Like Beyonce splashing on to the 2013 music scene with a stealthy and shocking yet illustrious midnight album release, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson erupted in last year’s NBA Playoffs. Their swift shot release and lack of fear to pull the trigger allow them to rack up gaudy point totals in minimal amounts of time. Nothing exemplifies this more than Curry’s 8 for 10, 22-point performance in the 3rd quarter in Game 4 against Denver and Thompson’s 6 for 8, 19-point display in the 2nd quarter in Game 2 against San Antonio. Because of their ability to capsize a game via their brilliant shooting from deep (Curry was 1st and Thompson was 4th last year in 3-point field goals made), the Warriors got classified as a “jump shooting team.” Yet that irreverent label usually implies that said team is devoid of much defense and interior offensive play. Rather I believe the style of play of Golden State’s two big men David Lee and Andrew Bogut should dictate how this team is identified.
A three-point shooting team often doesn’t possess any other offensive options and expects the long bomb to carry the scoring. Yes Golden State is #3 in the league in three-point shots converted per game. Yet they attain a majority of these makes by attacking the defense via their other threats. David Lee is an incredibly efficient offensive big man who’s averaging 53.4% from the field, good for 5th among forwards. In addition for all players with 1500 total touches or more, Lee accounts for the most points per every half court touch. Thus the Warriors love to go through the productive Lee whether via the post up isolation where he could exhibit his plethora of interior moves or with the pick and roll.
When Lee begins to drain several shots from backing his defender down and the defense thus sends a double team or is caught watching, David’s court vision allows him to find the open shooter. The ball also finds its way to a vacant shooter when Lee receives the ball wide open from Curry via the pick and roll since both defenders choose to cover Steph. Instead of hoisting from the mid-range (where Lee shoots an inefficient 36.3%), Lee utilizes his effective dribbling to infiltrate the collapsed defense. Either Lee uses his tremendous finishing ability to score or a defender helps and leaves a Warrior wing open and hence starts Golden State’s amazing ball movement. This is highlighted by their top 10 position in possessions ending in an assist. Lastly, Golden State also takes advantage of Lee and Bogut’s playmaking capabilities by having them pose as a de facto point guard in both transition and half court offense. This allows Curry and Thompson, who move and work phenomenally off ball as they’re in the top 5 in distance traveled per game, to create space and receive a pinpoint pass from one of the bigs.
Bogut’s working as the de facto PG, which allows Iguodala to cut back door. Bogut’s great passing permits him to get the ball to Andre.
Defensively the Warriors rely heavily on Andrew Bogut. Golden State has the fourth best defensive efficiency in the NBA, but are doing this with suspect perimeter defenders in Curry, Thompson, and Barnes. Among defenders who face at least 6.5 shots at the rim per game, Bogut is 6th as he only relinquishes 43.7% of interior shots to go in. That’s better than Dwight Howard, Serge Ibaka, and Tim Duncan. The Warrior guards actually bait the ball handler to penetrate towards Bogut by taking away the opponent’s other side. Thus Golden State forces its opponents to shoot jump shots. These long-range attempts end up being bad looks, as the Warriors are 8th in opponent’s three-point percentage at 34.4%. This is fully demonstrated by Mark Jackson’s pick and roll defensive scheme. Bogut never plays up on the ball handler, giving him the opportunity to blow past Andrew right to the basket. He always plays down and protects the rim till the defender of the ball handler can recover from the screen. This obviously could sacrifice an open jump shot, but Bogut’s more concerned with not ceding open lay ups.
In order to thwart Bogut’s effective interior defense, offenses attempt to pull him away from the basket on one side while creating activity on the other with the hope that Bogut’s far away enough to be unable to impact the play. Yet Bogut’s agility allows him to cover the ground and defend the basket. A good barometer of this is Andrew’s 1.73 blocks per game, which amounts to 9th in the league. Lastly Golden State knows how to finish a defensive possession, as they are 2nd in defensive rebounds. Thus the Warriors certainly can hurt an opponent through more mediums than just the three-point shot.
In the last 11 games where Golden State is 10-1, Steph Curry has converted a mere 38.3% from the field and an inefficient 33.3% from 3. It’s David Lee who has carried this team offensively as he’s averaged 22.4 points and 10.1 rebounds in this span. The defense anchored by Bogut and Iguodala has only given up 41.6% of made field goals. The Warriors’ versatility gives them a puncher’s chance in the crowded Western Conference, and I will not be surprised if Golden State ends up as the #2 seed come playoff time.