At 34-6, it is really difficult to pick out major flaws for a team. It is similar to asking someone who just went on the best vacation of their life what the bad parts of the trip were. It can be done, but it is really difficult and excessive.
The Golden State Warriors are good. Actually, they are great. They have the best backcourt in the NBA, led by the best point guard and shooting guard in the NBA in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson respectively. Zaza Pachulia at center is no slouch. He is a savvy player with intelligence and energy that is sometimes needed on the Warriors.
It can be argued that Draymond Green is the best power forward in the game (as long as Anthony Davis is considered a center), especially if the person who is arguing that point includes defense in their argument. And if it were not for this LeBron James fellow who has been the best player in the world since Barack Obama took office, Kevin Durant would be the best small forward in the game.
Even if someone wants to make the case for a couple players like James Harden or Russell Westbrook, or Demar Derozan or Blake Griffin to be the best at their positions, the Warriors have four players in their lineup in the top three in the NBA at their respective positions.
Their bench unit may be the best bench in the NBA. Andre Iguodala leads the NBA in assist/turnover ratio. Shaun Livingston is shooting 57%, David West is also above 50%. Ian Clark looks like he could be a starting NBA point guard on a number of teams. JaVale McGee has had some incredible highlights and been an overall positive player for the Warriors. Lastly, even second round pick Patrick McCaw is already showing the potential to be an elite defensive player. If it seems like that is their whole roster, it basically is. It is an abundance of talent unparalleled and unfair, and it is why the Warriors are 34-6 right now.
Just like that amazing vacation, that dream girl, or your favorite actor/actress, flaws can be discovered. It is just important to remember that these are only “flaws” because everything else is so good. This “flaw” is simply average, and therefore not up to par with everything else that is incredible.
Some skeptics will argue that it is turnovers that will ultimately be the demise of this year’s Warriors. Some will argue that it is their rather terrible defensive rebounding, where they rank last in the NBA. This could be a problem in the playoffs, especially against a team like the Jazz. A team with Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson, it could be an issue there too.
However, the Warriors only real flaw occurs in either the final four minutes of a close game, or the playoffs. When the defensive intensity kicks up a notch, the Warriors have an awful tendency to switch the way they play the game of basketball, on the offensive side of the ball.
For 44 minutes a game, the Warriors play some of the most stunning and efficient basketball that has ever been produced on an NBA court. They play free, with flow and movement and creativity. They pass the ball, led by Green, at a rate that has not been seen since the Showtime Lakers. Klay Thompson runs circles around defenses, literally, and is the most efficient back cutter in the NBA. His movement is beautiful to watch.
Their fastbreak is breathtaking. They have four superstars and eight players that can all legitimately handle the ball. When they are on a fastbreak, a team will want the ball to end up in Draymond’s hands because he is the least efficient scorer out of the four superstars. Yet, so do the Warriors. It must feel the same way the Washington Generals felt when playing the Harlem Globetrotters: hopeless. Green on a fastbreak with the chance to pass it to an open Curry or Thompson or Durant? Yikes.
They are also great at things that do not show up on the stat sheet. The Warriors are the best screening team in the NBA, led by bruising bodies in Pachulia and Green who set bone-crushing screens (get better soon KCP). Their best screener though, also happens to be the best shooter and screener in the entire NBA. Steph Curry is so dynamic as a shooter that teams panic when he sets screens.
Watch as Curry sets a screen on Andre Drummond. Curry’s defender is not going to leave him, no matter the circumstance. So when he goes and sets a screen for Draymond, whoever is guarding Green at the time has to fight around the screen while getting no help from Curry’s defender. The Warriors have utilized this set multiple times and it has remained an effective play.
They are also one of the smartest teams in the NBA. Watch a possession when Curry, Iguodala, Durant, and Green all touch the ball, and most of the time something good happens. They know where to move, who to pass to, how to get a great shot and not just a good one. If everything breaks down? Well then just go ahead and throw the ball to any one of the ball handlers on the court, set a screen for them, and their offense is still more efficient than most teams in the NBA.
This is how they play, and in the regular season, 44 minutes of it is good for right around 44 blowouts where the bench is finishing the game up. Another 15 or so are cosmetically close on the scoreboard, but not so much on the court, and therefore do not count as clutch time. They are also due for off nights or resting players, so let’s say that is another seven games. Combined, that is 66 games. Which means that for 16 regular season games, the Warriors actually experience something close to playoff basketball in the final four minutes.
It is in those 16 games, in those instances, where their offense suddenly changes. They go from being a team that averages 30 assists per game, to a team that plays a lot of isolation basketball and looks a lot more like the OKC Thunder of last year. The ball goes to Curry or Durant, and they try to win by themselves. Thompson stops moving and stands in the corner, generally it is Iguodala who just stands in the other one.
This is a popular trend in the NBA, and it is my biggest pet peeve. Offenses towards the end of games suddenly become heavily dependent on isolation basketball, heavily reliant on their best players. This trend is especially dangerous to the Warriors.
Despite having two of the three best players in the world, and four of the top 15, only Durant is an efficient isolation scorer. Steph is much better working with a screen, Thompson is much better off of the ball, and Green is much more of a distributor than a scorer.
So when they all of a sudden switch their style of play, they are not equipped to handle it properly. They tried to do it last year in the Finals, and got burned in a very ugly final five minutes in Game 7 against the Cavs. This year, the same thing has happened.
The Warriors have lost two games in the last month, and in both instances, they blew a huge lead and played awful offense in the fourth quarter.
There was one particularly bad possession on Christmas against the Cavs. The Warriors spent the first 12 seconds bringing the ball up the court and getting it to Iguodala. He passed to Durant off of some weak screening action at the top of the arc. Durant got the ball in a bad position and took a fadeaway contested jumpshot with his foot on the line. Not a good shot, and definitely not a shot the Warriors would have taken earlier in the game.
They ended up losing to the Cavs by one, in what was a pretty demoralizing loss. The Warriors led the whole game, but it was possessions like this that allowed the Cavs to come back. However, as bad as this loss was, their loss against the Memphis Grizzlies may have been even more so.
Up 24 and cruising, the Warriors were playing quality basketball against a team that had dismantled them earlier in the season. Then came an absolute collapse of incredible proportions. The Warriors have this tendency to go up by a lot and then go into cruise control and allow teams to crawl back into games.
Against the Grizz, it was as if the Warriors thought the game was over 12 minutes early. They only scored 13 points in the 4th quarter and didn’t play any defense. Possessions like these killed the great first 36 minutes of basketball that the Warriors played.
Once again it started with the Warriors dribbling out most of the clock. After some unconvincing action way outside the arc, Steph realized that there was not much time left on the clock and hoisted an off balance three pointer over Mike Conley. This is not to take away from Steph’s incredible shot making ability, but in crunch time you are looking for a better shot than that.
Meanwhile, watch Draymond’s reaction during the play (This is the stuff that people criticize him for. But the fans and media often criticize their favorite players for just giving scripted answers all the time. Shouldn’t we celebrate his emotions and the fact that he will always give a straight answer?), he knows this possession is not going well.
Klay and Iguodala? They are standing in the corners, not moving around and being a problem for the defense. However, a great effort by Klay at the end of this play gets the ball to the Warriors again.
Instead of running a set and taking advantage of the extra possession, Steph and KD have a small disagreement about who should have the ball. After they give it to KD, Steph gives a half-hearted screen and once again they go into isolation ball. KD basically takes and misses the same shot that Curry had just taken prior.
These two plays are eerily similar. Klay, Draymond, and Iguodala are all just standing around the arc, and there is no ball or player movement. The rest is history. Memphis gets the rebound, scores on the next trip down, and wins in overtime. A brutal loss for the Warriors, heightened because of ugly possessions that do not normally happen to this team in the first 44 minutes of a game.
With all of that being said, the problem is fixable. In fact, there have been moments where they continue to play team basketball down the stretch.
This play against Detroit is maybe the best action that Golden State can run. KD slips a screen and sets up just outside the arc. Steph shuffles towards his right and finds Klay coming off of a screen set by Draymond, after Iguodala had already set one. KD coming to set a screen forces KCP to think about him. This gives Curry just enough breathing room to pass to Klay in stride, who calmly knocks down the open shot. Dagger. Warriors win, and they do it the right way, the Warrior way.
The beauty of this team in the first 44 minutes is that their biggest problem is unselfishness. Steph and KD are two unbelievably unselfish superstars, Draymond is an elite playmaker, and Klay does not need the ball to be a huge threat to the defense. Their late game problem is fixable, because of this unselfishness. They have already proven that they can do it the right way. Golden State just needs to find consistency in closing out games. The only way to do that is with time, and they have a couple months to figure it out.
The Warriors should think about different ways to close out games. Most cases so far this year, the ball has been with either Steph or KD. Giving the ball to Draymond and having Steph set a screen for him would create an interesting dilemma. Switch, or let Green’s man try and catch up on Draymond driving? Give the ball to Iguodala, or Livingston, and have Steph, KD, and Klay fly around the court with Green setting screens everywhere possible.
This is not something that should concern Warriors fans. It should not be a worry to the players, either. In this instance, the Warriors just need to be aware of what their strengths are, and play to those strengths when it matters most.
The Warriors need to commit to playing 48 minutes of team basketball, not just 44 minutes. If they can make this commitment, can devote themselves to breaking the NBA trend and playing unselfishly in crunch time, they will be just fine.