Fixing the Golden State Warriors' Consistency Problem Once and for All

Joe Flynn@@ChinaJoeFlynnContributor IJanuary 1, 2014

ORLANDO, FL - DECEMBER 31: Andrew Bogut #12 of the Golden State Warriors dunks during a game against the Orlando Magic on December 31, 2013 at Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE  (Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images)
Fernando Medina/Getty Images

The Golden State Warriors closed out their year in style, spanking the Orlando Magic, 94-81, behind David Lee's 22 points. They ended 2013 with a six-game winning streak, their longest in six years, according to ESPN Stats & Info:

During the streak, the Warriors swept through the Pacific Division, beating both L.A. teams (Clippers and Lakers) and the Phoenix Suns in a span of six days. This is the Warriors team that Bay Area fans have expected to see ever since the summer, when Andrea Iguodala was added to the already potent mix that had put a scare into the eventual conference-champion San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs.

But the desired results have taken a while in coming. The Warriors coasted through their early-season schedule and were but a single game over .500 as recently as December 19.

Yes, the Warriors dealt with injuries—Iguodala missed 12 games with a hamstring problem, and Jermaine O'Neal is still out after undergoing arthroscopic wrist surgery—but those issues pale in comparison to what their divisional rivals, the Lakers, have suffered, and the Lakers were hanging with the Warriors in the win column until last week.

Meanwhile, Golden State still trails upstart Phoenix by two games in the loss column despite the winning streak. And the Suns were picked by some to finish dead last in the entire conference.

The Warriors are clearly more talented than either the Lakers or Suns and are poised to put some distance between themselves and those two squads in 2014. But before they can take aim at the division-leading Clippers, the Warriors must prove once and for all that they've put their inconsistent ways behind them.


The Turning Point and the Road Ahead

In hindsight, it's not surprising that the Warriors' winning streak began in the wake of their December 19 loss to the San Antonio Spurs. That game was clearly the low point of Golden State's season.

How could losing to the defending conference champs possibly count as such an embarrassment? That's what happens when the team that knocked you out of the playoffs last season comes into your building on national TV, rests its three biggest stars (Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker) and still walks out with the victory.

The Warriors played the kind of lackadaisical basketball they had been playing throughout the season's first two months—falling behind early and relying on their superior talent to rally them to victory. 

But the experienced Spurs reserves didn't crack, and San Antonio held on for a 104-102 win.

ORLANDO, FL - DECEMBER 31: Victor Oladipo #5 of the Orlando Magic attempts a shot against Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors on December 31, 2013 at Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that,
Fernando Medina/Getty Images

After the game, coach Mark Jackson was harsh on his team, according to Carl Steward of the San Jose Mercury News"They are not playing well right now. I'm not going to sit here and make excuses for them."

But center Andrew Bogut was even harsher, putting it bluntly: "We can't lose this game at home, period."

And the Warriors haven't lost. Tuesday's win at Orlando was the second game of a season-long seven-game Eastern Conference road trip. Of the next five road games, the Warriors should be favored in every one except the January 2 game in Miami.

The Warriors currently have the fifth-hardest strength of schedule, but their conference competitors have similar schedules. The Warriors need to take advantage of the games against the weak sisters of the East and pack on the wins before heading back west.


What Do They Need to Work On?

The Warriors have made some strides from last year. Their middle-of-the pack defense has improved to sixth in defensive efficiency in 2013-14. But the Warriors still have a few critical weaknesses they must work on if they want to win consistently in the next year.

The biggest problem is their bench. The Warriors rank 28th in the league in the efficiency difference between first and second units, according to Hoopstats.

Warriors Offense, Four Factors
Lg. Rank7301625
Warriors Defense, Four Factors
Lg. Rank319523

The Warriors are also dead last in the league in turnover ratio, and even casual observers can tell that the Warriors are extremely loose with the ball. Stephen Curry leads the NBA in turnovers per game, and reserve guard Kent Bazemore is second among qualified guards in turnover ratio.

But a high turnover ratio does not necessarily doom the Warriors to failure. Three top competitors—the Miami HeatIndiana Pacers and Houston Rockets—are ranked 24th, 25th and 26th in turnover ratio, respectively. The 2011-12 Heat were 24th in turnover ratio when they won the title. 

But the Warriors combine their sloppy ball-handling with another glaring weakness: a massive free-throw discrepancy. Golden State ranks 25th in free throws per field-goal attempt and 23rd in opponents' free throws allowed per field-goal attempt.

On offense, the jump-shooting Warriors clearly have a problem getting to the line. But they make up for it with their second-ranked three-point percentage. 

On defense, the Warriors' tendency to foul stems from the same reason they turn the ball over too much: sheer laziness. Too often, the Warriors cavalierly throw the ball away on offense. Too often, they reach in and foul on defense. These are not talent issues; these are effort issues.

Head coach Mark Jackson has called out his team for lack of effort before. If the Warriors don't make any in-season acquisitions, then the best these players can do is simply listen to their coach's advice.

This six-game winning streak is a good start, but the season is long. The Warriors need to maintain their focus and energy throughout the long season if they want to take advantage of their considerable talent and compete in the West.


*Unless noted, all stats are courtesy of Basketball-Reference. 


    Cook Shines as Dubs Beat Suns

    Golden State Warriors logo
    Golden State Warriors

    Cook Shines as Dubs Beat Suns

    Lue Exits in 1st Half with Illness

    NBA logo

    Lue Exits in 1st Half with Illness

    Kyle Newport
    via Bleacher Report

    Cook Has Looked Sharp Without Injured Stars

    Golden State Warriors logo
    Golden State Warriors

    Cook Has Looked Sharp Without Injured Stars

    Bryan Kalbrosky
    via HoopsHype

    Lil B Sends Warriors His Support and Blessing

    Golden State Warriors logo
    Golden State Warriors

    Lil B Sends Warriors His Support and Blessing

    Ananth Pandian
    via Warriors Wire