There are a lot of ways to pick on the Warriors right now. Too many turnovers. Anemic bench. Slow starts. Intermittent lack of energy. Defensive lapses. The usual David Lee complaints, and more recently, an increasing number of Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes complaints.
Funny that nobody wants to talk much about ball movement. It’s the hidden issue that isn’t getting nearly enough table talk. But let it be noted that as the Warriors were being whacked around in the first half by the improved but still pretty much faceless Phoenix Suns Sunday night, I sent out a tweet that read:
“Warriors just aren’t moving the ball very well. Lots of dumb, forced, 1-on-1 shots.”
Two seats down from me, former colleague Monte Poole, now at Comcast, came in less than 30 seconds later with this one (and admittedoly, a lot more clever than mine):
“Ball must be heavy tonight. Warriors having trouble moving it.”
So there were two sets of eyes seeing exactly the same thing. It wasn’t a mirage. And this wasn’t just a second-quarter lapse, either. The Warriors had 17 assists in the 106-102 loss for a mere half of their 34 made field goals. That’s four per quarter. And that says something. It says a lot of one-on-one basketball is being played right now by your GSWs. Granted, it’s the NBA and that’s going to be the norm a lot of the time, especially when you’ve got a hot hand. There are a lot of isolation plays run, and postups for Lee.
But there are also a lot of forced, dumb shots lately. The guards are being overplayed because no one’s moving. Teams are playing through Andrew Bogut’s high-post screens, or switching seamlessly because opponents know what’s coming. Pick-and-rolls have been drying up, too. In short, the offense has been stagnant because a lot of the offense has become “take your man and try to beat him” as opposed to working the ball to find a free shooter or someone cutting to the rim.
Moreover, the Warriors just aren’t using Bogut like they could. No one expects Bogut to score 20 a night, but he can be a factor in opening up the offense. He had four first quarter baskets for eight points against the Suns before things started to go sour. He finished the game with nine points. He took no shots in the second quarter, one in the third, none in the fourth. Against Dwight Howard, maybe you expect that. Against Miles Plumlee, come on. You have to exploit.
When the Warriors were at their best early on during their 8-3 start, they were whipping the ball around with precision and panache, and getting an incredible number of open looks. Andre Iguodala was a big part of that (and boy, does he need to come back ASAP, hopefully sometime this week). In addition to all the other wonderful things he does, he’s a facilitator. He keeps the offense percolating. In their first five games — four of them wins — the Warriors had no fewer than 23 assists in a game. The last four games, they’ve had 20 or less and are 1-3, barely winning the one. They had 10 assists in the trouncing at Houston. Ten! In the games they have recorded 25 or more assists, they are 7-1. Most of those came early, when Iguodala was playing.
Coach Mark Jackson is fond of saying he doesn’t worry about the offense, that the Warriors have no problem scoring points. That may be true, but you have to look at how you’re scoring those points. How many easy baskets are you getting because of good ball movement? Certainly not as many as early in the season. And more often not, when the offense stagnates, the Warriors resort to shooting the three ball at inopportune times. That happened a couple of times against the Suns. Down by 1, the Warriors had a chance to take the lead, but Thompson took a long three from the top of the key that clanked, the Suns came down and got a wide-open Channing Frye for three at the other end.
Then, inside a minute, with the Warriors down by two, Stephen Curry tried to go one-on-one against the Suns’ P.J. Tucker and couldn’t fake him or draw a foul. No problems running an iso for Curry, but he worked Tucker a good 10 seconds to no avail. He should have been looking for somebody at that point, and somebody should have been filling a lane to the basket. Instead, he was forced to take a wild, off-balance shot that had very little chance of going in, and the Suns then wrapped up the ballgame at the free-throw line.
It’s just another reason the Warriors are 13-12. There are a lot of them, but we’ve pretty much ran the gamut on the popular topics. This is one less traveled, but no less significant.
Pass the ball. Move the ball. Something wonderful might happen. Don’t wait for Iguodala to return to do it.