5 Biggest Mistakes the Golden State Warriors Made This Season
Despite posting their highest win total in 20 years and waltzing into the playoffs for the second straight campaign, the Golden State Warriors’ season was filled with a litany of errors, errors which no doubt contributed to their disappointing first-round exit in the postseason.
With a roster as talented as the one given him, Mark Jackson simply failed to get the most out of what he had, choosing to rely on endless isolation plays and ignoring his biggest assets: speed, spacing and wide-open shooting.
Jackson relied too heavily on his big names, and as a result, the Warriors sputtered when the playoffs hit. While the loss of Andrew Bogut crippled their chances in the postseason, much of their failure was a result of simply not nurturing what was naturally there during the regular season.
Uncreative play-calling, puzzling rotation choices and the depletion of their key resources doomed the Warriors far before Bogut’s injury did. While the Warriors seemed like a trendy pick all season, the cracks were always in the foundation, and they continued to grow as the season went along.
Despite Jackson’s attempts to fill them throughout the season, his choice of filler ultimately led to his demise. With the season now over, it’s time to take a look at what exactly it was that went wrong this season.
All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.
5. Signing Marreese Speights to a 3-Year Contract
The Golden State Warriors entered the season short on big men. Festus Ezeli was set to miss significant time, Andrew Bogut’s health was always a question mark and Jermaine O’Neal’s age (35) made him a wild card. The Warriors responded by signing Marreese Speights to a three-year contract worth nearly $11 million.
Boy, does that contract look bad now.
Speights’ reliance on his nonexistent jump shot made him virtually unplayable, as he shot just .441 from the field. Despite a 6’10”, 255-pound frame, Speights preferred to play outside of the paint, choosing long jumpers over shots at the rim. With a team that already had a plethora of shooters, the value that Speights provided was minimal.
Austin Chang of Yahoo Sports proved to be prophetic in his preseason evaluation of the deal, noting that the extra years for a backup player could end up hurting the team:
One negative aspect about this signing is the length of the contract. While Speights may pan out as a bargain pickup who fits in wonderfully with the rest of the Warriors' roster and playing style, three years for a bench player might not work in the team's favor, especially if he struggles to perform at the same level of play demonstrated with the Philadelphia 76ers, Memphis Grizzlies and Cleveland Cavaliers.
Since he opted out of his final year of his current contract, which would have paid him $4.5 million next season, the Warriors will likely be paying Speights a similar amount per season for his services. Likely earning anywhere from $11-14 million over his three-year deal, it would have been a safer route if the team worked out a shorter contract similar to the deal offered to Landry last offseason. The last thing the Warriors want is to get caught in a poor contract decision like years past, stymieing the team's upward trend for success.
If Speights’ play does not improve next season, his contract could ultimately have been the biggest mistake the Warriors made last season.
4. Too Many Minutes for Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson
Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson were fantastic this season, emerging as the best backcourt in the game on the strength of their electrifying shooting. They battled hard all year, logging heavy minutes whenever the situation demanded it. Unfortunately for them, this happened far too often.
For as great as they played in the regular season, they faltered a bit in the postseason, as both men saw their scoring and shooting averages fall. While the Los Angeles Clippers likely had a little bit to do with that, it was their legs that ultimately let them down.
While 36.5 minutes per game might not seem astronomically high for a young player like Curry, his size makes every one of those minutes a tough one. More often than not, Curry will be battling a larger player on defense, exerting more energy as a result.
Although the lack of guard depth at the beginning of the season made it necessary for Mark Jackson’s stars to log heavy playing time, the trades for Steve Blake and Jordan Crawford ensured that quality players could step in when they needed a breather. Rather than use them, however, Jackson continued to work his starters.
Nikhil Ramgiri of goldengatesports.com questioned before the playoffs began whether or not the Warriors’ guards were being taxed too much. The results looked clear throughout the playoffs, as neither Curry nor Thompson shot the ball relatively well.
With Jackson now gone, it will be up to new head coach Steve Kerr to rectify the mistakes of his predecessor. The lesson, as always, is that the NBA regular season is a marathon, not a sprint. The Warriors would do well to keep that in mind.
3. Not Experimenting with Small-Ball Lineups Often Enough
The Golden State Warriors faced an interesting dilemma going into the season, as the identity of the team was yet to be discovered. They had a logjam of quality players at the small forward position with Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green.
At the same time, however, the frontcourt of Andrew Bogut and David Lee had proven to be a potent combination. The Warriors ultimately decided to keep their bigger lineup intact, and when both Lee and Bogut were healthy, it was effective.
The combination of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Iguodala, Lee and Bogut was their most-used lineup, and it reaped a plus-16 point differential. Not bad at all. There was a lineup, however, that blew that out of the water. When Bogut was replaced with Green, the point differential shot up to plus-33.3.
That’s over double the production.
Nobody is saying that the Warriors should have functioned as primarily a small-ball team, but going to smaller lineups more often would have kept teams on their toes and prepared them for life without Bogut in the postseason, which was always a possibility.
Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News has been claiming since last season’s postseason matchup with the San Antonio Spurs that the Warriors are a better team when going small, sitting Lee in particular:
But at this advanced stage of Warriors activity—tied 1-1 with the Spurs in the Western Conference semifinals—there just isn’t much doubt that Lee’s torn hip-flexor in Game 1 of the first round hasn’t hurt them.
It freed the Warriors to be more of who they truly should be, actually.
They’re faster, more flexible, more aggressive, tougher, more balanced, better on defense and now they’re built around a powerful three-piece axis:
Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Andrew Bogut, a straight line of influence, and just ask the San Antonio Spurs how imposing that is.
Steve Kerr will have a difficult decision to make next season, one that could ultimately lead to a far different looking roster: Should the Warriors go small, playing Barnes or Green at power forward, or should they continue to ride Lee? That is the question greeting the newly minted head coach. Have fun with that one, Steve.
2. Discovering Draymond Green Too Late
Draymond Green is like that old guy at your local gym, the one who doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be happy. He just wants to get on the court, play a little defense, shoot some three-pointers and win. Like that old guy, though, Green tended to be overshadowed at the beginning of the season.
Andre Iguodala was the big offseason acquisition, and Harrison Barnes was the guy drafted to be a franchise star. And unfortunately for Green, they all played the same position.
Green is a shining example of hard work paying off, as it was his grit, energy and hustle that ultimately won over his teammates and Jackson. By the end of the season, he had cemented himself as crucial piece to the puzzle.
In the playoffs, it was Green, not Barnes, who stepped up to combat Blake Griffin and the rest of the Los Angeles Clippers’ front line.
Even in defeat, Green opened up a lot of eyes around the league. Ethan Sherwood Strauss of ESPN.com summarized Green perfectly, saying, “The emboldened former No. 35 pick is sufficiently symbolic of an underdog that exudes confidence while expending effort, but he has the added virtue of playing well.”
That’s the thing about Green; he may not be the flashiest player, but he’s definitely a productive one. He does all the little things, from guarding Griffin to spacing the floor, and he does everything well. It’s a mystery that he wasn’t a bigger part of the rotation from the beginning.
After his showing in the postseason, the days of being an afterthought are long behind him. He’s a key rotation player at worst and a starter at best next season. Had Jackson seen that sooner, the small-ball question could have been answered much earlier.
Hopefully it won’t take something drastic like losing Bogut to injury for Steve Kerr to see what he has in Green.
1. Not Featuring Andre Iguodala Enough in the Offense
The impact that Andre Iguodala had on the team was evident from the moment he stepped on the court. The nonexistent defense of last season was gone, replaced by a well-oiled unit specifically designed to cause chaos.
Led by Iguodala and Andrew Bogut, the Warriors defended with vigor unseen in the Bay Area for years, as they emerged as one of the stingiest teams in the league. The Warriors ended up with high marks across the defensive board, finishing fourth in both defensive field-goal percentage and point differential, as well as allowing just 99.5 points per game, good for 10th in the league.
This was all expected, though, as the defensive prowess of Iguodala has always been held to high esteem. What was unexpected, however, would be the dip in his offense.
Statistically speaking, Iguodala had his worst offensive season since his rookie campaign back in 2004-05. He tallied just 9.3 points per game, handed out just 4.2 assists and only grabbed 4.7 rebounds.
For a man with a contract north of $12 million this season, a little more was expected.
The puzzling thing about those numbers is that Iguodala actually shot the ball better this season than he did last year, when he averaged 13.0 a contest. For as talented as Iguodala is, 7.3 shot attempts per game was ludicrous. Whether it was simply the small forward being too passive or bad coaching on the part of Mark Jackson, Iguodala was just never a big enough part of the offense.
The visions of him initiating the scoring never came to fruition, as he was used as a swingman in the truest sense of the word. His tools were ignored, and far too often, he was seen just hanging around in the corner. Getting Iguodala involved more should have been a priority, but he was instead an afterthought.
For all the good that Jackson did, taking the ball out of the hands of his most versatile player might have been his cardinal sin.