Warriors, Mavs Clash in Battle of NBA's Most Potent Offenses

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 4, 2015

Glenn James/Getty Images

No amount of knuckle cracking, stress-ball squeezing or hand stretching can prepare the Oracle Arena scoreboard operator for the upcoming offensive storm by the Bay.

When the Golden State Warriors host the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday (10:30 p.m. ET on ESPN), the NBA will get a long look at two of its most potent point-producing machines.

Everything about these clubs suggests absurd scoring numbers are sitting on the horizon. When the two Western Conference juggernauts matched up in mid-December, the Mavs struggled to the tune of a .404/.200/.700 shooting slash—and the teams still combined for 203 points in 48 minutes.

No matter the metric used, each grades these offenses as NBA elites.

The Tale of the Tape
CategoryMavericks (NBA rank)Warriors (NBA rank)
PPG106.8 (Second)111.0 (First)
FG%47.1 (Fifth)48.3 (First)
3P%35.9 (T-Ninth)38.5 (Second)
APG23.2 (Eighth)27.3 (First)
ORtg110.1 (Second)109.9 (Third)
TS%56.1 (Fourth)57.6 (First)

Both teams have the same goal in mind: creating the most efficient shot possible each time down the floor. A number of different elements are factoring into that pursuit, some that appear strikingly similar between them, others that have a unique feel for each team.

Quick-Strike Scores

Give a club with as many weapons as Golden State or Dallas has the opportunity to attack a backtracking defense, and it's like a pack of wolves feasting on injured prey.

The Warriors lead the league with 101.3 possessions per 48 minutes and 21.3 fast-break points per game, via TeamRankings.com.

"We always want to attack," head coach Steve Kerr said, per Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle. "We always want to push the ball and play with pace. ... We're at our best when we really push it."

The numbers validate Kerr's assessment.

With Mark Jackson at the helm last season, Golden State averaged nearly three fewer possessions a night (98.5 per 48 minutes) and six fewer points out in transition (15.1). On a closely related note, the Warriors were an underwhelming 12th in offensive efficiency.

Pushing the pace has paid clear dividends, and the Warriors have the depth—12 players averaging double-digit minutes—to sustain that speed throughout the contest. They also have everything a team could want in terms of transition weapons: above-the-break snipers, above-the-rim finishers, bigs who can handle the ball and an army of willing passers.

It's not quite as simple for Dallas, which fields an older roster and sacrificed a lot of its depth in the December deal for Rajon Rondo.

The Mavericks play at an above-average speed, but not one that registers as a breakneck pace (96.5 possessions per 48 minutes, 12th overall). Still, Dallas finds its way to 15.1 fast-break points per game, tied for the fourth-highest total in the league.

This group is loaded with experienced players, and it shows.

The Mavs have an uncanny ability to identify high-percentage transition opportunities. The roster's collective basketball IQ also allows head coach Rick Carlisle the freedom to take a more hands-off approach with his players.

"We try not to call any plays if we can," Carlisle told Grantland's Zach Lowe. "We want to be difficult to defend, and the more random we can make it, the more difficult it will be for defenses."

Dallas throws waves of scoring threats at defenders and forces them to chose which ones to stop. If the defense so much as blinks, the Mavs are by it in a blur.

The problem is slowing either of these teams down doesn't sap them of their offensive powers. Surgical precision keeps pressure on opposing defenses regardless of the situation.

Pick-Your-Poison Offense

Both the Warriors and Mavericks have their go-to options on the offensive end.

Golden State gets 45.5 points a night out of siblings-in-splash Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Dallas' three-headed monster of Nowitzki, Monta Ellis and Chandler Parsons pours in a combined 54.5 points each time it steps inside the lines.

Stopping either team starts with limiting the production of these five players. But that's an exhaustive task in itself, and one made exponentially more challenging by the way each team utilizes and supports its offensive stars.

The Splash Brothers share the same fluorescent green light from distance for obvious reasons. Thompson and Curry rank third and fourth, respectively, in made triples, while shooting a combined 41.9 percent from beyond the arc.

That perimeter prowess alone draws defenders uncomfortable distances away from the basket, creating the cutting and passing lanes Kerr and his staff have emphasized throughout the season.

"Kerr...is emphasizing a motion offense where the isolation play that was so prevalent in the past regime is discouraged and cutters who follow [Andrew] Bogut's high-post lead are having their way with opposing defenses," wrote USA Today's Harper Lee.

To further simplify things, the Warriors are simply generating more movement of the ball and their players.

Golden State averages more than 67 additional passes per game than it did last season (313.0, up from 245.8). The Warriors have seen a similar spike in catch-and-shoot scoring, climbing from 17th overall (25.0 points per game) to fourth (29.6).

The goal of any offense is to maximize the production of the players involved, and the Dubs have certainly done that.

Three different starters are averaging personal bests in scoring and field-goal percentage: Thompson (22.5, 48.3), Harrison Barnes (10.3, 49.9) and Draymond Green (11.4, 43.4). Curry has posted career marks in player efficiency rating (27.2) and true shooting percentage (62.3). Andrew Bogut has shattered his previous best in assists per 100 possessions (5.7).

And Golden State's reserve unit, highlighted by former All-Stars David Lee and Andre Iguodala, leads all benches with a 48.1 field-goal percentage, per HoopsStats.com. Good luck finding the weak link in the Warriors.

It's a pick-your-poison scenario for opposing defenses, and it's the same one teams face against Dallas.

Ellis is at his best attacking the rim, but he's a capable shooter from distance. Parsons can torch a defense from deep, but he can score or set up his teammates off dribble penetration. Nowitzki is a scoring threat from anywhere inside the arena.

And the Mavs keep all of these cards in play on any given possession, typically starting their sets with a pick-and-roll that exposes the defense to everything. Bite on dribble drives, and Dallas' distributors will find an open shooter. Take both options off the table, and that frees up 7'1" center Tyson Chandler to explode to the rim.

Look how much attention Ellis attracts off the dribble. And it's all warranted, considering he's a 20.5-points-per-game scorer and tied for ninth in the league with 6.5 points per game on drives.

Now factor in the attention paid to Dallas' shooters. This team is tied for fifth with 28.7 catch-and-shoot points per game, so it's not as if any coach would encourage his defense to leave these shooters.

So, in the video above, the Denver Nuggets opted to roll the dice on Chandler's finishing ability. It was a bad gamble, but one that so many other teams are obviously making given the big man's 67.6 field-goal percentage this season, second highest in the NBA.

"We have so many threats and weapons on the offensive end that teams have got to help a lot," Ellis said earlier this season, per Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "So it leaves a lot of guys wide open."

And the Mavs have the table-setters needed to find those open teammates.

While Ellis is best known for his scoring, he sports a 5.7 assists-per-game average since the start of 2010-11. Parsons dished out 4.0 helpers last season for the Houston Rockets. Rajon Rondo, who's currently out indefinitely with multiple facial fractures, has yet to meet a pass he couldn't make.

The Mavs are still figuring out how to blend their talents around Rondo, but he's a historically prolific passer (8.41 career assists per game, 11th highest of all time), whose best work has come when he's surrounded by elite scorers.

Dallas has more than its fair share of those, and this offense will only become even more difficult to defend with time.

Different Roles, Similar Results

The Warriors and Mavs might put up similar point totals, but they don't take the same roads to approach those numbers.

Golden State sets up more scores with assists and does more damage both from long range and inside the lane. Dallas has been a bigger force on the offensive glass.

Individually, the paths of the players diverge, though they eventually reach the same destination.

Curry shines brightest for his scoring and shooting, while Rondo is more comfortable in the facilitator role. Thompson has improved his passing and point production inside the arc, but defenses still focus on limiting his damage from distance. The opposite approach is needed with Ellis, whose efficiency is often tied to his aggressiveness in attacking the paint.

Parsons has good athleticism, but he's not at the level of Barnes and Iguodala. Conversely, the two Warriors wings don't offer the same offensive consistency as Parsons. Nowitzki is a far better shooter than Green, but the latter has enjoyed more success as a passer and offensive rebounder.

The biggest responsibilities for Chandler and Bogut rest on the defensive end, but each has emerged as an unlikely offensive catalyst. Chandler's rim runs demand defensive attention, and his back-taps keep countless offensive possessions alive. Bogut has picked apart defenses with his passing, exactly how Kerr envisioned his big man fitting this offense.

"Andrew's one of the best passing centers in the league," Kerr told reporters during training camp. "He's one of the best I've ever seen, and so for us to get him the ball on the elbows as a dribble-handoff guy, backdoor-pass guy, that will be emphasized."

Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

These rosters don't showcase guys with identical skills. Each has used a different recipe to claim its perch atop the league's offensive rankings.

But the common thread between the two is the ability to take what each individual has to offer and mold it in a way that benefits the team as a whole. That starts with each coach putting his players in the right position, the stars buying into that vision and the supporting casts embracing their complementary roles.

It can be a tiring task trying to make all the pieces fit, but magical things can happen when the puzzle comes together. Well, magical things in the eyes of everyone except those responsible for charting these astronomical stats.

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.


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