Former Golden State Warriors head coach Mark Jackson recently addressed the W's current turnover woes:
They will be a team that's going to have their share of turnovers because of that's just the makeup. You're not going to change that overnight."
Suddenly Jackson's interview with Bleacher Report felt strangely reminiscent of the majority of post-game pressers last season where there were specific Warriors problems and vague solutions.
In the interest of addressing specific problems with clearly defined resolve, let's evaluate the turnover situation for only one moment of what's been an exciting, energetic and so far dominant 12 games of the regular season. If the Warriors can't dial back those beefy numbers in the turnovers column nightly, their chances of hoisting Larry O'Brien are slim to none.
Although the Warriors have only averaged 12.4 turnovers in their last four games, at the moment the W's are third in the league with 18.3 of those mishaps per game. Also, those low turnover games were against defensively meager competition. Not to say they don't count (a win is still a win), however the Utah Jazz currently rank 28th out of 30 teams on defense, the Lakers 30th, Charlotte 17th, Brooklyn 19th and Oklahoma City Thunder 12th. Those squads couldn't turn teams over if a guaranteed playoff berth depended on it.
So far the Warriors' issues with holding the ball and valuing each possession have been confusing to say the least. That's especially true when the Warriors have some of the best ball handlers in uniform, and even more surprising when you've got one of the more fundamentally anal players in NBA history sitting on the sidelines as your head coach.
A look back into NBA history shows that the last five champions have averaged fewer than 16 turnovers during the regular season. In fact, the last team to average over 16 turnovers per game before being crowned NBA champions was the 1994-95 Houston Rockets. That's how far back taking care of the ball is taken seriously.
My best guess is that each individual momentary lapse of judgement that translates into a turnover is being drilled down into the group in every lengthy film session. Just in case it's not, I've decided to have a film session GSOM style ... umm without the film (you'll have to work with these gifs instead).
First and foremost, high-turnover games are typically a byproduct of an early season. Players are still finding that perfect chemistry while learning the new offensive/defensive sets. Add a new head coach into that equation and the problem is amplified. Taking a quick look at a few notable brain-farts in the W's last couple of games sheds light on a few issues, all of which can be rectified with increased focus.
Curry needs to find the perfect balance of point and off-guard.
Stephen Curry doesn't have natural point guard instincts, and from the point guard position he's continuously learning on the job. Early in the third quarter Curry receives the ball on the wing from Draymond Green and takes the screen, where Jazz forward Enes Kanter shows on the pick and frees Curry for a jumper.
If Curry takes another two-to-three dribbles the defense will collapse and he'll have a wide-open Klay Thompson on the wing, who will have the opportunity to shoot or skip pass to Harrison Barnes in the corner. The end result is an indecisive Curry allowing the ball to slip out of his hands for his third turnover of the game.
Efficiency is key for Curry, in addition to a favorable assist-to-turnover ratio. He's currently averaging 3.9 turnovers every 100 possessions, but he also sports the highest usage rating among NBA champion point guards in the last five-seasons (30.2). By comparison, last season San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker averaged 3.8 per 100 possessions with a usage percentage of 26.5.
Simply put, Curry has the ball in his hands much more -- and that's exactly where the W's want it. His decision-making will improve throughout the season, and while being the opponent's top defensive priority isn't ideal for a team's point guard, Curry wears the responsibility better than anyone else in the league.
On the largest hoops stage of the world, it's the fundamentals taught in the smallest corners that win games. With eight minutes left in the third quarter against Utah, Curry brings the ball up and receives a poorly placed screen from Green, who barely touches Jazz point guard Trey Burke. The point of a ball screen is to isolate the ball defender as much as possible from the play, creating distance between himself and the ball-handler. That wasn't the case in this scenario.
There are typically two reasons for a lazy screen: you've either got a lazy player or a fatigued player. Before playing 40 minutes against the Thunder, in three games prior Green hadn't received over 30 minutes, compared with playing more than 32 before that. He's proved that he's not lazy, and in this situation he probably wasn't too fatigued, so it's best to go with a simple lapse of judgement.
It happens, but the key is to not make habits of these plays -- that's what separates champions from summer couch potatoes.
Give it up, big man.
Playing at a league-leading pace can give all players on the floor a quick mindset. Everything is done at twice the speed, and at times judgement suffers. With six minutes left in the third, Green rebounds the ball over Kanter to lead a fast break for the Warriors, with Curry running on one wing and Andre Iguodala on the other. Instances as such are where pace of play and tempo can make or break a team.
Instead of passing the rock to a better ball handler like Curry or Iguodala, Green decides to bring it up the floor himself (albeit, they were already up by 24 points on the Jazz). Leading a poorly spaced break, Green is too far on one side of the court to throw an accurate pass to a cross-court Iguodala, and with Curry running the wing the defense is already sinking to that side of the floor to prevent a quick trey ball. Like a true ball-handler, Green makes a decision near the free-throw line and decides to pull the ball back out; however the defense is already set, the Warriors spacing is tight and uneven and Green fumbles the ball, creating the turnover which ends in a fast break slam from Kanter.
In addition to allowing a guard or more suitable ball-handler lead the break, an easy fix for this solution is to get out to the middle of the floor when leading a fast break. There the Warriors gain equal access to both wings, with the ball-handler serving as a greater threat to a defense who now has to guard both wings rather than just one.
No floor-length passes, unless ridiculously wide-open.
Coaches on every level preach spacing and running the floor wide in three-man weave drills. Part of the reason in that scenario is to simulate proper spacing and passing lanes on a fast break.
In the W's last contest against the Jazz, Curry throws a floor-length pass intended for Andrew Bogut that was intercepted by Jazz forward Derick Favors. Five days prior, the same play was made against the Lakers, where Green leaks out and Curry's pass is a bit too far ahead resulting in a controlled turnover (turnover which results in a stoppage of play).
Those are turnovers that you can live with most of the time because they're primarily tempo starters, However, in the postseason, where teams are more closely matched (in the second round), those plays will cost dearly as every chance to punish the defense or fill up the scoreboard counts.
Broken plays and worse spacing
Sometimes the defense guesses right and you're forced into taking a quick shot in the latter seconds of the shot clock. With close to nine minutes to go in the second quarter of the Warriors/Lakers game, Thompson runs off a screen from Marreese Speights to draw isolation from the top of the key. When Thompson is cut off and doubled by the Lakers he's bailed out by Shaun Livingston on the wing, who receives the ball with half of the 24-second shot clock gone. At this point it's go time and Livingston knows it; he receives the screen from Speights and attempts to drive the lane, but in a forced effort winds up relinquishing the ball.
In these instances the Warriors have to be completely aware of where their shot-creating guns are on the floor, and more importantly those players have to demand and run to the ball in those moments. In what's already not the best offensive lineup for the W's, Iguodala sinks to the corner, Barnes drops to the post and Speights remains free-throw line extended looking for the pick-and-pop or screen and roll.
The Warriors will have to practice more patience in these moments, as 12 seconds on the clock is better than 1.2 and is more than enough time for Thompson to pull the ball out and direct another play. It's an example of what can happen when a broken play occurs due to an attentive defense. It's best to get these situations right early in the year, as they're going to happen continuously in the postseason.
Certainly these issues and more are top of mind for the current division-leading Warriors. It's still early in the season and there's more than enough time for bad habits to be lost or gained. Hopefully as the season progresses these issues will be lost for good.