The Golden State Warriors are continuing their journey to top-tier status by bringing in new coach Steve Kerr, but the team still needs to identify the areas to upgrade during the offseason.
The Dubs have a lot of firepower, but they are up against the salary cap with Klay Thompson lurking to get the next large payday. He will be eligible for a maximum extension this summer, but he will probably not want upset the apple cart by making more money than his running mate, Stephen Curry.
The starting five’s salaries take up $53.91 million in 2014-15, which will be the last year with any wiggle room.
The loss to the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of this season’s playoffs stung, especially after impressing the season before.
However, this is an extremely tough conference, and the Warriors have to use their experience to build going forward. 50 wins is impressive, but it doesn’t mean the same thing it used to anymore.
With that said, the Warriors need to address certain areas of weakness if they want to make it to the upper echelon.
Coach Kerr needs to improve one area that the Dubs have faltered on consistently in recent years: turnovers. They have one of the best young ball-handlers in Curry, but he needs to do a better job holding on to the ball.
Curry ranked 33rd out of 47 point guards in assist-to-turnover ratio this past season, with a ratio of 2.27-to-1. His 8.5 assists were flanked with 3.8 miscues per game.
The Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul was the gold standard with a 4.57-to-1 ratio (10.7-to-2.3).
If Curry can lower his turnover rate to just below three per game, he will put the Dubs in a better spot and raise the chances of winning the nail-biters. Curry can't be careless with the ball and needs to limit the times of having his pocket picked, especially in late-game situations.
Although Curry is mostly in the spotlight for turnovers, the problem is team-wide. Coach Kerr will need to limit the sloppy passes, mental mistakes and forced creations.
David Lee is one player who can really work on his gaffes, as he turned the ball over 2.2 times per game as a frontcourt denizen.
Lee ranks tied for 94th place out of 98 power forwards in turnovers per game. Yes, that statistic is slanted because he handles the ball a lot more than other power forwards, but he needs to be a lot more careful.
Lee’s biggest strength is his offensive game, and he can create with the dribble and the pass and use both hands to shoot. He just needs to make a lot more of the sure plays to lower that turnover number to the mid-ones.
The Dubs made 14.9 turnovers per game this season, which ranked them 27th in the Association. On defense, they caused only 14.5 per game.
The Warriors need to lower the number committed to 13 or below and try to cause more giveaways. With Coach Kerr’s projected offense, the transition game could really feast on more opportunities.
Golden State made solid use of its bench during the playoffs versus the Clippers, but during the season, the substitutes underperformed.
Before the Steve Blake acquisition, the Dubs went into a rudimentary haze when Curry left the floor. The ball movement slowed to a crawl, and Harrison Barnes didn’t meet expectations with his sophomore slump.
Marreese Speights did not make many new fans with his play at the start of the year, either. He looked lost on the court, couldn't hit his jumpers and was allergic to any contact near the basket.
Additionally Festus Ezeli, who was a huge help filling in for the injured Andrew Bogut last season, didn’t play a minute for the Warriors this season because of a knee injury.
The frontcourt was saved by a resurrected Jermaine O’Neal, who looked closer to his early years than someone on the verge of retirement.
Nemanja Nedovic and Ognjen Kuzmic received some experience going between the Dubs and the D-League affiliate, Santa Cruz Warriors. The experience could really help them make an impact next season for a team that doesn’t have a pick in the 2014 NBA draft.
Putting this all together, Coach Kerr knows what vital pieces he has returning in a solid starting five and a couple of guys (Draymond Green and Barnes) who he can rely upon off the bench.
The biggest questions going into next season are: Who will develop into a reliable option? And who will fill the spot vacated by Steve Blake?
Barnes has already shown that he is serious about his improvement by pointing out that he needs work on his ball-handling skills. If he can put the time and effort in to training like Thompson has during the past two offseasons, Barnes can add diversity to his game.
Speights showed some flashes of his potential at the end of the season and played consistently better than earlier in the year. Coach Kerr needs to maximize his skills and play him in an environment where he can use both his outside shooting and muscle inside.
As for Curry’s backup, Nedovic isn’t quite ready for that role because of his lack of experience. The Warriors will be better off using their mid-level exception (MLE) and acquiring a player who is used to bringing up the ball.
The Dubs also have a $9.8 million trade exception (which has to be used before July 10) that was acquired in the Richard Jefferson trade last summer. The trade exception could virtually be used to sign a free agent up to $9.8 million if the cooperating team goes the route of sign-and-trade.
With that amount of cash available, the backup pool just became that much deeper for the Dubs.
Coach Kerr will also need to have a tighter rein with the bench.
The team is most effective when at least one or two starters remain on the floor instead of the five-for-five substitutions.
Surrounding Nedovic with starters will build confidence and help him develop faster than being paired with second and third options.
Coach Kerr will get the first chance to look at his first- and second-year players during NBA Summer League, which starts July 11 in Las Vegas.
Style of Play
Get rid of the isolation play
Last year’s offense relied too heavily on that game plan and minimized all of the weapons on the floor. The play can be used sporadically and effectively for the Warriors, but it shouldn’t be relied upon as the main option.
Defenses knew it was coming and prepared for the play. Lee was singled out and should have had one or two options of kicking it out.
The free-throw line is your friend
The Warriors earn trips to the charity stripe, but it usually results from a close shot by Andrew Bogut or Lee. The team ranked 28th in the league in free-throw attempt differential.
Opponents netted 245 of the 292 extra attempts against the Dubs, gaining an edge of roughly three points per game.
By including the transition offense that Coach Kerr has hinted the team will run, the free-throw attempts should be going up. Opponents will most likely be chasing, instead of being in set guarding positions.
If the team can shoot more free throws than its opponents next season, the offense is moving in the right direction.
Bogut can enhance the offense
He once was a presence in the frontcourt on the offensive side of the ball. His left-handed jump hook was his go-to move, and he averaged double digits in points in six straight years with the Milwaukee Bucks through the 2011-12 season.
Since that time, Bogut has been a defensive force for the Warriors between his annual injuries. His offensive game is there, but it hasn’t quite reached the old level.
With the addition of an offensive-minded coach, Bogut’s focus is now to be a two-way player as evidenced in this tweet from the San Jose Mercury News’ Diamond Leung.
Andre Iguodala needs to maximize his offensive utility
Iguodala was poached from the Denver Nuggets in order to play defense and create opportunities with the Splash Brothers backcourt. He was just named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team for the 2013-14 season.
However, Iguodala did not have the same success on the offensive side of the ball. He made huge plays like the game-winning shot versus the Oklahoma City Thunder, but he finished the season with a line of 9.3 PPG, 4.2 APG and 4.7 RPG.
He needs to get more involved with the offense next season and be a vital member of the transitional flow. Iguodala has the skills to dribble, feed teammates and drive to the rack for the score.
As a consistent option, he will help space the floor for Curry and Thompson to get higher-percentage shots. He can even take over point duties to let Curry have more freedom at the two guard.
Coach Kerr has the arsenal to take the team to the next level. He just needs to make sure the focus is on both sides of the ball.
50 wins was one of the goals of last season. The goal of next season should be to make it to the Western Conference Finals.