It’s that time of year again. Time to look back on the year that was, and time to look ahead to the year that could be. 2013 was by almost every account a great one for the Golden State Warriors, a year that featured the Dubs’ rise from mediocrity to their current compelling status amongst the NBA’s upper-echelon teams. The transformation didn’t happen overnight. In the oft-quoted words of Mark Jackson, the team “stayed true to the process”, and that process turned out to hold plenty of merit. We’ve celebrated the extreme highs, endured the infrequent lows, and now stand here not knowing quite what to expect from the Warriors in the year ahead. Will they continue to climb amongst the NBA’s elite and compete for a championship, or could they regress back to their mean, if it does indeed lie behind them? Truthfully, there is no way of knowing for sure, but I think we can assert with some confidence that the former is more likely than the latter, and that regardless of the final result, the journey there will be filled with many more ups and downs, jaw-dropping plays and unforgettable moments that will guarantee 2014 to be a year to remember.
So with that in mind, I wanted to take on the task of coming up with New Year’s resolutions for the team as a whole. While each individual player certainly has areas of their game that they would ideally improve upon, this post is more about team play and the areas of the game the Warriors must address if they hope to reach new heights.
So, here we go…
Stop giving the ball away
If the Warriors want to be one of the best, they better start acting like they want the ball in their own hands, and not the oppositions’. The Dubs rank second-to-last in the NBA averaging 17.2 turnovers per game, a number that, while somewhat inflated by the Warriors’ fast-paced style of play, is just far too high for a team that is bound to be in close battles down the stretch. As we learned all too well last postseason, one shot can shift the momentum of an entire series, and possibly even determine who moves on and who goes home. The best way to avoid that scenario working against you is if you’re the one with the ball in your hands. That means valuing the possessions you work so hard for, and limiting the careless mistakes that have caused the Warriors’ turnover numbers to balloon to their current state. You won’t hear many complaints when the team is winning, but when you consider that 11 of the last 18 games have been decided by four points-or-less, the importance of each and every possession becomes that much more magnified. Stephen Curry has been nothing short of phenomenal this season, but if there’s been an area of concern, it’s his league-leading 4.1 turnovers per game. The Dubs seem to go as their star point guard does, so if Curry can tighten up the mistakes, it’s scary to think of how good he, and likewise the Warriors, could be.
Even out the foul disparity
Golden State leads the league in personal fouls against, averaging 22.9 per game. On the other side of the pendulum, they only draw 20.1 fouls per game, which ranks them a modest 18th in the NBA. That equates to a -2.8 fouls-for-to-against ratio, which situates the Warriors second-to-last in the entire league ahead of only the struggling Knicks. Regardless of the reasons behind the disparity, solving the issue remains something within the Dubs’ own control. First off, they need to avoid the silly fouls. You know the ones I’m talking about. If the guy is going to score, don’t give him a freebie with a love tap on the elbow. Likewise, if you’re already in early foul trouble, don’t compound the issue more by taking unnecessary risks. The Warriors’ starting lineup is one of the very best in all of the NBA in terms of offensive efficiency, but they can only be that good if they’re actually on the court. Force the issue by getting in the lane when you’re on offense, and don’t give the officials the chance to blow the whistle on ticky-tack fouls by avoiding those situations as much as one can. The Warriors have as many, if not more, weapons than almost any team they’ll encounter. It’s time they make sure that reveals itself in the foul disparity.
Remember they’re called “free” for a reason
While the Warriors aren’t the ones blowing the whistle, at the very least they should be doing a better job when it happens. By that I mean improving at the free throw line, where the team percentage has plummeted to 72.7%, good for seventh-worst in the Association. If you’re serious about contending, you can’t leave that many points on the board, plain and simple. Now, granted, some guys just aren’t the best free throw shooters in the world, and to expect them to put up numbers that aren’t consistent with their career trends is just asking to be disappointed. But when you consider that David Lee is the only member of the starting lineup shooting better than his career-average from the stripe, with the others really not even close, it’s clear there’s room for improvement. And for a team that seems to have no trouble at all getting shots to rattle in from long range, you’d think efficiency from a shorter distance would come easier to them. Even Curry, who is still one of the best in the entire league at 86.4%, has uncharacteristically left several points on the line as of late. Drawing fouls doesn’t do much good if you can’t capitalize on the bonus that results from them. A few more free throws ripping the twine could mean a few extremely significant wins down the stretch.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are innumerable things the Warriors have been and are doing well that have directly resulted in the Dubs’ current 19-13 record, and will continue to make them a force as the season carries on. They’re extremely potent on offense, and with the return of Andre Iguodala, proving to be a serious stalwart on the defensive end. So while these resolutions serve to highlight needed areas of improvement, let’s not forget how much fun they are to watch on a nightly basis, particularly as they continue to develop their evolving team identity. If they can get these three issues figured out, there’s no telling how far they could go.
Happy New Year everyone. Here’s hoping 2014’s got something special in store.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Golden State Warriors.