This was the Golden State Warriors’ 22nd turnover of the night against the Memphis Grizzlies:
The complete lack of floor awareness — basic floor awareness, if we’re being completely honest — was the poster sequence for the kind of night the Warriors had against the Grizzlies, who were, at one point, down 19-points against the team they defeated last season in the play-in tournament that earned them a playoff berth.
Green had an otherwise excellent performance: 4 points, 12 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals, and 5 blocks. He was astounding defensively — perhaps the best defensive game of his young season so far, the first definitive instance of his elite defensive chops surfacing after four games of decent but otherwise relatively muted performances on that end.
Green was flying all over the floor. Stunts and digs that forced turnovers on drives, as well as hard and furious close-outs to force misses — sometimes outright blocking them — gave the Grizzlies plenty of trouble and created several opportunities for the Warriors to score on the other end.
“Opportunities” is the operative term when it comes to this particular game. The game shifted furiously between which team had more chances to put up shots and score. In the end, the Grizzlies won the battle in terms of raw shot attempts — their 97 shots comfortably trumped the Warriors’ 90.
Green’s stat line had a significant wart at the end of it — 5 turnovers. He wasn’t the only culprit. Stephen Curry had 5 turnovers himself, despite putting up 36 points. Jordan Poole, who had another rough night on offense (9 points on 4-of-9 shooting), coughed up 6 turnovers. All three of the Warriors’ heavy-usage players ended up being significant possession producers for their opponents.
You can divide the Warriors’ turnovers into two categories: ones the Grizzlies defense forced using length, speed, and pressure; and ones the Warriors — through general carelessness and being too chaotic, random, and sped up for their own good — inflicted upon themselves.
First, the Grizzlies-forced ones:
Some of these were just sound defensive possessions: stunts and strips on drives, and blitzing and trapping Curry off of screens that forced wild passes or easily-deflected passes, coerced through the presence of length that cut off passing lanes and angles.
The Grizzlies generally forced the Warriors to bleed for their possessions in the half-court; the Warriors put up a measly 77.9 half-court offensive rating. Some of that can be attributed to missing shots, while others can be attributed to wasting away possessions that could’ve been opportunities to put points on the board.
Ultimately, the Warriors’ self-inflicted unforced giveaways outnumbered the ones the defense forced on them:
The Warriors’ 22 turnovers were turned into 22 points off turnovers by the Grizzlies. Ja Morant — who finished with 30 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists on 11-of-22 shooting from the field — did not waste the extra possessions gifted to him and his team.
But it was another promising young Grizzly in Desmond Bane who had a significant impact in making the Warriors pay for their carelessness. Bane — a career 42.9% shooter from beyond the arc — finished with 19 points on 16 shots, including a 5-of-11 clip on threes.
Two of them came off of a couple of Warriors turnovers.
“We just got a little crazy out there,” Steve Kerr said after the game. “Give them credit... they came in and dug in, played defense and forced some of those turnovers. But a lot of them were unforced. That’s been one of our goals preseason, all camp, all early part of the season, to cut our turnovers down to a really reasonable number, that 12-13 range (per game). We’ve only been able to do that once out of the five games.
“It’s a good lesson for us. We’ve got to learn from it. It’s early in the season, and I’m confident that we will learn and we’ll get better.”
The Warriors being a turnover-prone team isn’t anything new. An offense predicated on heavy passing is bound to breed a significant number of turnovers. Last season, the Warriors’ 307.5 passes per game was the third-highest in the league, per Second Spectrum tracking data. They have never been lower than ninth in the league during Steve Kerr’s eight-year tenure as head coach.
But more passing opportunities created means more takeaway opportunities for opponents. The Warriors averaged the fifth-highest turnovers per game last season; they have never cracked the top 15 in terms of fewest turnovers per game during Kerr’s coaching tenure, and have only cracked the top 15 once (11th) in terms of lowest turnover percentage (TOV%), which was during Kerr’s first season as head coach.
In five games so far during this season — still a small sample size, but adhering to past trends — the Warriors are averaging the third-highest passes per game (315.2), and are consequently dishing out the most assists per game (28.4). Unsurprisingly, that has come with the caveat of a high turnover rate (15.9%, seventh in the league) and a high turnover average (16.6 turnovers per game, seventh highest).
In the past, having high turnover averages and high turnover rates would often be glossed over by the overwhelming offensive firepower on the roster. While giving opponents extra possessions wasn’t and will never be ideal, making the most out of the possessions that do end up in shots — mostly because of the ridiculous shot-making talent — covered up mistakes on most days.
This is not that Warriors team anymore. Curry is the only elite shot-maker left, surrounded by decent to good shot creators, veteran spacers and playmakers who play their roles well but are still role players, and young prospects who may be a couple of years away till they can be serviceable and consistent at this level.
The other elite offensive player on this roster — Klay Thompson — is a couple of months away from returning. But even his return isn’t a complete one-solution-fits-all guarantee that whatever structural problems the Warriors may have will abruptly disappear.
The silver lining in all of this: The Warriors are still 4-1, with plenty of games left to assess, fine tune, and recalibrate their habits away from bad ones that could deflate their season.