I think I saw some new themes emerging as the Warriors faced their first stiff competition since the return of the prodigal big man. But it’s probably unfair to get into them too much at this time. Road blowouts happen in the NBA, particularly in February, and particularly heading into the all-star break. Let’s leave this on simmer for now, and wait for a few more ingredients to throw themselves into the pot.
I’ll restrict myself to a few observations.
The Unguarded Three-Point Line: If you watched the Houston game, you probably noticed what I mentioned a few posts back: the Warriors don’t guard the three-point line. At least not until the record for three-pointers in a game is about to be broken. Then they not only guard it, but flagrantly foul the shooter. (As an aside, have you ever seen a flagrant foul at the three point line before? How about one that was ordered by the coach? I can’t say I’ve ever seen that before.)
You noticed that the Warriors don’t guard the three-point line, because the Rockets buried those shots at a record rate, and you got to watch the replays multiple times. Virtually none of the Rocket’s threes were guarded, let alone contested.
It’s the first time this season I’ve seen the Warriors get seriously burned by their strategy of packing the lane. But I doubt it will be the last.
Interestingly enough, I caught Mark Jackson on pre-game radio yesterday saying, “I’ve read reports that [we're willing to give up the three point shot, but that's not the case.]” I found that interesting because… reports? What reports? Where has this been reported but here in this blog? It certainly was never reported by the Warriors media.
It was also interesting because it’s simply not true. It should have been made obvious to all in the Rockets game how the Warriors prefer to pack the lane. Or as Jim Barnett puts it, “overhelp.” Even a Rockets player was quoted post-game mentioning that the Warriors were packing the lane.
Not that I blame Jackson at all for saying this. A coach doesn’t want his game plan revealed. Nor do I blame Jackson at all for having this game plan. When your starting lineup contains Curry at point, Lee at four, and Barnes and Thompson at the wings, you are going to be forced to pick your poison on defense every single night. Not one of those guys is capable of extending their defense to the three point line. So you might as well play to your strengths, and pack the lane, right?
I did notice Barnes and Thompson running at the three point shooters quite a bit more in the Thunder game. And I did notice the quick hook that Jackson gave them in the Rockets game (as I’m sure they did). So it’s unfair to say that the Warriors are content to simply sit back and watch their opponents launch threes.
It is fair to say, though, that they are far more concerned about giving help in the lane than most teams, and that leaves opposing three point shooters wide open. By choice.
The Warriors Defense: As a result of the last few games, the Warriors defensive efficiency stat has fallen quite a bit. The Warriors are now 19th in the league in points per possession allowed, at 1.025. So back in the bottom half of the league.
Which is what you might predict — I at least predicted it — because bottom line, the Warriors don’t have very good defensive players. Particularly when Barnes and Thompson are on the court together.
And, as we’re discovering, it doesn’t help the Warriors defense to have Andrew Bogut on the floor in place of Festus Ezeli either. At least not yet.
The Warriors’ Field Goal % Against stat has barely budged, though. Despite the intense and sustained shelling of the past two games, the Warriors are still 5th in the league in this stat.
Which should tell you, if you didn’t realize it before, just what a bullshit stat FGA is.
Andrew Bogut: Is Bogut actually helping the Warriors on defense? He’s certainly made some nice defensive plays, most notably that block of Brandan Wright at the end of the Dallas game. But my overall impression of him heading into the Rockets game was that he might be hurting more than he was helping. The Rockets game confirmed that for me.
Let’s not forget that his first three games back were against terrible competition. Against Toronto he looked OK, but his counterpart Aaron Gray put up 22 and 10, career highs. Against Dallas, he didn’t look very effective at all against a very mediocre small-ball team without Kaman or Nowitzki. And the Mavs outrebounded the Warriors. Against Phoenix he once again looked decent against Marcin Gortat, a player who has been mailing it in, attempting to force a trade. But the Suns outrebounded the Warriors as well.
Against the Rockets, he looked flat-out terrible. Completely exposed. He labored to keep up with the pace, frequently getting beat down the floor. (As you might remember, this was an issue Scott Skiles had with him.) In the half court, he struggled moving side to side when the Rockets moved the ball. And he was terrible defending the pick and roll.
If you still have the game on tape, take a look at the Rocket’s last possession of the 2nd Q. It was an Asik/Harden pick and roll, that resulted in a Harden layup. Bogut had no ability to recover to defend the rim after extending to hedge on the pick. Jim Barnett faulted Bogut (more than once) for coming too far away from the rim, but that misses the point. The Warriors WANT their centers to hedge on the pick and roll. It’s something that Ezeli and Biedrins absolutely excel at.
Andrew Bogut can’t do it. Not in his current incarnation.
The Brand: Barnes has really started shooting better over the last few games, right? We keep getting quoted his shooting statistics by the Warriors media.
Wrong. What has changed is Barnes’ role. The Warriors are no longer forcing the ball to Barnes, for those horribly inefficient mini-Melo mid-post isos. Nor are they isoing him much anymore on the wing, those plays that seemed to result in a turnover or forced jumper more often than a successful drive.
The Warriors have given up on that, for good reason. Barnes’ game is not up to it.
Instead, they’ve allowed Barnes to settle firmly into the Dorell Wright role, simply looking for opportunities in the flow of the offense. Fast break layups, catch and shoot threes, slashes to the basket. It’s the perfect role for him, one that suits his game and complements, rather than disrupts, the beautiful flow of the Warriors offense.
And it’s made him efficient. As Dorell Wright demonstrated with his 14 pts/gm scoring average in his first year here, the Warriors’ fourth option merely has to be decent in order to look great in the box score. This great-passing, utterly unselfish Warriors team will find you when you are open.
Barnes has impressed me in one aspect of his game: his finishing. He is very skilled in the air. Very good at using the backboard. Got a good left-hand. And unlike Klay Thompson is fearless about getting hit. He’s the best finisher on this Warriors team.
Unfortunately, he’s not very good at free throws, and I don’t think that will get better. His shot is non-fundamental. Pulls it back high, over his head. Resulting in a shot with not enough arm and too much wrist. The great shooters, like Curry and Klay, keep that ball in front of their face.
But the main issue with Barnes will always be his defense. The Warriors are desperate for perimeter defense, and Barnes just doesn’t provide it. He takes away nothing from offensive players. Not the shot, not the drive.
I had to laugh at 4:50 4th Q of last night’s Thunder game, when after his 19th point, Barnett and Roye erupted in full-throated celebration of the flowering of Barnes’ offensive game, just as Sefalosha buried a three in Barnes’ mug on the other end. I say “in Barnes’ mug” loosely, because in truth Barnes was barely in the picture.
Barnes simply has no edge on defense, no desire to get into his opponent’s shirt. Take that play last night, when Draymond Green dumped K-Mart out of bounds. Take a moment and try to imagine Barnes doing that. OK, that’s enough. I don’t want you to hurt yourself.
And he just doesn’t seem that attentive to defense overall. I note that he’s already been the victim of two rookie hoaxes this year. Once, in the first OKC game I believe, when Westbrook faked a timeout and drove right by the sleepy Barnes for the layup. (Jackson yanked him for that.) And then against Dallas, when Vince Carter pretended he was injured, before burning Barnes with a backdoor cut for a quarter-ending slam.
Rookie mistakes? Maybe, but do you remember it happening to anyone else?
And then there’s the rebounding. Barnes is an extraordinarily inconsistent rebounder, running hot and cold. In general, hot against weak competition, and cold against strong. Against Houston he managed 1 board. Against the Thunder last night, ZERO, in 29 minutes. That doesn’t happen by accident.
And one last thing. Barnes is a pretty good athlete, right? With pretty good hops? And at 6-8″, he’s got pretty good size.
So he should be able to block shots, right?
Not Barnes. Barnes is averaging a paltry .2 blocks per game. To put this in perspective for you, Brandon Rush averaged .9 last season, in comparable minutes. Klay Thompson, not nearly the athlete that Rush and Barnes are, averages .5 this season. And even last season averaged .3, 50% more than Barnes.
What’s up with that? A certain amount of intelligence goes into blocking shots, anticipation, timing, that sort of thing. Is that what Barnes lacks?
Or is it something else, like desire?
Maybe it’s just not part of The Brand.
Kent Bazemore: The anti-Barnes. Bazemore’s defensive talent is out of this world.
That block of James Harden’s layup at 2:11 3Q of the Rocket’s game? Wow. That just doesn’t happen.
He followed that up in the Thunder game with blocks of KMart at :30 1st Q, and Jackson at 9:05 4th Q.
Bazemore wants to impose his will on the defensive end, which is something the Warriors desperately lack in their wings.
If he gets a reliable three point shot (currently at 31%), his place in the league is assured.
Not buying him at point guard, though. Not at all.