I understand that the Golden State Warriors’ current predicament comes attached with several caveats. Draymond Green is still ramping up after a lengthy suspension. Gary Payton II is out with a hamstring strain. Chris Paul is dealing with a fractured hand that was recently repaired with surgery.
There are things that happened that are beyond the control of the other players, the coaching staff, and the organization as a whole — such as Andrew Wiggins headscratchingly turning into a negative-impact player on both ends. He’s virtually turned into an anchor that is entrenched deep on the ocean floor, keeping the Warriors’ ship halfway underneath the water — and sinking ever so slowly.
(I would also like to say: If Wiggins is dealing with things beyond the basketball court, I can only hope he’s doing alright.)
Beyond the inability to control players’ availability and quality, the Warriors still do have a considerable degree of control over certain aspects, such as connectivity on the floor on both ends. But after their 141-105 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans — their second consecutive blowout defeat on their home floor — it feels as if they’ve lost the plot over things that they can still theoretically control.
Defense, for example: The Warriors gave up 46 points in the first quarter alone against the Pelicans. They bled to the tune of a 176.9 defensive rating, while only managing to squeeze out a 100.0 offensive rating. That translates to being outscored by a whopping 76.9 points per 100 possessions — which is a ghastly mark. That is a hole they dug for themselves out of the gate, the latest among several they’ve already dug throughout the season — and also the latest they’ve failed to crawl out of.
At 17-20, they are 5.5 games behind the sixth seed. Forget about an outright playoff seeding — they’re slowly creeping out of reach of even getting a play-in spot. You can forget about any sort of postseason appearance if this trend continues and nothing changes, especially if the return of Green does little to alleviate their problems.
Going back to the defensive concerns — the half-court troubles have been widely documented by several journalists and analysts, myself included on this site. It’s the same story over and over: trouble in containing ballhandlers at the point of attack; lack of size across the board leading to outcomes such as heavy fouling, non-effective contests, and absence of disruptiveness; and the general lack of effort, motor, and connectivity. All of the above have contributed to a 117.7 defensive rating with garbage time eliminated — 21st in the league, per Cleaning The Glass.
But a new problem area’s been emerging as of late: transition defense. In the last five games prior to this one against the Pelicans, the Warriors have been giving up 151.8 points per 100 transition plays — the worst mark over that time period.
Garbage time included, the Warriors ended up with a 142.4 defensive rating after this loss. They were forced into transition defense on 15.2% of their defensive possessions (around league average) — and coughed up 200 points per transition play, a mark that would’ve easily cleared the worst transition defense in the league (the Denver Nuggets’ 137.0 defensive rating in transition).
When looking at the film of some of their transition defense reps against the Pelicans, the problems were clear as day:
Failing to match up properly, a consequence of both the Pelicans putting appropriate pressure on them and either a clear lack of communication or miscommunication. Turnovers — a problem that’s always been perpetually there — forcing them to scramble back in an attempt to set their defense (the Warriors turned the ball over on 17.3% of their possessions against the Pelicans, equivalent to the worst turnover rate in the league, per Cleaning The Glass). And also the other problems aforementioned, such as lack of size, effort, and overall disruptiveness.
This performance is but a microcosm of the overall lack of connectivity this team is suffering from. It’s clear at this point that something needs to change — whatever form it may take, whether it’s a trade, a key piece returning from an injury or suspension-related absence, etc., the status quo is clearly not enough, and it doesn’t do justice to a superstar that still has enough in the tank to move mountains.
If things stay largely the same because that status quo is maintained — that would be the very definition of insanity, in a season that has been insanely disappointing nearly halfway in.