One Team, One Stat: Golden State Warriors flip switch defensively in playoffs
NBA.com’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2018-19 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Golden State Warriors, who flipped the switch defensively in the postseason.
At their best, the Warriors are the league’s best team on both ends of the floor. And that’s what they were when things got serious. They were the first team in 17 years to lead the postseason in both offensive and defensive efficiency. The last playoff team to rank first in both points scored and points allowed per 100 possessions was the 2000-01 Los Angeles Lakers, who went 15-1 on their way to their second of three straight championships.
The Warriors were the No. 1 defensive team in each round of the postseason…
- In the first round, they held the San Antonio Spurs to just 100.3 points per 100 possessions, 5.2 fewer than the Spurs scored in the regular season.
- In the conference semifinals, they held the New Orleans Pelicans to just 98.5 points per 100 possessions, 16.2 fewer than the Pelicans scored in the first round vs. Portland (a top-10 defensive team in the regular season).
- In the conference finals, they held the Houston Rockets to just 100.3 points per 100 possessions, 10.8 fewer than the Rockets had scored through the first two rounds.
- In The Finals, they held the Cleveland Cavaliers to just 104.0 points per 100 possessions, 3.1 fewer than the Cavs had scored through the first three rounds.
A big difference between the Warriors’ regular-season defense and their postseason defense was in how well their opponents shot from 3-point range: 35.7 percent (10th lowest opponent mark in the league) in the regular season, 31.3 percent (lowest opponent mark) in the playoffs. Three of the four worst 3-point shooting games in the 2018 playoffs were by three different teams (San Antonio, New Orleans and Houston) against the Warriors.
There’s some randomness in those numbers, but it was in opponent 3-point percentage where the Warriors fell off defensively from the 2016-17 regular season (32.4 percent, first in the league) to the ’17-18 regular season (35.7 percent, 10th) and where they ranked in the top five for four straight seasons before ranking 10th last season. It may be that additional focus and energy shows up most in their ability to contest shots on the perimeter.
There were two other big differences between the regular-season Warriors and the postseason Warriors, and they had to do with their lineups. In the playoffs…
- Draymond Green played fewer minutes alongside a center (Damon Jones, JaVale McGee, Zaza Pachulia or David West). In the regular season, he played 65 percent of his minutes with one of those four teammates on the floor, and the Warriors allowed 103.1 points per 100 possessions in those minutes, compared to 96.3 when Green shared the floor (in 19 percent of his minutes) with another power forward (Jordan Bell or Kevon Looney). In the playoffs, Green played just 29 percent of his minutes alongside one of the four centers and 42 percent of his minutes alongside Bell or Looney.
- The Warriors were much better defensively when they played small, with Green at center and none of the other bigs (the six named above) on the floor. In the regular season, only 14 percent of Green’s minutes came without any of the other bigs, and the Warriors allowed 114.5 points per 100 possessions in those minutes. In the playoffs, they allowed just 99.3 points per 100 possessions in minutes with Green as the only big, which accounted for 29 percent of his total minutes.
In the regular season, the “Hamptons Five” lineup – Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant and Green – allowed 116 points per 100 possessions in 127 minutes. In the playoffs (against three top-10 offenses), the same lineup allowed just 99 points per 100 possessions in 129 minutes.
McGee and Pachulia, who combined to start 74 games at center last season, are gone. DeMarcus Cousins has been added (to much fanfare), but the Warriors will need a starting center until Cousins is healthy. No matter who is on the floor, we can imagine that the regular-season defense will be imperfect and inconsistent. But we know that the champs have the ability to flip the switch when they need to.
Note: The above table is based on true possession counts. Other efficiency stats here are based on possession estimates (typically higher than true possession counts).
WARRIORS NOTES – GENERAL
- Only team that has ranked in the top five in pace in each of the last five seasons.
- Were the best third quarter team in the league (plus-18.5 points per 100 possessions) for the fourth straight season and saw the biggest jump in NetRtg from the first half (plus-5.0 points per 100 possessions) to the second half (plus-11.1) of games. Were the league’s best team in both the first and last six minutes of the third. In the playoffs, they outscored their opponents by 31.3 points per 100 possessions in the third quarter, the best NetRtg (by a pretty wide margin) in any quarter for any team that has played at least 10 playoff games in the 22 seasons for which we have play-by-play data. They were a plus-153 in the third quarter and a plus-57 otherwise in the postseason.
- Played only 29 games that were within five points in the last five minutes. That was tied with Utah for fewest clutch games.
- Tied with Houston for the best record (10-4) in the second game of back-to-backs.
WARRIORS NOTES – OFFENSE
- Set the all-time record for effective field goal percentage for the third straight season and were just the fourth team in the last 21 years to make at least half their field goal attempts. Ranked in the top two in field goal percentage in the restricted area (68 percent, second), on other paint shots (45 percent, second), from mid-range (47 percent, first) and in 3-point percentage (39 percent, first). They also led the league in free throw percentage (81.5 percent).
- Have ranked in the top five in 3-point percentage in each of the last nine seasons (leading the league in four of those years).
- One of three teams that ranked in the top five in both ball movement (400 passes per 24 minutes of possession – second in the league) and player movement (11.0 miles traveled per 24 minutes of possession – fourth in the league), according to Second Spectrum tracking.
- Led the league in assist percentage (recording assists on 68 percent of their field goals), assist-turnover ratio (1.90), and secondary assists, all for the third straight season. The assist percentage was the second highest rate of last 14 seasons, with the highest being their rate of 71 percent in 2016-17.
- Saw the second biggest drop in the percentage of their shots that came from the restricted area or 3-point range, from 68 percent (seventh highest rate in the league) in 2016-17 to 63 percent (ninth lowest rate) last season.
- Averaged just 23.9 drives per game, fewest in the league.
- Only nine percent of their points, the lowest rate in the league, were second chance points.
- The 120.1 points per 100 possessions that they scored in The Finals was the fifth best mark for any team in a playoff series over the last 20 years. Their effective field goal percentage of 58.8 percent in The Finals was the sixth highest mark for any team in a series over the same timeframe.
WARRIORS NOTES – DEFENSE
- Only team that has ranked in the top five in opponent effective field goal percentage in each of the last five seasons.
- Ranked 28th defensively (110 points allowed per 100 possessions) in the first quarter. Ranked second defensively (102) thereafter.
- Saw the league’s biggest increase in opponent 3-point percentage, from 32.4 percent (lowest in the league) in 2016-17 to 35.7 percent (10th lowest) last season.
- Still one of three teams – Boston and San Antonio were the others – that ranked in the top 10 in both opponent 3-point percentage (35.7 percent – 10th) and the (lowest) percentage of opponent shots that came from 3-point range (32.4 percent – eighth).
- Opponents isolated on 9.2 percent of their possessions. That was the second highest opponent rate in the league.
- Led the league (by a wide margin and for the second straight season) in blocks per game (7.5).
WARRIORS NOTES – LINEUPS
- “Hamptons Five” lineup is only lineup that didn’t include one of the three departed centers (Pachulia, McGee and West) and played at least 100 regular-season minutes. The next most-used lineup without one of those three played just 52 minutes in the regular season.
- Lineup of Curry, Thompson, Durant, Green and Pachulia had an effective field goal percentage of 62.2 percent, the highest mark (by a wide margin) among 48 lineups that played at least 200 minutes together. It also recorded assists 76 percent of its field goals, the highest rate (by another wide margin) among that same group. Its turnover ratio (17.1 per 100 possessions) was the second highest rate among the group. It averaged 25.8 fast break points per 48 minutes, the highest rate (by another wide margin).
- Lineup of Livingston, Thompson, Iguodala, Green and West took just 17.1 percent of its shots from 3-point range, the lowest rate among 59 lineups that averaged at least five minutes per game in 20 or more games.
- The Warriors scored 120.4 points per 100 possessions and outscored their opponents by 14.7 points per 100 with Curry on the floor. Those were the highest marks for on-court OffRtg and on-court NetRtg (by pretty wide margins) among players who averaged at least 15 minutes in 40 or more games. The Warriors scored only 106.1 points per 100 possessions with Curry off the floor. His on-off-court OffRtg differential of 14.3 was, by far, the largest among players who played at least 1,000 minutes for a single team.
- Kevon Looney ranked 11th on the team in regular-season minutes, but sixth in postseason minutes, playing more than any big on the roster other than Green.
- Over his career, the Warriors have outscored their opponents by 12.7 points per 100 possessions in 16,538 minutes (including postseason) with Green on the floor. That’s the best on-court NetRtg among 499 players who have played at least 10,000 minutes over the 22 years for which we have play-by-play data (since 1996-97).
WARRIORS NOTES – INDIVIDUAL
- Jordan Bell ranked sixth in rebounding percentage (grabbing 14 percent of available rebounds while he was on the floor) and fourth in assist rate (recording assists on 29 percent of his possessions) among 39 rookies who averaged at least 10 minutes per game in 40 games or more).
- DeMarcus Cousins was one of two players to average at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists last season. He was also one of three players to average at least 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks.
- Cousins led the league with 0.50 charges drawn per game.
- Cousins averaged a league-high 5.0 turnovers per game. He committed turnovers on 15.8 percent of his possessions, the highest rate among players with a usage rate of 20 percent or higher. He had the league’s highest turnover rate on drives (minimum five drives per game), on isolations (minimum two possessions per game), and on post-ups (minimum three per game).
- Stephen Curry had an effective field goal percentage of 62 percent, the fifth best mark among players (and the best among non-centers) who attempted at least 500 shots. His effective field goal percentage of 59.2 percent on pull-up jumpers was the best mark among 131 players who attempted at least 150. His effective field goal percentage of 69 percent in the third quarter was the best mark among players with at least 100 third-quarter field goal attempts.
- Kevin Durant shot 49 percent on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, the second best mark among 101 players who attempted at least 200. Draymond Green shot 31 percent on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, the worst mark among those same 101 players.
- Curry and Durant were the only two players to average at least six catch-and-shoot points and at least six pull-up points per game last season.
- Durant and Klay Thompson ranked third and sixth, respectively, in mid-range field goal percentage among players with at least 200 mid-range attempts.
- Cousins and Durant were two of four players who averaged at least five drives per game and passed less than 20 percent of the time on those drives.
- Green recorded assists on 36.2 percent of his possessions, the highest rate among 188 players 6-7 or taller who averaged at least 10 minutes per game in 40 games or more. He was one of three players who passed the ball at least 50 percent of the time on 100 or more post-ups.
- Andre Iguodala had a regular-season effective field goal percentage of 51.4 percent, down from a career-high 60.5 percent in 2016-17. That was the third biggest drop among 206 players with at least 300 field goal attempts each season.
- Jonas Jerebko shot 53 percent on corner 3-pointers, the fourth best mark among players who attempted at least 50.
- Thompson had an effective field goal percentage of 74.6 percent on wide-open jumpers, the best mark among 55 players who attempted at least 200. His 51.3 percent on wide-open 3-pointers was the best mark among players who attempted at least 100.
- According to Second Spectrum tracking, Thompson led the league with 85 3-pointers in the first six seconds of the shot clock. Curry ranked fourth with 69. Thompson ranked second in the regular season with 187 catch-and-shoot threes and led the postseason with 55 (17 more than any other player).
NBA TV’s Warriors preview premieres at 7:30 ET on Tuesday, Sept. 25.
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