Back in the 2007 NBA playoffs, the Golden State Warriors pulled off an upset for the ages. As a number 8 seed, they stunned a 67-win Dallas Mavericks team in six games. In three of their four wins, the Don Nelson-led squad demolished the number 1 seeded team by 12, 18, and 25 points respectively.
How did they do it?
The Warriors masterfully executed the concept of small-ball. Stephen Jackson played out of position at the 4, the power forward slot, and completely mystified Dirk Nowitzki. He held the 2007 Most Valuable Player Award recipient to a career playoff worst 38.3 FG%. A player who was 28 years old and in his prime had just endured what will probably end up being the personal low point of his basketball playing career.
How do I know this? A blue gargantuan trashcan went flying through a wall moments after Dirk realized his season was over.
Davis-Asik combo at a distinct disadvantage
Unlike that amazing Warriors team that captured fans' hearts across the world, the Pelicans don't need to go small to counter any offensive threat (even though they have Stephen Curry, the likely 2015 MVP). Rather, it's to dismantle their imposing frontline defense anchored by Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut.
After playing Game 1, the coaching staff should know exactly what I'm talking about.
|Minutes||Pelicans FG%||Pelicans FTA||Pelican's TOV||+/-|
|Bogut/Green Combo||29+||31.3% (15/48)||14||10||+16 Warriors|
|No Bogut/Green Combo||18+||57.1% (20/35)||11||4||+9 Pelicans|
Pretty self explanatory, no? The Pelicans played like gangbusters when the Warriors starting front court was separated from being on the floor together at the same time.
Perhaps some of you may be thinking this might some one game fluke?
Well, the regular season statistics pretty much echo the same thing. In 1271 minutes together, this incredible defensive duo had a 95.1 Defensive rating. Opponents shot 42% from the floor and just 43.7% inside the three-point line.
For the 2014-15 regular season, the Warriors gave up 13.9 fastbreak points a game (22nd) and 41.6 points in the paint (14th) to opponents. Care to know just how much of an impact the combination of Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut had on those stats? If they were to play all 48 minutes, Golden State would have theoretically given up 10.9 fast break points and 35.7 points in the paint. That would have placed their team 3rd and 1st respectively in each of those categories in the NBA this season.
For comparison's sake, the duo of Anthony Davis and Omer Asik had a 100.5 DEF Rtg. Opponents shot 45% from the floor and 47.7% inside the three-point arc. Certainly they must have swung the needle significantly in a positive direction regarding the team's opponent fast break points a game of 13.7 (20th) and the 46.5 points in the paint (29th)?
Nope. Extrapolating the data in the same manner as above, the Davis-Asik tandem on the floor for all 48 minutes would have resulted in 13.9 fastbreak points a game (22nd) and 43.7 points in the paint (23rd).
Now, let's drop the bomb that flattens the comparison: the contrast of the duos' offenses.
|Minutes||Offensive RTG||eFG%||AST/TOV||%FGA 2PTs||%FGA 3PTs|
Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green are notably more efficient, better decision makers and they spread the floor much more ideally. Most teams would have to live with this glaring disparity on both sides of the ball as better options are not normally found on the bench. Well, that's not entirely the case for the Pelicans.
Ryan Anderson, the stretch-4 factor
Coming off spinal fusion surgery, Ryan Anderson suffered through easily his worst season as a professional. His statistical line was marred with career lows in PER, TS%, 3P% and OREB. However, despite this disheartening display, he was still a better offensive option to pair up with Anthony Davis.
|Minutes||Offensive RTG||eFG%||AST/TOV||%FGA 2PTs||%FGA 3PTs|
Although the Net Rating difference between Anderson-Davis and Asik-Davis is only 1.4 points, the difference he can make, even if his shot remains absent, is worlds greater. Here's the deal, Anthony Davis is a wunderkind.
35 points & 5 rebounds in playoff debut all-time: Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Julius Erving...Anthony Davis (via @EliasSports)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 18, 2015
He is already so fantastically amazing that he doesn't need much help. The only thing he needs is for other players to just get out of the damn way.
The problem with pairing Asik on the floor with Davis is that it allows Golden State to keep Bogut planted around the rim area. Not only does AD have to contend with Green, he is more than likely going to have to run into Bogut camping in the lane too.
Thus, even though Anderson is levels below Asik on the defensive end, what he can do is give the Pelicans an actual advantage over the Warriors. Simply creating more space for Davis in and around the paint area, New Orleans has a chance to be more successful. By sticking with the status quo of Asik-Davis, the Pelicans will remain inferior to the Warriors on both ends of the floor.
In Game 1, Anthony Davis was definitely nervous, but it didn't help matters that a group of Warriors were shadowing Davis all over the floor. Draymond Green was in his face. Other Warrior perimeter defenders were ready to reach in and knock the ball away. Lastly, Andrew Bogut was sitting underneath the rim awaiting to deter any Davis' trips inside the paint.
Is Monty willing to try something radical?
"Omer Asik, who is that?" asks the Golden State Warriors. Yup, they pretty much got it right.
I've been one of his biggest proponents this season, but I don't like his chances on performing consistently for the Pelicans as he did during the regular season. Even if Ryan Anderson is unable to regain his stroke, he still makes for a better option to see the majority of the minutes. And if worst comes to worst, playing Dante Cunningham or, gulp, Luke Babbitt at the four shouldn't be overlooked.
Ultimately, this is what the series may come down to: by playing the Pelicans' traditional lineup and sticking with largely the same regular season rotations, the Warriors are not a good matchup. As I've shown above, playing the Davis-Asik combo can pretty much neutralize one of the best players on the planet when going up against Bogut-Green.
Based on the results of Game 1, Monty Williams could really level the playing field by literally forcing Steve Kerr's hand. When Ryan Anderson first entered the game at the 3:17 mark of the 1st quarter, he promptly drilled home a three-pointer. In the very next instance, Kerr removed Bogut from the game.
In the second half, Davis picked up his 4th foul just 5 minutes into the third quarter and again Anderson reappeared on the floor. Although he missed a three-point attempt seconds later, Kerr still yanked Bogut from the game.
Whether Anderson is hitting or missing, Steve Kerr doesn't want Bogut chasing around Anderson or Davis all over the perimeter. That's a significant mismatch for the Warriors and their center.
In his post game comments, Monty alluded to how Anthony Davis discovered a way to attack Golden States defense. He smartly didn't reveal anything and I pray that it's true, but there is another surefire way of improving the odds against one of the best regular season teams in quite some time. Monty only needs to take the first page out of the 2007 Warriors playbook -- go small.