This is my Friday column on the Warriors. WARNING — this is a basketball column. 49ers’ fans — feel free to skip this.
The NBA is in its All-Star break and it’s time for the Warriors to take a breath and answer five serious questions.
1. How well do the Warriors match up against the best teams in the league?
The biggest difference between this season and last season is how the Warriors play against bad teams. Last season, the Warriors played down to bad competition and lost regular-season games they should have won. It’s one reason Joe Lacob lost patience with Mark Jackson. This season, the Warriors mostly blow away the bad teams.
Good for the Warriors. Unfortunately, they have to face good teams in the playoffs. How well do the Warriors play against good teams?
I’m defining “good” as any team that has a winning percentage better than .600. Most of the playoffs teams. Against them, the Warriors’ record is 11-5. Still very good.
But six of those wins came against the Rockets and the Mavericks, two teams that lost in the first round of the playoffs last season. Call them weak contenders. Against the Spurs, Grizzlies, Blazers, Clippers, Bulls, Hawks, Cavaliers and Raptors, the Warriors’ record merely is 5-5, the essence of mediocre.
2. Can the Warriors count on Andrew Bogut?
Bogut is the best defender on a defense-oriented team, and he is the Warriors’ one real big man. Without Bogut, the Warriors struggle to match up against the big teams in the West — the Spurs, Grizzlies and Clippers.
Bogut was a force the first six weeks of the season — 9.3 rebounds, 2.2 blocks and 7 points per game. Then, he hurt his knee and missed 12 games. Since he returned, he has averaged 7.4 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and 6 points per game. He’s slower than he was a few months ago, and he limps sometimes.
Will he continue to deteriorate as the season wears on? If he does, what happens to the Warriors?
3. Should the Warriors sign either Ray Allen or Jermaine O’Neal if the Warriors can beat other teams in the competition for those two veterans?
What a luxury Allen would be. Put him on the court alongside Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson – good luck defending three of the best shooters ever.
But the Warriors can’t afford that luxury. The Warriors need O’Neal.
O’Neal is a backup center, someone who can defend the post and block shots like Bogut. Backup center is a critical position on the Warriors because Bogut gets injured so frequently.
Bogut’s backup is Festus Ezeli, who gets injured more frequently than Bogut. Ezeli missed all of last season and has played just seven minutes the past 24 games.
If Bogut and Ezeli were reliable, the Warriors could sign Allen. And if I had gills, I’d be a Pacific cod fish.
4. Does David Lee fit this team?
Lee’s best position is center. The two seasons he was an All Star — 2010 on the Knicks, and 2013 when Bogut missed the first half of the season — Lee played mostly center.
When Lee plays center and runs the pick-and-roll with Curry, the Warriors can outscore most teams. Lee is tough to guard on that play – he’s quicker than most centers. But Steve Kerr wants to win with defense, and Lee is a poor defender.
Kerr rarely calls pick-and-rolls for Lee. When Lee is in the game, Kerr asks him to post up bigger players, and that’s not Lee’s strength.
Kerr has no plan for Lee. Lee is the biggest afterthought on the team. Against the Mavericks on Feb. 4, Kerr played Lee just six minutes.
The Warriors should trade Lee for someone Kerr wants to use and knows how to use.
5. Can the Warriors get to the foul line more often?
The Warriors are predominantly a jump-shooting team, and jump-shooting teams have trouble winning in the playoffs. They don’t get fouled as much as teams that drive the hoop. A team must have another way to score points when jump shots aren’t falling.
Wednesday, the Warriors almost lost to the Timberwolves, a bad team that has lost as many games as the Warriors have won, 42. The Warriors almost lost because of free throws. The Warriors shot nine, the Timberwolves shot 27, and the Warriors won by just three points. Scary.
Feb. 6, the Warriors lost to the Hawks because of free throws. The Warriors shot 15, Atlanta shot 37 and beat the Warriors by eight points.
The Warriors average just 21.4 free-throw attempts per game, which ranks 23rd in the league. Last season, the Warriors averaged 21.6 free throws per game. The season before that, 21.3. Not enough. The Warriors need to get more.
The Warriors must find suitable answers to all five of these questions before the playoffs start. Sooner would be good, too.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.