Dr. Dave Berri (So. Utah University economics professor and co-author on the highly intriguing application of economic theory to sports The Wages of Wins) has turned his attention on our beloved Warriors this week. In his blog, the "Wages of Wins Journal", the good doctor asks the same question many of us asked for much of the season: why did Nelson so often go with a small ball lineup and did his reliance on small ball cost the Warriors wins?
Berri: "Given two lottery picks at power forward, it was not surprising to see the Warriors play at this position in 2008-09… Corey Maggette and Stephen Jackson? [Anthony] Randolph and [Brandan] Wright only played a combined 1,817 minutes last season. In their place, Don Nelson – head coach of the Warriors – turned to two players who are generally considered a small forward or a shooting guard."
Of course, just about the time Wright started getting regular minutes, Wright went down with with injury and as Randolph came on as a productive power forward rebounding machine, emerging the hollow small-forward turnover machine that started the season, Biedrins went down with injury as well. So perhaps some of the minute discrepancy isn't all attributable to Nellie's decision to use Maggs and Jax as his 'big' forwards. Some of it was simply playing the hand dealt. Still, the relative high efficient production out of both Randolph and Wright vs the much more pedestrian production (read: lousy on the glass and/or poor shooting from the floor) of the wings masquerading as post players is enough to make one pause. Berri himself suggests that if the returning players can produce as well as they did last year (or, in Monta's case, the year before when he wasn't injured for 75% of the season), a conventional rotation with Ronny, Andris, Brandan and Anthony R. getting the vast majority of the minutes up front could result in a much different outcome for the 2009-2010 season.
Berri: "If each starter plays 32 minutes per night, and each reserve plays the remaining 16 (yes, I am guessing), then the Warriors would be expected to win more than 50 games next season. In sum, if Ellis returns to his 2007-08 form, and Nelson learns to respect NBA tradition, this team can improve 20 games in the standings..."
Also in the article: ESPN stathead John Hollinger also attributes some of the Warrior woes to the small-ball tendencies of Nellie. Can these two both be right? Can the second winningest coach of all time really be shooting himself in the foot with a stubborn devotion to the unconventional?