Golden State Warriors Can't Play Small Because Corey Maggette Can't Play Defense

Chris FinocchioCorrespondent IFebruary 18, 2009

With the return of Marco Belinelli, Don Nelson will have to decide how he is going to spread minutes among his many swingmen. Ellis, Jackson, Maggette, Azubuike and Crawford have all averaged over 30 m/g this season. Anthony Morrow, CJ Watson, and the returning Italian sharpshooter have all exceeded expectations so far.

Anthony Morrow is leading the league in three point shooting and is improving his defense and ball handling. Watson leads Warriors under 6-10 in field goal percentage. Belinelli is shooting 44% on threes and has impressed with his playmaking skills. One way to get all these guys more playing time is to continue playing Maggette at the four.

These small-ball lineups may bring back memories of Matt Barnes, Pietrus, or Jack playing the four on the “We Believe” team.

I decided to take a look back at that miraculous 2006-07 team. I started by looking at the 10 units that played the most over the course of the year. The five units that included both Harrington and Biedrins averaged an opposing EFG% of 49.8% and an EFG% of 51.4.

The five small units that did not feature both Biedrins and Harrington averaged an opposing EFG% of 49.5 and an EFG% of 57.8.When the Warriors went small, their defense was not any less efficient and their offense was much more efficient.

The defense remained efficient as Harrington could match up with bigger fives, and Pietrus, Barnes, and Richardson could all defend bigger fours. The offense was significantly more efficient because opposing fours could not run with the Warrior’s fours or defend them on the perimeter.

I wanted to look at the stats and see how Maggette’s play at the four compared to the '06-'07 units.  It is harder to look at stats for this year because the sample sizes are much lower as the season is only half over and the Warriors have been plagued by injuries resulting in a huge variation in lineups.

One easy set of data to look at was how the Warriors performed with a lineup of Crawford, Buike, Jackson, Maggette, and Biedrins compared with Crawford, Buike, Jackson, Wright, Biedrins.

With Wright at the four, they had an average opposing EFG% of 42.2 compared with 59.0 when Maggette was at the four. Surprisingly the Warriors EFG% was also 10% higher with Wright in. Maybe it could makes sense that the guy who only takes good shots within two feet is more efficient then the guy who hoists threes when he is shooting 18% on them.

All year I’ve watched Maggette not move his feet when a guy drives or let guys post him up and drop step to the hoop at will. Still, I did not expect the difference between Wright and Maggette to be so great. The amount of minutes the Wariors played with the two units I compared was not too great so I thought that they might not be truly representative of Maggette’s defensive abilities.

So I compared Maggette to Azubuike when they each played with Watson, Crawford, Jackson, Biedrins and when they each played with Ellis, Crawford, Jackson, and Turiaf. In the two lineups with Buike, the Warriors average opposing EFG% was 54.1. With Maggette it was 56.4%. While this does not show much of a difference between Maggette and Azubuike, it may only show they are equally bad at guarding fours.
One reason the 08-09 small ball units may have been less effective than those of '06-'07 is that they were missing the combination of Baron/Monta running the fast break. Nevertheless, it seems reasonable to conclude that Azubuike and Maggette are much worse at guarding fours than Barnes or Pietrus. There did not seem to be enough data to see how Jackson has faired against fours this year. He seems very effective at pestering some skinny fours like Bosh or Nowitzki, but has a tougher time against Brandon Bass/ Paul Milsap types.

Even if Jackson can guard a four, he is usually better utilized guarding an opposing team’s best perimeter player.

While the Warriors do not have a star at the four spot, they have some decent options. When Wrights learns to rebound, or Randolph remembers he isn’t Kevin Durant when he gets the ball, the Warriors will have a solid long-term front-court partner for Biedrins. The Warriors have also faired well pairing Turiaf with Biedrins, giving them good defense and nice big to big passing.
If the Warriors do what is best for them, Belinelli, Morrow, and Watson will all get less playing time than they probably deserve. Crawford’s minutes may get cut into when Monta get back to form, but they won’t drop too significantly.

Belinelli and Morrow had been mentioned in trades that would give the Warriors an upgrade at the four or five.  After Terry Porter’s exit, it appears that the Warriors will not be making any trades. Come June, the Warriors will get another shot to see which young wings should get shipped out.