The Golden State Warriors finished 2022 on a high note. Even riding the momentum of a season-long four-game winning streak into the New Year, though, the 19-18 defending champions still have much left to prove before re-cementing themselves as a top-tier title contender.
Here are three resolutions for the Warriors amid the dawn of 2023.
3. Change the foul and free throw discrepancy
Golden State has never been a high free throw team under Steve Kerr. Even during the juggernaut days of Kevin Durant’s tenure in the Bay, the Warriors never ranked better than 20th in free throw rate, and they won a remarkable fourth championship in eight years last season with a .235 free throw rate, 23rd in the league.
Obviously, it’s not ideal that Golden State enters Monday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks with basketball’s lowest rate of free throws per shot attempt, all the way down at .223, per NBA.com/stats. But the Warriors’ longstanding inability to get to the line is a byproduct of the unique style they play offensively, one that relies on constant off-ball movement, jump-shooting and the highest share of assisted baskets in NBA.
They can definitely win another championship without racking up easy points from the charity stripe. Less likely is Golden State getting back to the mountain top come June if this team keeps sending its foes to the line with something close to reckless abandon.
The Warriors’ opponent free throw rate is .291, third-worst in the league, per NBA.com/stats. Only one team averages more personal fouls per game than their 22.5—the young, rebuilding Detroit Pistons, who currently own the worst record in the NBA.
It’s not just that Golden State has struggled to make up for a near nightly discrepancy at the free throw line; this team also doesn’t boast the quality depth it did a year ago. Being forced to play without Draymond Green, Kevon Looney or Jordan Poole for isolated stretches due to foul trouble could be what costs the Warriors a pivotal playoff game, replacements off the bench unable to stem the tide of their absence.
The good news? Golden State ranks 18th in opponent free throw rate since mid-November, when James Wiseman was sent to the G League. Here’s hoping that relative recent success extends to the remainder of the regular season, keeping the Warriors from being abused in a crucial game within the game.
2. Upgrade Warriors bench at the trade deadline
Golden State’s debilitating bench woes were mitigated when Kerr made Green and Andrew Wiggins regular members of the second unit six weeks ago, lessening the playmaking burden on Jordan Poole. Positive contributions from the likes of Ty Jerome, Anthony Lamb and Moses Moody have helped keep the Warriors’ bench from hemorrhaging points on the scoreboard even during the team’s recent rash of injuries and illnesses.
But Lamb and Jerome are two-way players, limited to appearing in 50 regular season games unless promoted to the 15-man roster full-time. There’s still no timeline for Andre Iguodala’s debut, and Golden State might prefer to keep its final roster spot open through buy-out season rather than give it to Lamb or Jerome.
All that context belies the bigger point anyway. The Warriors need an upgrade on the bench no matter what happens with Lamb, Jerome or Iguodala.
Jonathan Kuminga is the only young player who’s already proven himself worthy of a significant role come playoff time. Moody is still working to earn Kerr’s trust, and as much as he offers as an always-ready spot-up shooter and quick ball-mover, he sometimes gives it back on the other end, beset by a lack of short-area quickness and evolving understanding of team defensive concepts. Wiseman has been better recently than he was in the fall, but still doesn’t have a path to high-leverage minutes with Draymond and Looney entrenched as defensive linchpins.
Golden State needs another wing more than anything else, the type of player who can play multiple roles in multiple lineups without taking anything off the floor on either end. Gary Payton II and Otto Porter fit that bill off the bench last season. Kuminga falls a bit short of it due to his lack of shooting ability, and Donte DiVincenzo, awesome as he’s been of late, lacks the elite athleticism and rare length that helped Payton play much bigger than their shared listed height.
Expect the Warriors to be active as the February 9th trade deadline approaches, perhaps dangling Wiseman—or maybe even Moody—and a future first-round pick in search of an impact wing who could bolster their hopes of repeating as champions.
1. Bring elite defense on the road
Golden State’s historically disparate play at home and on the road boils down to one area more than any other: Defense.
The Warriors are a league-best 16-2 at home, sporting impressive victories over the likes of Memphis and the Boston Celtics. They’re just 3-16 on the road, the worst record in the NBA. Why? Golden State forgets to bring its elite defense on the team plane whenever forced to leave the Bay Area.
The Warriors’ 105.2 defensive rating at home ranks second in the league, per Cleaning the Glass. That stingy number jumps all the way up to 121.4 away from the friendly confines of Chase Center, the second-worst road defensive rating in basketball behind the San Antonio Spurs’.
The data behind that Jekyll and Hyde act is a double-edged sword for Golden State. Opposing teams are shooting a red-hot 42.0% from deep against the Warriors at home, and only 29.5% on triples at Chase Center—the No. 29 and No. 1 marks in the league, respectively. Defenses don’t have much control over long-range shooting; opposing three-point accuracy largely boils down to luck. The same goes for mid-range, from where Golden State foes are hitting a league-best 49.0% at home compared to an average 43.0% in the Bay.
It’s hardly uncommon for teams to be better on defense at home versus the road. But the Warriors’ splits in those scenarios are comically large, bound to come together as the regular season wears on due to shooting luck alone. As teams inevitably start clanking more jumpers when Golden State’s away from home, just keep your fingers crossed they don’t starting raining threes once the Warriors are back at Chase Center.