Big O Tires

Are the 18-3 Warriors better than the Warrior teams of past two years?

Are the 18-3 Warriors better than the Warrior teams of past two years?

When the Golden State Warriors weren’t planet-eating this summer (re: signing Kevin Durant), they were doing some low-level whining about the narratives surrounding their team. Like “planet-eating.”

You know, that “you guys have a job to do” lefthanded compliment/commentary that lets us all know that their real nature would never be revealed by the bombardment of stories about how they had changed themselves, the nature of their business, the culture of American sport and Draymond Green’s wayward legs.

Or whatever.

[POOLE: Warriors first-quarter report card: Only two solid A's]

But now we’re a quarter into their season, and that seems as good a time to pander to the brand . . . err, examine who they really are in the one place where there is least debate. The floor.

So with the other two uber-Warrior teams as a comparison point, let us wallow in the shallow end.

THIS IS THE WORST TEAM: Their 21-game record is 18-3, which is three games worse than last year, and a game worse than 2014-2015. Math all you want, but 18 is less than 19 or 21. Plus, they didn’t even have the best record in the league for the first month of the season. Lesson? They changed too much.

THIS IS THE MOST DOMINANT TEAM: The current margin of victory per game is 14.04, down from 14.90 a year ago but up from the 11.19 of the title year. In another way, though, they are crushing teams with greater facility, with nine of their 18 wins coming by 20 or more points – as many as they have had in the last three years combined. Lesson: After the anticipated adjustment period, they’re figuring it out.

THIS IS THE MOST DETESTABLE TEAM: Winning the Durant sweepstakes was supposed to make them nationally loathed, the league’s new villain du jour, and maybe winning by 23, 26, 21, 24, 37, 43, 24, 29 and 36 sucks the joy out of an athletic contest, thereby making them even more hateable. Lesson? People will be weary of this.

THIS IS THE MOST ENJOYABLE TEAM: More of a qualitative argument, but every game promises more difficult-to-conceive moments than the one before. Monday night, Klay Thompson, whose shooting has been occasionally worrisome and who said in the offseason that he wouldn’t defer to any new pecking order, went for 60 in three quarters, and didn’t touch the ball on the most amazing play of the season so far – Zaza Pachulia wins a jump ball, tips to Draymond Green, who throws a home run ball to Stephen Curry who flips it high into the air for Kevin Durant to follow and slam. Eighty-five feet, no dribbles, and a GIF to keep your children quiet when you just want to enjoy a beer.

THIS IS THE MOST COHESIVE TEAM: After the expected fitful start, in which they managed to lose by 29 on Opening Night to San Antonio and 20 in Los Angeles (to the Lakers, no less) 11 days later, their assist-to-turnover ratio is an absurd 2.15 (32.4 assists, 14.9 turnovers), well up from 2015 (1.67) and 2016 (1.84). They are taking better care of the basketball, and are more active at sharing it.

THIS IS THE WORST DEFENSIVE TEAM: A lot happens to one’s defensive concentration when the opponent has been consumed by your offense, so this is a bit deceptive, but the raw numbers indicate that this team is living on points rather than points allowed. The defense rating has risen from 101.4 (first in 2015) to 104.7 (ninth now), for a team Steve Kerr has always touted for its devotion to the other end of the court, but the offense has gone from 110 (first) to 114.9 (first) to 118.2 (first).

THIS IS A HAPPY TEAM: They seem genuinely happy when one of theirs has a game (say, Thompson’s Monday night), and have either no agendas or have kept what agendas exist on the very downest of lows. In sum, lots of smiles, but if you can’t smile when you win games by an average of five threes per game, then you’re just a drag to be around. Unhappy happens with unhappy results. Plus, who can’t smile with Zaza Pachulia around? To quote a greater man about a greater man, “a certain magic still lingers in the very name.”

THIS IS A TEAM WITH INSUFFICIENT DRAMA PER COLUMN INCH/MINUTE OF VIDEO: Other than Green’s daily dance on the razor wire with the officials and Joe Lacob popping up from time to time as the FTD delivery man, what’s the problem? Do they run up scores? Do they dance a lot in victory? Are they overloved by the media? Underloved by the nation? Too girly basketball? Not girly basketball enough? Just the right amount of girly basketball? Frankly, most of the coverage strategy about this team falls under, “They exist, therefore we must record their existence.” The bulk of their drama comes with people saying things about them, and them contriving those things into a slight worthy of a motivational response. That’s not really drama in the classic, or even tabloid sense.

This differs from 2014-5, when they were the freshest item on the menu, and 2015-6, when . . . well, when they were a lot like they are now, only without Durant.

In short, 21 games in, the Warriors are better and worse and more dominant on offense and less consistently devoted on defense and more generous and less careless with the ball and about as likable or dislikable as we speculated they would be in October – because we’ve speculated about every possibility, and we’ll keep doping it because the beast is endlessly hungry and must be fed.
 

Making sense of Melancon and the contract that doesn't matter

Making sense of Melancon and the contract that doesn't matter

In a world in which there is Aroldis Chapman and teams without parades, the San Francisco Giants decided that Santiago Casilla wasn’t the answer, and Mark Melancon is.
 
In fairness, the Giants made the Casilla call in September after watching him work and his confidence shrivel like an orange in front of a space heater, but there were other reasons why the Giants cratered in the second half and went from being a sure top seed to an in-by-the-skin-of-their-noses wild card team. They also hit after the break like they were portraying the San Diego Padres in a school play.
 
But the quick fix, albeit a pricy one, was Melancon, at $62 million for the next four years, a tribute to (a) his work in Pittsburgh and Washington, and (b) the knowledge that the Giants had to buy a closer because they have been unable to nurture one.
 
The contract, which is the highest for a closer in terms of total dollars invested until Chapman and Los Angeles’ Kenley Jansen sign their deals shortly, is not the important part, though. The important part is that Bruce Bochy’s brain is less likely to explode, and that Madison Bumgarner is less likely to yank off a buffalo’s head in rage at another lead blown.
 
Melancon is Brian Sabean’s/Bobby Evans’ response to the 57 percent save percentage (43 saves, 32 blown) the Giants amassed in 2016, their worst in the 10-year Bochy Bullpen Whisperer era and a dropoff from 78 percent in 2010, 79 percent in 2012, and 72 percent in 2014, just to name three years that ended better than the way Game 4 of the NL Division Series did.
 
And while saves and save percentage are not the most granular ways to explain why the Giants made Melancon their fifth highest-paid player, they help explain the urgency to do so, an urgency more profound even that addressing the sinkhole in left field or the wobbly nature of third base.
 
Fortunately, of course, the Giants are swimming in money you have provided them, so that cost should not necessarily be a major impediment to attacking those other needs, but the bullpen was first because the bullpen was worst. And while Melancon will be 35 when his contract expires, the Giants are willing to take the nervous gamble that the contract will indeed expire before Melancon’s usefulness does.
 
And while your results may vary, closers are a nerve-wracking lot anyway, which is why four years and $62 million makes more sense than the five-plus and $100 million or so that Chapman is likely to attract. True, Melancon is not nearly as breathtaking (or as prone to induce his manager to overuse him as Joe Maddon did in the World Series), but the goal isn’t dropped jaws but outs created, and Melancon hasn’t allowed opponents to hit even as much as .210 against him in three years, and his three-year WHIP of 0.899 is sufficiently inspiring for San Francisco’s needs.
 
What comes next? Well, if Sabean and Evans can ply Larry Baer with sufficient drinks to make him put the budget away, they could throw a ton of money at Justin Turner of the Dodgers to (a) improve third base and (b) steal him away from the Dodgers, which always energizes the fan base. As an interested party, you don’t want to bet that way (Turner is considered pretty much re-Dodgered), but if your closer is suddenly worth $15 big ones a year, a third baseman . . . well, you get the point. In for that much, in for that much more, and then some.

Raiders go from beaten to not, as true champions often do

Raiders go from beaten to not, as true champions often do

The word “momentum” is largely dependent upon the word “moment,” and yet it is difficult to get players or coaches to acknowledge a particular moment when bad turns to good, or the other way around.
 
Put another way, when he was asked for the single play when the Oakland Raiders went from being owned by the Buffalo Bills to owning them, wide receiver Amari Cooper smiled wanly and said, “I don’t know. My memory’s not that good.”
 
Oh, he remembers when the Bills led, 24-9, in the third quarter, and he remembers when the Raiders took their final lead of 38-24. I mean, it was barely 15 minutes of playing time, maybe twice that in actual time, and he was there for a lot of it. So of course he remembers it.
 
But the singular moment? That’s all filed under “not important enough to spend a lot of time on, especially when another game is 97 hours away."
 
Minutiae like the answers to questions like “When did things change?” or “How did this loss become this win?” doesn’t interest them. It doesn’t have to. They can apply their own stories to why or when or how, but usually they’re just making it up. As guard Kelechi Osemele put it, “It doesn’t really work like that.
 
“You’re in the moment, and you don’t sense things like the moment when momentum shifted. You’re just playing. The next day, maybe you’ll see something on film and then it will hit you that something happened right then that might have changed the game, but not right then.”
 
Fair enough then. You be the judge when Sunday’s looming letdown became the most empirical proof yet that the Raiders are masters of their own fates. It might have been:
 
* The drive after Mike Gillislee plowed into the end zone from two yards out to give Buffalo its 15-point lead, when quarterback Derek Carr threw precision strikes to Clive Walford (18 yards), Seth Roberts (15) and Michael Crabtree (19, sliding to reach a ball thrown slightly behind him) to set up a three-yard touchdown to Crabtree that reduced a potentially lopsided defeat to a single score.
 
* The 22-yard punt return by Jalen Richard that set the Raiders up at the Buffalo 38 after the defense’s first three-and-out of the day, followed by the 21-yard burst by Richard that put the Raiders in position for Latavius Murray’s one-yard push to make it 24-23.
 
* The next Buffalo three-and-out that set the Raiders up at their own 41, from which Carr converted a third-and-10 with a 21-yard throw up the seam to Mychal Rivera, followed two plays later by an elegant 37-yard loft to Cooper, who had gotten behind Kevon Seymour.
 
* The 55-yard punt by Marquette King that buried the Bills at their own four-yard-line.
 
* Or the weekly Khalil Mack-Puts-His-Feet-Up-On-Your-Table moment, tipping Tyrod Taylor’s  pass on the first play after King’s punt into the arms of cornerback Nate Allen to set up the game-settling touchdown.
 
And there might have been more, but why be excessively pedantic? The Raiders used those fifteen minutes and seven seconds to gain 188 yards while holding Buffalo to three, and score 29 points in 28 plays while allowing the Bills 10 plays from scrimmage, not including the three punts. Momentum? Pick a play, any play.
 
The Raiders are now properly positioned as the most logical alternative to the New England Patriots in the AFC, but have a game Thursday night in soon-to-be-snow-encrusted Kansas City that could turn that back on its head. Win and then win out, and they can be masters of their universe, owning for the moment the tiebreakers over the Patriots that would prevent a trip to Foxborough and a nostalgic confrontation with the High Lord Tuck.
 
On their hand, lose Thursday, and they are tied with Kansas City without benefit of the first tiebreaker, having been swept by the perpetually hard-to-figure Chiefs.
 
In other words, momentum in Game 12 is always useful right up to the point where preparation for Game 13 must begin, in the same way that “Is Carr the MVP, or is it Mack?” debates become irrelevant within minutes of their embarkation. As head coach Jack Del Rio explained what he had just supervised, “Is there such a thing as a fast Sunday?”
 
He had already moved on, because dawdlers get crushed by events. Being the master of your fate is not the same as mastering it, and let us not forget that the Raiders do have that maddening gift for needing fourth quarter comebacks. That they can usually get them is not as comforting as never needing them.
 
And there are at least four and as many as eight more games to traverse between now and what the Raiders alone have dared to dream.
 
But Sunday was a day when the Raiders did define themselves as one of the toughest outs in the lineup, and if you want the momentum-shifter to be Buffalo tackle Cordy Glenn’s false start at the end of the third quarter, hey, dance it up. Whether things go according to the Raiders’ grand plan or they don’t, nobody’s going to care either way. All anyone knows today is that they were beaten, and then they were not, and that’s typically how champions are made.