Defense to Offense
by Brian Witt and Dr. Oliver Eslinger
In an effort to bring our fans closer to the action on the court, the Warriors and MOCAP Analytics have teamed up to produce an ongoing analytical blog series, featuring insights and analyses not previously made available to the public.
We’ve all heard that “defense wins championships”, but also that “great offense beats great defense.” So, which one is it? If the apparent contradiction makes you scratch your head, don’t worry, we’re here to help. At the very center of these axioms is a false distinction between the two sides of the court. While both are important, it’s the interplay between defense and offense that is the key to success.
Due to a recent tradition of uptempo offenses, fans have come to know the Warriors as a trigger-happy group that lights up the scoreboard. While that reputation still applies, although to lesser of a degree, what distinguishes this year's team from others of recent memory is their success on the other end of the floor. This season, the Warriors’ defensive schemes and matchups have added a unique ability to squeeze the floor defensively and suffocate teams (the Warriors are currently the third-best defensive team in the league with a defensive rating of 99.4). Consequently, opponents are often forced into poor decisions that ultimately lead to great offensive looks for Golden State.
Check out MOCAP’s interactive D2O (Defense-to-Offense) visualization that connects uninterrupted, sequential defensive and offensive plays, offering a choose-an-adventure game of sorts. For this particular visualization, we’ve spotlighted Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson, two elite wing defenders that ignite Golden State’s offense. Here’s how the game works: on the left, select a defensive role for Thompson or Iguodala (e.g. ball screen defender). In the middle, choose the method by which the Warriors get into their offense (e.g. transition) following that defensive play. Finally, on the right, select Golden State’s offensive play (e.g., pull up 3). The scoreboard tallies the points allowed by Golden State on the defensive end along with points scored on the offensive end for the selected sequence of plays. Click around, play with various combinations, and see how the scoreboard and transition rate change for each selection.
Let’s look at the duo in the ball screen scenario, the most common defensive role shown (indicated by the thickness of the lines). When Iguodala or Thompson defend a ball screen during a defensive possession, the Warriors get out into transition 24.1 percent of the time, and are +148 points, meaning the Warriors have scored 148 more points than their opponents in that situation. Exploring further, they’re +40 points when the D2O sequence ends with a catch & shoot 3 (a particularly efficient situation, as indicated by the dark blue lines flowing into catch & shoot 3) and -10 points when the sequence ends with a catch & shoot 2 (an inefficient situation, as indicated by the red lines).
When defending ball screens, Iguodala and Thompson are often on opposite sides of the floor covering perimeter players (shooters, slashers, or lead guards) because, like the Warriors, opponents spread out the scorers over the floor in order to maximize space for playmakers. This naturally feeds Golden State’s D2O point production because one of the two is typically locked up with the handler, while the other, be it Iguodala or Thompson, is out and running on the swing side. A stop will result in a quick outlet into the hands of the best shooter in the league, Stephen Curry (often with a cross match), or one of Golden State’s steady wings. If the ball is in Curry’s hands, well, that’s usually a catch-and-shoot or pull-up 3-point look, or a nifty assist to a cutter or spot-up guy. And if handled by one of the long wings? That typically results in a drive or cut off an advanced pass or reversal.
Care to see it in action? Check out this clip from the Warriors' recent comeback victory over the Trail Blazers in Portland on March 16. In crunch time, Klay Thompson matches up with Damian Lillard as the ball is inbounded from the sideline. Thompson funnels Lillard towards his help in the low block (Lee), while Iguodala sticks to his man (Batum) in the far corner. This defensive formation coerces Lillard into a contested shot, one that is ultimately blocked by Thompson and gathered by Barnes (another long wing) as the Warriors get out on the break. The Warriors execute an effective 3-on-2 rush, resulting in a trip to the line for Thompson, and two very valuable points for the Warriors.
So next time you’re in front of the TV watching a Warriors game and you see a highlight reel play on offense, don’t get distracted by the end result. Hit that rewind button, and go find the play that permitted the resulting sequence to occur. Chances are, you’ll find yourself pointing to a big-time defensive play, and gain a greater appreciation for the defensive subtleties that too often go unnoticed. As we've seen, with wings like Thompson and Iguodala, the separation between the two sides of the court all but disappears.
So, are the Warriors an offensive team, or a defensive one? The truth is, they’re both, and that above all is the not-so-obscure secret to their success.
Feel free to let us know what else you’d like to see in the comments below, and stay tuned for more exclusive data-driven content very soon. For all MOCAP-related blogs, click here. You can also follow MOCAP Analytics on Twitter @mocapanalytics.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Golden State Warriors.