7:51 left in the 3rd quarter- Lakers 71- Warriors 57. Lebron James gets injured and leaves the game. No Lebron? No problem for the Warriors who looked lackadaisical and trailed the whole game. The response to James leaving…an immediate 19-7 run by the Warriors to cut the score to 78-76 Lakers with 2:48 left in the game. Timeout Lakers. This was now a trademark Warriors 3rd quarter run against a Lebron-less Lakers squad. However, it was anything but that. The scrappy Lakers outscored the life-less Warriors 49-25 (including 36-19 pounding in the 4th quarter). What the heck happened?
The Warriors entered the season heavy favorites to win their 4th championship in 5 years. They were expected to steam roll the rest of the NBA, but this season has been anything but. While dealing with some early season injury trouble, some possible chemistry issues after a fight between two star players, and working through incorporating a handful of new, young, and inexperienced role players, the Warriors have had an up and down 2018 portion to the season- going 23-12 and 2nd place in the Western Conference.
So what is wrong with the Warriors? Here are a few thoughts:
- Struggling super stars
While Curry and Durant are having MVP-like seasons, the other 2 members of the Big Four are struggling to find their rhythm. The other “Splash Brother,” Klay Thompson, has struggled finding his shot. Thompson, a career 41.6% three-point shooter, has struggled from beyond the arc this season, shooting 33.7%. He is also shooting 44% from the field, which is below his career average as well. Combine these numbers with him taking a career high in shot rate, and you get a recipe for struggle. While it is cause for concern, Klay is known for being able to get extremely hot, extremely quick. I would be surprised if this trend was to continue for Klay.
The bigger concern in my opinion is Draymond Green. The year they went 73-9, Green averaged 14 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 7.5 APG, and shot 39% from 3. This season he is averaging 7.1 PPG, 8 RPG, 6.6 APG, and shooting 22% from 3. His offensive rating is down to 96, compared to 115 in their record-breaking 2015-16 season. Teams are no longer even guarding him, rather daring him to shoot from the perimeter. This has had a direct impact on the other stars as teams are now game planning by not guarding Green. Additionally, it seems that Green’s passion, strong-headedness, and competitiveness may be losing its positive impact. The things that have made Draymond an all-star on the court and a leader in the locker room may be hurting his team.
- Lack of depth/production from the bench
In the past, one of the strengths of the Warriors beyond the “Big 3 or 4” has been their bench depth. They have had one of the best benches in the league in terms of energy and production. They have managed to find quality veterans and some hidden gems to fill those role positions. In fact, their organization model, “Strength in Numbers” is derived from the fact that they had great depth. Players like: Jarrett Jack, Andre Igoudala, Marreese Speights, Leandro Barbosa, Shaun Livingston, Javale McGee, and Ian Clark are just a few names that helped made the Warriors 2nd unit one of the strongest in the league.
However, this has changed as the Warriors have prioritized their star players- Curry, Thompson, Green, and Durant. These 4 players easily fill the salary cap with their major contracts. This means there is less money to spend on key role players. Add that to the movement to fill the bench with younger, more athletic guys and you have a shorter, less experienced bench providing less production. This puts more pressure on their star players to produce and stay healthy.
- Defensive woes
In the recent run of success for the Warriors organization, they have no doubt been an offensive powerhouse. They have been a major driving force behind the way the game is played on offense- faster, more free flowing, less isolation, more value placed on the 3 point shot, less individual playmaking, and more emphasis on ball movement. They made offense sexy again. But what gets lost in the shuffle is exactly how good they have been defensively. It is what has truly set them apart from the rest of the league.
2014-15: 1st (101.4)
2015-16: 3rd (103.8)
2016-17: 2nd (104.0)
2017-18: 11th (107.6)
2018-19: 17th (110.5)
There are a variety of reasons we can look at why they have taken major steps back of the defensive end- injuries to key players, new personnel/rotation players, offenses have adapted and made adjustments, officiating, etc. Additionally, there has been more stretches plagued by lack of effort, lack of toughness, lack of interest, and poor communication.
The Warriors no doubt have the talent and the offensive power to win another championship. However, if they want to retain their title, they will need to get the defensive end of the floor figured out. Ultimately, I believe that this is the area that will be most important to them and whether they win the championship or not.
- Possible lack of motivation?
It is really, really hard for a team that has had this much success and played this many games over the past 5 years to stay motivated night in and night out during the regular season. They know that pretty much every time they step on the court, they have a talent advantage against the team lining up across from them. They know all they need to do is tread water until they get to the playoffs, where the games “really matter”…then they will turn it on. I don’t blame them. The seasons are long (and have been long for a while). There really are no records to chase. There is only one thing that they are really playing for and it doesn’t fully become important to them until spring. The Warriors used to play with an edge and joy that reflected their stars- Green’s heart and chip on shoulder, Curry’s joy, Klay’s quiet intensity, and Durant’s drive to prove a point. The 2019 version is none of that. Instead, it looks like a disinterested, disconnected, passionless group that is tired of the long grind. And who can blame them? Not many have been able to maintain the intensity and drive over such a long period of time…especially when having as much success as they have had.