Five Things to Watch for During Golden State Warriors' Final Games
With three-quarters of the season behind them, the Golden State Warriors find themselves on the road to the playoffs but in a war with the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks for the sixth seed in the brutal Western Conference. While they have been good, there is still plenty of room for improvement before the postseason begins.
Stephen Curry has risen to new heights this season but still finds himself lacking in certain crucial areas. Harrison Barnes has not progressed the way the Warriors would have liked but with a quarter of the season left, he still has a chance at redemption.
It’s not just the players, however, that must be monitored during the homestretch. Different lineups must be tested to ensure the best product is put on the court when different situations arise.
With the playoffs right on the horizon, how the Warriors handle the final quarter of the season will be crucial to determining how they stack up with the rest of the conference once the postseason kicks off.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the five things to watch for as the season comes to a close.
What Will Mark Jackson’s Crunch-Time Lineup Be?
As any good sixth man would tell you, it’s not about who starts, it’s about who finishes the game. With the Warriors now featuring one of the deepest teams in the league, however, it is still not yet clear who will earn those final, crucial minutes.
Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala—barring injury or foul trouble—will more than likely be involved in any late-game scenario. You can probably throw Klay Thompson into the mix as well. Those last two spots, though, will probably see numerous different combinations depending on the matchup.
Andrew Bogut, despite being the anchor of the Warriors’ defense, is an enormous liability late in games due to his poor free-throw shooting. It’s not unprecedented that dominant big men have been forced to sit late in games; Phil Jackson was famously forced to remove Shaquille O’Neal for that exact reason numerous times.
With that in mind, a smaller lineup featuring David Lee as the sole big man seems highly likely. While his defense leaves a lot to be desired, his rebounding and scoring prowess makes him dangerous late in games. That leaves one final spot, and the Warriors have a few options.
The three players most likely to get their numbers called are Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green or Steve Blake. Each one offers the Warriors their own unique strengths and weaknesses.
With Barnes, an explosive element is added to the offense, a player who has shown the ability to score at will in the past. Should the Warriors find themselves down and in need of quick buckets, Barnes will likely get the call.
Green is quite the opposite, a player with a limited offensive arsenal but with a utility belt as loaded as Batman’s. He can defend multiple positions, is always quick to the ball and provides intensity on the defensive side of the court that you don’t always see from Barnes.
Green will likely receive the call if the Warriors are trying to preserve a lead late in the game.
The final option is an interesting one because it would be the smallest of the three lineups. What it would lack in size, however, it makes up for in shooting and experience. Inserting a proven veteran like Blake would help alleviate much of the late-game sloppiness the Warriors have been prone to as of late.
Putting the ball in his hands and running multiple sets with Thompson and Curry coming off screens is potentially the best of the three lineups and one that could see a lot of run in the near future.
Can Stephen Curry Limit His Turnovers?
It’s no secret that Curry has had his share of problems taking care of the ball. Often it is overlooked because of everything else he does for the Warriors. In the playoffs, however, against experienced teams like the San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder, those turnovers could prove fatal.
There have been some signs, though, that some of his sloppiness might be behind him. On the back of two straight contests where he did not turn the ball over a single time, his turnovers per game average has finally dropped below four for the first time this season, 3.9 to be exact.
While some of that most likely has to do with the arrival of the sure-handed Steve Blake, it’s fair to assume that the growth Curry has experienced throughout the season also has something to do with it.
There will come a time in the playoffs when a heated game will come down to the last few possessions. It is in those moments that Curry must take extra care of the ball. While he has had his fair share of big plays in late-game situations this season, he’s also cost his team numerous possessions.
In the postseason, those possessions mean everything. With talented teammates like Andre Iguodala and David Lee flanking him, Curry must realize that he doesn’t always have to shoulder the entire burden and try to do too much. Letting the game come to him instead of always taking it over could be key coming down the stretch.
Will Harrison Barnes Turn It on for the Stretch Run?
If the Warriors are to finish the season strong and make a run in the postseason, Harrison Barnes must finally break out of his season-long slump. Averaging just 10 points per game, 1.4 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game, all while shooting just .406 from the field, is not going to cut it from "The Black Falcon."
Watching Barnes this season has been frustrating, especially because the knowledge of what he did in last season’s postseason is still freshly ingrained in our minds. The intensity is down, the shot selection has been poor and he just hasn’t attacked opposing defenses the way he did last season.
Were it not for Barnes, the Warriors might have been swept right out of their series with the Spurs last year.
While the best is still yet to come for Barnes, glimpses of his vast potential have been few and far between this season. Although his move to the bench did rob him of a few extra minutes of court time, he hasn’t yet taken advantage of being the focal point of the bench unit.
The Warriors’ offense has declined this season and Barnes is a big reason for that. While the starters have done their part, Barnes and his bench unit have not been able to consistently keep their feet on the gas when they enter the game.
Barnes is the ultimate X-factor for the Warriors because he is still such a mystery. You know what you’re getting from Stephen Curry, David Lee and the rest of the squad but with Barnes it’s been trick-or-treat this season. While the Warriors have been good with this version of Barnes, there is still room for them to be great.
That all starts with Barnes finally realizing his potential. A dominant Barnes truly makes the Warriors contenders. The last quarter of the season will determine whether or not Barnes can regain his form.
Will the Warriors' Defense Continue to Be Their Strength?
If there is one thing Mark Jackson has done right this season, it’s getting the most out of his defense. Despite a lineup that features historically bad defenders in Stephen Curry and David Lee, the Warriors still rank seventh in the NBA in points per game allowed, giving up just 98.6 per contest.
Even more telling than that, however, is that opponents are shooting just .433 from the field against them, a number which leaves them trailing only the Indiana Pacers. It’s not just forcing bad shots where the Warriors have excelled, though. Rebounding is the final phase of a good defense, and once again, the Warriors rank second in the league there at 45.7 per game.
In the span of just one season, the Warriors have transformed from an offensive juggernaut into a well-oiled, defensive machine.
It’s not a fluke, either. The Warriors have the personnel on their team to not only remain a good defensive team but also become an even better one. Everyone knows about the wonders of Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala on the defensive side of the ball. Those two have changed the overall identity of the team into their own.
It’s the development of the other guys, the young guys to be precise, which offers so much upside. Draymond Green has already been a defensive force in just his second season and there is no reason to believe that he won’t get better. While Harrison Barnes isn’t in Green’s league as a defender yet, he has the physical tools to become every bit the defender that Green is.
Klay Thompson has shown drastic improvement in each season he’s played and it’s only a matter of time before he puts it all together. His combination of size and quickness allows him to defend numerous positions.
The Warriors will always have the potential to be an explosive offense but it’s their ever-improving defense that should worry teams. As the chemistry between the team continues to improve, so to will the defense. The Warriors must use the last quarter of the season to ensure that the defense is clicking on all cylinders come playoff time.
Can Klay Thompson Continue to Expand His Game?
The most important thing about Klay Thompson’s game-winning shot over the Indiana Pacers Tuesday night wasn’t that it secured the win. It was the type of shot that truly was a revelation.
For far too long Thompson has been known as strictly a jump-shooter. While he excels as a three-point marksman—he’s made the third-most three pointers in the league and is making them at an impressive 40 percent clip—the fact remains that he’s too good to be just a three-point specialist.
Thompson has great size for a shooting guard—checking in at 6’7”—and he used that size to exploit a great matchup against the much smaller George Hill late in that game. It was refreshing to see because we haven’t seen Thompson punish smaller defenders enough in the past.
With the opposing team normally using their best defensive guard to check Stephen Curry, Thompson often finds himself with a less-than-stellar defender guarding him. That is when he should go to work. He did just that against the Pacers and it resulted in the winning bucket.
With his size, Thompson can live on the block and shoot right over smaller defenders whenever the matchup presents itself. While he has done it a bit so far this season, the Warriors saw first hand that it is a move they should continue to go to.
While Thompson’s off-the-dribble game still needs work, the combination of his lethal three-point shooting and size advantage are more than enough at this juncture. Whether or not the Warriors continue to play to his strengths will be an interesting dynamic to watch as the season winds down.