7 Questions the Golden State Warriors Must Answer Before 2017 NBA Trade Deadline
The Golden State Warriors don't need much, and tinkering with a team that owns the NBA's top record and net rating feels a little risky. (i.e., Adding a racing stripe to the Batmobile might sound cool in theory, but sometimes addition is really subtraction.)
Nonetheless, the Dubs have to take the upcoming few weeks seriously. The trade deadline is Feb. 23, and though the season's most important transactional cutoff date is most important for the way it heightens desperation and spurs movement, it's also a key checkpoint for every team—not just the ones looking to make deals.
So while the Warriors may not (and probably should not) look to make tweaks, they can still view the deadline as a time for critical self-evaluation.
Where is Golden State weak? How can it adjust personnel or strategy to better compete with the heavy hitters throwing haymakers? Most importantly, what changes can it make to ensure the dreaded 3-1 blown-lead meme goes off to die somewhere?
The following questions have to be evaluated, in reverse order of importance.
We Cool with Anderson Varejao?
It's not that Anderson Varejao—floppy-haired flopper and, probably, flip-flop enthusiast—is the problem, specifically. Because, although it's true his somewhat inexplicable roster spot and devastating ineffectiveness last postseason make it seem like the Warriors have a serious depth issue at center, the truth is they're fine.
Would it be nice if the Warriors could count on rookie Damian Jones for five spot minutes here or there? Sure.
But the Dubs have enough ways to get 48 minutes of production at the 5 every night with some combination of Zaza Pachulia, JaVale McGee, Draymond Green and David West.
Since Golden State changed the specs on its pick-and-roll coverage—elevating Pachulia to the level of the screen instead of having him sink back into the lane (like Andrew Bogut used to)—its basic defense has dramatically improved. The Warriors rank first in defensive efficiency since Dec. 1, lead the league in blocks per game and hold opponents to the third-lowest field-goal percentage in the league.
This isn't a team struggling to defend the rim anymore.
McGee catches lobs at an obscene rate, the beneficiary of the Warriors' unparalleled perimeter shooting gravity. Green is Green: maybe the most dangerous closing-lineup center in the NBA. West, probably the least heralded, is a brute with smarts, experience and a keen passing eye. His assist rate is third-highest on the team, trailing only Green and Stephen Curry. And he's the Warriors' fourth-best option at center.
They don't really need a fifth.
The Warriors may not be cool with Varejao, but it hardly matters. Barring disaster, he'll never play.
Can Curry Get the Ball...And Keep It?
No team has devoted a lower percentage of plays to the pick-and-roll ball-handler than the Warriors this season, but based on the findings of NBA.com's John Schuhmann, that may not be the case for long.
"Through their first 35 games, the Warriors ran a Curry-Durant pick-and-roll just 2.6 times per contest, and they didn't run it once in Cleveland on Christmas," Schuhmann wrote. "Over their last five games, they've run it 7.0 times per game, and it's produced 1.35 points per possession in that stretch."
The Kevin Durant-Steph combo will only become more effective if KD ever actually sets a screen instead of immediately slipping in search of his own shot.
Baby steps, though: At least the Warriors are getting the rock into Curry's hands and letting him make decisions. Moving him off the ball in search of a more fluid offense was making it easier for opponents to guard him.
The key to optimizing Curry's (and the Warriors') offensive effectiveness will be sticking to this plan. We know Golden State can run a top-notch attack with Green screening for Curry. If Durant stays on board, the Dubs have two devastating ways to run the game's most basic set.
Is Andre Iguodala the Same Guy?
Andre Iguodala is being very, very careful this season.
He's attacking the rim, drawing fouls and shooting less frequently than ever. His counting numbers are all down, and his accuracy rates have also dipped.
Aging sucks, and the 32-year-old's circumspect approach to offense is tied directly to a gradual athletic decline that has forced spot-picking instead of perpetual physical dominance.
Iguodala is still mentally sharp, and he's turned himself into a nearly mistake-free player. He has gone entire weeks without a single giveaway, and his assist-to-turnover ratio on the year is hovering around an elite 4-to-1.
The key for Golden State, though, is Iguodala's defense. Two years ago, he earned NBA Finals MVP for the way he forced LeBron James to work. He wasn't at that level last season, and it looks increasingly like Durant will be the guy tasked with guarding James in key moments.
Iguodala isn't who he used to be, but he's found ways to be nearly as effective, at least on offense. If he can conjure some similar compensatory tricks on D, the Warriors will be in business. If he can't, Golden State may find it hard to trust a non-shooter who also can't be relied upon as a defensive stopper when it counts.
Is Ian Clark Ready?
There are backcourt minutes available for non-star Warriors, and NBA Summer League sensation Patrick McCaw isn't quite ready to fill them.
The second-rounder may yet develop the physical strength to compete on defense, but for now, his willowy frame is a major reason he's been shuttling back and forth between Oakland and the Warriors' Santa Cruz NBA D-League affiliate.
Ian Clark's 43.4 percent stroke from deep has earned him time as the team's fourth guard—Shaun Livingston is entrenched as the third—but size and defensive limitations make the 6'3", 175-pounder a dicey play against the wrong matchups. Clark is not a creator, so he's effectively an undersized 2 who has to play off the ball. That's why he has a negative net rating when paired with Klay Thompson.
The two just don't work well together.
Slotting him alongside Curry makes sense, but that's an awfully small backcourt that could get burned by opposing scorers. And using him with Livingston generally means neither Curry nor Thompson is on the floor, and that's unacceptable outside of garbage time.
Clark has grown into a genuine shooting specialist. Since we're picking nits and asking tough questions, it's fair to wonder if he can become more than that.
Will the Turnovers Ever Stop?
Are the Warriors still the Warriors if they're careful?
For as long as they've been title contenders, the Dubs have walked the line between creative aggression and sloppiness.
Curry does it with his one-handed hook passes and over-dribbling, and he's been the most criticized—especially after carelessness bit him during Game 7 of the 2016 Finals. But you have to wonder whether Golden State would lose something of its core identity, some distinct element of what makes it great, if it played a more buttoned-up style.
It's a little like the Green conundrum: Would he be as effective if he weren't so emotional?
Head coach Steve Kerr harps on Golden State's penchant for giveaways on a nightly basis—partly because it's bitten his team before, and partly because there's not a lot else to criticize. Even when the Warriors take care of the ball, it's a topic of conversation.
Nonetheless, this will be a point of emphasis all year. The Warriors know titles can be won and lost on a single possession.
Did Win over Cleveland Answer 'The Curry Question'?
If you watched the Warriors trample the Cavaliers on Monday, the answer is simple: Just put the ball in Curry's hands, and everything's fine.
SB Nation's Mike Prada highlighted the Cavaliers' ultra-physical face-guarding strategy ahead of Golden State's 126-91 walkover, and it was hard to watch the contest without wondering why Cleveland wasn't doing what it knew would work.
Part of the issue was Golden State limiting Curry's time away from the ball, but it sure felt like the Cavs just weren't interested in offering any more film to study on their tactics against Curry.
They didn't relentlessly attack him on defense, didn't play bumper cars with him when he was running around on the baseline, didn't deny him the inbounds pass with a one-man full-court press...basically, everything was different.
We know there are things Golden State can do to spring Curry, but we also know Cleveland has kept him bound up better than any other opponent—and done it on the biggest stages. Even though the Warriors have made changes that should get him going, don't make the mistake of thinking the Warriors solved their Curry-versus-Cavs issues on Monday.
Cleveland didn't show its hand.
Are the Crunch-Time Problems Here to Stay?
Last year, the Warriors smoked the league with a plus-38.6 net rating in the clutch (last five minutes, teams within five points of one another), a figure more than twice as good as the runner-up Dallas Mavericks' quaint plus-16.0.
This means Harrison Barnes deserves the MVP award, or the Warriors have some kinks to work out in crucial situations.
We should never have expected the Warriors to duplicate anything about a 73-9 season, including the reliable brilliance of the Death Lineup closing games. So that's part of the disappointment: the failure to manage expectations.
But there's also a very real ball-sharing, offensive-harmony, don't-step-on-anyone's-toes dynamic in play here.
Getting back to a more basic pick-and-roll-based approach will help, and as the Dubs get more comfortable with Durant on defense, they'll tighten up on that end—which is where the productive chaos really started for last year's Death Lineup anyway.
"It's all a learning experience," Durant told CSN Bay Area's Monte Poole of the late-game issues. "I'm glad it's happening now, rather than later in the season or in the playoffs."
Like just about everything with Golden State, this is an issue that will almost certainly get solved. But for now, since we're looking for questions, this has to be mentioned.
All stats courtesy of NBA.com, unless otherwise noted, and accurate as of January 16.