Davis’ Departure Ushers In an Exciting Future For The Golden State Warriors

Quentin McCallCorrespondent IJuly 7, 2008

Only a year ago, the Baron Davis led Warriors gave fans a reason to believe in the possibility of making the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. So Davis’ departure would seem to be devastating.

However, with Davis departing and taking his cap consuming contract with him, the Warriors have the opportunity to add pieces to a roster that already sports one of top young cores in the NBA – right behind the Blazers, Hornets, and Cavs (having Chris Paul or Lebron James instantly gives you a strong young core). In fact, I would argue that Davis’ departure gives Warriors fans as much reason to believe in the future as his dunk on Andrei Kirilenko. Why?

Not to minimize his enormous talent, but losing Davis gives the Warriors an opportunity to build a more efficient and balanced roster around a core of young players. It’s not only the combination of young talent and financial flexibility that has me excited about the Warriors’ future, but also the fact that Davis may have been a poor fit for a young developing team.

Even prior to Davis choosing to leave the Warriors via free agency, I was hoping that the Warriors would trade him while his value is high. My thinking was that the team would be better off using him as a chip to acquire more pieces rather than paying him well into the future. I was ready for the team to go in a different direction.

That’s right – Davis the man undeniably responsible for the Warriors surprise playoff run in 2007 might not be the best choice to lead the team into the future.

Sound crazy? I think this is one of those times where observation reinforced by statistics can help illuminate a hidden reality.

Thanks for the memories

As much as Warriors fans have to appreciate Davis who just completed his first full season in years, there is an argument to be made that they might be just fine without out him moving toward the future.

When Davis arrived, he was the first true game changer that the Warriors had since the disgruntled version of Chris Webber was sent to Washington. Davis was charismatic, a scorer, and play maker all packed in a strong 6’ 4” package. The Warriors absolutely would not have made the 2007 NBA playoffs without Davis in the lineup – there’s no way to dispute that. 

However, the one glaring flaw in Davis’ game is that he also has the inclination to entertain. And sometimes that inclination can supercede playing good basketball. That is evident in the statistics.

Looking beyond the assist/turnover ratio, field goal percentage or even pure point rating, Davis’ game could potentially detract from the development and rhythm of this young core. The problem is that as talented as he is, he’s also a ball dominant point guard, which means that he not only handles the ball a lot, but he also squanders a number of possessions.

Statistics lie…but sometimes illuminate

Anybody who watches Warriors games probably knows that they are more than a little trigger happy from the three point line…and Don Nelson is an enabler in that regard. As a point guard, Davis only exacerbates the mantra of living by the three and dying by the three.

Davis shot 6.4 threes per game (#1 among point guards) at a percentage of 33% last season (27th among point guards). Add to that a true shooting percentage of 52.3%, which ranks him 33rd among point guards. So when a player who has the ball in his hands most (22.2% of the Warriors possessions) is a less efficient scorer than Allen Iverson, a lot of possessions are wasted.

It just so happens that Chris Paul has similar possession ratios as Davis, so I’ll take a look at those for the sake of comparison. Paul has the ball in his hands a lot as well (21.8% of the team’s possessions). And they both commit turnovers in about 12% of the possessions they have the ball. But Paul also takes half as many three pointers per game as Davis (3 per game) and has a higher true shooting percentage (57.6).

So what does that mean for their comparative effectiveness as point guards?

Davis’ tendency to shoot the ball at a low percentage, means he burns a lot of his team’s possessions. John Hollinger’s assist ratio is one way to illustrate that. Assist ratio is the percentage of a player’s possessions that end in an assist. Davis has an assist ratio of 24.3%, which ranks 45th in the league among point guards). Paul has an assist ratio of 35.7%, which ranks 9th. 

Tony Parker actually ranks below Davis in assist ratio, but he had a field goal percentage of 49% and a true shooting percentage of 54.2%. But when you’re playing with Tim Duncan, there’s a larger margin for error – Parker only needs to knock down outside shots.

Inefficient point guard play and poor rebounding don’t mix

A small team that likes to run cannot afford both inefficient play from their point guard and poor rebounding. Fast breaks are initiated by defense and rebounding. If the team is not able to rebound well enough to get up and down the court and the guy with the ball in his hands most often is squandering possessions, it’s difficult to win games.

Consider the effect that has on the Warriors as a team -- it means that the person most responsible for getting the team into the offense and setting up teammates for scoring opportunities is actually disrupting the team’s rhythm. Younger players Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrins were among the most efficient starters in the league at their respective positions. So while Baron is shooting the ball at a low percentage, the team loses the opportunity to get the ball to a more efficient scorer.

Decision making is as important as talent

The problem we see here with Davis is simply a matter of decision-making. There’s no doubt that he’s a very talented player.  But even if we blame Nelson’s scheme for Davis’ shooting tendencies, it does not negate the fact that he was not able to get the ball to the team’s more efficient scorers. But as big as a boost he gave the team, at times he clearly hurt them.

If this young core is to develop as a cohesive unit in the future that complements each other and builds off their collective strengths, they need to play more efficient basketball. The main reason is that they do not have a legitimate post scoring threat in the way Parker has Duncan or Paul has David West. So ball movement, speed, and execution are much more important for the Warriors and they were not getting that from Davis.

For those that question Monta Ellis’ ability to take the reigns and run the point, I think too much emphasis is placed upon some nebulous definition of what it means to be a “pure point guard”. Clearly, there’s little support that Davis is a pure point guard by any stretch of the imagination – he’s a combo guard at best…possibly a scoring guard with point guard skills. But then, check out Chris Paul’s numbers – he’s not exactly what we traditionally consider a “pure point” either as he scored 21 points per game, albeit much more efficiently than Davis.

It’s about building a system, not filling traditional positions

There are many different ways to be a playoff point guard in this league and there’s no reason Ellis couldn’t eventually become one. He’s still only 22 and is already an extremely efficient scorer. He may not be the type of point guard that has Jason Kidd instincts that lead to highlight reel passes, but he can get the ball up the court in a hurry and get the team in the offense and pick his spots to score.

What the Warriors could do instead of focusing on filling the hole that Baron left is think about how to best complement the guys that are going to lead them into the future. If the complaint is that Monta is a sub-par distributor, then perhaps the answer is to focus on team ball movement instead of relying on the point guard to make plays.

There is no reason that Monta cannot be as effective as a point guard as Mike Bibby. Bibby in Sacramento had play makers all around him (Chris Webber, Vlade Divac, and even Doug Christie to some extent), which meant that he could be a scorer. You could say much the same about the Spurs who have a number of good ball handlers and passers around Duncan and Parker.

Nellie’s small ball had taken this team as far as it was going to go and that unfortunately is not good enough for a playoff berth in the west. If the Warriors hope to make the playoffs again within the next decade, they have to play better team basketball than their opponents. That means playing more efficiently and constructing a more balanced roster. Letting Davis walk could be a step toward a more efficient future in which the Warriors play better team basketball.