Breaking Down the Golden State Warriors' Split Action

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Breaking Down the Golden State Warriors' Split Action
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

As mentioned by ESPN's Ethan Sherwood Strauss and compiled by Twitter user @j_069, the Golden State Warriors' "split game" is an effective offensive action that they use to get their scorers open. The action is quite simple, but Golden State's particular pieces have allowed it to blossom into a dangerous weapon.

The addition of Andre Iguodala as a dual-threat—both as an off-ball cutter/dribble-driver and a spot-up shooter—puts extra pressure on the defense on his own, but the split action only augments that defensive difficulty. And though it often gets shots for some of the Warriors' most prolific scoring guards, the key to the play is Andrew Bogut

During the offseason, there was the question of I questioned whether Bogut was worth the hefty three-year, $36 million extension that he received. But it is his inclusion in the play—it's worth noting that David Lee also executes it well—as a high IQ player with excellent passing ability that allows the play to thrive. 

Here's how the play works: 

The 1, who is typically Curry, enters the ball into the 5 (Bogut) at the top of the key.

Dylan Murphy

The point guard then sets a wide pindown screen for the 3 (Iguodala or Harrison Barnes), and the play turns into a multi-option set requiring the three players involved to read and react to the choice of the 3 man.

He can then do one of three things, and they are as follows:

 

1) Ignore the Screen and Cut Backdoor

In this instance, the 3 is reading both his defender and the 1's. If the 3's defender overplays the screen and cuts off the handoff, the 3 can slip backdoor. The key is communication, so one man is curling into the dribble handoff, and the other is cutting to the rim. 

Here, Randy Foye tries to anticipate the play by staying on the high side, but Iguodala catches him leaning too far and heads to the hoop.

If the 3 does in fact cut backdoor, it's now the 1's job to spin around and become the dribble handoff option. That is what happens on this play, as Iguodala gets the ball from Bogut and draws the foul.

The 3 might also want to reject the screen if his defender "shoots the gap," which is to say he steps above the screen trying to get in between the 5 and the 3 for a potential pass. The principle is exactly the same, triggering the same action from the 1. 

 

2) Curl Off the Screen and Cut to the Basket

If the 3's man is locking and trailing—that is, not shooting the gap and instead staying one step behind and on the hip of his man—the 3 curls towards the hoop looking for the pass. As he cuts through, the 1 reverses course and gets the dribble handoff from the 5. 

It's key for Golden State's Jermaine O'Neal here to dribble at Memphis' Nick Calathes, who is guarding Curry. If he dribbles at Curry, it allows Calathes to slip in front of him and avoid the screen. But if O'Neal dribbles directly at Calathes, he's able to hand the ball off and screen all in one motion. Therefore, he will not turn the ball over by setting a moving screen. 

Here's an example:

It doesn't have to be a dribble handoff. The 5 can "throw and chase" with the 1, which means that instead of dribbling towards the 1, he swings the ball and chases it, initiating a traditional pick-and-roll. Either method is advantageous, but the 5 usually chooses the throw and chase if he has to take more than one or two dribbles. 

Here's the throw and chase:

 

3) Curl Off the Screen and Screen the 1

This is a nifty variation, forcing the defense into making very fast decisions with very little room to maneuver. Instead of the 3 curling towards the hoop by making a 90-degree cut to his right, the 3 spins 180 degrees around the screen to become the screener.

Dylan Murphy

He then looks to free up the 1, who, as mentioned before, is either entering a dribble handoff or throw and chase. 

Through all of this, Andrew Bogut or David Lee has to read everything that's going on and make the right decision. Without a big that can see the floor well, this clever play design is rendered moot. 

With the right big, all of these options in combination really put the defense in a bind. Do they switch? Do they fight through multiple screens in a crowded area? What if the 3 cuts backdoor? What if the 1 slips?

What's more is that the spots are interchangeable. The 1 can start in the corner, with the 3 initiating the play. Golden State has also been known to use the 2 and 4 in small-ball lineups as well, with the 1 and 3 as weakside shooters.

Because there are so many options, Golden State's running of the play multiple times in one game keeps defenders off balance. They never know what is going to happen, and therefore, are left on their heels reacting late.

As a defense, it's best to dictate where the ball goes. The Golden State Warriors' split action does its best to counter this by giving its players the freedom to choose. And with personnel that can all shoot the ball, Golden State dominates opponents with this play. 

For a bunch of examples of every variation, check out @j_069's excellent video below:

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