One Team, Three Stats: Warriors' defense takes a step back
With Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry on the same team, the Golden State Warriors might be the favorites to win the 2016-17 NBA championship no matter who else they had. But they also have Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, as well as one of the league’s best benches. On top of that, they have a system that has ranked in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency in each of the last two seasons.
So yeah, expectations are high and scrutiny will be non-stop. No team is more fun to watch or more fascinating to analyze.
The Basics – Golden State Warriors
Pace: 103.3 (3rd)
OffRtg: 112.9 (1st)
DefRtg: 104.6 (14th)
NetRtg: +8.3 (3rd)
Warriors links: Team stats | Player stats | Player shooting | Lineups
After playing their first 10 games within the Western Conference, the Warriors begin a four-game trip through the East in Toronto on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN). Here are a few numbers to know about the team most general managers picked to win the championship.
Only two teams have regressed more defensively than the Warriors, who have allowed 3.7 more points per 100 possessions than they did last season.
It’s hard to criticize a team that’s 8-2. It’s early and that’s a 66-win pace. But this is no normal 8-2 team. It’s a team that added one of the league’s three best players to a squad that went 73-9 last season.
On one end of the floor, things are OK. Having scored 122 points per 100 possessions in their four games last week, the Warriors are No. 1 in the league in offensive efficiency, right where they belong. They had the highest effective field goal percentage in NBA history (56.3 percent) last season and they’ve shot better (57.1 percent) this year. This “jump-shooting team” is No. 1 in finishing at the basket.
But for the second straight year, the Warriors have taken a step backward defensively. The year they won the championship, they were the No. 1 defensive team in the league. Last year, they ranked fourth in defensive efficiency. So far this year, they’re below average. And in the last 39 years (since the league started counting turnovers in 1977), only one below-average defensive team – the 2000-01 Lakers – has won a championship.
It’s early. At this point last season, the Atlanta Hawks ranked 15th defensively (though better than the league average), and they finished second in the league. The Warriors have plenty of time to get better on that end of the floor. But with the departure of Andrew Bogut, it’s fair to believe they just aren’t the same defensive team they were the last couple of seasons.
Only three teams have seen a bigger increase in opponent effective field goal percentage. At this point in the season, opponent shooting numbers can be noisy, affected by one or two games, or by luck. But the Warriors have seen increases in two numbers that don’t really have to do with how well their opponents are shooting from the outside.
First, they’ve allowed their opponents to shoot 64.4 percent in the restricted area, the fourth worst mark in the league and up from 59.9 percent last season. Secondly, their opponents have shot 30.2 percent of their shots from 3-point range, up from 26.3 percent last season. So they’re not forcing as many inefficient shots between the restricted area and the 3-point line.
The other area of regression on that end of the floor is rebounding. The Warriors rank 28th in defensive rebounding percentage, having grabbed just 72.4 percent of available defensive boards, down from 76.0 percent (15th) last season.
The rim protection and rebounding are two areas where Bogut is clearly missed. With Bogut on the floor last season, opponents shot just 55.4 percent in the restricted area and the Warriors grabbed 77.7 percent of available defensive rebounds.
Only 10 games in, one game can have a pronounced effect on the numbers. The Warriors got smoked in their opening-night loss to the San Antonio Spurs and have obviously been better since. In fact, if you erase that game, their defensive efficiency drops from 104.6 to 102.2 points allowed per 100 possessions, which would rank 10th through Tuesday’s games.
But the Spurs game was one of only two that the Warriors have played against teams that currently rank in the top 10 in offensive efficiency. And those – against the 10th-ranked Spurs and ninth-ranked Lakers – are their two losses. They’ve played five of their 10 games against bottom 10 offenses and another two against the 20th-ranked Suns.
Their first two games of this trip – in Toronto and Boston – are against teams that rank in the top six in offensive efficiency.
Curry and Durant have taken 46 percent of their total jump shots off the catch, up from 37 percent last season.
In the One Team, One Stat series to preview the season, it was noted that Curry and Durant were the league’s two best shooters off the dribble last season. Through Tuesday, Curry (55.4 percent) and Durant (47.8 percent) rank fourth and 20th in effective field goal percentage on pull-up jumpers among 62 players that have attempted at least 35.
But almost every shooter is better off the catch than off the dribble. And with the pair joining forces, the theory was that both Curry and Durant would have more opportunities to shoot off the catch.
Theory has become reality. Both Curry (from 37 percent to 40 percent) and Durant (from 37 percent to 53 percent) have seen an increase in the percentage of their jump shots that are catch-and-shoot. Durant has attempted just one pull-up 3-pointer per game, down from 2.9 per game last season.
Furthermore, they’ve both shot better on catch-and-shoot jumpers than they did last season.
The Warriors have outscored their opponents by 26 points (25.2 per 100 possessions) in 50 minutes with Curry, Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Durant and Green on the floor together.
The new Death Lineup got off to a rough start, particularly defensively. In that Spurs game, it was outscored 28-27 in less than nine minutes of action. But has recovered since then, outscoring opponents by a tally of 125-98 in a little over 41 minutes.
The 98 points seems like a lot to give up in 41 minutes, but because the Death Lineup plays at a ridiculous pace (114 possessions per 48), it’s less than a point per possession. That’s good defense.
Still, it’s the offense that makes that lineup special. In the last three games that the Death Lineup has been used (it didn’t play vs. Phoenix on Sunday), it has scored 52 points (shooting 18-for-26 from the field and 7-for-11 from 3-point range) in less than 15 minutes.
If you’re an opponent, good luck trying to slow it down and be happy that Steve Kerr doesn’t use it that much.
Last season, Luke Walton and Kerr used the old Death Lineup (with Harrison Barnes instead of Durant) in 37 of the 47 regular season games in which all five guys played, and for 172 total minutes, or 3.6 per game that all five guys were available. In the playoffs, Kerr used the lineup in all 17 of games that Curry or Green didn’t miss, but still for just 125 total minutes, about 7.3 per contest.
This season, Kerr has used the new Death Lineup in nine of their 10 games, for a total of 50 minutes. So that’s just 5.0 minutes per game that he’s had the chance to use it. Green has played about a third of his minutes (about 11 per game) at center, but with the Warriors’ backcourt depth, less than half of those minutes have been with the Death Lineup.
Still, the 5.0 minutes per game is an increase from the regular season last year. And it’s possible that Bogut’s departure ultimately results in more minutes for the Death Lineup in the playoffs.
Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.
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