The Golden State Warriors aren’t favorites to advance past the first round of the NBA playoffs, and that’s no surprise. They’re an inexperienced team with more flaws than the elite Western Conference teams.
However, if they get some help from the three X-factors below, they could prove the doubters wrong.
Klay Thompson’s Shooting
While many teams focus on getting to the rim, scoring from the post and attacking out of the pick-and-roll, the Warriors disproportionally rely on the jump shot as their main source of offense.
Fortunately for the Warriors, many of these shots are taken by Stephen Curry, a transcendent jump shooter already in contention for greatest shooter in NBA history. Curry’s backcourt partner in Klay Thompson, however, has not been as consistently incredible.
While Thompson is capable of shooting streaks comparable to any great shooter, he has bricked his way through many rough outings. When Thompson is shooting well, he adds a key dynamic to the Warriors offense. In wins this season, Thompson has shot at a 57.5 percent true shooting percentage (accounts for free throws and added value of threes). In losses, Thompson shoots a mere 47 percent (per nba.com).
Interestingly, many of Klay’s struggles and successes appear to be independent of defensive coverage. There are games where the corner three is automatic, and others where it is consistently off, and though some teams will over play him when he comes off screens, many of Klay’s mid-range jumpers are just a matter of balance and timing, both of which are inconsistent from night to night.
For the Warriors to be a threat in the playoffs they will likely require the spacing and scoring Klay Thompson is capable of providing.
Andrew Bogut’s Health
Heading into the season, Andrew Bogut’s health was one of the most important variables for the Warriors success. Pre-season predictions often were dependent on, “assuming Bogut comes back healthy,” disclaimers that only added to Warriors fans Curry-based fears.
The Warriors were surprisingly successful without Bogut to begin the season, and often struggled after he returned. Though the Warriors were only 18-13 with Bogut in the lineup, for several stretches, Bogut’s defensive ability allowed the Warriors to hint at the team’s full potential. Over 144.2 minutes, the Curry-Jack-Thompson-Lee-Bogut lineup scored 119 points per 100 possessions while allowing only 104 (82games.com).
While Bogut has looked stiff in some games, there have been others in which he is sufficiently mobile to provide consistent help defense. Bogut suffered a bone bruise in his ankle on Thursday game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and though he missed the game against the Los Angeles Lakers, he will likely be ready for the playoffs.
A spry, aggressive, relatively healthy Bogut would add new offensive and defensive dimensions to the Warriors, while the stiff, immobile, unhealthy Bogut may hinder the Warriors’ efforts. Just as it was before the season, Andrew Bogut’s health will be vital to the Warriors’ success.
Harrison Barnes’ Minutes
This season, Mark Jackson has had Harrison Barnes on a short leash. Barnes’ offensive role has been limited, and Jackson often opts to use the Curry-Jack-Thompson perimeter group at the end of games rather than have the rookie test his crunch-time prowess.
Barnes has played 25 minutes per game, and often played fewer against better competition. Though Barnes may have a Jeff Green-esque tendency to disappear throughout games, he provides aggressive attacks to the rim and athletic perimeter defense when he’s at his best. Jackson has kept Barnes’ future in mind throughout the regular season, and will have to reveal that if he believes that Barnes can help in the present.