amid all this new Warrior ownership talk. The current Warrior management led by GM Larry Riley traded Anthony Randolph, Ronny Turiaf, and Kelenna Azubuike to the New York Knicks for David Lee. Negative reactions from Warrior fans focused on how Turiaf and Azubuike had “heart” (they were fan favorites), on Randolph’s wild card “potential,” and on Lee’s perceived lack of defense and new expensive contract. But how does this move change the Warriors’ productivity at power forward?

 

 The move to get David Lee suggests a big jump in productivity at power forward–about a 14.4 win improvement. A quick back-of-the-napkin calculation suggests a 39 win team next year. Not great, but better. The Warriors didn’t have the horses at this position last year, but by replacing classic Nellie “small ball” with Lee — a great rebounder and efficient shooter — their fortunes should improve.

Unexpected Reason for Even More Optimism

What about the Warriors’ other moves? They drafted Ekpe Udoh with the sixth pick, traded Corey Maggette in a ‘contract dump’ for Dan Gadzuric and Charlie Bell, signed free agent Dorell Wright, and are letting fan favorite free agents C.J. Watson and Anthony Morrow sign with other teams. Let’s just say those yellow “We Believe” shirts will stay neatly tucked into dresser drawers.

The Warriors also hold out hope for Andris Biedrins and Brandan Wright to return from injury (they missed 131 games together last season) and for improvement from returning rookies Stephen Curry and Reggie Williams. [Note: I haven’t factored likely second year improvement in yet.] This is the same kind of ‘hope’ Warrior fans strain their eyes to see every summer, so ho-hum, right? But wait–what impact might all these moves have on the Warrior’s ability to win next season? Potentially, a lot.

Wins by position:

As the chart above shows, the Warriors might expect to win about 25.8 more games in 2010-11, making them a 50 win team. They see almost all of this improvement on their front line, first with Lee at power forward, and then at center and small forward.

At center we factor in the (somewhat) healthy return of Andris Biedrins.  Specifically, let’s imagine him at his 2008-09 form (a season he missed 22 games and was a shade below his peak productivity). If Biedrins returns to that kind of form, the Warriors will gain better than 7 wins at center.

At small forward the Warriors replace a collection of lesser players with a full season of Reggie Williams and newly acquired free agent Dorell Wright. Williams surprised fans last year, but as Wages of Wins pointed out, based on his college performance his good NBA performance shouldn’t be a surprise at all. Wright, meanwhile, has been an unheralded but positive contributor almost every year he spent in Miami.

 Who will get the credit if 50 wins pans out?

If this estimate is actually how it goes next season, the big story in Oakland will be about how the Warriors did it. Will the most productive players take the credit? More likely new ownership will somehow take a large share of the credit off the court (curse lifted?), while the Warriors’ leading scorers will take it on the court.

Stephen Curry, David Lee, and Reggie Williams will receive the lion’s share of the credit due to their scoring (and actually deserve much of it), while the lower scoring contributions of Dorell Wright, Brandan Wright, and Andris Biedrins will take an undeserved backseat for the team’s turn of good fortune.

Either way, most of the credit should go to a general manager no Warrior fan believes in, who doesn’t even know what kind of winning team he has assembled, and who may not even be employed by the Warriors in time to enjoy their success–Larry Riley.

EPILOGUE / ALTERNATE ENDING

How the Warriors Could Still Screw It All Up

The moves being made by current general manager Larry Riley are a mixed bag. While the Lee and Wright acquisitions bode well, the Maggette trade and Udoh pick suggest Riley stumbling through these decisions without a clear measure of player evaluation.

Rumors that the Warriors will trade Andris Biedrins in another ‘contract dump’ could threaten to drop the Warriors right back into the middle of the pack. Coach Don Nelson, both notorious and successful for his unconventional lineups, could shoot his team in the foot with “small ball” by sitting Biedrins and Wright too much, or by relying on Lee too much at center.

However, other rumors of a Monta Ellis trade could improve their weakest position. At shooting guard Ellis produced almost zero wins in a lot of minutes. Let’s just hope the bad moves continue to be more than offset by the good ones as the Warriors stumble into next season.

- Jeremy Britton

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