Golden State Warriors at San Antonio Spurs Preview: Featuring a Really Important Discussion Between Two Bloggers

I had a fantastically fun e-mail exchange with "J.R. Wilco" over at Pounding The Rock. We talked about the importance of Manu Ginobili, a possible trade of 2011 lottery picks (you know who I want), and some advanced math (but it was initiated by him, I swear!). Click after the jump to read the full exchange.

Tip-Off: 5:30 pm PST

TV: CSN Bay Area | Radio: KNBR 680

Blog Buddy: Pounding the Rock

J.R. Wilco:

Evanz, I must begin by saying that, all things being equal, I'd much rather the Spurs not play the Warriors tonight. To be honest, I'd prefer that San Antonio not play Golden State at all this year, or if they do then it would be great if Tim Duncan was held out of every contest. See, he was injured twice last year, and both times were against your team. I'm not saying it's logical, but it's definitely the first thing I think about when I consider this game, and images like this aren't ones I like to re-live.

Duncan-2011-ankle-injury_medium_medium
Ugly, and not just because of the view

I like to do these email exchanges because they help to get to know a team that many Spurs fans might be unfamiliar with, and so I don't usually do too much research on the oppenent so that as much information as possible can come out of the discussion, but when I look at the Warriors record and how they got there, I'm wondering just how much even their hard-core fans can know about the team right now. Looking at blowout losses at the hands of the Clips & Sixers, and placing them next to nice wins over the Bulls and Knicks -- I'm thinking classic Jekyll and Hyde (random side-note: Even though the spelling and sound of Jekyll make me think he's the bad one, it's actually Hyde who was the maniacal lunatic; Jekyll was the doctor. Just thought I'd clear that up in case anyone else has suffered from that same confusion.)

So you have a new high-profile coach in Mark Jackson, who (setting aside comments about his announcing style) I've always thought highly of. They say that superstars make awful coaches, and that makes me think that Mark might have a shot at becoming a great one. That's no knock on him, it's just that I always admired his ability to maximize his modest skills while succeeding based on incredible anticipation, court vision and his under-appreciated understanding of the game. If he's able to do for his players what he did for himself, then as Rick Blaine so famously said, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. He's apparently stressing defense (never much of a plank in Golden State's platform) while working one-on-one with the poing guards. Does any of this make you optimistic about the future of this team, or have I just repeated the conventional wisdom that runs contrary to what you guys are seeing day-in and day-out?

Evanz:

It's still so early in the season, it's hard for me to say much at all about Jackson as a coach, to be honest. He talks the talk about defense, which is a welcome relief for most Warriors fans. I just don't think the overall talent level is good enough to compete for anything other than maybe the 8th seed at the most.

I'm actually not that optimistic, because it seems to me like this team is all about tactics, but not about long-term strategy or vision. We made a huge mistake by signing David Lee, and we will be stuck with that contract for the next 5 years. And then when we had an opportunity to use the amnesty clause on one of our bad contracts (Lee or Biedrins), we chose not to. We didn't choose to save it either. We chose to use it on Charlie Bell, so that we might have enough cap room to go after DeAndre Jordan who was unlikely to sign with us in any case. Not only that, but we released Reggie Williams, who was our one good bench scorer.

You might have heard about Mark Cuban's "treadmill of mediocrity" analogy, in which teams are not good enough to compete for a championship (or even getting the 8th spot in our case), but they are not bad enough to have a chance at getting a top lottery pick. This is our team year in and year out. To me, with the draft as strong as it's going to be (best in several years probably), this was the year to really blow the team up, and start over looking to the future. But as soon as Jackson came in and said this was a playoff team, that obviously wasn't going to happen. So now we're basically in a permanent limbo. We project to be about a 26-30 win team (interestingly, if you go over to the APBRmetric forum where people including myself did pre-season projections, the team that has the *least* variance in predictions is GSW). And as it turns out, because of a terrible trade perpetrated on our team several years ago (Marcus Williams!), our first round pick in 2012 is top-7 protected, but other wise goes to Utah (as if they need another one). I don't think we're bad enough to finish that high (or low depending on your viewpoint), but we're certainly not a playoff team. We're an 8-12, mid-lottery pick kind of team.

Fitnex-treadmill_medium
Is this the one Cubes was talking about?
via www.treadmillreview.net

And I'm glad we're doing this exchange, because what really irked me this past off-season was when the Warriors passed over Kawhi Leonard and settled on Klay Thompson, apparently because Jerry West loved the kid. From what I've seen of Klay so far, and the little I've seen of Kawhi, I think this could turn out to be a decision that haunts our franchise for many years. Tell me if I'm way off base, but Kawhi seems to me like the real deal. In fact he reminds me a little bit of another guy who played a couple years for the Spurs before moving on to Chicago for a pretty good run. Leonard seems to have a knack for defense and getting his (gigantic) hands on the ball. That's exactly what the Warriors needed. They did not need another bench scorer. We could have been sitting here this season with Reggie Williams (he's hurt now, but still) and Kawhi Leonard. Instead, we have Klay Thompson and Kwame Brown. Sigh.

JRW:

When I hear "Klay and Kwame" it makes me think of a Disney Network comedy for pre-teens, but when I think "Thompson and Brown" I imagine austere law offices, mahogany walls, one hundred year old hardwood floors (polished by hand every Saturday) and the rich but sweet aroma of pipe tobacco. Something tells me that they play just a bit more like Klay & Kwame's Nutty Summer Adventure than "Thompson and Brown invite you to an evening with the Philharmonia Baroque. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.

Klay_and_kwame_medium

Sorry to hear about your lack of optimism, the mediocre exercise equipment, and the questionable roster decisions. I think that every fanbase harbors very strong feelings about certain players and the probability that they're blackmailing certain front office personnel in order to keep their jobs. The farther the Spurs get from their last championship, the louder those voices seem to get in PtR. I can only imagine how strident things have gotten at GSoM, especially with the odd usage of the Amnesty clause. Spurs fans had our own flirtation with the 21st century's version of the scarlet A, but the reports of RJ's amnesty had been greatly exaggerated. But he's playing quite well, so we kind of dodged a bullet which makes me feel bad from bringing him up when you're stuck between the rock of a coach who wants to try to win, and the hard place of a 1st rounder that's lost unless the lottery balls bounce your pick into the first seven.

Which brings us to the draft and Kawhi Leonard, who appears to have more than a few NBA skills. He's seen playing time in every game so far, and he's always around the ball making canny plays to keep possessions alive, or using his length to get a steal by digging into a guard's dribble while still guarding his man on the perimeter, even outhustling guys on the boards with those sly moves that the best rebounders always seem to make look so easy - regardless of how difficult they must be since so few players seem to be capable of pulling them off. He's also managed to hit a jumper or two, and a dunk off a feed from Duncan against the Jazz. So, I'm able to report that I'm more than just a bit intrigued by him and look forward to seeing him develop. Even Coach Pop, when describing our young Skynyrd, said that he's a blue-collar player right now, with that special emphasis which I took to mean that he doesn't expect the rookie to stay in that mode indefinitely.

Finally, I must apologize for getting back to you so late with this, but the soul of our team, Manu Ginobili, broke his hand tonight against the Timberwolves and even if he makes a "quick" recovery of just six weeks, we're still talking about him missing 23 games in that time -- which is 35% of this compressed season. I can't stress enough what a huge blow this is to a team which, at this point, leans on Manu more than any other player. He doesn't just score points (19.8 a game) he's not just efficient (60% from the field through the first 5 games) and accurate (54% from 3pt) but he's a complete player who has eyes in the back of his head and uses them to make plays like this.

Spurs Vs Rockets - Ginobili Hustle - (29-12-2011) (via FunkyAxel11)

He's got a motor that won't allow him to take a play off and losing him feels like the end of optimism about this season. Yes, this could be a good thing since it happened early enough in the season that he could come back and be close to 100% in time for the playoffs, and it gives the rest of our guys an opportunity to step up and get some prime time pressure that they wouldn't normally. I get all that. But the truth is that the margin for error in San Antonio this year (with the aging core and the compressed schedule) was already pretty slender -- now it feels more like a razor's edge.

When the Warriors take the floor in San Antonio, you're likely to see a team with their heads held high, but who are lacking a large piece of their identity. Who will see more minutes? Who will take the shots when Duncan and Parker are resting? Who will rally everyone with a timely steal, a dagger three, a back-breaking, breath-taking drive to the hoop for a bucket and a foul? Hopefully someone will, but it won't be number 20.

Evanz:

Current Spurs WARP ratings according to ezPM. Click on tile to pop-up WARP (ezPM100) ratings.

Believe me, you don't have to tell me about the value of Ginobili. As I'm writing this, he is at #2 in WARP according to my ezPM model. He was also second last season, in terms of RAPM (a version of adjusted +/- that gives better predictions). Now that you don't have George Hill, I guess that James Anderson gets most of his minutes? That's quite a drop off from Manu. I do pre-season projections and if I replace 1/3 of Manu's minutes (projected at 28 mpg) with James Anderson (originally projected at 10 mpg), the Spurs end up with 35 wins in my model, down from 38. I have an idea. You need a SG, we need more talent at any position. Would you be willing to trade Kawhi for Klay?

Come on, please?

JRW:

Dear Correspondent,
We are in receipt of your recent offer of Klay Thompson for Kawhi Leonard. Thank you for your interest. Unfortunately, due to unexpectedly high email volume, we are not able to send an immediate and personalized reply to every inquiry. Your request is currently 27th in the queue and should be responded to within the year. Once again, we appreciate your interest and hope that you have an excellent season.

Now that that's out of the way, I'll get to answering the questions that are at my pay grade. Yes, as you guessed, I'd expect &erson (or Ampersanderson as some like to call him) to start in Manu's place, but whether he gets the bulk of those rotation minutes will likely be a game to game thing now that we are dealing with The Void left behind by The Break. (I know it's melodramatic to put everything In Caps, but that's how it feels now that Manu's the Spurs best player, and he's out for 6 to 8 weeks. Blech) See, Pop is very much a "wait and see" kind of guy. Which means that in cases like this, we'll be just as likely to see Danny Green, or Gary Neal (just back from having his appendix removed) step into a heavy workload, as we will to watch the "new starter" try to fit in. It'll be based on a complicated formula involving matchups, who's been playing well, who's hot, what phase the moon is in and how long it's been since Pop has been able to make a member of the press break down and cry.

Graphic-13_medium

via rpd.oxfordjournals.org

It looks something like the above, where λ (lambda) equals the coefficient of guardplay, t is the playing time (in minutes) each player gets, exp represents the amount of experience Pop wants in the game at all times, and Δ (delta) is the change in the amount of wine Pop has imbibed in the last week as it differs from the norm (as established by the past 15 years of coaching). While I know what the terms in the formula mean, I can't even pretend to understand it. So, be prepared to be surprised is what I guess I'm saying.

How about you guys? Is there any kind of set rotation yet? I hear all kinds of crazy things about the kind of defense the Warriors are running under Jackson. Do you have anything you can share about it; whether you think it'll be successful as the guys get used to playing it and the league has spent some time looking at how to deal with it? Finally, does Dorell Wright deserve to wear the number 1?

Evanz:

I don't quite have a handle yet on Jackson's rotations and I'm guessing he doesn't either. I think he's flying by the seat of his pants right now. I am super excited by our signing of Nate Robinson. Oh, wait. I'm not. Seriously, though, I think Jackson is definitely in a feeling out period, and it's easy to see why. Our bench is almost completely turned over from last season. Gone are Reggie, Vlad, Amundson, and Law. (Bell is gone, but the only reason that is meaningful is that it cost us the amnesty exception.) In are Klay, Rush, McGuire, Kwame, and the other rookies Jenkins and Tyler (who aren't seeing much p.t.). Unless I'm forgetting someone, Udoh is really the only returning "bench" player (although he was a starter by the end of last season). You might find it interesting to know that we were the only team in the NBA that had exactly the same starting lineup on opening day 2011 as opening day 2010. That would be a good thing for very good teams, but for a team that had the 11th pick in the lottery, probably not so much.

Uh, so where are we in that Kawhi queue now?

JRW:

Thanks for taking the time to do this with me Evanz. It's been a pleasure.

As to the Kawhi queue, you've moved up into 26th, but don't get your hopes up too high. They only dropped out because Atlanta heard that Kawhi can't dance, and if you don't dance then you're no friend of theirs.

Tumblr_lx2mv4htum1qi0ij1o1_500_medium
(Thanks to DocFunk and Men without Hats)

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