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Deeper Dive: The Line Won't Lie to the Warriors

by Photo of Tommy Dee

The Warriors won 67 regular season games, but will their lack of a true post player hamper them from going all the way?

Deeper Dive: The Line Won't Lie to the Warriors

In this article…

Tis the season for NBA playoff basketball and I'm as excited for these playoffs as I've been in quite some time. I've been watching basketball for some time now and I can say with full assertion that the Golden State Warriors are one of the most well-rounded basketball teams that I've seen, maybe ever. I'm fascinated by them and if they want to be champions, they may need to channel the skill made famous by another ex-Warrior legend, Rick Barry in my opinion. You may know Rick Barry from his years as a broadcaster or as the father of NBA players John and Drew,  but he was a heck of a player for Golden State in the 1970s led by his trademark floppy hair and his underhanded free throws. The Warriors have little trouble shooting the ball, but they do have trouble getting to the line and truth be told they could probably use Barry's help in that area in the playoffs if he were actually still playing.

Let's talk balance. On the surface, the Warriors greatness as a team is obvious and begins and ends with firepower generated by both Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Both players in their own right are special and either one can beat you on any given night by themselves. They are simply that good. You know the reasons, they are exceptional play makers and shooters which has led them to be the 2nd ranked offensive team in terms of rating per Basketball-Reference.com behind only the Los Angeles Clippers. But what is equally scary is the fact that defensively they've made the step up from 4th to first overall in defensive rating. You'd have to go all the way back to the 1995 Chicago Bulls to find a team that finished top two in both ratings - the Bulls actually led the NBA in both. 

 

What's the Warriors' Achilles Heel? To me, it's their lack of even a semblance of a post up game. You can point to the San Antonio Spurs and their spread offense last year. You can call me a traditionalist, old fashioned or even outdated. I will always argue playoff basketball will always boil down to big shots in big moments. It has and will always come down to gaining a mismatch and causing the defense to react by defending the basket. Sure, Curry and Thompson are incredible shooters and that certainly helps an offense score points, but what the Warriors lack is someone they can throw the ball to in the post when they need a bucket. Playoff post play has always been vital to a team's half court success as a capable post player creates double teams that lead to ball movement and open shots. You can go back to the days of Lakers/Celtics and talk about Magic and Bird all you want , but you have to mention just how important Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Kevin McHale were to those teams in the big moments. So were James Worthy and Robert Parish. The Bulls triangle offense predicated on the post and became that much more effective after MJ learned to dominate in the pinch and low posts after coming back from his stint playing baseball. He had to considering that Hakeem's Houston Rockets had become the Kings of the NBA in his absence thanks to his post prowess. Shaquille O'Neal is the most dominant post player the game had seen in some time and Kobe was able to win without him once he mastered playing the pinch. How about Tim Duncan? The Mavericks don't win without Dirk Nowitzki's dominance (Barnwell, Grantland, 6/15/11) with his unstoppable, back-to-the-basket efforts in creating double teams resulting in wide open threes. 

Just so we're clear that's 30 years of evidence providing context on the significance of a post presence in proven NBA Championship teams. 

So who leads the Warriors in points in the post? You guessed it, guard Shaun Livingston who is 60th in the NBA with just 99 on the season, three points better than Boston's Tyler Zeller and New York's Jason Smith (NBA.com/stats) and 512 behind league leader Al Jefferson. Starting center Andrew Bogut has only ATTEMPTED 55 field goals in 70 post up situations on the entire season scoring just 59 points in 67 games. People rave about the job that Steve Kerr has done and it's hard to argue, again, they won 67 games, but his lack of use of Klay Thompson in the post as the go-to option there may come back to kill them in the end in my opinion. On the season Kerr ran post action for Thompson on 2.9% of the team's total possessions, a direct correlation to why Thompson averages an anemic 3.3 free throw attempts for the season for a player of his caliber. I'm not saying Thompson needs to be James Harden at the stripe, but post players simply draw fouls as much as the driving and slashing guards do. Of the top 20 players in Free Throws Attempted per game, 13 rank in the top 50 in points in the post. The Warriors need to see more of this type of action from Klay, which he started to exhibit in 2013 under Mark Jackson but simply hasn't under Kerr.  

Again, I believe the Warriors' post struggles is the main reason why they don't get to the stripe, which to be fair speaks volumes to the amazing season they've had shooting the basketball from the field. But defenses historically adjust to teams who rely on threes. The Warriors ranked 26th this season in the NBA in Free Throw Attempts per game at 20.8 ahead of Boston, Portland, New York and Orlando (teamrankings.com). The Spurs won the title last year finishing second to last in the NBA in free throw attempts per game last season (20.8) but managed to elevate that number during the playoffs to 24.3 per game. There has been only one other team to win the NBA title after finishing 20th or worse in FTAs during the regular season since 2003- the 2011 Dallas Mavericks - who put up 23.2 per game.  

It's difficult to find that much wrong with the Warriors, so much so, I'm not even all that interested in doing a total SWOT, match up analysis with the New Orleans Pelicans or any other team for that matter. They are efficient, they have the game's top guard combination and they get after you defensively. They are by far and away the most complete and balanced team the NBA has seen since Jordan's Bulls, who were 22nd in the league in FTAs during the regular season at 24,4 per game. The Warriors have to be the favorites to win it all. 

But if they don't find a way to get more points out of the post or from the free throw line they can find themselves in trouble in a close series that depends on half court possessions. Do Curry and Thompson have the ability to continue to devastate teams from outside like they've been doing all season? Sure. But, when taking a deeper dive, getting to the charity stripe more per game, in my mind, will all but guarantee the title returning to the Bay Area for the first time since 1975 and that starts with getting Thompson more touches down low.     


Comments (1)
  1. Jeffronkonkoma 's profile

    Jeffronkonkoma

    April 17th, 2015 @20:00

    More post touches? That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. Who wrote this, Mark Jackson?

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