What Golden State Warriors Must Do Between Now and Start of the NBA Playoffs
With the Western Conference as stacked as it’s ever been, the Golden State Warriors find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. Although they possess as much individual talent as any team in the league, it’s been rare that those pieces have come together as a cohesive unit.
As it stands, the Warriors—despite a stellar 36-23 record—find themselves sixth in a conference brimming with talent. With the last third of the season remaining and the postseason on the horizon, the Warriors have certain needs that require addressing if they are to make any noise when the games hold real meaning.
Certain players must step up, the coaching staff must re-examine its game plans, and a little luck must swing in the team's favor. The Warriors have yet to hit their stride, and that is a fact that should strike fear in the hearts of their opponents. If the sum of all of those fantastic individual parts ever comes together, the danger the Warriors present increases exponentially.
Let’s take a look at the five most important things the Warriors must do between now and the start of the playoffs.
5. Get Harrison Barnes Going
Word on the street is that the Warriors are close to issuing a public address announcement with a plea for anyone who has seen or heard from the man formerly known as Harrison Barnes to contact them immediately.
I might have made that up. Rather than quibble about fact or fiction, however, let’s focus on what we know for sure: The great Harry Houdini seems to have been reincarnated in the likeness of Barnes. That’s the only explanation for the disappearing act that has defined Barnes’ campaign.
It’s no secret that expectations were high for the North Carolina product coming into this season. He did, after all, put on a dazzling display in last season’s playoffs—performances that not only helped elevate the Warriors past the Denver Nuggets in the first round but put a serious scare in the San Antonio Spurs in the second round as well.
With the playoffs finally within sight, the Warriors will need Barnes to rediscover some of the magic that made him a household name in last year’s postseason. If he remains the guy who is only averaging 10.1 points per game while shooting less than 41 percent from the field, the Warriors cannot compete with the top teams in the conference.
If he can once again become the Black Falcon that terrorized frontcourts, though, the Warriors will have their ultimate X-factor back. While his lack of production likely has a lot to do with the next guy on this list, he must find a way to light his fire when he steps on the court.
4. Andre Iguodala Must Become a Bigger Part of the Offense
Coming live from the public address announcement, Andre Iguodala has officially been added to the watch list as well. Where do all these Warriors keep disappearing to?
Aside from a couple of instances of late-game heroics early in the season, Iguodala has been a bust. His numbers are down all across the board, his defense looks to have slipped, and he has shown absolutely no aggression on the offensive side of the ball. He’s epitomized the term “swingman” in every sense of the word.
The ball is like a hot potato in his hands.
With averages of just 9.4 points, 4.4 assists and 4.9 rebounds per game, it’s clear that he has not lived up to his hefty price tag. Luckily for Iguodala, however, the NBA is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately type of league, and with the last third of the season remaining, Iguodala has plenty of time to get his groove back.
That won’t happen, though, unless Iguodala begins to assert himself. Perhaps the most telling stat of all is that Iguodala is only getting to the line 2.1 times per game—the lowest of his entire career. For a guy that used to thrive in transition and on cuts to the basket, that’s a truly puzzling number.
Despite his issues at the line this season—he’s shooting just .610 from the charity stripe—the fact remains that the Warriors need him to unleash his aggression. They need him to once again become the well-rounded menace that elevated every player around him in Philadelphia and Denver.
An assertive Iguodala makes the Warriors good enough to beat anyone. The version that has graced the court this season, however, strikes fear into the heart of none.
3. Figure out the Guard Rotation
After starting out the season with possibly the least amount of depth at the guard spot in the entire league, the Warriors turned it all around with a couple of shrewd trades and made the guard rotation a strength.
Jordan Crawford has brought some much-needed creativity to the bench unit, and Steve Blake brings clutch shooting and ball-handling ability to a Warriors team that desperately needed it.
Just ask Kobe Bryant how good of a player Blake is:
With the dynamic backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson already in place, the Warriors now have a glut of quality playmakers. The key now for head coach Mark Jackson will be figuring out how the pieces go together best. It won’t be as simple as Curry and Thompson starting and Blake and Crawford coming off the bench.
Any combination of the four can do some damage.
Playing Crawford with Curry for a few minutes is an especially tasty option as it would allow Curry to move to the off-guard spot and let Crawford initiate the offense. Crawford is excellent with the ball in his hands and his shot from outside must be respected.
Curry could use those minutes to conserve some much-needed energy while also benefiting from the space that Crawford would create. Crawford also has the size to defend bigger guards, so the defense would remain intact.
That combination of Blake and Thompson is also enticing, as it would give the Warriors a more conventional backcourt than that of Curry and Crawford. Blake has made a living of creating shots for himself and others, and that is of the utmost importance when playing with Thompson.
For all the positives that Thompson brings to the Warriors, he is still lacking in the ball-handling and creativity department. He relies on his point guard to nail open looks. Blake is more than capable of doing that.
Even more importantly, this is the best defensive rotation the Warriors can put in the backcourt. Thompson has made huge strides as a stopper, and Blake has always been a tenacious defender. These two would make it tough for any backcourt to score.
Obviously the Curry-Thompson combination will be the most used lineup, but the important thing is that Jackson has those other options. It’s up to him to use them wisely, especially because it will be vital for the next thing on the list.
2. Monitor Stephen Curry's Minutes
A fresh, healthy Curry is the only thing that gives the Warriors a chance at an extended postseason run. Everything else could go right, but if Curry isn’t at his best, the Warriors will be fishing early.
Nobody could have been happier than Curry to see reinforcements arrive at the trade deadline. The lack of competent reserves had forced Curry to play heavy minutes throughout the entire first half of the season.
Dividends have already started to show as Curry’s minutes have been reduced to just 35 per game over the last 10 matchups—a more than reasonable number.
Mark Jackson must keep on this same path, as it is the only way to ensure that his superstar is firing on all cylinders when it truly matters. Curry isn’t the only guy, however, who should be put on a minutes limit. This next guy is almost as crucial to the Warriors' success as Curry himself.
1. Keep Andrew Bogut Fresh and Healthy
The resident giant of the Warriors frontcourt has proven to be one of the best centers in the league when his health permits it. Unfortunately for Andrew Bogut, health has never been his biggest ally.
The impact Bogut has when on the court is undeniable; he’s pulling down 10.5 rebounds per game and blocking 1.8 shots. There also might not be a harder screen for a defender to navigate than going through Bogut’s massive frame.
Those pesky injuries have reared their ugly head again this season, however, as Bogut missed seven straight games in February and only recently returned to the court. While he is relatively healthy now, one has to wonder if the injury-prone big man can stay injury-free when it matters most in the playoffs.
With Jermaine O’Neal and Marreese Speights having upped their games the last few weeks, Jackson should use that newfound luxury to make sure his star is ready to go when the competition heats up. Limiting his minutes just a bit will keep him fresh and reduce the risk of another bump in the road.
His importance to the Warriors defense rivals that of Curry’s to the offense, and just like the Warriors will go nowhere should Curry succumb to injury, the same applies to Bogut. He’s the rock that holds everything together.