In recent years, the concept of “three-and-D” role players has been popularized throughout the NBA, and for good reason. Teams have correctly discovered that three-point shots and attempts at the rim are the most efficient shots on the court, and therefore are key components of winning in today’s NBA.
Conversely, defending the three-ball and accumulating points in the paint are vitally important in their own right. There are a dearth of true post scorers in the league today, meaning that players that can both shoot the three and defend on the perimeter (thus guarding against the three-point shot and keeping opposing guards from easily getting into the lane) are at a premium.
There are only a certain amount of stars in the NBA, of course. And teams have identified that the role players that fill in around those stars must do at least one thing exceptionally, or a couple of things quite well. One of the most frequent overlapping skill sets is shooting and defense, or, at the very least, the ability to guard the perimeter at an average rate without fouling.
The Houston Rockets have been masters of accumulating these role players for years, from the days of Ron Artest and Courtney Lee, to Chase Budinger and Carlos Delfino, to Chandler Parsons, Omri Casspi, and Francisco Garcia. A high volume of three-point shots at good efficiency, plus solid, no-foul perimeter defense equals winning basketball.
Now, we arrive at the 2013-14 Golden State Warriors. This is a team that, after it’s gutsy swap that centered around giving leading scorer Monta Ellis to acquire oft-injured but defensive-minded center Andrew Bogut from Milwaukee, had a lot of question marks entering the 2012-13 campaign. Of course, the biggest question was (and remains) health, but the roster was more than solid.
They were nonetheless overlooked for much of last season, until a late charge and a playoff series victory over the 57-win Denver Nuggets in the first round catapulted them firmly onto the national stage. Stephen Curry’s record-breaking three-point barrage in the postseason and the play of young wing players Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes gained much of the attention, and rightly so. But David Lee’s season-ending injury suffered in the playoffs and Andrew Bogut’s 32-games-played regular season put a damper on the final result and the outlook heading into this season.
The Warriors lost sixth man Jarrett Jack to Cleveland via free agency, but were able to move the expiring deals of Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson, and Brandon Rush to the Utah Jazz (along with 2014 and 2017 first round draft picks) in order to clear enough cap space to sign star wing Andre Iguodala to a four-year, $48 million pact.
The new Warriors starting lineup? Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson, David Lee, and Andrew Bogut. That’s pretty solid, to say the least. The bench? Shored up with off-season acquisitions Marreese Speights, Toney Douglas, and Jermaine O’Neal, who join two second-year players in Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green.
Not exactly a stellar bench. But it’s easy to see what Golden State’s front office is trying to accomplish. Curry and Thompson are sharpshooters. Barnes is a (perceived) “three-and-D” player. Iguodala has been arguably the best one-on-one wing defender in the NBA over the past few years. And in the paint? A healthy Bogut, backed-up by an aging but still very defensively-effective O’Neal is pretty decent. Lee fits perfect next to Bogut, as they each complement each others weaknesses.
The Warriors’ defense is actually quite impressive. They rotate in unison and switch seamlessly at almost every occasion. Bogut and Iguodala are two of the premier (if not the premier) defensive players at their respective positions, and can help cover for the shortcomings of sub-par defenders like Lee or average-at-best defenders like Curry and Thompson.
Offensively, the Curry-Lee pick-and-roll/pop game is deadly. It’s pick your poison, with a Curry jumper probably being the worst possible poison to settle on. The Lee elbow jumper isn’t a ton better, and he’s decent enough when rolling to the rim as well. Space the floor with Thompson and a slashing Iguodala, and you’ve got yourself a nice recipe for a high-octane offense.
But, let’s be picky for a brief moment. The downfall of this team could center around the stagnant nature of the offense sans Curry. If the Warriors are to be considered true contenders, there’s nothing wrong with taking a closer look at their biggest flaw.
Of course, there isn’t a lot of scoring in the paint or much in the way of post offense going on with these Warriors. This doesn’t matter when Curry, Thompson, and company are scorching hot, but there aren’t a whole lot of places to go for offense when the bench takes the floor.
This predicament led to two consecutive isolation plays for Klay Thompson in this game against Utah. The first resulted in a help defender swatting away a feeble shot attempt, while the second progressed in the following fashion:
The Warriors give Thompson the ball in isolation inside the three-point on the right wing. He takes a couple dribbles into the lane, and is immediately quadruple-teamed right in front of the rim.
He’s unable to get a shot up and/or draw a foul, and sloppily kicks the ball out to Lee. He can’t catch the ball cleanly, and the play ultimately ends with a scramble and the ball sailing out of bounds. The ball is circled in the screenshot below. It isn’t particularly close to any players.
It must be pointed out that the Warriors’ floor spacing and balance was horrific in this possession, as well as in the preceding possession when Thompson found his shot being knocked aside by a help defender that he never saw coming, so it can’t be solely blamed on Thompson. But that’s part of the issue: the starting lineup plays one way, but the bench has no hope or prayer of playing in a similar fashion. Thus, the bench will struggle to find it’s way, especially if they run continual isolation sets for Klay Thompson.
Obviously, this was a crude way to show that the Warriors’ second team lacks a certain…direction. The Warriors offense is Stephen Curry, and players like Thompson and Barnes play off of him. Without a backup point guard that can be trusted (Toney Douglas has only played in 7 of 12 games thus far, even with Curry missing 2 games already), the bench is rudderless.
Clearly, this is a playoff team. But count me as someone that is still skeptical of this team for two reasons, which are really one giant, looming reason: the bench, and the history of significant injuries to key players.
Yes, the bench is okay overall. But general consensus still overrates Barnes’ abilities on both ends of the floor, and Speights and Douglas simply aren’t very good players. O’Neal is cooked on the offensive side of the ball, and Green doesn’t provide much on that end, either. Backup point guard is by far the largest concern, however, given Curry’s injury history and the lack of depth behind him.
In what was a special treat to Warriors and NBA fans alike, Curry managed to start 78 of 82 games last season. However, he’s already missed two games this year to different ailments, playing in 10 of 12 contests. And his ankles seemingly haven’t even been an issue yet. Here’s hoping that they won’t be, because starting Iguodala at point guard isn’t exactly a solution. (Incidentally, they’re 0-2 so far this year when Iguodala starts at the ’1′ and Barnes slides into the starting lineup at the ’2′-spot.)
Even ignoring the possibility of injuries to Curry and the lack of depth at point guard, there isn’t much scoring at all on the bench. Barnes isn’t nearly efficient enough to be a net positive on the court, and unless he figures that out, the starters will be run into the ground by coach Mark Jackson.
Golden State sacrificed depth for a more top-heavy, star-laden rotation. In the playoffs, it should absolutely work and be effective. Over the course of an 82-game season with two fragile, injury-prone key starters in Curry and Bogut? A roll of the dice, to be sure.