It’s hard to believe that just two and a half years ago the Golden State Warriors were celebrating their second straight NBA title and their third over the previous four years. With two of the best players in the league in Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant and two more all-stars in Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, it seemed like the good times would never end in the Bay Area. But a string of injuries and the departure of Durant has seen the Warriors fall on hard times. After a disastrous season last year, Golden State has come out the blocks slow once again and despite a career night from Curry in a victory against Portland on Sunday, sit at just a .500 record. The question is, what’s the problem with the Golden State Warriors this year, and what can be done to fix it?
They Can’t Hit Three-Pointers (But Play Like They Can)
For nearly a decade, Warriors basketball has been defined by a dominating perimeter game that prioritizes raining three-pointers down on opponents. Previously they’ve always had the personnel to run such a system. Headlined by Curry and Thompson in the backcourt, Golden State never lacked for shooters in the 2010s, finishing in the top five in three-point percentage every year from 2010-2011 to 2018-2019.
The Warriors understandably struggled from deep last season with both Curry and Thompson out but also were smart enough to limit their shots from downtown as well, finishing just 25th in three-pointers attempted. This season has been another story. Despite sitting 27th in three-point percentage at under 32 percent, the Warriors have shot more threes than all but seven other teams. Curry himself has struggled for his standards, shooting 36 percent on over 11 attempts per game. But the main culprit for the Warriors shooting woes has been Kelly Oubre Jr. The former Phoenix Sun has come out ice cold this season and has made just two of his 30 attempts from deep.
If the Warriors want to compete this year, they’ll either need to start hitting their shots or cut their losses and change their style of play.
Missing A Klay Thompson Sized Hole
From the very beginning of the Warriors’ run of dominance over the NBA landscape, Klay Thompson has been at the center of it all. As the yin to Steph Curry’s yang, Thompson provides the same world-class shooting but also is one of the NBA’s elite perimeter defenders. After missing all of last season due to a torn ACL in the 2018 NBA Finals, Thompson was expected to help the Warriors push back to the top of the western conference in 2020-2021. Sadly Thompson’s return was over before it started. During a pickup game in Los Angeles last November he went down with a torn Achilles, season over.
His injury affected the Warriors in more ways than one, their previously mentioned shooting struggles being the most obvious. With Thompson healthy, not only would Golden State get another long-range sniper, they would open up more space for Steph Curry to get his own shots up.
On defense, the loss is even more apparent. The Warriors have been the worst team in the league on the defensive perimeter this season. Opponents have shot nearly 43 percent from behind the arc against them. Thompsons replacement in the starting lineup Andrew Wiggins has been one of the focal points of this poor defensive play. Without Thompson on defense, teams are now free to exploit the undersized Steph Curry with Wiggins unable to pick up the slack.
How to Save Their Season
With the season only six games old, the Warriors have plenty of time to turn things around but need to make some changes sooner rather than later.
One major change that should be made is how head coach Steve Kerr approaches running the offense. Kelly Oubre and Andrew Wiggins are both better slashers than shooters and playing in a system that necessitates three-point shooting takes away a lot of their offensive impact. By emphasizing Wiggins and Oubre getting to the basket, the two will not only be getting higher quality looks but also opening up space on the perimeter for Curry as defenders are forced to collapse in. Second overall pick James Wiseman has also shown promise with his inside scoring, getting him plenty of touches can help the Warriors’ offense turn it around.
Looking at the free-agent market, there are a few players still available who could come
in and immediately contribute, especially in the shooting department. Allen Crabbe is one name that quickly comes to mind. A wing who can play shooting guard or small forward, Crabbe is a career 38 percent three-point shooter who wouldn’t hurt the Warriors too bad defensively. Looking at forwards, Ersan Ilyasova has been linked with the Warriors in recent weeks and is still available on the free-agent market. Ilyasova would provide some outside shooting from the power forward position, something the Warriors desperately need to improve their floor spacing.
All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference and NBA.com
‘From our Haus to yours’