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Some early impressions on these not-so-mighty Warriors

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With the optics surrounding the Kevin Durant signing and the fatigue felt by many at the constant praise thrown at Stephen Curry, it’s safe to say that the beating the Warriors took from the young upstart Lakers Friday night made the majority of NBA fandom rejoice in gloating victory.

Golden State were expected by many to start the season off in dominant fashion and without problems, but sitting at 4-2 in the standings against a relatively soft schedule that hasn’t been the case.

With four Top 15, and likely two of the best three players in the NBA on their roster, the Warriors are going to be the favorites to win it all no matter what. But after six games we’re starting to see where exactly they are in their process, how far they have to go and we can speculate what the necessary steps are to reach the level they want to play at.

Both the offense and defense have had real problems, and the real question is whether everything is fixable, or if the Warriors really have weaknesses teams can exploit later in the season and the playoffs.

WHAT’S UP WITH THE OFFENSE?

The Warriors should be able to sleepwalk into a great offense, and that’s basically what they’ve done through their first six games. The team ranks seventh in the NBA in offensive efficiency, scoring 107.2 points per 100 possessions. Being seventh isn’t terrible, but the Warriors expect to be by far the best offense in the league and have the potential to be the most efficient offense ever.

The first and most obvious problem has been missing wide open shots. Curry’s streak of 157 consecutive games with at least one three-pointer ended Friday, and of the 10 three-pointers Curry took at least a handful were wide open shots he makes at a 60 percent rate.

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Klay Thompson made 4-of-8 three-pointers against the Thunder on Thursday, but has somehow combined to shoot 9-for-38 (23.6 percent) in the other five games. The entire team is shooting 29.8 percent beyond the arc, which ranks 24th in the NBA.

By far the weirdest statistic of the NBA season so far is the fact that Golden State has scored only 0.61 points per possession on spot-ups. The second worst team (Lakers) are at 0.77 points and the league average is about 0.95. For reference, last season the Warriors were first in that category by 0.05 points, which is actually a really large margin over a full season. All this somehow despite ranking eighth in the league in wide open three-point attempts, per NBA.com.

Turnovers were always going to be a problem, and the Warriors rank in the bottom in turnover rate with 14 or more in every game. Generally, Golden State has always executed offense well under Steve Kerr while also being a bit sloppy. So far, the team hasn’t been great at executing while the turnover problem has persisted.

Durant never moved in the Thunder offense the way the Warriors want him to now, but interestingly Durant’s timing, precision and execution of the offense hasn’t been the root of the Warriors problems. Durant has shot 42.9 percent from beyond the arc and is 59.3 percent from the field overall, he’s also clearly committed to spacing correctly and moving the ball despite being a bit slow on some reads.

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Surprisingly, it’s the other core players who are making mistakes. Thompson, Draymond Green and Curry have each looked frustrated with their poor shooting performances and are constantly looking for the home run plays. Green in particular has had a bad habit of torpedoing the spacing with his antics. Throw in some other minor problems like Andre Iguodala’s poor finishing at the rim and Zaza Pachulia avoiding taking shots like the plague even after offensive rebounds and you get a Warriors offense that still has ways to go.

The one big takeaway may be that Golden State actually is better off playing a bit slower, and its first game against the Spurs shines as the best example. Faster-paced games tend to introduce more variance into the outcome, and if the team’s execution, timing and spacing isn’t perfect weird stuff tends to happen. In the halfcourt, there isn’t a team that can match the weapons the Warriors have, and simply getting deeper into their offense in a more structured manner would probably help right now.

The basic advantages the Warriors have on every possession are enormous. Simply clearing the floor for Curry and Durant on one side creates an impossible situation for the defense since neither of their defenders has any desire to help off their man. When the two stand together somewhere close to each other, it should always lead to an open driving lane or shot.


Durant-Curry two-man game on the wing

REAL PROBLEMS ON DEFENSE

It’s still a virtual guarantee that the Warriors will be the best offense. Without making a shot and with a massive amount of turnovers, they are already pretty close to the top.

A bigger question mark in the long-term will probably be the defense.

Currently 18th in defensive efficiency allowing 104.5 points per 100 possessions, the defense has real problems, some of which may be quite hard to fix.

The downgrade from Andrew Bogut to Pachulia and David West defensively is real. Even in limited minutes and with various health problems, Bogut was important to Golden State’s defense. Perhaps in the playoffs faster teams with more shooting could play him out of the rotation a bit. But through 82 games in the regular season, it’s super useful to have someone in the middle who’s both smart at covering angles and understanding rotations, and a big-time rim protector.

West has looked really slow and can’t get in a stance to guard the pick-and-roll or move at all at the moment. Pachulia has been a good team defender, but hasn’t been effective at the rim at all –  opponents have shot 60.5 percent at the rim with Pachulia defending, one of the worst marks in the league.


West with the front rim miss and horrible pick-and-roll defense in semi-transition

Green hasn’t been quite as effective as before with a bad tendency of hunting for steals instead of staying with his man. Durant has been really good protecting the rim with a fantastic 2.3 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. However, Durant has also been bad defending the perimeter with a tendency to space out and leave his man open for high-percentage shots.


Durant leaves Jared Dudley wide open

Curry has also been significantly worse than last year, and has been prone to getting back cut and not showing intensity in getting over picks defensively.

The Warriors have actually been quite a bit better defensively playing smaller lineups, which is good news since that’s how they will finish close games and play in the postseason. Playing small allows the Warriors to double in the post and cover larger distances to recover to shooters or get into passing lanes, and we saw how effective this can be for parts of Golden State’s wins against the Trail Blazers and Thunder.

Lineups with Iguodala (which include the small lineups) have defended at a very good rate, allowing just 97.0 points per 100 possessions.

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Beyond the top players, the bench has much to prove on both ends of the court. Shaun Livingston, Ian Clark, Kevon Looney and most of the reserves outside of Iguodala have been clearly in the negative in the plus-minus numbers so far. Clark has shot the ball well in some games and Patrick McCaw has shown some positive signs, but the Warriors could really use one more reliable wing and big option.

What the Warriors most need from the big men positions right now is rebounding. Golden State is grabbing just 72.0 percent of opponents’ misses, which puts them 27th in defensive rebounding percentage. If either Looney or James Michael McAdoo finds consistent minutes, it’ll likely be because of their energy on the boards.

The first priority for the Warriors needs to be improving their execution offensively and that improvement should start trickling down to their defense (and making shots will help). Cutting turnovers helps limit easy fast break points, and NBA offenses are intelligently designed so that players are in proper position to get back defensively if the offense is generating the stuff the team wants.

Defensively, there’s probably a ceiling right now because of the inexperienced bench minutes and the downgrade from Bogut at center, but it’ll be important for the Warriors to make sure their small lineups are still excellent when need be.

You can find Mika Honkasalo on Twitter @mhonkasalo.

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