The Weaknesses of the Top Four in the West

Playoff basketball is a different brand of basketball than the regular season, coaches shorten their rotations, it is more physical, and the pace generally slows down. In addition to that, teams have more time to prepare for their opponents as they face off in a seven a game series. The time will give coaches a chance to game plan on how best to take advantage of their opponent. Here are some of the weaknesses teams might try to exploit when they prepare for the top four in the Western conference. 

The Golden State Warriors

Turnovers have always been a problem for the Warriors even going back to game 7 in the finals last year. The Warriors average 14.7 turnovers a game, that has them ranked 22nd in the NBA which leads to 16.6 points off of those turnovers. They can come two ways, one as a dead ball where the whistle stops the action like when the ball gets tossed out of bounds or 24-second violation. Then there are the more deadly live ball turnovers, that usually comes from steals and have a tendency to turn into fast breaks.

According to NBAMiner.com, just below half of the Warriors turnovers come from bad passes and they are ranked first in the NBA with 6.59 a game. Combined the Warrior starters average 10.7 turnovers a game. Below are examples of just how reckless they are with the ball. In the first clip, Stephen Curry got double teamed coming off a high pick-and-roll and left his feet to make a pass that the defense stole. Then when they ran their elbow action, Draymond Green tried to thread the needle with a pass to the cutting Thompson, which got deflected and eventually stolen. Finally, it seems whenever JaVale McGee is in the game his teammates are intent on force-feeding him a lob just like in the last example. Turnovers and especially live-ball turnovers can be the Achilles heel for these Warriors.

The San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs are one of the few teams left that play a traditional NBA lineup with two big men with LaMarcus Aldridge and Dewayne Dedmon. While the rest of the NBA is going small the Spurs are going bigger to contend with that. They are one of the few teams that do not have a great small ball lineup and this can come back to haunt them come playoff time. It played out that way last season when the Thunder were able to upset the Spurs in the second round.

The On/Off numbers from Basketball-Reference.com show that the biggest weakness comes from their big men. According to these numbers, Aldridge holds the Spurs back defensively by 5.8 points in defensive rating while only giving them a one-point edge in offensive ratings which leads to a negative 4.8 impact in net rating. Pau Gasol provides a bit more offensively but is still a negative 2.0 in net rating.

  LaMarcus Aldridge Pau Gasol
Net Rating – On +6.0 +6.9
Net Rating – Off +10.8 +8.9
Net Difference -4.8 -2.0

Although it has not been too much of a problem in the regular season, their recent game against the Warriors has to be a warning sign. The Warriors were able to come back from being down 22 points early and win by 12. Gasol and Aldridge both finished with a negative plus-minus. After the first quarter, Aldridge was a plus 21 but finished with a -2, that is a 23 point swing and the second highest swing for the Spurs that night. The Spurs will have to figure out how to hide these guys defensively so that a team cannot take advantage of them in a series.

The Houston Rockets

A huge question mark for the Rockets is whether Lou Williams can be a difference maker for them. They traded for him to add another deadly shooter but Williams has struggled in the playoffs. A big reason why is that he is more of a finesse player and those types of players often struggle during the playoffs. Since the Rockets acquired him he has been a valuable piece to their offense as their third leading scorer at 15.3.

Williams has played 41 playoff games and has struggled with his shot mightily, going from a career 34.6% three-point shooter in the regular season to 23.8% in the playoffs. His scoring numbers have dropped in nearly every playoff appearance except for one. The Rockets may have a problem on their hands if this trend continues, as Williams is second in usage rate on the team with 25.4%.

  Regular Season Playoffs
2007-08 11.5 ppg – 35.9% 3P% 12.0 ppg – 22.2% 3P%
2008-09 12.8 ppg – 28.6% 3P% 9.7 ppg – 37.5% 3P%
2010-11 13.7 ppg – 34.8% 3P% 10.8 ppg – 30.0% 3P%
2011-12 14.9 ppg – 36.2% 3P% 11.5 ppg – 16.7% 3P%
2013-14 10.4 ppg – 34.2% 3P% 8.3 ppg – 31.3% 3P%
2014-15 15.5 ppg – 34.4% 3P% 12.8 ppg – 19.0% 3P%

The Los Angeles Clippers

If the NBA were a four on four games, the Clippers would boast one of the best lineups but when the game is expanded to five on five the Clippers have a glaring hole. The Clippers have struggled for years to find a Three-and-D guy ever since Chris Paul arrived. They have a great defender in Luc Mbah a Moute who is having a career year from three shooting 38.3% from three, up nearly six percent from his career 32.2%. Can he keep this up?

Mbah a Moute is a key piece for the Clippers; in their wins, he is shooting 44.4% from deep versus the 29.5% he shoots in their losing effort. Doc Rivers often goes small at that position and will play either Austin Rivers or Jamal Crawford to make up for their lack of shooting at that position.

  Mbah a Moute Rivers Crawford
Defensive Rating 102.1 108.0 108.5

The Clippers need Mbah a Moute to make his shots when he is on the court, otherwise, they will be playing four on five on the offensive end. When he is making his shot the Clippers are drastically better defensively with a defensive rating of 105.4 against the 111.6 when he is off the floor. Mbah a Moute can either be a key part of a deep playoff run for the Clippers or their biggest weakness.

BONUS (Since the Clippers and Jazz are currently tied for 4th)

The Utah Jazz

The NBA has changed over the years with more of a focus on ball and body movement. This is something the Jazz struggle with on a regular basis. They are 28th in scoring and assists. They are a great defensive team and control the pace very well so the number of possessions in a game can be a cause for the number. When one dives deeper into the numbers, the Jazz just do not rack up that many assists per game. They rank 24th in assist percentage which means that they only get an assist 54.3% of the time, their assist to turnover ratio is 1.48 which is also 24th in the NBA.

This means that too many times the Jazz offense comes down to a player, usually Gordon Hayward having to create a shot for themselves. In the playoffs, it is much harder to create on your own because defenders can zero in on tendencies making it much more. Besides it being tougher to score, it will take much energy to create those shots. Passing teams that whip the ball around the court put more pressure the defense than on these teams that do not. The question is can the Jazz’s offense generate enough points to survive in the playoffs without tiring out their top scorers?

Just like in the East, no team is perfect and every team has their vulnerabilities. The Warriors have to limit their turnovers, the Spurs have to hide their bigs, the Rockets will have to find ways to get Lou Williams going, the Clippers need keep Mbah a Moute’s hot shooting going, and the Jazz will need to find ways for their offense to generate more assisted field goals. Their opponents are going to try to take advantage of their weakness to knock them out of the playoffs.

Click here for the Top Four in the East

Related Notes:

  • All stats are from Basketball-Reference.com, NBA.com/Stats, and NBAMiner.com

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