EWA and the Warriors!
Any playoff hopes the Warriors had during the 08-09 season were destroyed the moment the team learned Monta Ellis injured his ankle in Mopedgate. The franchise crushing injury was just the first of many injuries that plagued the Warriors during the 08-09 season as the team rarely had their projected starting five of Monta, Jackson, Magette, Wright, and Biedrins on the floor at the same time and found themselves struggling to field enough players to play a game.
Many Warrior fans have pointed to injuries as the cause of the Warriors dismal record, but just how good could the Warriors have been last year with a healthy Monta Ellis? Would we be a playoff team? A championship caliber team? What can we expect from the Warriors for next season? What steps should the team make to become a playoff team? A championship caliber team? Should we trade for Chris Bosh? Amare? Boozer? Would Andre Miller push the Warriors like Billups did in Denver? These are all questions that Warriors fans find themselves asking as we watch the 2nd season unfold.
Luckily for us we are living in an age where every statistic you can think of is being created and tracked and this season John Hollinger introduced to us the Estimated Win Added (EWA) statistic. The statistic intrigued me and like any basketball fan I looked at how each of the players on my favorite team did. Then, I wanted to see how the Warriors stacked up with the Lakers and how it looked compared to the Kings. From there I ended up compiling the EWA of every player who qualified (need to play at least 500 minutes) on each NBA team. Compiling the data took some time but the information I have obtained from the data has been eye opening. It has been so informative it will help answer almost every question that Warrior fans have been asking themselves since this terrible season ended. It's a long read but hopefully you all appreciate the work and make this the most rec'd fan post ever.
EWA - What and Why?
Before I proceed with the analysis I should explain the EWA and why it is such a great statistic. John Hollinger’s PER is a good statistic as it quantifies a player’s effectiveness regardless of how many minutes they play on the court and standardized against all positions. As good as it is, PER has three faults:
(1) It projects player’s stats to 48 minutes basis
(2) It does not factor in positions
(3) It does not correctly factor defense (no statistic does).
PER assumes that a bench player who averages 10 minutes a game will simply be able to put up the same production when thrust into larger minutes. Because of that we have Brandan Wright as the 43rd best player in the NBA last season based on PER. While I like Wright there is no way he is the 43rd best player in the NBA. As NBA fans we also know that PG and a low post threat are the hardest positions to find quality players, where swingmen are dime a dozen. So contributions from these spots mean more. Also steals, blocks, and defensive rebounds which are factored into PER because they are the only "defensive" stats that are recorded are not reliable statistics to quantify a player’s defensive ability.
The beauty of the EWA is that it addresses two of the biggest weakness of the PER statistic by multiplying PER of a player by the total minutes played and giving each position a different replacement value which it subtracts from their PER (PF-11.5/PG – 11/ C-10.6/SG&SF – 10.5). The one downside (like PER or any basketball statistic) is the inability to accurately quantify defense and because of that Bruce Bowen is the WORST player in the NBA with a EWA of -3.8. Despite that wart it still produces a fairly accurate list of player rankings in the NBA as evidenced by a Top 5 of (1) Lebron, (2) Wade, (3) Chris Paul, (4) Howard, and (5) Kobe.
To check out how accurate the EWA is link the below:
So what can we gain from EWA? By looking at EWA individually you can view the impact of each player on his team and by analyzing teams we can see trends emerge between the rosters of playoff and lottery teams that factor in coaches’ rotations and injuries due to the minutes played factor of the EWA calculation. Of all the new statistics out there I feel that EWA is as close as it gets to perfectly quantifying a player’s worth.
For further info regarding VA/EWA check out what Hollinger said:
Analyzing the Warriors using EWA
Warriors Roster EWA
By clicking the link above you can see what the Warriors Roster looks like based on EWA of every player who played more then 500 minutes. The Warrior who was worth the most wins was Andris Biedrins at 7.9 which rank as 50th in the NBA. Cap’n Jack is second on the team at 6.6 and Jamal Crawford rounds out the Top 3 at 5.4 EWA. Again I believe this is a pretty accurate list of the Warriors Top 3 players this past season. We all know how important Cap’n Jack and Biedrins are and Crawford single handedly won games with his scoring and clutch shots. It is also interesting to note that Randolph ranked 6th on the team despite Don Nelson refusing to play the rookie and that Maggette (5.1) and Azubukie (5.0) had nearly identical EWA despite the large disparity in contract value.
The EWA by team shows that the Warriors are the DEEPEST team in the ENTIRE NBA. Partly due to injuries, which gave more players minutes, and mostly due to the improved play of Azubukie, Watson, Morrow, Belinelli, and Randolph the Warriors have the MOST players with a positive EWA (12) and are actually the ONLY team without players possessing a negative EWA. Adding up the EWA of the players the Warriors’ total of 48.30 ranks as 7th best in the NBA trailing only the: Lakers, Nuggets, Blazers, Mavs, Jazz, Cavs, and Suns. Yes, that means the Warriors have a more talented roster than the Eastern Conference Champs, Orlando Magic. However, that’s as good as it gets. The Warriors average of 4.03 EWA per qualified player ranks middle of the pack at 14th in the NBA which is ahead of some playoff teams, but also behind some lottery teams. It only gets worse as compiling the average of teams’ Top 5 players, the Warriors mark of 6.0 ranks as 26th in the NBA ahead of only the Clippers, Kings, Bucks, and Pistons. Not exactly the company the Warriors wants to be keeping.
So what do all these numbers suggest? It shows that the Warriors have a roster full of legitimate NBA rotation players as evidenced by the EWA total and per player average, but had one of the weakest starting 5s in the NBA which was shown as Don Nelson changed starting line ups like Sean Combs changes names. This is not a revelation to Warrior fans that have been searching for a difference maker since BD left, but it is always comforting when observations are supported by statistics.
EWA Analysis of Lottery Teams
EWA of Lottery Teams Chart
When one examines the EWAs of lottery teams there are some clear trends that emerge. The biggest trend is the numerical value of total EWA of the lottery teams especially when you throw out the Suns (the only lottery team with a winning record). Of the 13 remaining lottery teams only our beloved Golden State Warriors had a total EWA greater than 40. This is expected of course as if the team were more talented they wouldn’t be a lottery team but the lack of talent and production on the lottery teams is remarkably drastic. Lebron James by himself had a EWA of 32.30 which is more than the ENTIRE roster of 7 lottery teams - T’Wolves, Grizz, Thunder, Clips, Kings, Bucks, and Wizards. This not only highlights how bad these teams were this past season, but the impact a true superstar can have on a team.
The per player averages of lottery teams varied from as low as 1.68 per player (Kings) to as high as 5.27 (Suns). When you throw out those two extremes, looking at per player EWA most range from 2-3.72 and only the Warriors, Bobcats, and Raptors broke the 4 EWA/player. While the Warriors have the deepest team in the NBA, the Bobcats and Raptors had the shallowest teams in the NBA with only 8 players qualifying for EWA. Despite having the most talented player not in the playoffs, Chris Bosh (15.6 EWA/11th overall), the Raptors failed to assemble a legitimate 8 man NBA rotation with only 6 players (including Bosh) having a positive EWA, which tied for the league low with the Wizards, Thunder, and Grizzlies. It’s no surprise Bosh can’t wait for the 2010 off-season.
Another common trend is the Top 5 average for most lottery teams is < 7 with only the Suns, Nets, and Raptors breaking the 7 EWA/Top 5. In summary, the lottery teams just did not have enough talent and depth to compete with the playoff teams. Nothing surprising, but again it proves how accurate/useful the EWA statistic is especially once we compare and contrast them with playoff team trends.
EWA Analysis of Playoff Teams
EWA of Playoff Team Chart
So while the previous section did nothing but show how horrible most of the lottery teams were, looking at the EWA of the playoff teams shows strong trends and the many ways to build a contender. Compared to lottery teams all but one of the 16 playoff teams broke the > 40 EWA total and it should be no surprised that it was the 8th seeded Detroit Pistons that failed to break the 40 EWA benchmark for playoff teams. The per player EWA of playoff teams ranged from 3.33 (Pistons) to 5.49 (Lakers) which proves it is a less reliable marker for separating lottery and playoff teams as their ranges over lap a bit. However, once one looks at EWA/Top 5 you finally see the greatest barometer that separates playoff teams from lottery teams. When you look at the Western Conference and the Big 3 from the East (Cavs, Celtics, and Magic) only the Houston Rockets had EWA Total < 45 and an EWA/Top 5 < 8.00/player. Compare this to lottery teams where only a few teams cracked EWA Total of > 40 and 7.0 EWA/Top 5 and it’s fair to say that if your team has a total EWA > 45 and Top 5 avg of > 8 you are likely to be a playoff team.
The only outliers to the 45/8 rule are the Rockets and the Suns. The Suns won 46 games and were in the playoff chase until the end of the season and would surely be a playoff team in the East. So their absence from the playoffs is a matter of logistics rather than talent. Despite the Rockets poor numbers (only ahead of lowly Detroit amongst playoff contenders) they made the playoffs due to their defense and heart… two attributes which PER/EWA does not correctly account for. Houston is a great outlier because it is THE trailblazing team regarding advanced statistics in scouting and its success is a testament to the work that the stat guys in Houston are churning. They are winning games although common statistics say otherwise. As a Warrior Fan I wish our front office was as forward thinking as Houston’s.
Examining the rosters of the playoff teams also show the variety of ways to build a playoff team. Most of the Western Conference teams had a Top 2 that consisted of an inside/outside combo with only the Rockets having a Top 2 of a PF and C (Scola/Yao). This is in contrast with the Eastern Conference which has more Top 2s consisting of perimeter players, only Orlando and Miami have inside/outside combos of Howard/Lewis and Wade/Beasely. Again, the EWA shows its accuracy as the tried and true basketball idiom of an inside/side attack being the key to a championship looks to be prevalent amongst the Western Conference playoff teams and the eventual NBA Finals competitors. The EWA also shows a one man operation like the Cavs and teams built around 3-4 very good players like the Nuggets and Celtics can also contend for a title. So while EWA has shown that 45 total/8 top 5 is needed to be a strong playoff team there are several ways to get there: the one man show (Cavs), 3-4 All*Star players (Celtics/Nuggets), or having a clear Superstar and a sidekick(s) (Magic/Lakers).
Warriors EWA Comparisons
Warriors EWA Comparion Chart
Comparing the Warriors numbers to the playoff teams, western conference playoff teams, lottery teams, and the league average shows just how unique the make up of the 08-09 Warriors was. Even with all the injuries the Dubs roster is not as bad as the nay-sayers and doom and gloom reporters have been spouting. The Warriors have the overall talent to compete with playoff teams and plenty of depth, but the Achilles heel of the 08-09 Warriors is that there is little difference between their starting 5 and the bench. This isn’t a bad problem to have as the Warriors have legit NBA rotation players, but highlights the fact that the Warriors were doomed to fail once BD took his 14.07 EWA in 07-08 to LA LA Land and Monta Ellis rode a moped to disgrace. Examining the EWA makes it pretty cut and dry where the Warriors need to improve in order to make playoffs in the West by reaching the 45/8 barometers.
****If you’re trying to read this in one sitting this is probably a good place to take a quick break or if you didn’t realize how freakin’ long this was- this is a good place to stop****
What If Monta Didn’t Get Injured?
Many Warrior fans point to the injury of Monta Ellis as the sole reason for the futility of the team, but the number suggest otherwise. The previous analysis has shown that the Warriors Top 5 EWA of 6.0 per player falls significantly short of the 8.0 EWA that every Western Conference playoff team had, except for the Rockets. Again, I believe the Rockets are an anomaly because of their cutting edge statistics which accurately values their players and their defensive abilities.
If the injury never happens and Monta Ellis simply performs at his 07-08 PER of 18.92 for 37 mpg for 82 games, Ellis would have added an EWA of 11.95. This would have been easily #1 on the team but the Top 5 EWA average of Ellis (11.95), Biedrins (7.9), Jackson (6.6), Crawford (5.4), and Maggette (5.1) would still be short at 7.39. That is a huge improvement from 6.0 but wouldn’t be good enough to compete for playoffs. Just for fun let’s take a look at the 07-08 Warriors.
How good were the Warriors in 07-08? The Top 5 of BD (14.07), Ellis (12.86), Jackson (6.31), Harrington (4.51), and Biedrins (8.69) had an average of a mind numbing 9.29 EWA. You see that BD and Monta were our two best players in 07-08. So losing both during the off-season practically made us a lock for the lottery before any games were ever played.
In summary, Monta would have surely improved on the 29 wins, but the Warriors would not have been a playoff caliber team even with him healthy. There were just too many injuries and frankly the Warriors truly did miss the presence of a motivated and healthy Baron Davis.
Looking ahead to 09-10…
So what can we expect for the 09-10 Season? If everyone comes back at full strength and remains healthy, WITHOUT any moves I expect the Warriors to significantly improve and compete for a playoff spot based on the projected EWA of the following rotation.
Projected EWA of Warriors
The Projected 09-10 lineup features Ellis, Jackson, Azubukie, Randolph, and Biedrins as the starting 5 and Watson, Morrow, Magette, and Turiaf of the bench as regular rotation players. Looking at that 9 man rotation leaves out Crawford, Belinelli, Wright, Davidson, and the #7 pick. The projected EWA of that team is 55.13 Total and 8.322 for the Top 5 (Magette as 6th man has a higher EWA than starter Azubukie). That puts them right over the 45/8 benchmark we talked about earlier. The good news is the Warriors will probably improve on those EWA projections due to the natural development made by the young players in the starting line up: Ellis, Azubukie, Randolph, and Biedrins and the contributions of the players not in the regular rotation. The Warriors also have a projected Top 2 of Ellis/Biedrins which follows the inside/outside game that dominates the Western Conference and the distribution of EWA amongst the team is similar to that of the 08-09 Nuggets and Jazz with 2 players over or near 10 EWA surrounded by players in the 4-6 EWA range.
This maybe an outlandish prediction to most GSOMers, but even after the season ended and before I did this study of EWA, I truly believed that the Warriors are much closer to playoff contention than being doomed for the lottery. The 07-08 team that won 48 games was front loaded but suffered from poor bench production. The 08-09 Woe-rriors suffered from injury and missed BD, but were able to discover and develop several legit NBA rotation players. Next season, the Warriors hopefully will get back 3 healthy players from the 07-08 (Ellis, Jackson, and Biedrins) AND reap the benefits of the 08-09 campaign with battle tested, young NBA players with tons of room to improve in Azubukie, Randolph, Morrow, and Watson. During their brief stints on the court this season, Ellis proved he can become what he once was and Randolph flashed superstar potential.
While many will write the Warriors off, I have hopes that the 09-10 Warriors will become a young competitive team that features a strong starting line up led by Ellis and Biedrins supported by a bench that would rival anyone in the league.
So what about Chris Bosh? Amare? Boozer? AK-47? Andre Miller?
Projected EWA Chart
Using EWA I wanted to see what would happen if the Warriors were able to land their next Holy Grail. I didn’t go into the trouble of making a deal work financially (too complicated with Ellis/Biedrins still BYC) but I just wanted to see the impact on the roster if we traded a combo of Ellis/Randolph/Biedrins for Bosh (the principal pieces we heard reports of at the deadline).
In the 3 combos that I tested a Ellis/Biedrins trade for Bosh would actually make the Warriors WORSE compared to keeping the team intact. The reason is that Crawford can’t hold a candle to a healthy Ellis production wise and that gap is larger than the upgrade from Biedrins to Chris Bosh. The other downside to this trade is that while Bosh and Biedrins have reached their potential peaks (their PERs have remained consistent the past few years), I feel Monta Ellis still has room for improvement and the tools to become 28-30 ppg scorer. We also risk Bosh bolting after a year if he refuses a sign and trade and I’m not sure how Bosh and Randolph would play together as they are both so similar.
The other two combos of Ellis or Biedrins + Randolph will improve the Warriors in 09-10 for sure and almost make them a lock for Playoffs but would they win a championship? Despite the gaudy EWA Totals and Top 5 average that would put them right behind the 08-09 Cavs and Lakers, when you stop looking at statistics and see how the pieces fit it doesn’t really look like Championship material. Do you really see a big man rotation of Bosh, Turiaf, and Wright contending for a title if we trade Biedrins and Randolph for Bosh? Is Crawford/Watson a Championship caliber PG rotation if we send Ellis and Randolph packing? The numbers suggest either trade would make the Warriors elite, but I just can’t see it being plausible given the weakness of the 1 or 5 spots. Another big factor is that Randolph looks to be a young Chris Bosh in the making. In fact Randolph had a better rookie year PER than Chris Bosh (16.94 vs. 15.24). They are intriguing trades and could potentially be worth the gamble if the team meshes like the numbers suggests, but I feel given time to mature Ellis, Randolph, and Biedrins can take us further than Bosh could on his own.
As for Amare last season his PER and EWA were less than Bosh’s so his impact would be similar to Bosh if we trade for him. The one reason why Amare may be worth the risk is he has had a PER high of 27.29 in 07-08 compared to Bosh who has hovered around 23, with a high of 24.23 in 07-08. That 07-08 season resulted in an EWA of 22.23 which would put him in the Top 3 of all players, but that potential comes with some character concerns and no defense. Ditto for Boozer who has PERs inferior to Bosh and Amare.
Regarding the Maggette for Ak-47 rumors I would do that trade in a heart beat. Last season AK-47 had a EWA of 5.5 compared to Maggette’s 5.1 and it also don’t account for the defensive improvement AK-47 would bring. Would the Warriors be championship material? No, but they would compete for playoffs.
What about Andre Miller? I don’t know how we would sign him but if we added him to our roster we’d probably be looking at a Chauncey Billups type of impact as he had an EWA of 11.4 last season (greater than Billups actually) and would give the starting lineup it’s 3rd double digit EWA player along with Ellis at SG and Biedrins at C. If we do get him it would have to be through sign and trade and as long as we don’t part with Ellis, Biedrins, and Randolph I’d try and make it happen for a short term fix. A projected starting 5 of Miller, Ellis, Jackson, Randolph, and Biedrins would have a Top 5 EWA of 8.96 if Miller played 30 minutes a game with the same PER as last season. Again that would put us over the 45/8 bench mark.
So how should the Warriors handle the draft – BPA or Need?
Compiling all of the EWAs has shown that there are many ways to build a title contending team. We have seen teams like the Celtics and Nuggets who have 3 very good players be successful. This is a good thing for the Warriors as a team without a superstar they can continue to build around Ellis, Biedrins, and Randolph. However, you can’t help but notice teams like the Cavs, Hornets, Magic, and Heat which are built around one super stud that each team drafted.
The only thing separating the Cavs from the Kings is LBJ’s EWA of 32.30, which is more than the entire Kings’ roster and in fact more than the rest of his teammates combined. We saw the impact of D-Wade on the Heat and if you look at the Hornets it’s basically CP3 and West on that team with a bunch of scrubs. While one player won’t guarantee success (see Bosh in Toronto), it’s easier and faster to build a Championship level team around 1 superstar player than it is to compile 3 very good players a la Denver and Boston. In fact only a handful of playoff teams are led in EWA by a player that was not drafted by that team – Denver w/ Billups, Atlanta w/ Johnson, and Detroit w/ Hamilton. Meaning 13 out of 16 playoff teams are built around and led by players they drafted.
Given the fact that one player can make such a large impact and that these players can only be found through the draft it should be a given that you ALWAYS draft BPA over need. When you play it safe you get Todd Fuller, Adonal Foyle, and Joe Smith. Swing for the fences and well as Warriors fans we know all too well what happens. You may strike out more often, but when you do the payoff changes the course of the franchise.
The Warriors are a team in transition from the highly successful We Believe Era to the Young Warriors. The team has talent and the EWA analysis supports that claim, but the 08-09 season was not a smooth transition year for the club due to Mopedgate and the overall health of the roster. However, Warrior fans if you believe in EWA like I do we should jump right back into the playoff chase in 09-10. The Spurs and Mavs are only getting older, Utah could lose Boozer, the Suns have Steve Kerr as GM and Sarver as owner, and the Hornets need to give away talent in order to stay financially solvent. The west is competitive, but unlike other teams the Warriors have solid young talent that looks to be ready to compete next season.
The Warriors could make a move for Bosh but I personally think we’d be giving up too much for him as Ellis, Biedrins, and Randolph are young players with great futures ahead of them. I think Biedrins has maxed out ability wise, but I think Ellis can become an elite scorer (28-30 ppg) and the sky is the limit for Anthony Randolph. If we can swing a deal without including any of these players (0.00001% chance of that happening) then bring in Bosh and an NBA title soon after. However, more realistic moves such as AK-47 for Maggette and/or acquiring Andre Miller would improve the Warriors in the short term and wouldn’t force us to mortgage our future. The Warriors also shouldn’t hesitate to trade players from the wing positions if it means acquiring a stud starter.
With the #7 pick the Warriors shouldn’t focus on drafting a PG to start next to Monta Ellis, but they should focus on drafting the best player available even if it is a under-sized PG or another wingman. Superstar players rarely change teams or can be had in trades so the draft is the only chance teams have at getting a stud player. You can’t skip that opportunity.
So Warriors fans you can stop asking all those questions. Thanks to EWA we know what could have been, what will be, and what we should do. Now relax and enjoy the wait until opening night.
Lastly, I’d like to thank you all and commend you guys for making it to the end. It’s a long read but hopefully you enjoyed it and found it as informative as I did in researching and writing the article. If you did, please take a second and rec this post! Thanks.