A case for a Warriors Playoffs berth
By Mpho Mutloane
The Golden State Warriors are fresh off the back of two statement wins after starting with 2 wins and 3 losses, but one would not be judged for assuming the Warriors would be in for another lottery chasing season with the absence of Klay Thompson who gave them a formidable 1-2 punch and is an all-time 3-point shooter. Adding to that, their blow out losses to the Nets and the Bucks including not so convincing wins over the Bulls and the Pistons; the Warriors looked all at sea. However, those two recent wins against the Trail Blazers and the Kings have given me pause and led me to consider a case for a Warriors playoff berth.
The two wins gave us a glimpse as to how coach Steve Kerr can get this team to the Playoffs. It is still early in the season, but the Warriors showed me four things they will need to do to make the Playoffs again after a no show in the 2019/20 season.
1. Let Steph Cook
The games where the Warriors have won Steph has scored over 30 points per game including his career high 62 points against the Blazers. For the Warriors to become an entry-level playoff team Steph needs to better his career-best points per game of 30.1 points in 2015/16. In addition to that, Steph needs to be more aggressive in attacking the paint. In his 62-point game a few days ago Steph scored 16 of his points in the paint with four as mid-range jumpers and 24 points from beyond the arc, the most impressive stat was the 18 Free Throws he scored. This is something that has separated the elite scorers from Steph who averaged four free throw attempts per game in his career. An aggressive Steph that attacks the paint is what the Warriors need in this season without Klay.
2. Warriors need reliable 3-point shooting
The big flaw in this Warriors team has been the 3-point shooting with the help for Steph struggling from long range. Kelly Oubre Jnr is shooting 20% from 3 and Wiggins has had some bad shooting games in this run. They will need to be shooting at a consistent high 30% in order to help this offence take advantage of the Steph double-teams. Now their second unit players like Kent Bazemore, Mychal Mulder, and Damion Lee (the hero of the Chicago game with a buzzer-beater) have scored at 50% from 3 this season, the Warriors still need those number from the starters. The Warriors either need to help Oubre and Wiggins to find their form or look for veteran shooting help through trades.
3. Lockdown defence
Every Warriors championship team had this in abundance. Defence that stifles even the best scorers on their day. This was what was missing in Week 1 of the NBA Season. They looked lost on the defensive end. However, the return of Draymond Green has re-ignited that. Draymond is one of the most elite defenders in the league and his presence in guiding this young team on the not so sexy end of the floor was what has stood out in the two statement wins. The help defence has improved, there are active hands everywhere and its filtering through to the second unit who are not only making stops but using that as a springboard to open leads that the starters have left to them, as evident in the 4th quarter of the Kings match. The presence of Green stifling Nurkic and Whiteside in the Pick and Roll has enabled the like of James Wiseman, Oubre and Wiggins to be active on rebounds diminishing second chance points.
4. Keep Draymond Green Fit
Draymond is the engine that makes the Warriors tick. His absence in Week 1 was felt as the Warriors were looking like a lottery-bound team. Draymond is not the biggest stat getter, and his shooting will improve but he is a great basketball mind and the right man to teach this young Warriors team how to play the game. In these two wins he has been seen directing play on both ends and it has been widely reported that he has been a mentor to the number 2 draft pick James Wiseman. His work often goes unnoticed, but the Warriors are lost without Draymond.
It is very early but if the Warriors can consistently show these 4 things, I have outlined they will be a hard team to beat and are a good shout to make it back to the playoffs.