The Golden State Warriors offense is more than a couple of tweaks away from joining the ranks of the NBA’s elite, but getting David Lee back healthy would at least help cover some of the team’s weaknesses.
The Dubs already showed in 2013 that they’re capable of winning a playoff series without home-court advantage. As a No. 6 seed heading into the playoffs, Golden State dispatched the 57-win Denver Nuggets in six games. However, the Warriors benefitted greatly from matching up with a similar uptempo team that lived and died by the three-point shot.
When the Warriors—specifically outside shooters like Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson—aren’t clicking offensively, they become a very mediocre basketball team. That’s the exact narrative that played out against the Chicago Bulls on Feb. 26.
Bulls point guard Kirk Hinrich should receive some credit for his defensive tenacity, but Curry just had one of those nights where he couldn’t throw the ball into a swimming pool.
He finished 2-of-10 from the floor overall and 1-of-5 from beyond the arc. The sharpshooting floor general got plenty of good looks, but his jump shots continually came up short, and he finished the night with five turnovers in 28 minutes.
That doesn’t even account for poor shooting nights from Andre Iguodala (1-of-8), Harrison Barnes (3-of-10) and Thompson (3-of-8).
When shots aren’t falling for Mark Jackson’s crew, the team becomes beatable even with the league’s third-best defensive efficiency—surrendering 99 points per 100 possessions.
In the 103-83 drubbing against Chicago, D-Lee played 21 minutes off the bench as he continues to recover from the stomach flu. He finished with 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting.
"Timing was a little off," Lee said after the game, per the Associated Press (via ESPN). "I was definitely more winded quicker than I would have been. Twenty minutes felt like about 55 minutes tonight on the court, but that usually is going to happen the first game back. I'm glad I got that under my belt and I'm ready for the next one."
The Warriors will need him to get well soon as a means of patching some offensive woes. When Golden State’s perimeter players aren’t knocking down outside shots with consistency, Lee can take over as an interior presence to override poor shooting performances.
For instance, in the Feb. 20 matchup against the Houston Rockets—a 102-99 Warriors win—Thompson scored just 12 points on 6-of-18 shooting (0-of-5 from downtown). Lee, however, picked up the slack with 28 points on 11-of-22 shooting from the floor.
The day prior against the Sacramento Kings, Curry and Thompson combined to shoot 11-of-28 from the field (39.3 percent). Again, Lee acted as the savior by posting 23 points on 50 percent shooting in 40 minutes of action.
As a team that depends on the three-point shot to create offensive runs and win games, Golden State needs a safety net to protect itself when shooters just don’t have it. Lee provides that as an interior presence, but the Warriors still have some clear offensive issues even when the 30-year-old big man plays well.
On top of being a team that lives and dies by the fickle nature of three-point flings, the Dubs are turning the ball over 15.4 times per game. Only the Houston Rockets (15.5) and Philadelphia 76ers (17.1) have been worse in that regard.
The problem stems from Curry being forced to handle the ball and orchestrate the offense at all times. His usage rate of 28.2 ranks him seventh among all qualified players, and his 3.9 turnovers per game is a career high.
Curry isn’t the only player guilty of coughing up the ball, though. Lee, Thompson, Iguodala and Andrew Bogut all average 1.7 turnovers per contest or more.
The Warriors have an arsenal of offensive weapons at their disposal. As a result, taking care of the ball should be the team’s No. 1 priority to ensure one of those guys gets a shot at putting the ball in the hoop.
The addition of Steve Blake at the trade deadline should alleviate some of the ball-handling duties placed on Curry’s shoulders, but the 34-year-old veteran is still getting acclimated to a new system.
Turnovers have continued to stifle Golden State’s offensive efficiency, but another issue entirely is bench production.
According to Hoops Stats.com, the Warriors’ second unit ranks 28th in the NBA by scoring just 24.5 points per contest. It also ranks 22nd in rebounds (13.7) and is tied for last in assists (4.2).
So not only is Curry being asked to constantly handle the ball and create plays, he and the rest of the starting five also have to overcome negligible bench production on a nightly basis.
Lee’s return to full strength will undoubtedly be a big boost to the team’s offensive shortcomings. However, there are deeper problems at play that may ultimately doom Jackson’s squad in a playoff series.
Can the Warriors realistically be seen as dark-horse title contenders when turnovers, inconsistent outside shooting and lackluster bench play appear again and again? Golden State has the talent necessary to compete with anyone in the league, but putting it all together into a cohesive unit has been a struggle thus far.
Lee's slick inside scoring will help, but it's not the one answer Coach Jackson is searching to find.