Stephen Jackson Said what???(@datrillstack5) #Warriors pic.twitter.com/RE9XR8OfMt— Audible Sports (@AudibleSports) February 25, 2016
Stephen Jackson may be retired, but his irrational confidence sure isn't. At face value, it seems preposterous: the way the Golden State Warriors look on the average night, no one this side of the Alamo should be able to say with such straight conviction that their team could beat the Warriors without putting on a little bit of bluster. But the We Believe squad is forever written in the mythos of this franchise, and for the sheer sake of fun analysis, it's worth examining a hypothetical matchup.
First off, though, it remains a little ambiguous on what Stack Jack meant; did he mean beat as in a playoff series, or a one-off regular season game? Well, we'll render a verdict for each interpretation. Jackson did mention the We Believe team beating "the number one seed", which makes me believe he was referring to a playoffs matchup. And, on that note, let's start off with Jackson's evidence...
The Case for Today's Warriors:
...the "number one seed" Dallas Mavericks team the Warriors knocked off, which was the first time an eight seed was able to do so in a seven-game series, wasn't even the best team in its conference. Hell, by SRS, it wasn't even the second best team in its conference. The Spurs were the best, at 8.35. The Mavericks of that year had an extremely inflated win total relative to their pythagorean -- meaning that, while the We Believe squad did indeed defeat the number one seed, by metrics that have more predictive capabilities than simple win-loss, they only played the third best team in the conference. To compound that issue, the Mavericks also matched up extremely poorly with the We Believe Warriors all season, and coach Rick Carlisle was a couple years away from patrolling the Dallas sidelines.
But back to SRS, because this is important: not all one-seeds are created equal. The 10.62 SRS Warriors are a different beast than the 7.28 SRS Mavericks. The current Warriors would only be too happy to enter a track meet against the We Believe squad, unlike the 89.5 pace Mavericks. In fact, the We Believe Warriors were a fraction of a possession slower than the current Warriors, playing at 99.2 possessions/game to the current Warriors' 99.7. Not a noticeable difference by any means.
What would be immediately noticeable, however, is just how much better the current Warriors are at... everything. An offensive rating of 114.3 to 107. A defensive rating of 103.4 to 107.4. A whopping 5% disparity in team eFG% favoring the current iteration.
Somewhere in the echo chamber of the internet, someone mentioned Jackson also mentioned "heart" favoring the We Believe team. Heart, while hardly empirical evidence, is something obviously both teams have. I can break "heart" down into different components, all of them being abstract concepts: resiliency, togetherness, chemistry, intensity. These are all qualities that describe both teams.
So, sorry, Jackson, but just because the new Warriors are wildly more successful on the court than We Believe sadly ever was, that doesn't make this contemporary unit a soulless, corporate shill. The notion that being less successful somehow intrinsically makes you more authentic, or have more "heart", is a romanticized idea.
The best evidence for the claim that this Warriors team would beat the We Believe team is any numerical evidence. Any of it. Pick one, and the new Warriors are probably better at it than the We Believe Warriors were.
But that doesn't necessarily mean there isn't a case to be made otherwise...
The Case for the We Believe Warriors:
The case for the We Believe Warriors is a lot less empirical. It can't be found in the numerical statistics because, frankly, they all point the opposite direction (unless there's a huge unfound correlation between winning and forcing more opponent turnovers). And, unlike the Mavericks series Jackson mentioned, there's not an exploitable difference in playing styles that is hidden behind the numbers that the We Believe team could use to their advantage.
But there is some hope.
Because in a hypothetical matchup with the current Warriors, the We Believe team could catch lightning in a bottle, just as they did against the Mavericks, except in an entirely different way. The We Believe team doesn't just echo the common traits of the teams that have been able to beat the Warriors this year, they are the living prototypical model for such a team.
1) Uber-athletic at the wings and guard spots, with scoring from all positions and the ability for one guard to single-handedly carry the team for spurts: Baron Davis says hello.
And all those athletic wings and guards? Isn't 2007 Monta Ellis precisely the kind of C.J. McCollum / Will Barton guard that has torched the current Warriors?
Isn't 2007 Matt Barnes the kind of rangy, large physical defender, a la Kentavius Caldwell-Pope, that has subdued Stephen Curry's scorched-earth march through the season so far?
2007 Jason Richardson and 2007 Mikael Pietrus and 2007 Stephen Jackson, the man himself, completes an obviously inferior, but no doubt deep rotation of wings that could keep the intensity going for 48 minutes.
2) A raucous homecourt advantage that could make the current Warriors play five-on-19,605 ball: Oracle Arena, in this hypothetical entirely pro-We Believe squad, has perhaps never hit the acme it reached in 2007. It's entirely possible that no player in the NBA has experience playing in such conditions, save for the few remaining participants in those legendary games in Oracle.
Could you imagine a playoff game between the We Believe team and some anonymous 73-win team? Back in those days, the gaudier the goliath that walked through the door, the louder the Oracle crowd would roar.
3) Not-bad-enough-to-be-outright-mediocre, not-good-enough-to-be-outright-good team record. This is important, because the Warriors are undefeated against the top teams in the league this year. Half of the winning equation when facing the current Warriors is outside the influence of how the opponent approaches the Warriors:
You have to get lucky, and not get the Warriors when they're entirely focused. That means, your record can't be good -- but your team actually has to be good enough to outplay the Warriors for 48 minutes, so your team can't be too mediocre, either. There's an equilibrium of averageness that the Portland Trailblazers, Milwaukee Bucks, Denver Nuggets, Detroit Pistons, and Dallas Mavericks all occupy together that allowed them to sneak into a victory, and the We Believe Warriors were just "meh" enough in a vacuum to do the same.
4) Small ball. The We Believe Warriors would not have been able to out-run these Warriors, as they did to Dallas. But the knife cuts both ways; these Warriors' small ball wouldn't catch Don Nelson by surprised.
Al Harrington and Draymond Green would play center against each other, as Ivan pointed out.
In a playoffs series? No way. That's not a slight on the We Believe edition of the Warriors in the least -- it will simply take a historical team to win four out of seven games against these Warriors. The We Believe Warriors were fun, explosive, and ran their course. They were not a historically great team.
In a single game? No. ...But not the more sassy, emphatic "no way". The We Believe Warriors could steal a game from the Warriors -- they fit the profile of all the teams that have done so this year. But if they played each other 100 times, they might win four or five or six. That's not a good enough rate for Stephen Jackson, or anyone, to proclaim confidently that they would defeat the present-day Warriors.
Stephen Jackson's comments are just the continuation of an annoying trend: ex-players having trouble processing how a modern team is making the sports they played look so easy. In an effort to rationalize the current Warriors' success while still appeasing the competitive egos innate in all professional sportsmen, a plethora of explanations have arisen, the most popular being that this entire era is broken and soft.
Look for more past players from important teams to come out of the woodwork as the modern Warriors approach 70 wins, all of them proclaiming a different reason they hope invalidates these Warriors. The Warriors are so good, ex-players are trying to find coping mechanisms to rationalize them.