Are Warriors Overvalued in Western Conference Semifinals?
Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images. Pictured: Draymond Green #23 and Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors.
It’s hard not to like the Golden State Warriors.
Three years removed a dynasty in which they made five consecutive NBA Finals while winning three championships, the Warriors are back in the postseason and poised to make another deep run with key pieces from the championship core and some young additions.
With the greatest three-point shooting tandem ever in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, one of the best and most versatile defenders of all time in Draymond Green, a championship winning coach in Steve Kerr and an emerging star in Jordan Poole, it’s obvious why many fans, analysts and bettors view this team as an extension of the Warriors previous success — similar to what we’ve seen from the San Antonio Spurs.
The betting markets reflect that sentiment, but is it warranted?
The Golden State Warriors opened as heavy favorites over the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference Semifinals, despite finishing with a worse record in the regular season and not having home court.
BetMGM opened this series at -275/+210, giving the Warriors a 73.3% chance at advancing. After the first two games of this series, the Warriors sit at -300/+245 and as high as -360/+300 at the Westgate in Las Vegas. To put this into perspective, BetMGM opened the Warriors/Nuggets series at -200/+170, giving the Warriors a 66.6% chance at winning the round.
First Round Matchups
The Warriors performance against the Nuggets in Round 1, which they won 4-1 and outscored Denver by 40 points over the course of the series, certainly impacted perception. With the Grizzlies becoming the first team in NBA history to have multiple double-digit, fourth-quarter comeback wins in the same playoff series, all signs pointed towards the Warriors returning to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2019.
Styles make fights and much of the perception coming into this series was altered by each team’s first-round matchup. The Warriors were able to face a depleted Nuggets team that didn’t have the personnel to defend Curry, Poole and Thompson, the Grizzlies.
Meanwhile, the Grizzlies were matched up against a tough Minnesota squad. Although the Denver Nuggets had a better record than the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Wolves were a stronger opponent per both Pythagorean Expectation (48 wins to 47 wins) and SRS (2.53 to 2.16) and a team that could cause problems with Karl-Anthony Towns playing Steven Adams off the floor.
SRS– Simple Rating System: A rating that takes into account average point differential and strength of schedule. The rating is denominated in points above/below average, where zero is average. Doug Drinen, creator of Pro-Football-Reference.com wrote a thorough explanation of this method.
SRS (Simple Rating System):
Golden State Warriors: 5.52
Memphis Grizzlies: 5.37
Minnesota Timberwolves: 2.53
Denver Nuggets: 2.16
Is There Value on the Grizzlies?
I think there’s some value in this matchup between the Grizzlies and Warriors. SRS has these teams evenly matched with the Warriors SRS at 5.52 and the Grizzlies at 5.37 for a net of -0.15.
While the Warriors certainly suffered their fair share of injuries during the regular season, which may have altered their full season power rating, I have reason to believe SRS is a better representation than the betting market at determining the differences between these two teams, based on how the Warriors-Nuggets series was priced.
Warriors-Nuggets Game By Game Pricing:
Warriors-Nuggets Game 1 (Chase Center): Warriors -6.5 [Warriors Win & Cover: 123-107]
Warriors-Nuggets Game 2 (Chase Center): Warriors -7 [Warriors Win & Cover: 126-106]
Warriors-Nuggets Game 3 (Ball Arena): Warriors -2.5 [Warriors Win & Cover: 118-113]
Warriors-Nuggets Game 4 (Ball Arena): Warriors -4.5 [Nuggets Win & Cover: 126-121]
Warriors-Nuggets Game 5 (Chase Center): Warriors -9 [Warriors Win, Nuggets Cover: 102-66]
For comparison, here’s how Grizzlies-Warriors is being priced within the market:
Warriors-Grizzlies Game By Game Pricing:
Warriors-Nuggets Game 1 (FedExForum): Warriors -2.5 [Warriors Win, Grizzlies Cover: 117-116]
Warriors-Nuggets Game 2 (FedExForum): Warriors -2 [Grizzlies Win & Cover: 106-101]
Warriors-Nuggets Game 3 (Chase Center): Warriors -7
From a numbers perspective there’s clear value on the Grizzlies, but a deeper dig shows the Grizzlies present a challenging matchup from a basketball perspective as well.
The narrative surrounding this series was that the Warriors had the edge based on their previous championship experience. However, outside of Curry, Thompson, Green, Kevon Looney and Andre Iguodala, this is essentially a brand-new team, full of younger players. Iguodala is 38 years old and out with a neck injury. He will be re-evaluated next week and is unlikely to see much time in this series.
While Otto Porter had some solid postseason appearances with the Washington Wizards, Andrew Wiggins is the only other player with postseason experience and he only made the playoffs once during his time with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Grizzlies Youth + Athleticism
In many ways, the core group’s age could work against them as Curry is 34, Green is 32 and Thompson is 31 and just one year removed from a ruptured Achilles and torn ACL. This is not a younger Warriors team, which would have the edge pushing the pace and scoring in transition.
The Grizzlies’ athleticism and length has caused problems on both ends of the floor, creating easy scoring opportunities on offense and forcing stops and turnovers on the defense. In Game 1, the Grizzlies added 4.2 points per 100 possessions in transition, a mark that would put them in the 70th percentile among all NBA games this season. While that number improved in Game 2, turnovers continue to be an issue for the Warriors as they had 18 turnovers in both Games 1 and 2. The Grizzlies scored 15 and 26 points off turnovers in those games. The Warriors ranked 29th in turnover rate (15.2%) this season, so I expect this trend to continue.
After struggling in the Grizzlies first-round series against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Ja Morant has come alive against the Warriors, averaging 40.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and nine assists. He’s also coming off a heroic Game 2 performance where he put up 47 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and added three steals. Morant has hunted switches in this series and the Warriors have struggled to stop him going to the basket. Poole has been targeted defensively throughout this series and with the injury to Gary Payton II, the Warriors are now missing one of their best defenders. While Wiggins has the length, he doesn’t have the quickness and we could see the Warriors blitz Morant more, forcing others to beat them. Regardless, with the way Morant is playing, the Grizzlies have a real shot. If they can get anyone else to step up we could be looking at a long series.
These aren’t the Warriors we saw win three championships and make five consecutive NBA Finals, given their inability to close games. Despite the Warriors having a perceived edge in experience, they blew a 103-94 lead with eight minutes to go in Game 1, a 108-104 lead in the 4th quarter of of Game 1 and couldn’t hold on to multiple four-point leads with three minutes to go in Game 2, ultimately losing 106-101 and sending the series to Chase Center tied 1-1.
NBA.com defines clutch games as games with a point differential of five or less with five minutes to go. In the postseason, the Warriors are just 3-2 with the eighth-best Net Rating of -0.4, behind an Offensive Rating of 119.6 and a Defensive Rating of 120. Looking back to the regular season, the Warriors were ninth among all NBA teams in Net Rating (4.0) in clutch games with a 23-19 record behind an Offensive Rating of 103.3 and a Defensive Rating of 99.3.
By comparison, the Grizzlies have been better in these situations in both the regular season and postseason. During the regular season, the Grizzlies were 21-11 in the clutch with a 9.8 Net Rating behind an Offensive Rating of 112.2 and a Defensive Rating of 102.4. In the postseason, the Grizzlies are 4-3 with a Net Rating of 35.7, an Offensive Rating of 135.7 and a Defensive Rating of 100.
New Death Lineup not working?
While the Curry-Poole-Thompson-Wiggins-Green lineup resembled the “Death Lineup” and the “Hamptons 5” lineup we saw during the Warriors dynasty in their first round series against the Nuggets, it’s completely fallen off a cliff against the Grizzlies. In 39 minutes against the Nuggets, this lineup finished with a Net Rating of 21.4, an Offensive Rating of 141.2 and a Defensive Rating of 119.8. In 11 minutes against the Grizzlies, this lineup has posted a Net Rating of -51.4, an Offensive Rating of 83.3 and a Defensive Rating of 134.8. Game 2 was particularly problematic as that lineup went -11 in two second half stints, including a -6 in the final four minutes of the game.
This unit will have problems defending the Grizzlies and will only work if the Warriors are shooting lights out, something they haven’t done this series.
Warriors Shooting Woes
The Warriors are having an outlier series in regards to shooting as they’re just 21-of-76 (27.6%) from behind the arc. Curry is 8-of-23 (34.8%), Thompson is shooting 5-of-22 (22.7%) and Poole is shooting 6-of-16 (37.5%) from deep. Game 2 was particularly problematic as the Warriors were just 7-of-38 (18.4%) from three. We should expect the Warriors to shoot better in their home games with dominant performances from Curry and Thompson, which will remind everyone why this team has the second-best odds — behind the Phoenix Suns — to win the title.
Although the Warriors are the better team and should be favored, this series is much closer than the market indicates. The back injury to Desmond Bane is problematic, but based on the number available, I’ll back the Memphis Grizzlies to win this series because they’re being undervalued by the market.
Pick: Memphis Grizzlies +300 to win the Series