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Lack of offensive juice is plaguing the Warriors’ ability to defend

Problems on offense translate to an inability to get back on defense.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Los Angeles Lakers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The irony of the Golden State Warriors’ loss against the Los Angeles Lakers tonight is the fact that prior to the game, they were posting the third-best transition defensive rating in the league (119.2). For reference, the league-average transition defensive rating is 126.8, placing them well above average in that regard.

They’re more average in terms of the fastbreak points they cough up per game: 13.7, placing them 16th in the league. While a team counting to compete at the highest level can’t be proud of that statistic, there are still worse teams than them in that department.

Which makes this particular loss sting a tad extra.

The caveats still remain. No Steph Curry and Andrew Wiggins means the Warriors are losing a huge part of their offensive machinery, as well as their premier wing defender. But those caveats also serve as overarching factors behind this loss.

Curry’s absence looms large, as it always has whenever he sits or goes absent for an extended period of time. The Warriors this season have been the equivalent of the best offense in the league whenever he plays; whenever he doesn’t, they fall all the way to the equivalent of the 23rd ranked offense in the league.

Ironically enough, the Warriors have posted the best offense in the league in their five games prior to this game against the Lakers, despite not having Curry for all of them. Offense hasn’t been their problem – until it was.

They shot a cool 38.1% from the field against the Lakers. Around 44% of their total shots were threes, which places them right at their season average in terms of three-point rate (a category they lead the league in, by the way).

The problem? They only managed to make 14 out of their 49 attempts from beyond the arc — 28.6%. It happened to be one of those nights when the threes weren’t falling, even the ones generated through good offensive process (e.g., paint touches, second-side actions, etc.).

A shot diet that hasn’t been balanced all season long — the Warriors are dead last in rim-attempt rate, per Cleaning the Glass — was predictive of how they approached the game against the Lakers. They wantonly jacked up outside shots but took only 31% of their shots at the rim, placing them in the 38th percentile which is technically above their league-worst average, but only by a miniscule amount and not enough to be significantly impactful.

Their lack of transition defense against the Lakers — they were outscored by 21 points in the fastbreak (29-8 Lakers advantage) — could be attributed to several factors. But it was the lack of offensive juice that was arguably the main culpirt.

Consider how poorly the Warriors’ starters shot from the field:

  • Jordan Poole: 3-of-13 (23.1%)
  • Klay Thompson: 8-of-19 (42.1%)
  • Donte DiVincenzo: 2-of-7 (28.6%)
  • Jonathan Kuminga: 4-of-12 (33.3%)
  • Draymond Green: 3-of-10 (30.0%)

No starter even managed to reach 50% from the field. All of them combined to shoot 8-of-30 on threes — a ghastly 26.7%.

The math is simple. More misses equals less opportunities for opponents to take the ball out of the basket, which doesn’t allow the Warriors to get back on the other end to set their defense. They’re now forced to scramble toward the other end and match up to the man closest to them, which can also present cross-matching problems that are more worrisome in the secondary break.

When most of those misses are long threes, the probability of an unfortunate bounce (or tap-out) heading toward an opposing player increases — and that makes it even tougher to get back on defense:

While the Warriors didn’t turn the ball over at the rate they normally do, the Lakers made the most out of those they managed to force, as evidenced by the 19 points they scored off of the Warriors’ 10 turnovers.

Losing the possession battle is also a breeding ground for losing the transition battle. Poor decision making and unfortunate slip-ups all contribute to poor floor balance, disadvantage situations, and easy sources of points for the other team.

Offensive woes served as a direct feedback loop for the Warriors’ troubles on defense. They managed a paltry 89.7 half-court offensive rating — 29th percentile and equivalent to the Houston Rockets’ league-worst mark, per Cleaning the Glass.

With a 29-30 record, the Warriors are tied with the Utah Jazz for ninth in the Western Conference and are barely hanging on to a play-in spot. With Curry’s next evaluation a week from now and Wiggins having no timetable for his return, the Warriors will simply have to be better in terms of offensive process and execution.

If not for the sake of their offensive success, they have to do so in order to stand a chance defensively.

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