Editor's Note (Atma Brother #1): Last but not least for our 2009-2010 Golden State Warriors player recaps and previews is Kelenna Azubuike. To end things with a triumphant bang we've got our old friend Jason Gurney to drop science about Kaz. If you remember, Jason is the genius behind the uber-2007-2008 Golden State Warriors preview- Ghost of Seasons Past.
Kelenna Azubuike enjoyed a breakout season in 2008-09, and Warriors fans can thank Maurice Evans and the Atlanta Hawks that it went down in Oakland instead of L.A. As you may remember from last summer, Warriors management had decided to pinch a few pennies by replacing Azubuike with Evans under a 3-year, $6.4 million deal. It wasn't until Evans rejected Golden State's offer to sign for more with the Hawks that Warriors management backed into a good decision: matching the Clippers' 3-year, $9.4 million offer to Azubuike. That modest signing paid off: Azubuike's 2008-09 numbers improved in nearly every category--most notably his scoring average, which jumped from 8.5 to 14.4 points per game.
Photo by Raps Fan
Part of the increased production can be explained by the simple fact that Azubuike spent more time on the court in his second full year in the league. With nearly every other Golden State regular losing significant time to injuries, he ended up leading the team in minutes played. From the chart below comparing the players who earned the most money with the players who played the most minutes, it's pretty clear that things didn't go according to plan for the 29-53 Dubs.
More importantly, Azubuike's efficiency was also up last season. See the graph below comparing 2008-09 to 2007-08: he knocked down a higher percentage of his field goals, 3-point shots (good for 4th-best in the league), and free throws, plus also drew more fouls--all leading to a higher True Shooting %.
Basketball-Reference.com has a statistic called Win Shares, which attempts to translate a player's total boxscore contributions over the course of a season into team wins. Azubuike recorded 4.1 win shares on the year--not a great absolute number, but good enough for 2nd place on a 29-win team (after Andris Biedrins). When you map win shares to salary, Azubuike and some of his low-priced teammates look even better:
Bottom line: the team performed better last year when Azubuike was playing. Opponents scored 3.3 points per 100 possessions fewer when he was on the floor, which is more than you can say for Stephen Jackson (as Tom Ziller pointed out last week). And Azubuike's raw +/- numbers landed him on Tim Kawakami's season honor roll.
Photo by gg99
One person who hates to see Azubuike's emergence is Mark Cuban, as Adam Lauridsen pointed out this past summer when June 2008 transcripts from Cuban's ongoing legal battle with Don Nelson were released. The Mavericks owner was already bitter about losing him:
During that season Donnie had helped, and I think Nellie may have participated as well, Sydney Moncrief get a job as the D-league coach for our D-league affiliate. And Donnie had come to me and said, look, there's kid that were going to put in the D-league to help get some experience named Kelenna Azubuke [sic], and we really like this kid. You know, we think he can contribute, maybe not be a starter, but be a second team player, second unit player, and -- at the minimum, but lets see how he plays in Fort Worth. And we did that. And Nellie had a better relationship than we did with Mr. Moncrief, I guess, and Mr. Azubuke went to play for the Warriors.
(Of course, that's one nice thing about having worked in the league for nearly five decades - Nellie was Moncrief's coach in Milwaukee in the early/mid eighties before his first GSW stint.)
So, while Azubuike was having a career season in Oakland, Dallas was severely lacking quality wing players. Here's how bad it was: Devean George and Antoine Wright started a combined 70 games for the Mavs. Both of those guys posted anemic single-digit Player Efficiency Ratings, and John Hollinger didn't pull punches in his 2008-09 recaps:
Azubuike is undoubtedly a favorite of Warriors management at this point. He brings 5-position versatility, efficiency, and reliability for roughly the amount they withheld from Monta Ellis over Scooter-Gate.
For Warriors fans, there's a lot to like as well--the guns, the undrafted/D-League backstory, the fact that he's one of just 4 players left from the We Believe run ... so why isn't he more popular?
Simple: Anthony Morrow. Morrow is a lot like Azubuike, but a little newer and a little better:
Photo by djwalkingstick
To predict how well Azubuike will do in 2009-10 (and in turn, what happens with his 2010-11 player option), you can try to answer two questions:
The first question is a real stumper. Thanks to trades, injuries and Nellie's rotating rotation, minutes in Oakland were ridiculously inconsistent last year. The team's most-used 5-man-unit logged just 85 minutes of floor time together--lowest in the league by far in 2008-09. In comparison, the Sacramento Kings, who posted the next-lowest high of 209 minutes, saw 5 different 5-man units log at least as much time together as the Golden State's most popular unit. Boston's starting five played together for more than a thousand minutes, despite losing Kevin Garnett for 25 games.
Azubuike's most popular 5-man unit last year logged just 67 minutes on the court together--barely a good run in pickup hoops. And with some of the same injury-prone teammates around plus the potential Jackson trade/blowup/shutdown, this year could be even more unstable.
Photo by Yogma
Answering the second question is no picnic either, because it depends heavily on who ends up sharing the court with Azubuike. For instance, last year the two guys whose presence made the biggest difference were Jackson and Jamal Crawford. As you can see from the table below, Azubuike picked up more minutes and points in the games that Jackson and/or Crawford sat out, but he was also less efficient when his higher-priced teammates weren't around to help create offensive opportunities.
|Azubuike with Jackson & Crawford||31||25.2||11.6||16.6||5.9||1.5||.506||.554|
|Azubuike with Jackson or Crawford||37||36.2||16.0||15.9||5.6||1.8||.463||.400|
|Azubuike without Jackson or Crawford||6||42.1||18.1||15.5||4.8||2.3||.367||.400|
Of course, Crawford has been shipped out, and Jackson may follow, but this season Azubuike will be competing for minutes with a healthier Ellis plus rookie Stephen Curry. As we all know, Nellie can never have too many perimeter players.
Alternatively, you could turn to statistical modeling to try to predict what will happen this season. I like Kevin Pelton's SCHOENE system, available in Pro Basketball Prospectus 2009-10. SCHOENE was inspired by Nate Silver's PECOTA system for baseball, and it works by fitting a given player's past statistics with the performance of similar players dating back to 1979-80. SCHOENE identifies similar players by comparing their height, weight, and 11 boxscore-derived metrics. For you statheads, I'd recommend forking over the $9.99 for the digital download if for no other reason than to see which players are most similar to Anthony Randolph at this stage (hint: they're good).
Based on SCHOENE, the players most similar to Azubuike at 25 years of age include a couple of ex-Warriors:
With these comps, SCHOENE has Azubuike slipping a bit in 2009-10, with fewer minutes and decreased efficiency. This is approximately where Hollinger has him, as well. Kelenna has yet another chance to exceed expectations.
Copyright 2009 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)
One final note: of the 400+ players analyzed in the Basketball Prospectus, Azubuike's early career closely resembles that of just one younger player--Anthony Morrow.
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This FanPost is a submission from a member of the mighty Golden State of Mind community. While we're all here to throw up that W, these words do not necessarily reflect the views of the GSoM Crew. Still, chances are the preceding post is Unstoppable Baby!