5 Most Surprising Stats in Golden State Warriors' Strange Season
The Dubs may well punctuate this campaign with a third straight trip to the Finals and their second world title in three years. But even if that happens, this marathon has already diverted from its anticipated route.
Some of the head-scratching twists have been explainable. Matching last season's loss total before the All-Star break was surprising, but they could chalk some of that up to growing pains. And superstar absences—due to both injury and rest—help explain the franchise's first regular-season losing streak of three games since November 2013.
But there are a handful of other statistical anomalies that truly boggle the mind. The five biggest surprises—some good, others not so much—have been dissected under the microscope here.
3-Point Shooting Down 3.7 Percentage Points
The NBA had never seen a three-point flamethrower like last season's Warriors before. They were the first team to bury at least 1,000 triples (1,077 total), and they had the second-highest perimeter percentage ever (41.6, with 1,210 more attempts than No. 1).
Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green accounted for 72.2 percent of those long balls on a combined 43.4 percent shooting. This year, those three were joined by Kevin Durant, a career 38.0 percent sniper with the gravitational pull on defenders to improve the entire team's quality of looks. They looked destined to rewrite the three-point record books again.
But that's not happening. They aren't even this season's top outside shooting team, sitting fourth in average makes (11.8 per game) and third in percentage (37.9). Both numbers are well off last season's rates (13.1 and 41.6, respectively). Curry, Thompson, Green and Durant have all seen declines in their three-point volume and efficiency.
Curry is having his worst outside shooting season by more than three percentage points (39.3, previous low was 42.4). And the problem is getting worse. He's connecting on an abysmal 30.2 percent in nine games since the All-Star break, a stretch that includes outings of 0-of-11, 2-of-11 and 1-of-8.
"Durant's presence, and his excellence, obscured Curry's dip," CSN Bay Area's Monte Poole wrote. "It's a not a precipitous fall, but it is perceptible. And if it does not stop, the Warriors will continue to stagger and stumble, winning some games but also losing games they once won in a walk."
Granted, most teams would be thrilled to have Golden State's perimeter production. And Curry snapping out of his funk is a matter of when not if. But who expected (relative) three-point woes to ever enter the discussion for this season's Dubs?
Top-Ranked Team in Steals and Blocks
At some point between last summer and now, every Warriors fan has worried about the defense.
Maybe the departures of rim protectors Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli did it. Maybe it was the realization of how much Patrick McCaw needs to physically mature or the early sights of Andre Iguodala seemingly losing his fight with Father Time. Perhaps it was the 129 points allowed to the San Antonio Spurs on opening night or the 117 surrendered against the lowly Los Angeles Lakers less than two weeks later.
No matter the motivation, the fears surfaced at some point. Even if the offense was historically explosive, a leaky defense can derail championship dreams.
"If you're trying to win a championship, you don't do that simply by outscoring people," head coach Steve Kerr said, per Bay Area News Group's Anthony Slater. "You have to be able to defend at a high level."
That's exactly what the Warriors are doing—without Bogut or Ezeli, with rail-thin McCaw and 33-years-young Andre Iguodala and with the occasional slip-up on their resume.
Golden State's 101.7 defensive rating sits second overall. Even more surprising, the Warriors lead the league in blocks (6.6 per game) and steals (9.7). They ranked second and ninth, respectively, last season while averaging less in each category (6.1 and 8.4).
A lot of the credit goes to Green, a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and Durant, who never looked better at that end before his injury. But it's also helped having Zaza Pachulia (1.0) and David West (1.6) set or match their personal bests in blocks per 36 minutes.
Bottom-Half in Pick-and-Roll
Think about the perfect ingredients for any pick-and-roll recipe. The Dubs have them all.
There are rugged screen-setters like Green, Pachulia and West. There are lethal on-ball creators in Curry and Durant who can exploit mismatches or score with a sliver of space. There are spot-up snipers like Thompson and Ian Clark should off-ball defenders get distracted. And with McGee on board, there's a hyperathletic big man who can feast on lob passes.
So, it's a bit puzzling to see how pedestrian this pick-and-roll attack has been in practice. Their pick-and-roll ball-handlers rank eighth overall at 0.90 points per possession, a sizable fall from last year's top-ranked 0.98 rate. Their screeners sit just 17th overall, which is actually up from last season (20th).
"It's funny when you go through stuff on paper and it looks better than it does on the floor," Kerr said, per ESPN.com's Ethan Sherwood Strauss.
The numbers are concerning, though it's unclear to what degree.
Golden State has fewer possessions finished by pick-and-roll ball-handlers or screeners than any team in the league. If anyone can afford to struggle with this NBA staple, it's this offense.
Still, this issue needs ironing out before the playoffs. When the Warriors need to grind out late-game possessions, this is the most obvious set to get through them. When any of the four All-Stars run this play together, it should be a pick-your-poison scenario for the defense. But reality is lagging well behind perception when it comes to the explosiveness of this attack.
JaVale McGee: Offensive Catalyst
The not-so-secret formula for Golden State's offensive success is the ability to play four All-Stars together. The slightly more complex elements involve fiery three-point shooting, pinpoint passing and versatility.
And yet, the player who pushes this attack to unprecedented heights isn't a star, can't shoot, rarely passes and has the most simplified skill set on the roster.
"On a team stocked with elite shooters and passers, McGee's knack for catching lobs adds another dimension to the league's most prolific offense," Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote. "Opponents are so concerned about Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson that they often leave McGee a direct route to the rim."
When McGee surfaces on the offensive radar, he usually aces the eye test. It's hard not to when you're a mobile 7-footer with a 7'6" wingspan and 31" vertical.
However, the truly staggering statistic is the 118.2 offensive rating posted by the Warriors when McGee plays. That not only paces the Warriors—Curry is second at 117.4—it obliterates the NBA's highest offensive rating ever of 115.6 (set by the 1986-87 Showtime Lakers).
McGee's offensive responsibilities don't extend far beyond see ball, dunk ball. But the mere threat of his aerial activity pulls defenders toward the paint, frees up everyone around him and essentially pours gasoline onto this combustible attack. Not bad for a training camp invitee.
Crunch Time Malfunctions
The 73-win Warriors were comically dominant in the clutch (final five minutes with a five-point difference or less). They thrashed opponents by 38.6 points per 100 possessions, putting them more than 22 points above the second-ranked team (Dallas Mavericks, plus-16.0).
They've fared a tad bit different in crunch time this season. Their clutch net rating is only plus-1.8, placing them 13th overall and more than 20 points per 100 possessions out of first.
Their defense is a bit more generous in the clutch (103.9 defensive rating) than it is overall (101.7), but the bigger problems are at the offensive end. Their 105.7 offensive rating is several levels below their normal rate (112.8), and their shooting percentages plummet across the roster.
Durant leads the starters in clutch shooting at 44.4 percent. Curry is down at 41.5 percent, and Green sits a peg below at 40.9. Thompson, a career 45.2 percent shooter, brings up the rear at a meager 32.1 percent. Together, the core four have gone a miserable 16-of-64 outside (25 percent).
"Most big plays are big shots," Green said, per Slater. "You come up with a stop here and there, but you usually hit big shots. The shots just aren't falling right now."
That's putting it lightly. Golden State has the third-worst clutch three-point percentage (24.2) and 22nd-ranked field-goal percentage (40.1). This is the same offense that sits third and first, respectively, in those categories overall.
The Warriors don't have a late-game identity yet, especially when it comes to which player(s) should trigger their do-or-die possessions. That might be the most unfortunate part of Durant's injury since the playoffs are no place for crunch-time experimentation.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.