They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result. The Golden State Warriors have been (rightly) called a lot of things over the past two decades: inept, soft, mismanaged, nonthreatening—you get the idea. But if their stubborn adherence to a deeply flawed offensive philosophy is any indication, they could probably have been called insane, too.
If you think about it, it does seem a little crazy to stockpile scoring wing players, concoct lineups without any muscle and toss them out on the floor with the singular directive to outscore the opponent, especially if that strategy has no precedent for success. But that's precisely what the Warriors have done since the early '90s.
Maybe the last 20 years of offensive "style" were just the residue from the Warriors' last semi-respectable era, when Don Nelson championed the exciting, but ultimately ineffective, small-ball strategy. That was fine for a while, but without Run TMC, running never really worked.
Despite that, the Warriors didn't let repeated failures stop them from trying to run their way to the playoffs every year. In the last 10 seasons, for example, the Warriors ranked in the top 10 in PACE (the number of possessions a team has per game) in every season but 2003-04. They ranked first three times. That tactic yielded one playoff berth in the "We Believe" season of 2006-07, the team's only trip to the postseason since Chris Webber was a rookie.
Then again, if the Warriors have been crazy for 20 years, maybe they've been crazy like a fox. After all, the flashy offense kept the Oakland Coliseum/Oracle Arena full of rabid fans—who were treated to a parade of 50-loss seasons.
But things are different this year. Or, at least they're supposed to be.
For one thing, the personnel have changed. The Warriors will field a starting lineup of players who are sized appropriately for their positions. Imagine that! There are also players on the roster now with a wider range of skills than ever before. Instead of a bevy of 6'7" scorers, there are defensive specialists, shot-blockers, bruisers, shooters and slashers.
Now, for the first time, the roster is capable of casting aside the insane adherence to run-and-gun basketball.
But here's the problem: It's awfully easy to know how the Warriors shouldn't play. We've got 20 years of evidence to show that. But figuring out how they should play is a trickier issue. Some data from last season helps answer that pressing question, though.
Overall, the Warriors were quite efficient in certain offensive areas last year. They were the NBA's best spot-up shooting team, averaging 1.09 points per play in those situations, according to Synergy Sports.
They also had some success in pick-and-roll sets, but only when the "roll man" got the ball. They were fifth-best in the league in those situations. David Lee was especially adept as a roller; he averaged 1.03 points per play, which put him in the top 15 percent of NBA players.
Conversely, the Warriors stunk when the ball-handler kept the ball on the pick-and-roll and were even worse in isolation situations—they were in the bottom half of the NBA in both areas. The departure of Monta Ellis will probably remedy both of those ailments, but the Warriors definitely need to scale back their usage of these inefficient scoring modes.
Knowing all of that, it seems clear that the Warriors' best strategy is to slow down the game's pace, get the ball inside and utilize the pick-and-roll more frequently.
With Andrew Bogut, the Warriors have a good-but-not-great scorer down low who can pass the ball out of a double-team effectively. That will lead to even more spot-up opportunities for Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Brandon Rush, each of whom shot better than 40 percent from three-point land last season. In this instance, the Warriors' new personnel perfectly compliments an already-existent strength.
In addition, they must emphasize the pick-and-roll even more. With Curry, and not Ellis, as the primary decision-maker, you can bet that David Lee will be even more effective as a roller. Plus, Curry is a better mid-range shooter than Ellis, so defenses will have to pick their poison. Add the fact that defenders can't leave any of the Warriors' perimeter shooters alone, and you've got a seriously spaced-out floor for David Lee to operate in.
Ultimately, it's clear that in order to do what they do best on offense, the Warriors have to rein in the running game. Bogut and Curry are both coming off ankle surgery, so slowing things down might also have the added benefit of keeping the Warriors' two cornerstones healthy, too.
If the Warriors can utilize their great perimeter shooting on kick-outs, let Bogut do some work down low and allow David Lee to roll to his heart's content, the postseason is a real possibility.
The Warriors playing a slower-paced offensive game? That sounds just crazy enough to work.
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