What's Behind Golden State Warriors' Problems on Offense?

Jared Dubin@@JADubin5Featured ColumnistFebruary 18, 2014

Getty Images

Between the long-range shooting of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, the interior bruising of Andrew Bogut, the inside-outside brilliance of David Lee, and the all-around dynamism of Andre Iguodala, you'd think the Golden State Warriors would be able to craft a top-flight offense simply by stepping on the court together, but it hasn't exactly worked out that way. 

For all their prodigious talent, the Dubs are only 12th in offensive efficiency this season, according to NBA.com

So, how is this possible? How has a team with all that firepower struggled so much to score relative to expectations?

For one thing, it's important to remember that the five-man unit of Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Lee and Bogut has played only 647 of Golden State's 2,559 minutes of floor time so far this season, per NBA.comPut another way, the Warriors' starting five has played fewer minutes together (647) than the Warriors have played without Curry on the floor this season (674). 

That starting unit has actually scored like gangbusters, registering an offensive efficiency of 112.8 (which would lead the league by more than 3.0 points per 100 possessions) in approximately 20 minutes a night across 33 games, per NBA.com 

But those minutes are not enough to prop up what they've done in all the other floor time, because it's in the other 1,912 minutes that Golden State has badly struggled on offense. 

via NBA.com

The 101.2 points per 100 possessions the Warriors have scored in the minutes when any of their five starters has been off the floor is the full-season equivalent of just the 22nd-best offense in the league. 

Those minutes without the starters have been marked by turnovers, too many possessions where Harrison Barnes or (more recently) Jordan Crawford has to take a bail-out jumper, and not enough free throws—though the low free-throw rate is actually something that extends to the starting lineup as well. 

According to NBA.com, the Warriors as a whole have drawn just over one-quarter of a free throw for every field-goal attempt, a rate that sits 22nd in the NBA.

With the starting unit on the floor, that rate actually drops all the way down to 0.191 free throws per field-goal attempt, which would rank dead last among the league's 30 teams by a mile. 

Compounding the Warriors' free-throw problem is the fact that they don't shoot very well from the stripe.

Despite the presence of the sharpshooting Curry, Golden State shoots only 74.1 percent from the free-throw line as a team, making it the 22nd-best free throw shooting team in the league. 

Three players who get regular minutes shoot south of 60 percent from the supposed charity stripe, with Iguodala checking in at 59.1 percent, Draymond Green at 58.8 percent and Bogut all the way down at 34.6 percent.

Too many Warriors are cashing in their free points at too low a rate for a team that doesn't generate all that many free throws to begin with. 

Compounding Golden State's free-throw issues is the fact that the team is very turnover prone.

Only four teams turn the ball over more as a percentage of possessions than the Warriors, who have done so on 16.2 percent of their possessions this season, according to NBA.com.

Of those four teams, only the Houston Rockets also sport an offense that ranks in the top half of the league. The other three—the Bulls, Bucks and 76ers—have the league's 28th-, 29th- and 30th-ranked offenses. 

So here we have a team that ranks very low in two of the Four Factors, and then we see that they're just about league average at a third (offensive rebounding).

Those three factors are said to account for about 60 percent of a team's offense, according to a study done by Dean Oliver in his seminal book, Basketball on Paper, which means you need to have outrageously good shooting to still be able to sport a top offense with those rates. 

Golden State has shot well enough to place its effective field-goal percentage inside the league's top 10 (they're ninth, according to NBA.com), but not so well as to prop the offense up to elite levels despite their sagging turnover rate, foul-drawing and offensive rebounding. 

A look at the team-wide shot chart from NBA.com reveals a very average shooting team. Though Golden State shoots slightly above the league average from both the three-point and mid-range areas, it also shoots below the league average in the paint. 

via NBA.com

Average-ish shooting, lots of turnovers, few free throws, average rebounding. That's not exactly a recipe for an elite offense. 

To pinpoint specific areas of concern, we can turn to the play-tracking service mySynergySports (subscription required). From Synergy's archive, we can see that the Warriors devote over one-fifth of their offensive plays to isolations and post-ups, on which they have shot just 40.6 percent combined. 

One-on-one-play is incredibly inefficient to begin with, but sometimes isolations are necessary to bail out busted possessions. Golden State is all too willing to isolate without being forced into it, though, particularly on the low block.

Barnes is averaging about two post-up plays per game and shooting just 39 percent from the post, per Synergy. Bogut is at just 42.4 percent from the post. The only one shooting well from the post is Lee, but it's on south of four plays per game.

The Warriors are just not efficient enough from the block to justify going there as often as they do. 

Compounding that problem are the struggles of their pick-and-roll roll men to finish. Roll men for Golden State are shooting just 46.0 percent from the field, and have generated points per play at only the 22nd-best rate in the league, per Synergy.

This is the continuation of a trend that extends back to last season, when they shot just 47.7 percent and ranked 21st in points per play on the roll. 

Too many (rushed) jumpers, poor finishing around the rim and some halfhearted flings at the basket on the move when the shot isn't open have made players who should be much more effective on pick-and-roll actions into less efficient players. 

These aren't the only problem plays for Golden State (they rank 26th in points per play off offensive rebounds and a surprising 19th in transition, per Synergy), but they are glaring ones given the construction of the team.

With all the outside shooting Golden State has, the lack of an interior presence this season to balance the floor has thrown the offense out of whack whenever any starter has stepped off the court.

For all their offensive talent, it's actually Golden State's defense that has carried it as far as it's gone so far this year.

The Warriors are sliding backwards in the standings, though, with just a 5-5 record in their last 10 games and only a 1.5-game lead in the race for the eighth seed in the Western Conference. The Dubs can defend, but their sagging offense needs to pick things up if they want to get where they want to go.