Why Isn't the Golden State Warriors' Offense Better with All That Firepower?

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Why Isn't the Golden State Warriors' Offense Better with All That Firepower?
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The Golden State Warriors' reputation is out of line with reality.

Ask the average fan, and he'll tell you the Warriors are all offense, no defense. They have tons of shooters and love to chuck it up from beyond the arc. It makes perfect sense.

Or does it?

In actuality, the Warriors are a defensive-minded team, one that ranks fourth in NBA points allowed per 100 possessions. And the scoring isn't as prominent as popular belief may say.

The Warriors have just the 13th-ranked offense in the league. Even with guys like Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, they're not scoring in a particularly effective fashion. But there are reasons for this that go beyond the fact that Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green aren't the shooters they seemed to be at the start of the season.

Mainly, Golden State doesn't employ an efficient offensive strategy.

The Warriors tend to fall in love with isolation ball. It's always nice to see a coach who prioritizes exploiting matchups, but Mark Jackson may prefer that far more than he should.

That's what Jackson does. He finds one individual mismatch and BOOM, he's going to it every time.

Marcio Jose Sanchez

Remember last year's second-round playoff series against the San Antonio Spurs? Gregg Popovich threw Tony Parker on Harrison Barnes, and Jackson countered giving the rock to Barnes every possession.

We get it, Mark. Barnes is taller than Parker. But settle down, donkey

Seriously, it happened every time. Jackson wouldn't stop getting the ball to Barnes, and it worked...for a bit.

Barnes averaged 17.3 points on 15.3 shots a game in that series, and we immediately tapped those six contests as the time he finally broke out. But the Warriors offense became stagnant because of his play.

It wasn't Barnes' fault. What's he supposed to do? Show up his coach and refuse to shoot or play within the offense Jackson has set up for him? Is he expected to start a game of hot potato with Steph Curry?

No. He can't. All he can do is what Jackson wants.

So the Warriors offense stalled as the series continued. Golden State lost each of the final two games by double digits and fell to the Spurs in six.

The problem is that the Warriors haven't learned from their mistakes. The offensive strategy hasn't adjusted into this season.

Golden State is continuing to run a high concentration of isolation and post-ups. Matchup exploitation over and over again. And it doesn't really work.

The Warriors have isolated or posted up on more than 21 percent of their plays this season, according to MySynergySports (subscription required). That's second-most of any team in the Western Conference's top nine (behind only the post-up heavy Memphis Grizzlies, who own just the 18th ranked offense). And if there's anything we've learned from basketball's analytics movement, it's that isolation ball isn't usually the best way to maintain an efficient offense.

More than 30 percent of Barnes' plays this season have either been post-ups or isos. Thompson has posted up on almost 10 percent of his plays. Curry is isolating more than 17 percent of the time.

17 percent. That's even more than iso-prone point guards like Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook. It's becoming the predominant part of the Warriors' offense.

Possibly the most important concept to take from the recent analytics movement is that you should create a high concentration of shots either at the rim or from three. Of all the tidbits of information that have helped teams and players progress, that general concept is central to them all.

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But there's one problem: Isolation isn't usually the best way to create those sorts of looks.

You're not going to dribble into a corner three. Those are always assisted.

You're probably not getting many open opportunities around the rest of the arc, either. It's nearly impossible to create a three-point look off the bounce and not find yourself either a) taking a contested shot or b) firing off balance. And usually, it's both.

The Warriors have the best three-point shooting backcourt in the NBA—there's no question about that—but that doesn't mean they're automatically going to have a dominant offense.

It's hard to create points when you fall in love with Thompson post-ups purely because he owns a size advantage over his defender. There's more to basketball than size, especially in an age when teams are playing more and more small ball by the day.

It thwarts ball movement. The Thompson and Barnes post-ups, specifically, put the rock in the hands of a player who you don't want running an offense.

Thompson can shoot. He can even defend, but he hasn't developed any sort of court vision. So you can post him up and let Andre Iguodala cut, but how often is Klay going to find him? It's probably not going to work the majority of the time.

The passing skills aren't there. The decision-making isn't either, and considering "post-up" is just a fancy word for " butt isolation," the Warriors are basically using those plays as isos for one of their worst creators. 

The public view of the Golden State offense is flat out weird. For as stagnant as the attack may be, this defense deserves so much more attention than it ever gets.

The Andre Iguodala effect has turned it into one of the stingiest groups in the league. Andrew Bogut, who has been healthy for the majority of the year, is one of the best and most underrated defensive centers in the game. It's a case of scheme and personnel meshing together wonderfully.

Still, though, we perpetuate this idea that the Warriors win with scoring. Maybe that's because superstar players tend to consume their own teams' identities.

Curry is all offense, little defense so that means the Warriors must be the same.

But it's not true. None of that is right.

In actuality, the Warriors take on the persona of their head coach.

What's the first thing we think of when we rewind our brains to the days of Mark Jackson, star point guard? Jackson turning around, sticking his behind into a defender and trying to back him down from 18 feet.

It's almost like Jackson has instilled his former playing style to his current squad. It's some weird form of basketball osmosis.

The Golden State offense has its flaws. There are legitimate reasons a championship-caliber defense can stymie a squad that relies so heavily on one-on-one basketball, and if the Warriors want to make a deep playoff run, they better hope their individualized offense gets as hot as possible and stays that way for two months.

 

Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade, but he maintains that his per-36-minute numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at RotoWire.com or on ESPN’s TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.

*All statistics current as of April 3 and from Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com, unless otherwise noted. 

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