Last week, it came out that Draymond Green brazenly told GQ's Clay Skipper (last summer) that the Cleveland Cavaliers didn't "stand a f--king chance" against the Golden State Warriors in the 2017 NBA Finals—a series in which the Dubs won their second championship in three years.
That quote, which is just now coming to light, defines the team's championship run. And now, despite losing to the Rockets in an opening-night 122-121 barnburner, the sentiment remains the same.
The Warriors' flowing offense is alluring, but it's also a ruthless juggernaut. Famously last in pick-and-roll and 25th in isolation in 2016-17, they go against the grain of how most offenses operate. Taking advantage of selflessness and superior passing up and down the roster, they disarm opponents with far and away the most cuts and off-ball screens in the league.
Of course, this is all made possible by the most dangerous collection of three-point shooters in league history being ready to pillage opponents with less than a second’s notice. There's no denying this team has the most talent of any squad across the NBA, but it's how it uses its talent that makes it especially effective.
If the opening-night loss has you concerned about the Warriors, don't be. Golden State could run the same play over and over again like the Rockets if it wanted. But the way the Dubs leverage their motion, passing and shooting is not only a beautiful brand of basketball but also a completely unstoppable one.
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Straight out of the Gregg Popovich playbook, the Warriors run motion weak with regularity. This set starts with the point guard throwing an entry pass into the wing and cutting through the lane to the weak side. This triggers a cascade of variations that allow the cerebral cast of players to read the defense and decide which actions will result in points.
"There's a certain strength that comes from everybody touching the ball," Steve Kerr said in an interview for BBallBreakdown. "If you run pick-and-roll over and over again, the other three guys who are just standing there, they kind of lose some juice. ... There's a collective force that comes with everybody participating. Whereas if we just wanted to put Steph and KD in pick-and-roll every time, yes, we'd get open shots, but the other guys would be like, 'Do I get to play?'"
That's where the motion offense comes into play. With so many different players who can go off at any moment, keeping them all involved is important. Even if Stephen Curry operates as the primary ball-handler, this action involves everyone on the floor.
Despite the miss, an open-corner three-pointer from Klay Thompson is striking gold for the Warriors. Motion weak offense can look complicated in real time, and that’s exactly what they want to leverage out of their opponents. Forcing defenders to make tough decisions is exactly what an offense wants to do.
Screens cause chaos in the half court
"The main goal is to just make the defense make as many decisions as you can so that they're going to mess up at some point with all that ball movement and body movement and whatnot." —Stephen Curry (courtesy of ESPN The Magazine's Baxter Holmes)
With his dominating shooting ability, Curry is a black hole sucking every defender into his orbit. When putting Curry into screens, defenses have to execute perfectly or they will pay.
"I wanted to make the game easier for him," Kerr explained back in June 2016, per the San Francisco Chronicle's Scott Ostler, "and I wanted to utilize his tremendous skills to leverage openings for other guys, and to compromise the defense by having to chase Steph around and having to pay so much attention to him."
While James Harden and Chris Paul successfully execute a switch on the initial screen, Rockets center Clint Capela doesn't want to step out to defend Curry. Without that second switch, Paul can't beat the screen and Curry has light-years to get his shot off.
The threat of Thompson's shooting creates a "gravity" similar to Curry's, so when you put him in screens, opponents can scramble and get totally disoriented.
This time, Jordan Bell reaps the benefits of Thompson's shooting ability. Thompson acts almost like a booby trap: the defenders miscommunicate, cling to Thompson and leave Bell wide open.
According to NBA.com's player tracking data, the Warriors led the league in transition scoring last season, both in frequency (percent of total offense) and efficiency (points per possession). If the chaos isn’t enough in the half-court offense, the Warriors drastically alter defensive gameplans in fast-break situations.
When the Warriors have numbers in transition, it's already over. There is no good option for two defenders trying to pick from among Curry, Thompson and Kevin Durant.
Here's an interesting wrinkle in the Warriors transition offense that is basically a set play on a fast break.
The Warriors have become so in tune with one another that they can run a set on what appears to be a broken play. Green knows what to look for from the start and Durant fumbles his body into two defenders to give Curry enough time to sink a dagger.
And just for fun, this is how you get three points when you're on a 2-on-4 fast break.
This is what it really comes down to. Even for teams as Goliath as the Warriors, the constant flow of motion inevitably breaks down, and that’s when they are the meanest.
High pick-and-roll is an extremely effective action for every NBA team as it allows them to draw mismatches for some of the best athletes in the world to expose. But when you have Curry in those switches, it really isn't fair.
The threat of the three-pointer also opens up easy driving lanes.
Curry can beat you inside or out. Switching a heavy-footed big-man onto him is just cruel.
"He is the most impactful offensive player in terms of what he does to the defense." Steve Kerr said. "Maybe ever. You know, there's guys, obviously Michael Jordan impacted things, but the way Steph plays puts the fear of God into defenses like nobody I’ve ever seen."
High pick-and-roll is a chance for Curry to show off. The Warriors relied heavily on the high pick-and-roll in the fourth quarter against the Rockets, targeting the weak link (Ryan Anderson) in the defense.
The ball may not have gone in, but Curry both orchestrated the offense and manipulated the defense, giving him the option to attack however he felt was best. This is why it's impossible to guard the Warriors.
Even if the defense thwarts the initial action and stays with the shooters on the screens, the Warriors can still single out the weak defenders and get the shot they want—whenever they want.