Justin Holiday’s value within the Warriors team defense

Despite Charles Barkley’s repetition that the Warriors are still a big man away from winning a championship and can’t win because they’re a jump-shooting team, Golden State’s defense has performed at an elite level. Currently the Warriors are pacing the entire NBA in multiple defensive stats, including forcing teams to use up a lot of the shot clock (more than any team in the league).

It’s not just the Defensive Player of the Year candidates, Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut, holding it down either. Steve Kerr has instilled a team-oriented style of defense predicated on a lot of switching. This rare flexibility that the Warriors have to switch on virtually all positional players on the floor is thanks to tall and athletic players. One of these players is Justin Holiday.

Holiday did not get significant minutes on the floor until a late December 2014 game against the Sacramento Kings where his defense and scoring (18 points in 20 minutes on 7-of-12 from the field and 3-of-7 from three). The depth of the Warriors bench has prevented him from keeping those minutes, but whenever on the floor, he has played a pivotal role on both sides of the ball. 

The advanced metrics highlight his defensive value (DFG% all well above league average) but sometimes it’s the plays that don’t result in a quantifiable number that show a player’s worth on the less glamorous side of basketball. Watching the Warriors play Portland and one play in particular made me say “whoa, I need to see that again…”

At first glance, there’s nothing particularly exciting about a made bucket by the opponent. But C.J. McCollum had been tearing up the Warriors defense that night—something nobody was particularly expecting. (McCollum finished the night with a career-high 23 points on 9-of-18 from the field.) And out of all the players on the floor at the time, including Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala, Holiday was the one assigned to guard the hot scorer.

After successfully fighting through the pick-and-roll, Holiday perches in the corner guarding the weak-side three, something not to be given up on the night where McCollum was doing his best Kyle Korver impression.

It would be impossible to mention a Warriors defensive play without Draymond Green, and it this defensive possession starts to develop and he drifts toward the paint. Acting as the Warriors center, he prevents an easy basket from Damian Lillard, and then prepares to shoot back up to guard the perimeter. (Yes, Draymond Green went from being a interior defender to a perimeter defender in the same play.)

After recognizing Draymond needs time to recover when the drive leads to a kick-out to McCollum, Holiday effectively forces McCollum to drive baseline once the pass is made to the corner. This is the moment that really caught my attention because he prevented the pass to UC Berkeley alum Allen Crabbe for an open three. 

Effectively at that moment, Holiday guarded two players at once.

McCollum bites, goes baseline, and scores. This is hardly Holiday’s fault because he made the right basketball play. Fetus Ezeli has been slowly earning minutes of his own and in this particular instance was unable to move quickly enough to guard the drive. Insert Andrew Bogut here and there’s a good chance that McCollum doesn’t even take the shot.

This is just a single play but it is one among many that show even the team’s youngest players like Justin Holiday know their role, have confidence in their ability to succeed when called upon, and execute. The scary thing is that this team that is 58-13 in one of the deepest Western Conferences ever might still have areas where they can improve.

As for Justin Holiday, he’s someone that I firmly believe the Warriors should invest in. He’s on track to become a valuable cross between San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and his own teammate, Draymond Green.

Why Steph Curry Should Win The 2015 NBA MVP

I would be lying if I told you I could say “well clearly, Steph Curry is the MVP.” After all, if that were the case, there would be no point writing why Curry should be the 2015 NBA MVP. The truth is that there is merit to arguing for one of four candidates: Curry, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, and James Harden. The column that put me, personally, over the edge was that of Greg Swartz of Bleacher Report, where he claims that James has been the most valuable to his team. That’s when I said that someone needs to voice what should be the prevailing opinion: Steph Curry deserves to win the NBA MVP.

Swartz, along with many writers, often only give the reasons for Player A winning Award X. This is both incomplete and problematic. When we are talking about relative performance, it is necessary to say why Player A deserves it over Player B. This means extolling some aspects of each candidate and dismissing others. Does this mean that the less deserving is a bad basketball player? No way. To me, the highest honor a talking head can give to a player is an answer of “yes” to the following question: could you build a championship contender with Player A as your best player? I believe that the answer to each of the four candidates here (Curry, Harden, James, and Westbrook) is a resounding “yes.” So let’s get that out of the way.

Now it’s my job to systematically dismantle the reasons for giving Harden, James, and Westbrook the MVP. In my mind, this is a multiple choice test:

Which of the following players should win the 2015 NBA MVP Award?

A. Stephen Curry
B. James Harden
C. LeBron James
D. Russell Westbrook

Maybe I’ve taken way too many standardized tests (thank you, SAT and MCAT), but it seems this is the most logical way to come to a conclusion. And it’s like those annoying reading comprehension selections. The goal is not to choose the correct answer—this isn’t a math problem. The goal is to choose the best answer.

Eliminating Russell Westbrook

Westbrook’s triple-double streak and statistical tear in the absence of Kevin Durant should be illegal. He has made the NBA his personal playground. In the four games that he’s played in March, he has averaged 41 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists, and 3.0 steals. No words necessary. In February, he averaged 31-9-10 with 1.6 steals per game. Also not normal. 

But Westbrook has played 13 fewer games than Steph Curry and this is important for two reasons. First, this tear that he has been on would likely diminish had he played those extra games. Maybe 41-11-11 becomes 35-7-7 and we aren't as impressed. He’s more like 2012 Jeremy Lin than 2014 Kevin Durant in the sense that it’s been over a shorter duration than what is worthy of MVP consideration. I crudely scrolled through NBA MVPs over the past 15 years and only 2001 Allen Iverson played fewer than 75 games (or the equivalent in a lockout season). And A.I. singlehandedly took Philadelphia to the number one seed in the East with Theo Ratliff as the second-leading scorer on the team at a whopping 12.4 points per game.

Second, if Westbrook ends up playing 65 to 67 games, this gives him the luxury of playing harder over the shorter span. Not only that, but his team is buffered by Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka and even then, the Oklahoma City Thunder are still scrambling to just make the playoffs. In giving out an individual award, it is necessary to see how individual talent translates to team success, as I delineated in a Kobe Bryant vs. LeBron James comparison a while back. Cross out answer choice D.

Eliminating LeBron James

Sorry, LeBron, not this year.

Maybe voter fatigue alone will take care of LeBron, but the argument against the Cavs superstar is a corollary to that against Westbrook. (Westbrook has played 48 games, LeBron has played 54.)

James doesn’t deserve this year’s MVP because Cleveland is in the Eastern Conference. There is no way that they would have been able to recover from their early season struggles in time to make the playoffs in the Western Conference which is where all of the other three MVP candidates reside. Golden State, Memphis, Houston, Portland, the Clippers, Dallas, San Antonio, and OKC. I don’t think many people would argue that a Cavs team that started the season hovering around .500 would climb out of it in the grueling West. Eliminate answer choice C.

Eliminating James Harden

To me, it’s a two-man race. Harden has rallied a Dwight-less Rockets team to third in the West (again, the emphasis on “West” is why LeBron shouldn’t be considered). Houston has managed to find role players like Donatas Motiejunas, Pat Beverly, and (dare I say) Josh Smith to find offense after Harden’s 26.6 points per game.

The classic argument for taking Harden over Curry is this: “well, Harden’s supporting cast is worse than Golden State’s. The Rockets would do much worse without Harden.”

Yes and no. The Warriors would also do worse without Curry. And even if we buy that the two are of comparable value to their teams, why is there added value over bringing a possible seven-seed up to three vs. bringing up a possible five-seed to the number one spot? If anything, the gap from good to great is harder. Maybe Harden is making an average team into a good one, but Curry is making a good team play like a historically great team. More on this later.

Let’s also take a look at the direct Warriors vs. Rockets battles. In his column, Swartz argues that a Cleveland home win against Curry and the Warriors bolsters LeBron’s case for MVP and I find that too short-sighted. A one-game sample is not enough. But in the case of Warriors vs. Rockets, we have a four-game sample. And the Warriors swept the season series, winning each game by an average of more than 15 points. Houston looked mediocre against Golden State. Curry’s individual success translated better to team success.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the basic and advanced metrics.


I can’t disagree that I believe Curry should win, but that doesn’t take away from the merit of the argument. I do, however, need to justify the reason for using per 36 stats because it does help Steph. The important thing is to play as many games as possible. That was why I said LeBron and Westbrook shouldn’t be considered as strongly as Harden and Curry who have played 60+ games already and are both in the 33+ MPG marker. But those extra few minutes that add a few PPG to Harden are a by-product of his team playing in closer games. And if you translate the extra 1.4 APG that Curry has per game to points, then Curry beats out Harden in that category, too.

Steph Curry is so great—and so efficient—that he puts his team in a position to where it is unnecessary for him to play the final five minutes (or sometimes even more) in a game. They’ve blown out the Rockets by 26 and the Nuggets by over 40. There’s no need for your superstar to play the final minutes of games like that. So there should be some adjusting for that and per X minute stats do that.

This adjustment makes Harden’s PPG lead less impressive and Curry owns every other basic stat category not including rebounds. And at 185 (almost 40 pounds lighter than Harden), I think Curry’s rebounding totals are rather impressive in their own right. As a bonus, Curry is managing to again challenge the NBA record of threes made in a season—a record that he already holds.

Advanced metrics marginally favor Curry, as well.

Defensively, James Harden has improved miles from the comical YouTube videos of 2013-14 where he would almost literally fall asleep on defense. But Steve Kerr’s trust in Steph Curry as a defensive player under the tutelage of assistant coach Ron Adams has allowed Curry to shine defensively, too. Let’s venture over to some of the metrics that quantify defensive worth.

The story here is that Harden is 1.3% better than Curry at defending outside of the three-point line and 4.5% worse than Curry inside the arc. I like uncontested REB% as a stat because it essentially helps separate easy rebounds from more difficult rebounds. (Logic being that if a rebound is “uncontested” it somewhat falls into your lap and is less meaningful than a Marc Gasol rebound hauled in with two to three defenders in the close vicinity.) Both Curry and Harden are above average defenders, but as I argued in November, Curry is arguably one of the best defensive point guards in the league. And Golden State owns the league's best offense AND defense.

Let’s now go to on-court vs. off-court numbers, which has obvious value. This is a metric that answers the question: “how many points better is a team with Player A on the court than with him off the court?” 

Curry is +18.0 and Harden is +12.6. This is a significant difference. It really shuts down the argument that Houston would be worse off without Harden than Golden State would be without Curry. For me, it's the icing on the cake of Curry’s MVP case. Eliminate answer choice B.

You can’t bottle up the MVP race into a single number. It’s about reading the whole story, from the very beginning to the very end…and Steph Curry’s story wins. When you have such a significant impact on a historically great regular season team, you deserve the MVP.

Brits and Baseball

Traditionally, Britons haven’t been considered to be much of a baseball-loving bunch. Compared to our own love of the sport, you’d have to agree with that viewpoint. However, like most things American, baseball also seems to eventually be taking off over on the other side of The Pond.

But, before we get started, here are a couple of facts you might not be familiar with: The first recorded game of ‘bass-ball’ was actually played in Surrey, England and featured the Prince of Wales of the time. The Whitehall Evening Post (now defunct) from September 19th 1749 reported that: “On Tuesday last, his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, and Lord Middlesex, played at Bass-Ball, at Walton in Surrey."

Impressive stuff. And what’s just as incredible is that before the outbreak of World War II, Chelsea soccer club’s Stamford Bridge stadium played host to a match between the US Navy and Army, which featured King George V among the 38,000-strong crowd.

So, why did the sport’s popularity fade in Britain after this time?

Britain has its own national sports, with most of the nation obsessed with soccer, rugby, cricket or tennis, rather than placing a betfair bet on the baseball. The popularity of those particular pastimes would prove tricky for any potential suitor to shift, but new Great Britain coach Liam Carroll has set his eyes on turning the British Isles into one of the best baseball sides in the world. He also plans to do so within just four short years.

With a pedigree in sport stretching back to his academic days, Carroll is certainly a man you would trust when it comes to knowing a thing or two about Britain’s baseball potential.

Carroll earned a degree in physical education, graduating in 2007 from University of Nevada-Las Vegas, before moving to London in order to take up the role of coach-in-residence for London at BaseballSoftballUK and was also juniors head coach for Great Britain Baseball at the same time.
Carroll moved back to Las Vegas two years later to become director of baseball operations at his former educational establishment and was then selected by the GB national team to coach their under-23s.

This was, retrospectively, Carroll’s big break in the coaching field as it led to him being offered the position of Great Britain head coach in January of this year.

At the time of his appointment to the role, the British Baseball Federation National Teams Programme Director Marty Cullen said that Carroll had earned the position thanks to the fantastic job he had done not only with the GB Lions but also within the wider remit of his role. He went on to suggest that Carroll was simply too good a coach to pass on and the country needed to make the most of his talents.

And Carroll himself was mightily eager to get under way and make his own mark on what really is a long history of the sport on British shores. Speaking to the BBF, he was equally as complimentary towards his employers, saying that he just could not turn down the chance to become head coach and help advance the British game on and off the field. Describing his predecessors as giants of the game, Carroll made it clear the pressure of the role was keenly felt but he relished the potential and possibilities that lay ahead nonetheless.

Pedigree? Yes. Backing from his superiors? It would seem so. Confidence and commitment? Undoubtedly. But if the British are going to make the grand strides that Carroll suggests, there will certainly need to be improvements made across the board within the Great Britain set-up.

Why? Well, for a number of reasons, really. First of all, Britain has featured in three appearances in major finals over the course of its history. This might sound like something to shout about – especially seeing as their national soccer outfit has only made it to one – but the reality is less than impressive when you look a little closer at the data on offer.

The 1967 European Baseball Championship Final was competed by the hosts, Belgium, and Britain, with the home side taking the title. Yes, GB made it into the last two here but Italy and the Netherlands, who faced up to each other in all of the previous five finals, did not even compete in the tournament.

It was 40 years that passed by before Britain made it into the final of a European Championship again. This time, GB squared up against Netherlands in Barcelona. The Brits went down to the Dutch, which actually is not that poor of a showing when you consider that Britain’s opponents had, once again, featured in and this time won all five championships prior to this one.

“And what about the other final featuring Britain?” I hear you ask, possibly.

Well, dear reader, team GB were victorious on the international level, way back in 1938 in the inaugural Baseball World Cup. Don’t get too excited, though. The tournament was hosted in the UK, arguably giving Great Britain an edge, and only featured two teams in its entirety (Britain and America).

And what about more recently? How has Britain been doing on the international stage?
Not so well, it has to be said. The country was eliminated from the 2012 World Baseball Classic at the qualification stage following two humiliating defeats to Canada (11-1) and then Germany (16-1) in the final group match.

It should be noted that there was a positive 12-5 victory over the Czech Republic sandwiched in between those defeats but the gap in class with Britain compared to their victors was clear to see and the team did not even feature at the 2013 tournament.

Things have not been much better at the European Championships, either. It is a fact that Britain signed off from the 2012 competition with a win against Russia, but that came after a truly disappointing display in the group that saw the team pick up a solitary win against the Czech Republic in their second match. The Russia game was almost a wooden spoon playoff of an affair, with the two sides playing for 11th and 12th place.

At the following 2014 European Championships, things did not get much better for GB. The opener against Sweden was postponed to begin with. And, although Britain enjoyed a 7-1 victory against their Scandinavian counterparts when the tie was eventually played, this proved to be the team’s only glory of the competition. They lost their other four Pool A games, with Sweden finishing bottom of the table.

Okay, okay. Perhaps I am being a little harsh on the British. As already mentioned, baseball is far from being a sport that has ever enjoyed participation numbers the like seen over here. But, personally, I do not think that should be any sort of excuse for the disappointing displays their national side has shown over the years.

Perhaps it is down to backing? After all, it is the major sports that enjoy much of the financial backing from sports councils in Britain, right? This might be so but that has not led to the Three Lions (England's soccer team) winning – or even getting close to – a World Cup and the same can be said of their national cricket team (most recently limping out of the World Cup in humiliating fashion), whereas sports not widely appreciated by the British public or funded on a national scale, like rowing, cycling and swimming etc. have seen major successes on preeminent platforms such as the Olympics. And although swimming and cycling have a large number of people taking part in them, they tend to only be interested in partaking at a recreational level.

So, neither finances nor participation numbers can be to blame for the lack of achievement. And as for failings within the school system, there is a counter argument that is plain for all to see. Basically, only be a certain number of sports can receive a regular amount of physical education time. There just simply are not enough hours in the school day (or classes available) for every sport to be given priority.

When you throw into the mix that lots of schools across the country do not either have the space nor the funding to adapt their fields for baseball then it can hardly be of surprise to anyone that the sport is not getting the recognition it rightly deserves.

There are afterschool clubs, this is true, but sports such as chess seem to have a greater amount of people getting involved in them than baseball. At least that is true for the time being. Perhaps this year will be the turning point, the year we look back on as the moment baseball began to achieve a touch of traction in Britain.

I say this because, despite all the doom and gloom that I have just presented to you in the previous 900 words of this article, as Will Lantern, national development manager of BaseballSoftballUK, says, the amount of adults taking up baseball has doubled since 2001 and are, in fact, the highest they have been for 21 years.

And that is despite the fact that, as a national team, Britain currently sits behind countries such as Israel, Colombia and the Philippines on the international pecking order – way back in 22nd.
So, that aforementioned challenge Carroll has set himself of turning the country into a top-six side within the space of four years (in time to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games) is brave in anyone’s book.

Speaking of the Olympics, baseball has not featured at the Games since Beijing 2008 and the International Olympic Committee are yet to vote on its reintroduction in Japan, but at least the Brits now have some sort of focus – a platform to aim for. It should also be noted that in Japan there are 20 million regular fans of the sport and the country is top of the world rankings (above the States), which should work in favour for the sport when it comes to gathering positive votes as and when they are needed.

Carroll’s determination to steer Britain into the world’s elite six nations has arguably been fuelled by the disappointment of baseball’s absence from his home 2012 London Games. The news that Britain’s first Olympics of this Millennium would not shine a spotlight on the sport came just three days after it was announced as host.

Carroll described the situation as being a “pity” for thousands of young – potential – baseball fans who were denied the chance of discovering the sport and enjoying it for life by feeding into the ‘legacy’ that London 2012 organisers had promulgated ahead of that summer’s competitions.
It would have been wonderful if baseball had featured in London and we are all hoping that there will be better news for Tokyo, but, with a new national facility set to open in Manchester, in the north west of England, within three years, the long-term future of baseball seems to be looking bright for Britain.

The news of this new northern hub is, in particular, fantastic news as it could well open the door for an expansion of the National Baseball League, too. At the moment there are no participating teams that play further north than Hertfordshire (one of the counties that falls within the catchment of Greater London).

So, things could certainly be on the up for baseball in Britain and I am sure we are all together in wishing Carroll the very best of luck in his (continuing) role within the national set-up. 
However, and apologies for ending on a negative, looking back over the history of British players within Major League Baseball, it must be a little disconcerting for Britons to see that of the 15 to feature, only two have stepped out on the diamond since 1915 – namely Lance Painter (last game in 2003) and Phil Stockman (who last played in 2008) – and not one has come from outside of England.

Could Carroll prove himself to be the man who nurtures a British invasion into MLB, similar to that which we have seen with David Beckham and the renaissance of Major League Soccer? There’s some way to go but one thing is for certain: it all starts with the attempt at Tokyo 2020 qualification for Great Britain’s head coach.

This article was written by Mark Wright.