A Tale of Two Teams, Part 1

As I type this post, the Warriors have lost their last 2 games, both at home. They’ve also lost 6 of their last 8 and 12 of their last 17. Their record since opening the new year up with a win against the Clippers on January 2nd is just 13-19. Coincidentally, that date marks exactly the halfway point in the 64 games Golden State has played this season. That isn’t actually relevant to their struggles, but it IS a perfect jumping off point for me to illustrate just how different a team they’ve been since improving to 22-10 that night.

We’re going to start with rebounding, because for any Warrior fan who’s watched most of the recent games, the lack of it is often painfully, aggravatingly obvious. Often, I find myself screaming at the TV for someone, anyone, to box out or chase down a long board, but to no avail. So to set the stage, here are some blunt numbers:

Through 32 games, the Warriors Total Rebound Rate was 52.6 (courtesy of NBAwowy.com). What that means is they took possession of 52.6% of all rebounds, and that their opponent rebounding just 47.4% of them. For reference, that mark would rank them 3rd in the league today (according to Hoopdata.com), behind just Memphis and Indiana. To say the least, the Warriors were extremely good at rebounding the ball to begin the season. Somehow more impressive was their commitment to the defensive boards, where they rebounded 75.5% of all rebounds. Only New York, whom the Warriors play tonight, has rebounded better on that end on the year (Tyson Chandler, anyone?). The Warriors were not the same stalwarts on the offensive glass, but they once would have qualified for 11th, with a rate of 27.9 through the first 32 games.

But what about now? How has the rebounding fared during the 2nd part of the season? Not well. Even looking at just the raw numbers for the entire season, the Warriors are now 9th, 4th, and 22nd where they were once 3rd, 2nd, and 11th. Given we’re looking at two halves of the total games played, do the math in your head and try to figure out where that means they rank since.

Their once large rebounding advantage over teams has disappeared entirely, falling all the way to 49.4 in the last 32 games. The defensive rebounding has dropped to 74.7, and on offense it’s fallen all the way to 23.3. Let’s compare that to the math you may or may not have tried: Those numbers would rank them 20th, 7th, and 25th respectively. That’s quite the fall, especially given the fact that their starting center and rebounding standout has returned since that mark in the season.

But that may be exactly the problem. While defensive rebounding has fallen a but in the recent games, it’s the offensive rebounding that has really plummeted. If you haven’t figure out why yet, let me help you out. Festus Ezeli. For all the comments fans have made about his rock-hard hands and silly fouls (myself included), Ezeli is a tremendous offensive rebounder. With his minutes so limited in the 2nd half of the season, the Warriors shooters aren’t getting the open second chance looks that they once were. He isn’t the only change, though. Both Carl Landry and David Lee have seen significant dips in their own offensive rebounding numbers. To illustrate just how many fewer shot opportunities Golden State is getting, here are some more numbers from nbawowy.com:

In the first 32 games, the Warriors shot 112 shots coming off offensive rebounds from teammates, to just 91 since. Of those 112, Klay Thompson shot 31 and Stephen Curry shot 25. That’s a total of 56 combined shots. Of those, 39 were from long-range, and on those shots, Thompson and Curry combined to make 22 of them. Yes, that’s right. They scored 66 points on those shots. Klay Thompson, specifically, excelled at converting 2nd chance opportunities, making 14 of 23 from deep, while scoring 46 points on his 31 shots overall.

As at team, the Warriors attempted 290 2nd chance shots (meaning 178 put-backs) at a clip of 54.8% (eFG, a summation of points per FG attempt, regulating for 3s). Most of that advantage came from the incredible percentages of Curry and Klay from deep (74.6% eFG as a team from long range). Since, however, they’ve attempted just 257 in the same number of games and actually, 9 more possessions. They’ve attempted 16 less 3s, and Steph and Klay specifically, have seen their 2nd chance opportunities fall from 56 to just 42. Unsurprisingly, the number of 2nd chance 3-pointers attempted has fallen by a similar number, 58 to 42.

Let’s look at the measurable impact of the loss of those rebounds. The Warriors scored 318 2nd-chance points in the 32 games. The following 32? Just 280. While 38 points over 32 games may not seem like a whole bunch, many models predict that even that small difference can be responsible for as big as swing as 5 or 6 games, just to this point in the season.

But while quantifying the numbers helps to illustrate the problem, it does not explain why the issues are present or how to fix them. We do gain the knowledge from them that Ezeli not playing as much hurts team rebounding, but what of Landry and Lee? Why have their numbers declined so much since the Warriors went to 12 games over .500? And why has the Warriors defensive rebounding not improved with a really good rebounder like Bogut in the lineup?

This probably has to do with a lot of things, chief among them being Bogut’s injuries. Yet again, I can draw a comparison between him and Dwight Howard, in that neither has the energy to fight on the offensive glass when they’re not at their best. It’s physical, taxing, and specific to back injuries, likely painful. I mention Dwight because his short-comings have been thoroughly covered this season, and if you’re interested there are numerous posts out there about them. As for Bogut, he’s still is not at full health, and hasn’t been at any point this season, just like Dwight. He doesn’t have his wind or full range of movement, speed, and athleticism. Given how much a product of effort offensive rebounding is, expecting Bogut to be great there while recovering is probably just a dream.

But for Lee and Landry, lack of effort is inexcusable. They’ve returned to bad habits, like slapping at the ball rather than fighting for position, and not using two hands when they go up and try to get it. But even more so, they’ve retreated from being as aggressive as they once were. I think a lot of it has to do with their own energy. They, along with Jarrett Jack, began the season playing the best basketball of their careers. They were putting more effort in and without question being the “battlers” that Mark Jackson wanted them to be. Every once and a while, that player has shown up since the hot start, but more or less, they look like completely different players. The easiest way to describe it? Lazy. I know they’re tired, but they need to put maximum effort out on the court. The Warriors are not big enough, strong enough, athletic enough, or talented enough to skate by. They got to this point exactly how Mark Jackson says they have. By battling.

So even if that means less minutes for them and perhaps more time for Ezeli or Biedrins, that’s fine. Get them rested so they are doing all the things they need to be. Because I’m tired of seeing them revert to their bad habits out of fatigue, if that is indeed the reason for it (for everyone’s sake, I hope it is). With the way Bogut is playing, a little more energy off the bench from Festus wouldn’t be the worst thing in the World. He’s actually been our most effective center this season, simply for his willingness to be active and battle on the block and on the glass to open up rebounds for himself and his teammates. No, he’s not very good, but he provides things that the Warriors need, and I hope Mark Jackson can start recognizing that again.


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