Four Factors That Make the Golden State Warriors Better Than You Think

Quentin McCallCorrespondent IJuly 21, 2008

It was a given that the Warriors off-season was going to be exciting the moment it was announced that Baron Davis was heading back home to LA

Summer league has brought further excitement, and new reasons to believe for Warriors fans. Anthony Randolph has looked much more like an NBA player than a bust, Marco Belinelli is starting to develop a more well rounded game, and Richard Hendrix proved to be as good a rebounder as advertised in his first game.   So you must forgive Warriors fans if the signings of Corey Maggette and Ronny Turiaf feel like something of a let down. Neither have the Hollywood personality of Baron Davis, nor the game changing talent of Elton Brand, Josh Smith, or any number of 2010 free agents. However, although these moves aren’t splashy or likely to draw the fans that Baron Davis could simply by stepping on the court, they might end up making a lot of basketball sense.   

Assuming they are able to retain up-and-coming players Andris Biedrins and Monta Ellis, the Warriors are starting to build a well balanced rotation around their young core of Biedrins and Ellis. As Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury news notes, “...what Mullin has formulated now is a 9- or 10-man rotation, with youth and versatility, that has some money next season (Foyle’s $6.8M buy-out number comes off the cap) and some interesting ways to go.” It would be silly to expect this team to win more games, but their future looks quite bright.

As I probed deeper into what Mullin & Co. is constructing, I also noticed something about the way the Warriors’ front office has put together this team. In Maggette, the Warriors have an efficient scorer and free-throw shooter. Turiaf should bring an increased offensive rebounding percentage to the team.

When you look at the Warriors' moves from that perspective, you see that their reasoning is actually quite consistent with Dean Oliver’s Four Factors concept. If that is indeed the line of reasoning they are following (or something similar), then the Warriors may have improved their roster more than we think from a basketball standpoint.  What the Warriors have lost in star power and flash this offseason, they have made up for with sound basketball decisions that may compensate for the increased financial flexibility they’ve lost

What are the Four Factors?  The principles behind Oliver’s Four Factors of basketball are actually quite simple. You need to shoot the ball efficiently, take care of the ball on offense, get offensive rebounds, and get to the foul line—and make sure you force your opponent to do the opposite. Though there’s no one way to use this formula to build a winner, it’s hard to dispute that you need all of those elements for winning basketball. From Oliver’s website:

“Saying above that shooting is "the most important" of the four factors hints at what this section is about: The Four Factors aren't all equivalent in value. You can do better at your opponent in three of these factors and still lose. You can be a good team at three factors and poor at the other and only end up with a mediocre team. Identifying the factors that are generally important then helps in identifying a strategy for constructing a successful team.”

So one way to put the Warriors’ recent moves in perspective is to look at them relative to the Four Factors, keeping the principle in mind that they aren’t equivalent in value.

What I think will become clear is that while the Warriors are not yet a contender, they’ve built the foundation for a strong basketball system in the future

Effective field goal percentage  Effective field goal percentage (eFG%) is the most obvious improvement the Warriors have made in the Four Factors—and what’s most interesting is that it was already their strongest point.

The Warriors were eighth in the league last season in eFG%, which adjusts for the difference in value between two- and three-point field goals. The Warriors did not need much help in this category, but Maggette should be seen as a welcome addition.  Part of success in this factor is shot selection—and Maggette will be the Warriors’ best option on that front at small forward, as he ranks a little higher than Stephen Jackson with a 50 percent eFG%.

Since the assumption is that Jackson will slide over to shooting guard, this should work well. But it’s Maggette’s style of play that should most benefit the Warriors—he’s able to drive and score close to the basket and get to the free throw line.   Without Baron Davis’ three-point attempts, you should expect the Warriors to be a much-improved shooting team overall

Free throw attempts per field goal attempt  The Warriors were fifth-worst in the league in free throw attempts per field goal last season, which is likely a result of their heavy reliance on perimeter shooting. It’s a given that Maggette will help on that front, as he was tops among small forwards in that category last year.   However, it’s also worth noting that Turiaf was 11th among power forwards and 20th among centers—where he’ll likely get most of his minutes—in free throw attempts per field goal.

Certainly, the Warriors won’t rely on Turiaf for scoring. But if he can get to the line and continue to shoot 75 percent as he did last season, he will be a huge asset for a team that struggled from the charity stripe last season

Offensive rebounding percentage  Offensive rebounding percentage is a pretty straightforward statistic—it measures the percentage of available offensive rebounds that a team actually collected.

The Warriors’ rebounding percentage wasn’t too bad last season, ranked 12th in the league. But when you consider that they had one of the worst rebounding differentials in the league, and gave up the most defensive rebounds and the second-most offensive rebounds, it’s clear they need help on the boards.  Although Turiaf is not an outstanding overall rebounder, he should give the Warriors a huge boost on the offensive glass—especially if he gets some minutes playing next to Biedrins.   And if summer league and college statistics (3.0 offensive rebounds a game) are any indication, Hendrix—who could project as a Turiaf-like player in his first season—stands to help on the offensive boards as well. That’s a lot more beef up front for a team that has historically lacked any kind of inside presence.

And if Brandan Wright shows improvement—read: more strength—he could be a huge help here as well

Turnover problems (corrected) One area the Warriors have yet to address this off-season is turnovers. They were near the top of the league last season (12.90% of plays ended in a turnover), which is positive. However, they might see a decline in turnover percentage if they don't add a veteran point guard to help Monta Ellis handle the ball handling responsibilities. Maggette, who will probably have the ball in his hands a lot, is also no model of ball-handling efficiency—he made more turnovers than assists last season.

Ultimately, they have not yet made any improvements in this department, and may have even regressed. We can only hope that the players are able to improve their execution on offense to turn this around

The building blocks for success  The Warriors will probably miss the playoffs for the 15th time in 16 years next season, but they seem to be moving in a positive direction. Their two recent signings are certainly nothing to get excited about, but what I think we’re seeing is the construction of a coherent team, something we haven’t seen here in a long time.   And I think the key is that we not expect them to fix all of these problems at once. 

The Warriors have made progress, getting good role players to fit around a strong young core of Ellis, Biedrins, Wright, and (hopefully) Randolph. The key now is to build a system that maximizes their talents, masks their weaknesses, and allows them to develop some good chemistry.   So these moves may not be as insignificant as we think. The team has bolstered some critical weak points without compromising their ability to play an up-tempo style that will bring the best out of Ellis and Wright. When I look at what this team has done from a team chemistry standpoint, I can’t help but be satisfied with the offseason moves thus far.