Michael Malone was a large part of the Golden State Warriors’ culture transition. Known as a strong defensive mind, Malone was able to instill a defensive identity to a franchise that hadn’t realized defense existed for at least a decade. His contributions were one of the main reasons the Warriors were able to not only make the playoffs, but also compete. The rest of the league took notice of his accomplishments, resulting in a well-deserved head coaching position with the Sacramento Kings.
The Warriors’ recent struggles have given rise to many opinions of what is going wrong. Injuries and lack of depth are two of the main theories that have been stated; but is the absence of Malone a sneaky reason? Is his lacking presence exploiting some of the deficiencies of Mark Jackson?
Let’s explore that idea.
To try and tackle this question, I will be focusing on the advanced metric DefRtg. My previous article gave insight into multiple advanced metrics; but DefRtg basically estimates how many points a team’s defense allows during 100 NBA possessions.
This metric allows us to help assess how the defense performed as an overall team. So, let’s compare the overall DefRtg from last season to this season.
2012/2013 DefRtg: 102.6 (Not great)
2013/2014 DefRtg: 98.5 (Better!)
The values above seem to indicate the defense is more efficient this year than the previous season. So, does this mean the Warriors are better without Malone? There are two reasons why that is probably not the case even though the numbers seem to validate the answer is yes.
First, learning a new defensive system is going to take time. The learning curve involved will present defensive errors while the team is trying to remember new schemes, plays, and responsibilities. With a whole year of Malone’s system under the team’s belt, the essential defensive fundamentals are muscle memory. They can now focus on simply playing good defense because the grinding period is over.
Second, the Warriors added two players that drastically improved their overall defensive identity. Andre Iguodala, although hurt now, is one of the most talented and athletic defensive wing players in the league. He is able to guard four positions on the floor and brings a defensive energy and attitude that injects fire into any lineup. The other player added was Andrew Bogut. I realize this is his third year with the team, but this is the first season he has been 100% healthy. He provides a presence that is destructive towards anyone who decides to challenge him in the paint. Festus Ezeli and Andris Biedrins admirably played the center position last season, but they do not compare to the talent and Aussieness possessed by Bogut.
Given these reasons, it doesn’t surprise me that this year’s DefRtg is lower than last season’s. However, the answer to the overall research question is still up in the air.
Let’s dive into the number a little deeper.
Two of the more important qualities in a coach are the ability to motivate players and make in game adjustments. One of Jackson’s biggest strengths is motivating his players to buy into a system and play hard, but he is not skilled at making in-game adjustments. Malone was able to assist Jackson in making adjustments, but without Malone, all that responsibility is on Jackson’s shoulders. To try and measure Jackson’s in-game adjustment ability for the current and previous season, I will focus on comparing the DefRtg of each quarter, individually, to the Warriors’ overall DefRtg to understand if specific quarters see deficiencies.
Here is a refresh of the season’s overall DefRtgs:
2012/2013 DefRtg: 102.6
2013/2014 DefRtg: 98.5
The table below carries out the desired comparisons:
|Qtr||Overall DefRtg – Quarter DefRtg (2012/13 Overall DefRtg: 102.6)||Overall DefRtg – Quarter DefRtg (2013/14 Overall DefRtg: 98.5)|
|1st||102.6 – 103.2 = -0.6||98.5 – 92.3 = 6.2|
|2nd||102.6 – 101.9 = 0.7||98.5 – 94.3 = 4.2|
|3rd||102.6 – 104.7 = -2.1||98.5 – 103.3 = -4.8|
|4th||102.6 – 100.5 = 2.1||98.5 – 103.0 = -4.5|
The second number in each equation is the DefRtg for each individual quarter for either the 2012/13 or 2013/14 seasons. To clarify the resulting values, if an equation results in a positive number, the team’s defense in that quarter is more efficient than the team’s overall defense. If the value is negative, that quarter’s defense is worse than the team’s overall defense. So what does these results imply?
Let’s graph these points to try and visualize something interesting.
Last season, with Malone, the defensive efficiency was able to stay relatively steady throughout each quarter. Without Malone, this team has been a train wreck defensively in the second half of games. Coaches are figuring out a way to exploit the Warriors’ defense during halftime and Jackson is currently not making his own proper adjustments.
With Malone on the staff, teams had the same opportunity to find exploits in the defense. It looks like enough adjustments were made where the efficiency remained relatively consistent even as the opposition constructed new strategies to crack the Warriors’ defense. The current trend of defensive play by half is a bit concerning.
Consistently, during this season’s wins and losses, the Warriors have given up large second half leads. The Warriors were lucky to beat the Thunder after giving up a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter. If the second half defensive lapse continues to be a trend, you will see more games like those recently against Memphis and Portland. None of us want Oracle Arena to be filled with all that frustration and anger. Unfortunately, if Malone is on the bench for one of those games, at least one is in the win column.
We are starting to understand the value of Mike Malone as an assistant. Not only did he instill the defensive identity of this franchise; but he was also a large factor in the team’s in game defensive strategies. As the season continues, hopefully Jackson can improve his ability to make in-game adjustments. If he cannot, with the recent slew of injuries and road schedule ahead, there is reason for some concern.
All data is through 11/28/2013 and provided by NBA.com