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Civil war brewing in Dub Nation as Warriors continue to seek answers against Bucks
Golden State's pieces: pieces like a puzzle, or pieces as in crumble? No one knows, and that's hard.
Not since the days of Steph versus Monta debates has the Golden State Warriors’ fanbase been so split. On one side, the patient faithful stand at rest, comforted in the knowledge that a meaningful solution to this season’s temporary pain is just one offseason away.
On the other side, the skeptical are doubtfully eyeballing the scales holding the potential problems and weighing the dearth of potential solutions.
Is the team tanking or not? And if they aren’t trying to win every game right now, why bother bringing in Kelly Oubre? Unfortunately, most of the best answers require looking beyond this current season, which does nothing to assuage the concerns of those who are getting worried while watching the team potentially spiral out of relevance - definitely for this season, but conceivably even beyond.
And against this backdrop, the Warriors are competing for their playoff lives. Barely hanging on to the final playoff spot, sliding in the wrong direction as the season comes to a close.
After going 0-3 on a tough road trip featuring a historic loss, and an equally painful close game that the Warriors fouled themselves out of in the 4th quarter, Golden State returns home to the empty seats at Chase Arena, hoping to rediscover their magic against on of the league’s best teams.
WHO: Golden State Warriors (23-27) vs Milwaukee Bucks (32-17)
WHEN: Tuesday, April 6th, 2021 // 7:00pm PST
WATCH: NBCBA; TNT
We foul because we care - a closer look at the Warriors propensity for fouling
While a lot of coverage has been devoted to how much the Warriors have been fouling, we should also talk about why.
Kent Bazemore is second on the team (behind James Wiseman) with 6.2 fouls per 100 possessions this season. It’s bad. Worse than 99% of players at his position according to Cleaning the Glass. James Wiseman’s rate of 7 fouls per 100 possessions is worse than 88% of players at his position. Both of these players are required for heavy minutes in this year’s iteration of the Warriors.
So I went digging. Bazemore’s foul rate is not only a career high, but it’s around 32% higher than his career average. In watching the game, you can see that a lot of it is because the Warriors tend to play a high risk style of defense: closing out hard, using their hands a lot, and just generally being a little extra pesky. Almost like they’re trying extra hard to defend?
In order to test the theory, I went to basketball reference looking for two things: how often does a player foul, and how well does the team defend with them on court.
The blue bars show fouls (per 100) and the yellow line is the team’s defensive rating with that player on the court. It looks like a pattern to me.
A couple of interesting notes on this. First, look at Kelly Oubre. The team defends well with him on the court - at a comparable level to Kevon Looney, who collects significantly more fouls. Secondly, remember that the defensive rating is a team value, not individual, so these aren’t intrinsic player report cards, but rather indicative how how well the team works defensively when they’re on the court .
And speaking of team value, I noticed another noteworthy statistic while digging around. Using the NBA’s lineup finder tool, I wanted to see what the best lineups we’ve found so far in terms of net- and defensive rating. In other words, are the best units our best because of strong defense?
The best 5-man unit, by net rating includes three of the team’s biggest foul hawks: Wiseman, Bazemore, and Green. That same unit is also the team’s second best defensive lineup. Switch out Bazemore for Juan Toscano-Anderson and you get the team’s best defensive unit - though one that has only played 38 minutes together all season.
So no, the fouling issues aren’t helpful, but neither is it the full story here. Many of the team’s biggest foul generators are also the team’s best defenders. For a franchise that vocally built this season on a “defense first” philosophy, I can see why some of the players are fouling more.
Sorting by fouls instead of defensive team rankings, we get a clearer picture of the scale and personnel involved. Again, take a look at the biggest foulers, and compare that to who is trying to make their impact felt defensively. In defending James Harden with Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson, fans and coaches have become accustomed to high level defense without a lot of fouling; a proposition that gets a whole lot trickier when neither of those two guys are available to you any longer.
Checking in on the Bucks
I don’t know about you, but I was absolutely shocked when the Bucks brought back coach Mike Budenholzer. After two consecutive spectacular failures in the playoffs, the Bucks stuck with their guy, choosing instead to do a running re-tool. It has been somewhat successful, as the Bucks have played their way into the upper bracket of the Eastern playoff race.
Jrue Holiday was just named player of the week after averaging 26.8 points (on nearly 63% shooting from the field) and 8.5 assists. The team like what they see in the oft-injured but decidedly talented Holiday, signing him to a contract extension worth $160 million over four years.
The Bucks are going to be a handful. Boasting a top-10 rating in both defense and offense, and a top-5 net rating, this is a very, very good team. If you’ll recall, the Warriors just got absolutely waxed by the very bad Toronto Raptors.
So this one will be a tall order.
Sure, why not? Let’s call this one a reverse sleeper trap game, where the Dubs somehow snatch a sorely needed victory. 121-119.
Back when I worked at CYO, there was a pastor (Dave, he drove a jeep in which he would let some of the kids ride into the outdoor chapel in the back of) that used to always say that “You can’t have faith when there’s evidence.”
The Warriors are objectively struggling in the standings. Player development, the future roster, and solutions for some of the trickier issues (like how to fix a bench without any money) are all swirling around to make this time extremely tumultuous for fans, players, and executives.
Let’s all try and remember that we are here because we want to discuss the team we love and most importantly support. No matter which side of the debate you come down on, neither outcome is assured. One thing’s for sure though, everyone’s faith is going to be tested1 over the next few months.