Projecting the NBA using xWARP: Golden State Warriors

After a great, exciting regular season and post-season run the Golden State Warriors’ front office decided not to rest on its laurels. This offseason, they made a big move to dump bloated contracts plus a couple future first round draft picks to the Jazz in order to free up the cap space necessary to sign versatile swingman Andre Iguodala. Will that move be enough to propel the Warriors towards the top of the Western Conference?

It appears not. The Warriors project to be better than their 47 win record of last year, clocking in at a projected 50 wins here. Three wins of improvement is actually underselling the Warriors projected improvement a bit. Last year, the Warriors had the point differential or margin of victory of a 44 win team. So really a 50 win projection for these Warriors represents a 6 win improvement in quality over the team they were last year. That sounds about right for a team adding a player of Iguodala’s quality, while already being a good team to start.

There are a couple of reasons the Warriors don’t project to shoot up the Western Conference ranks, aside from their overachieving last year relative to their point differential. David Lee and Stephen Curry both project to regress a bit from their numbers last year, according to Nathan Walker’s projected xRAPM numbers. Steph’s projected to clock in at +3.9, compared with a +4.2 last year, whereas Lee is projected to produce just a +.7 compared to his much better +1.4 of last year. This is becoming a bit of a theme for teams that had their best players play very well last year, and it should be. Statistically speaking, it’s more likely than not that a player coming off a career season (or even a very good one relative to their prior performance) will take a small step back towards the mean of their previous career performance than it is that they will produce the same numbers or better.

Additionally, the Warriors lost Jarrett Jack from last year’s squad and have replaced his spot in the rotation with… Toney Douglas? Douglas projects to be an above replacement contributor, to be sure, but he doesn’t project to be as helpful as Jack was. Jack’s xRAPM last year was -.7, whereas Douglas projects to be worse at -1.1. The loss of Jack, expected regression to the mean for the duo of Lee and Curry, added to the fact that this was a club closer to a 44 win team last year than a 47 win team, all conspire to make it seem likely that the Warriors will disappoint the lofty expectations that have arrived with adding Iguodala to a team that already had a nice playoff run last year. On the other hand, 50 wins is certainly nothing to feel shame over and Stephen Curry could always go nova again in the playoffs and lay waste to teams that appear better on paper, so take heart in that Dubs fans.

Image from Keith Allison via Flickr.

Andre Iguodala is a Warrior, at a future cost

Dre doing what Dre does

Andre Iguodala, unofficially, became a Golden State Warrior today, when he agreed to a 4 year, $48 million deal with the Bay Area club. In order to sign Iguodala, the Warriors had to dump the sizable contracts of Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins, as well as Brandon Rush on the Utah Jazz.

In exchange for accepting those bloated contracts attached to relatively useless players, the Jazz extracted the price of a 2014 first rounder, a 2017 first rounder and multiple second round picks. The 2014 pick should be relatively late in the first round, as it is almost a certainty that the Warriors will be improved from the 6 seed they were this year with Iguodala in the fold. The location of the 2017 pick is much less certain as the only players on the Warriors’ books for that season are Stephen Curry and now Iguodala. This is the move of a team very much taking its chances at a Finals run this season. Iguodala is 29 years old and a player who relies heavily on his athletic gifts as the keys to his effectiveness. He’s not a terribly skilled player in the sense that he has tremendous offensive footwork or a reliable jump shot. He’s explosive and gets to the basket and can handle the ball fairly well. He’s also a very smart defensive player and knows what to do against just about anyone he’s matched against. He does, however, use his athleticism on the defensive side of the court quite a bit, as well.

As I’ve mentioned before, wing players (particularly the ones who are explosive athletes like Iguodala) tend to decline rather quickly after they hit 30 years old.  It’s worth considering that they have just committed $12 million a season for 4 years to a wing player who turns 30 next season. The salary is quite a bit and worth worrying over by itself but when combined with the picks surrendered to clear the cap space to sign Iguodala, this has the potential to be a bad overall transaction for the Warriors should they fail to win big in the next few years. More optimistically, the Warriors should be much improved for next season, which is really what this move is all about. With Iguodala and Klay Thompson manning the starting wing positions, Stephen Curry should be much more easily protected on defense so that he can go absolutely NOVA more often, like he did so often in the playoffs.  You remember, like this:

If the Dubs are able to improve on their second round ouster from last year and maybe even make a run all the way to the NBA Finals, this move will seem much more worth it. With the Clippers and Rockets also improving markedly it will be interesting to see if the Warriors can pull it off. At the very least, they have struck a significant blow to the Denver Nuggets, taking their best player for nothing at all in return. That has to be a bitter pill for Nuggets fans, especially after already watching these same Warriors defeat them in the first round of the playoffs.