Plenty has been made about the Warriors’ turnover struggles and lack of bench depth this season, and rightfully so.
But if Golden State really wants to take the next step and return to the title-contender status that everyone assigned to the Dubs during their ten-game wining streak, the real change will have to come from the play of their swingmen, Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes.
Yes, the Warriors signed Iggy for his defensive presence, and his impact certainly goes beyond the stat sheet. And yes, Iguodala is shooting at a .480 clip, including a True Shooting Percentage (adjusted for free throws and three-pointers) of .574, both of which are his highest totals since 2005-06.
But only examining those positives isn’t looking at the entire picture. Iguodala is attempting only 7.3 shot attempts per game, the lowest total since his rookie year and a full four shots below his career average. Just why is he being so conservative with his shooting?
It’s hard to say why, but what is clear is that the lack of shots comes primarily from Iguodala’s mystifying reluctance to drive to the hoop. Now, it’s time for the Warriors’ most athletic player to showcase his talent.
Given, much of the passiveness can be attributed to the inevitable cautiousness that came following Iguodala’s hamstring injury, which is understandable. But now that he’s been back for nearly two months, that excuse has run its course.
Let’s take a look at Iguodala’s shot charts this season.
(Courtesy of vorped.com)
The chart on the top shows Iguodala’s shooting frequency from each place on the floor, and as you can see, he’s taking just 38.4 percent of his total shots inside the paint, with the remaining attempts coming from mid-range and beyond the arc. For a player blessed with athleticism like that, it’s puzzling, even taking the injury into consideration, that he shoots over 60 percent of his shots from outside.
Indeed, it seems that the Warriors’ plays often involve keeping Iguodala perched around the three-point line (at least, more than I’d like to see) in the hopes that he’ll be left open due to the presence of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, or for some other reason. That’s not an effective (or efficient) way of using Iggy’s talent.
When the Warriors swingman has taken inside shots, however, the results are there. This season, Iguodala is averaging 1.26 points per shot inside the paint, as the chart on the bottom shows, despite taking only 103 shots there in 38 games.
You might say the injury has limited Iggy’s inside production, but during the last 30 days, that inside shot rate has grown to just 42 percent, which is by no means a big jump.
While this might be an overly simplistic way of viewing things, there still should be little doubt that driving with increased frequency would allow Iguodala to kick out to the Warriors’ dynamic outside shooters thanks to the necessity of a double team to stop the drives.
Iguodala’s performance in the Warriors’ win over the Bulls on Thursday wasn’t exactly indicative of an improvement either. Though all three of Iguodala’s field goals came inside the paint, two of them were wide open dunks on the break. Also, he was 0-of-4 on mid-range and three-point shots, showcasing he’s far better off taking his shots inside. (His mid-range and three-point field goal rates are 36.4 and 19.4 percent, respectively, during the last 30 days, meaning he’s gone especially cold from downtown.)
Then there’s Harrison Barnes, and we all know about his ability around the rim. (So too does Nikola Pekovic.)
This season, Barnes is actually attempting nearly half (49.8 percent) of his shots in the paint. But in the last 30 days, when he’s connected on 31.3 percent of his overall shots, he’s attempted just 41.2 percent of his shots from the paint, with an inexcusable 26.2 percent coming from mid-range. (From that area of the court, he’s converting 31.7 percent of his shots.)
Worse yet, Barnes is averaging just 0.48 points per attempt from mid, which is awful, to put it nicely.
That’s a lot of numbers, so I’ll make the takeaway simple: Mid-range shots hurt Barnes, and he takes far too many of them.
(Courtesy of vorped.com)
It was certainly nice to see Barnes hit three of his four three-pointers on Thursday against the Bulls, but that’s really beside the point. While the open three is a good shot for Barnes (he’s shooting nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc this year), he’ll never truly develop into the star the Warriors expected he’d become when they drafted him seventh overall if he can’t drive to the hoop more consistently.
We’ve definitely seen flashes of that inside scoring touch as well, but for now, it’s almost as though Barnes is teasing us. As in, “I could drive to the hoop, but I’d rather attempt a mid-range jumper.”
For an example of what Barnes should be doing, look no further than the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard. The latter is also a young small forward in the Western Conference, and the two feature similar height and athleticism.
Leonard has missed the last eight games due to injury, but when he’s in, his shooting percentage of .517 is more than 100 points better than Barnes’ .406. That’s because Leonard takes nearly half of his shots (47.9) inside the paint, and is more selective when shooting from mid-range.
Barnes tends to hesitate far too often during his drives, and has kind of a jerky, almost clanky feel to his moves when he’s in isolation. For the young forward, learning to trust his athleticism is the first step toward moving past his currently dubious and seemingly indecisive stance about driving to the hoop.
An example of Barnes’ potential, which coincidentally is also one of the games that really helped to put him on the map, was the 26-point performance against the Spurs in the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2013 playoffs. You’ll notice in the video below that much of Barnes’ success came when he drove to the hoop, with only a couple of mid-range jumpers going down.
What the video doesn’t show you, however, is that Barnes was actually just 9-of-26 in that game, with several misses from mid and only three field goals outside the paint. So, when he’s at his best, he’s penetrating inside and not settling for the low-percentage jump shots.
So there you have it. The Warriors’ two most athletic players are each attempting right around 60 percent of their shots from outside of the paint, which is holding the Dubs back offensively. (They’re 16th in the NBA in offensive efficiency.)
Driving to the hoop would be especially beneficial to the team as a whole because the drives would leave Curry and Thompson open more often from deep. The three-point shooting is what makes the Warriors tick, whether you like it or not, and more aggressive play would only help in that regard.
In short, it makes sense for Iguodala to accept the slashing of his pretty-looking shooting percentage for the sake of scoring more frequently and spreading the floor to open up more shots for his teammates. Barnes has also shown he’s effective in the paint (or rather, more effective than he is elsewhere on the court), and he must resist the urge to toss up his frustratingly inefficient jump shots.
For an offense that has far from lived up to expectations, it’s time to try something new. For the Warriors, would playing to their strengths really be that bad?