Saturday's tough loss to Denver didn't just drop the Warriors to 3-4, it also unleashed as flurry of pent-up frustration over the team's offensive performance so far this season. The fan base is getting restless.
And with good reason. The first quarter against Denver, and the second and third quarters against Los Angeles last week, represent the worst offense the Warriors have shown in several years. Something is not working, and if the team doesn't fix it they'll be looking at the lottery again, no matter how much the defense improves.
There are several reasons why the offense has been struggling.
The first is just that shots aren't falling. Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry, and David Lee have all had too many good looks which they've just missed. That's the risk of building your team around jump-shooters - unlike players who can get to the rim or draw contact, jump-shooting is notoriously inconsistent.
Despite missing shots far too often (and often by unusually large margins) we might expect both Thompson and Curry to find their range. They're not likely to stay cold for long. But Lee's problems are more worrisome. Opposing defenders have - wisely - chosen to let Lee shoot 18-footers all day. While Lee is far better than most big men at that shot, the simple truth is that long two-point jumpshots are losing basketball. The extra point on three-pointers more than makes up for the slight dropoff most players see in their percentage, and players are rarely fouled on long jumpers.
Lee's long jumpshot is effective when he's using it as a tool to set up the rest of his game. When it becomes a cornerstone of his offense, that's a problem.
Brandon Rush's injury is also a factor. Rush was great from beyond the arc last year. Richard Jefferson might be expected to take up the slack, but he's been downright awful shooting the ball, connecting on under 15% of his three-point shots going into the Atlanta game. Given that he's 32 years old, some dropoff is to be expected, but Jefferson has simply looked like he can't get his legs under him for shots. It's been the sort of performance that makes you wonder if there's an undisclosed injury, if the player failed to come into camp in game shape, or if father time has caught up with him faster than expected.
But the Warriors offensive woes can't be blamed entirely of missed jump shots. There have been other problems, too.
When Monta Ellis was traded, many Warriors fans rejoiced. Ellis's tendency towards hero ball made him a far less effective player than his gaudy point total would have you believe. Fans were tired of watching Ellis go one-on-three for the occasional highlight make and a whole lot of misses. The trade, theoretically, was going to replace Ellis's isolations with team play, ball movement, screens and a steady diet of pick-and-rolls.
Against Cleveland (admittedly, no defensive powerhouse) we saw the potential of this. Four players with five or more assists, and everyone consistently making the extra pass. It was beautiful to watch.
However, against the Lakers and Nuggets, as well as in the season-opening win over Phoenix, that passing has been rare. Instead, a whole bunch of Monta Ellis isolations have been replaced by David Lee isolations - and isolations, to be blunt, are not Lee's game. He's a motion, pick-and-roll, full-court player, but he lacks the dynamism around the basket to score against an aggressive helping defense that knows what's coming. And it's not just Lee: Jarret Jack takes things into his own hands too often, and Klay Thompson's improved aggressiveness has resulted in him trying to create too much, which he isn't yet good at, rather than coming off screens and spotting up, where he excels.
Lastly, despite rapidly improving ball-handling skills, passing is not Harrison Barnes forte. He has potential as an effective isolation player but he's not there yet.
The net result is simply that the Warriors are simply not a team that should be running a lot of isolation plays, and yet they have been. That has to stop.
Lastly, the spacing and communication have been off. Against Denver, the Warriors repeatedly crowded the strong side of the floor, making the defense easy. Barnes set a screen for Curry when Curry was already guarded by a big, allowing the defense to fix their earlier mistake. There's just an overall lack of flow. This might be expected when rookies like Barnes and Festus Ezeli are on the floor, but it's harder to excuse the other players for their role in the offensive stagnation.
The return of Andrew Bogut (whenever that happens) will help, giving the team a reliable (if somewhat short of spectacular) low post presence, but the team would be mistaken to hope that was going to fix everything. There's plenty of time for Mark Jackson to get the team firing on all cylinders, but if the team wants to compete for a playoff spot, they better fix things before they fall too far under .500.