There comes a point during this season that hearing so much about what the Warriors are lacking, what they’re doing wrong, and what basketball aspects they’re currently the worse at eventually becomes a pointless exercise — pointless because pretty much everyone and their grandmothers know what the Warriors’ problems are without needing to be explicitly told of them.
You don’t really need to be a professional analyst, a seasoned pundit, or even one of those analytics darlings who dwell deep into advanced metrics to see what is wrong with this iteration of the Warriors. But for posterity’s sake — and at the risk of sounding like a broken record — the metrics must be brought to life once again.
After the Warriors’ crushing defeat at the hands of the Sacramento Kings last night, even those fans who have fully reached the final stage of the Kübler-Ross model cannot help but deny that this is happening to the Warriors, to feel angry over their current performances, to find out if anything can be done for the Warriors to be winners once again, and to feel utterly melancholic over this sudden twist of fate that has befallen the former dynasty.
Let’s start with the first obvious weakness of this Warriors team: They cannot shoot.
Against the Kings, the Warriors shot 30-of-77 from the field, good for 39.0 percent. But an even more egregious shortcoming is the fact that in an era where three-point shooting is the norm rather than the exception — where it has become a staple rather than just being a circus novelty that it was in years past — the Warriors are arguably the most three-point shooting-bereft team in the league. They shot a horrific 6-of-25 from beyond the arc against the Kings, translating into an equally-horrific success rate of 24.0 percent.
At this point, it’s a matter of simply adding things together and summing them all up. In this case: The Warriors’ inability to put the ball in the basket, especially in terms of the league’s bread-and-butter three-point shooting, equals an offense that cannot generate any points.
But that arguably isn’t even the most egregious weakness of these Warriors. With their scoring incompetence comes another weakness: They cannot defend.
The Warriors defense is giving up shots at an alarming rate, enough to give bartenders in San Francisco a run for their money. Against the Kings, their defense was just plain terrible, allowing the Kings to shoot at an incredibly-high rate of 60.3 percent from the field, coupled with a 10-of-22 (45.5 percent) clip from beyond the arc.
It’s extremely jarring to see this particular squad be lost defensively, especially when it comes to perimeter defense. Effort is one thing — these Warriors aren’t lacking in it, and they deserve to be commended for it — but more often than not, such effort gets mired in futility due to a shortage of defensive-IQ and overall lack of defensive cohesiveness. Those took the form of defenders going under screens against deadly shooters, or failing to pick shooters up in transition, where a common sight is two Warriors defenders attaching themselves to a rim-runner, resulting in a trailer stopping just before the arc and being left with a wide-open look at the basket.
Other times, the Warriors give their full effort at closing down avenues of approach and mending possible chinks in the armor, only for them to lose concentration for a brief moment and rendering all of their previous efforts moot.
“(Three-point defense) is a great issue for young players,” Steve Kerr said after the game. “You have to know personnel around the league. Everything happens really fast out there, so you have to make good decisions on the fly. Those decisions have to be based on your awareness and knowledge of your opponents, so it’s something we have to continue to work on.”
There was one lone bright spot for the Warriors defensively: forcing the Kings to cough up 29 turnovers. Some of those were forced by the Warriors through rare instances of great defensive anticipation, such as jumping into passing lanes and having active hands that led to deflections.
There is another side to that coin, however: The Warriors had 24 turnovers themselves.
“It’s not easy to come out and just play and be as fluent as things have been accustomed to,” D’Angelo Russell, who only had 8 points and committed 4 turnovers, said after the game. “The more we play together, the more we figure each other out and that’ll ease up on the turnovers.”
Going into last night’s game, the Warriors were one of the least turnover-prone teams in the league, ranking 11th in terms of turnovers per game (14.6). But the floodgates of carelessness opened against the Kings last night. There was little-to-no cohesion on offense, and it resulted in wayward passes and several handling mishaps of the ball.
The Warriors’ revolving door of players going in and out due to injuries and other maladies may have been the main reason as to the general lack of cohesion on the floor between players who are still trying to familiarize themselves with each other.
“Guys have to play, they have to be in the lineup,” Russell said. “It’s (Kerr’s) job to keep mixing it up and figure out what works. Like I said, we’ve got a lot of new guys and lot of guys that are trying to get their rhythm back, so it’s not all easy.”
D’Angelo Russell postgame: “it’s basketball” losing by 21 yet forcing 29 turnovers.— Let’s Go Warriors (@LetsGoWarriors) December 16, 2019
More on Damion Lee: https://t.co/YOO7LugXCg
“I’ve never seen a box score like this, where we forced 29 turnovers and lost by 21 points,” Kerr said. “It’s almost impossible, so it shows you how poorly we played. ... Defensively, going under screens against great shooters, all kinds of mistakes, very little communication. It was an embarrassing loss tonight.
“Tonight was a night where we took all kinds of crazy chances. ... You turn it over, you can’t account for the shooting at the other end, and then you’re in big trouble. That was a major problem tonight.”
Last night’s comedy of errors proved to be anything but hilarious, except maybe if you were a Kings fan. It’s hard to blame them for their display of glee and excitement over this Kings victory — after all, their team was in the very same position the Warriors are in right now, the recipients of a massive beating which served as another tired reminder of their current standing within the brutal NBA hierarchy. For them, it was only a matter of time before the Warriors were handed their just desserts.
However, it wouldn’t be entirely truthful to say that the Warriors and Kings have exchanged places. True, the Kings — as presently constructed — are a better team than the Warriors. But the true difference lies in the promise that the future holds for these two organizations.
The Warriors are still blessed with having two superstars who are currently waiting in the wings. They still have a defensive maestro who is imparting his knowledge upon his young wards. The Warriors are on track to be the recipients of a high lottery pick, and a blue-chip recruit from the collegiate ranks being trained by a team with championship pedigree is a dangerous proposition. The Warriors may have valuable trade assets, as well — assets that may convince certain teams to give up their stars to them, potentially serving as the catalyst for a second golden age of Golden State.
As for the Kings, who knows what the future holds for them? They are precariously holding onto a playoff spot (7th in the Western Conference as of this writing), and that is to be commended. They have good and promising players who could break out at a moment’s notice. They are coached by a former Warriors assistant who finally has a team he can mold according to his own vision. They are making the most out of what they have.
But these are still the Kings who haven’t made the playoffs in 13 seasons and counting — currently an NBA record. These are the Kings whose ownership and front office still haven’t shown that they can be trusted to make good decisions. These are the Kings who looked at Luka Doncic and decided that he wasn’t good enough for them.
The Warriors and most of their fans have already traversed the first four stages of grief, and have finally accepted their place in today’s NBA. They are not worried one single bit.
As for the Kings ... the jury’s still out on them.