Does Current Golden State Warriors Roster Deserve 'Elite' Billing?

Matt SteinmetzFeatured ColumnistFebruary 7, 2014

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Ever since the Golden State Warriors’ first-round upset of the Denver Nuggets in last year's NBA playoffs, and then the subsequent nudging of the San Antonio Spurs to six games in Round 2, there’s been palpable optimism surrounding the organization.

That newfound optimism turned into unbridled title aspirations after the Warriors acquired NBA All-Star Andre Iguodala in the offseason. Team owner Joe Lacob was one of those believers, and he began selling the notion that the Warriors were championship-contending material in 2013-14.

For the most part, the media bought it. Problem is, the Warriors are just 30-20, clinging to the No. 6 playoff spot and closer to being out of the postseason picture than securing home-court advantage in the first round.

As you would figure, criticism is beginning to find its way toward head coach Mark Jackson, who after getting Golden State to overachieve a year ago now can’t seem to “max out” this group. Some of the criticism is fair, but to dwell on coaching misses a bigger point: This isn’t a championship roster and shouldn’t have been sold as one.

Here are five personnel shortcomings that are keeping the Warriors from being an elite team.


Depth at Point

Stephen Curry has done a wonderful job of playing point guard in the NBA, but there are things that still don’t come naturally to him. That’s why last season, with Jarrett Jack in the fold, the Warriors enjoyed the best of both worlds. 

They could play Curry a bunch at point guard—allowing him to grow at that position—and they could also move him off the ball to take advantage of his one-of-a-kind ability to shoot the ball. But Jack left for Cleveland in the offseason, and the Warriors didn’t make it a priority to replace him.

Lacob and general manager Bob Myers believed Iguodala could pick up a lot of the point guard slack, but he hasn’t been what they envisioned as far as that’s concerned. Bottom line is the Warriors have nobody other than Curry to run the team competently, and the heavy point guard minutes have taken a toll on Curry’s turnovers (way, way up, from 3.1 per game last season to 4.0) and three-point-shooting proficiency (down from 45.3 percent last year to 40.6 percent this year).


It’s a Jump-Shooting Team, for Better or Worse

Any way you cut it, the Warriors are a team that does the majority of its damage from the perimeter. You could make a case that Curry and Klay Thompson are actually more dangerous the farther they are from the bucket than the closer they are.

For as multi-dimensional as David Lee is, he’s more comfortable facing the basket from 18 feet away than he is three feet away from it with his back to it. Iguodala and Harrison Barnes, too, are far more perimeter-oriented than interior-oriented.

That doesn’t mean they can’t get to the basket or post up occasionally; it just means it’s not what they do a lot of. What all this leaves is a team without any consistent inside scoring. Andrew Bogut lives in the interior, but offensively he’s not the same player he was before his elbow injury a few years back. Even backup big man Marreese Speights likes the 20-footer better than the bunny.


Diminished Depth

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

When the Warriors were at their best a year ago, chances were that Jack and Carl Landry were on the floor when it was happening. Whether it was Jack’s ability to make big shots or Landry’s knack for hitting the important mid-range jumper or converting a putback, you can’t downplay how vital those two were to the Warriors’ success.

Or can you? It was no secret that bringing back Jack and Landry was going to be tricky for the capped-out, non-taxed Warriors. But ownership also took a gamble that one Iguodala was going to be better than a Jack/Landry twosome. The verdict is still out, but there’s no doubt the team misses the impact off the bench Landry and Jack brought.


Tough Enough?

A big question that remains for the Warriors, should they advance to, say, the second round again, is whether they’re tough enough to get it done. While Iguodala is a good defender and Bogut has more than a touch of nasty, the rest of the Warriors are mostly finesse.

Curry, Thompson and Lee are all on the slight side when it comes to their positions, and each would prefer to shy away from physical play. Draymond Green helps in the toughness category, but he hasn’t played enough to consistently make an impact at that end of the floor. When play gets ugly and dirty come playoff time, it’s fair to wonder whether the Warriors have enough mudders.


Playmakers Aren't Necessarily Decision-Makers

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

If you go up and down the roster, you’ll find a bunch of players capable of making a shot or setting up a teammate for one. When this team gets to making the extra pass, it’s a thing of beauty.

But it’s also a team that too frequently tries the fancy pass over the sound one, and it’s one that commits far too many turnovers for how perimeter-oriented it is (second-most turnovers per game in the NBA).

When the Warriors lost Jack, Landry and even Richard Jefferson, they lost some smarts, some leadership and a little bit of their edge.