Warriors have questions that need answers before playoffs

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 grantcohn@gmail.com.

This article has 16 Comments

  1. Off season at the Inside the 49ers blog =

    Long Warriors articles where Grant has clearly spent his time and energy.

    Short 49ers blog entries that usually entail him asking a single question that receives no follow up because he’s working on his next Warriors column.

    1. Not a particularly insightful Warriors column either. These questions have been asked for months.

      And BTW, the jump shooting Warriors outscored the T-wolves 52-28 in the paint. The FT disparity was on the refs.

      1. :)
        I don’t mind them and frankly I wouldn’t know if they were insightful or not, I don’t follow the NBA so these articles give me something to talk about with my friends that do. I was just giving him a bad time.

          1. Worrying about Bogut is an annual ritual. Worrying about free throws is silly, turnovers especially in key situations is the #2 concern. Beyond that just keep getting better at running their half court sets on O. They have plenty of room to improve there.

            If trading David Lee were as easy as Grant proposes, he would have flippers and tailfins. Lee is a negative asset. The Twolves wanted something for taking Lee in the proposed Love trade.

            And wouldn’t KG be the best buyout acquisition? I’m not sure JO has much left in the tank. Allen doesn’t make much sense, they already have too many wings.

            1. I agree with most of what you wrote here…but worrying about free throws really isn’t silly.
              Getting to the line more obviously means the other team is fouling more which is always a good thing.
              More fouls alters their play and limits what they can do…on O and D.
              Just saying…

              1. Aloha Robert! I was merely noting that increasing the team’s total free throws is not necessary, and kind of implies more one-on-one play driving to the basket. The Warriors need to continue to improve their half court ball and player movement – while eliminating the stupid unforced turnovers in key spots. Free throws will take care of themselves.

  2. Grant Questions #1 and #2 are very important the others are just fodder for conversation. As to #1 5-5 is not a mediocre record versus the best, you only have to win a 7 game series by 1 game. A more important question is can the Warriors hold home court advantage vs the best. So whats the home vs away record in that 5-5. #2 no the warriors ca’nt depend on Bogut, if he ca’nt play 90% of the games in the playoffs the warriors will lose. if he can they will win.

  3. Well at least your consistent Grant. Always negative, always finding a slight to publicize. 49ers, Warriors, i reckon you could do a hatchet piece on the Harlem Globetrotters.

        1. Curly was my favorite also. My grandfather took my brother and me to see them once at the Oakland Arena, when it was still referred to as such.

          1. I saw them there too.
            The other time was at Arco Arena in Sac.
            Are they still calling it Arco?
            Anyways, Curly’s ball handling skills were off the charts!

  4. To show that the W’s need to get to the line more, the author points to the Hawks and T’Wolves games. He repeats the frequently cited justification that the Warriors are primarily a jump shooting team.

    However, against the T’Wolves, the Warriors outscored them in the paint 52-28. They outscored the Hawks in the paint by a 58-36 margin. On the season, they average 46.1 points in the paint scored (3rd in the league) and 41.6 allowed (15th).

    It’s time for the narrative that the Warriors don’t get to the line because they’re a jump shooting team to be reconsidered. The stats just don’t bear it out.

    But Grant is justified in saying that the lack of free throws taken by the Warriors is concerning. They are 23rd in the league in free throw attempts per game (21.6) in spite of leading the league in possessions per game. That’s good for only 15% of their points, 28th in the league.

    I’m not sure what the cause of or the solution to this issue is, but it’s definitely not that they aren’t taking the ball inside; they are, and they don’t get enough credit for it. It is a problem that needs addressing, though.

  5. 1. Actually, only one team – Atlanta – has a better record against teams better than .500 than the Warriors – 19-7 vs 17-7. In fact, only five NBA teams have more wins than losses against winning teams, and Atlanta and the Warriors are clearly the best. So that’s not an issue.

    2. Bogut’s health is uncertain, but that’s true of just about every big man. He’s been fairly durable to this point compared with most. All you can do is play him a little less and hope for the best.

    3. As to trades for Jermaine O’Neal or Ray Allen, that’s old news, and it’ll depend on where those guys want to go rather than what the Warriors want. I’m sure the Warriors would like to have them, but they truly cannot afford to go into the luxury tax this year, because they will almost certainly do so next year, and the repeater tax (going over two years in a row) is so horrendous that even deep pockets won’t do it. So if either of those guys wants to join the Warriors and will do so for a relatively small salary, the Warriors will certainly do so.

    4. Again, David Lee has been discussed ad nauseum forever. I’m sure they’d like to trade him for expiring contracts, but it’s unlikely. There’s a good chance that he’ll be a significant contributor down the line, maybe a major one. There are many worse contracts in the league.

    5. Yes, the Warriors should get to the line more, and I think they’ll learn how to job the refs as time goes on. But they score more than any other team, so offense isn’t really an issue.

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