Notes on the New Warriors Offense, Part 2: Deception and Motion

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

This is Part 2 of a series of notes on the New Warriors O. (Next one is on the D.) This is a good time to pop this out before the real season starts and makes everyone re-evaluate what the pre-season has shown us.

In Part 1, we analyzed the basic outline and principles of the offense and analyzed how the Ws feed the post and through simple screens and cuts create space for shooters and post moves. This Part will make much more sense if you read Part 1 to see what the Post-Cross is, etc.

Be sure to check out BBallBreakdown's quick video on the new offense. You'll see Coach Nick cover similar ground as Part 1 in the last minute of the video. It's quality analysis, but I think there isn't nearly enough of it. The best part of it is the film from last year's offense contrasted with this year's, especially noting the improved spacing.

The Ws are using a number of sets that are part of every team's playbook. Part of the promise of the new system is to ensure that everything is done in motion and with deceptive starting looks. When you walk up and start a familiar-looking play, the whole D can organize to stop known plays with their game plan. If you run the play before the D is set or out of a flexible/deceptive format, then the defense has to be very well organized for everyone to recognize and then play the right scheme.

Spiritual Note

There is one principle that I forgot to mention last time, which I need to emphasize: Unselfishness. This offense only works if the team looks for the best shot for *the team* not for any single player. A vanilla NBA pick and roll system works with selfish players and the basic NBA box score economy: there is a handler and a pick/roll/pop player and in this two man game, success means a basket for one and an assist for the other. The other players spot around for 3 or for rebounds and occasionally get the scraps if they can stay awake. In the vanilla ISO game, the player looks for their own best shot and gets the basket with success.

This means that in a team offensive system, the star players need to give up their stats for the good of the team. It's a tribute to the character of the Ws that there hasn't been even a whiff of controversy about that because the starters (here I count AI not Barnes) are all already very smart and unselfish. They will make the pass to the assist, racking up the untracked hockey assists. No one complains about touches (except a little bit of Bogut last year, but come on, the man had a point). In contrast, look at the Knicks. Carmelo gets asked all the time if he can be unselfish in the new triangle offense (how insulting a question is that?), and even J.R. Smith admits with refreshing honesty that it's hard to think about the team and not himself:

"I mean, believe it or not, being the type of player I've been, it's a struggle. I'm not going to lie. Trying to think about the rest of the team over myself or my scoring is something that I never really had to do before," Smith continued. "I've always been in a situation to score, [now I'm] in position to take my time and let the game come and let my teammates succeed more than myself, I think that's the ultimate win."


Luckily, the closest thing to discord on the Ws is our frame-by-frame analysis of whether AI is feeling passive-aggressive about being the Sixth Man. The Ws are a wonderful team to root for. Let's hope the harmony continues to grow through good and rougher times.

Reversals and the Lag Pass

The first deceptive thing they do is to start different plays with the same look. Let's first discuss the most common look from the preseason. Basically, someone dribbles down the wing, there is a middle man up top and a wing on the opposite side, and things begin with a pass to top middle man. This is called the Lag Pass in the triangle. This is a characteristic start of both the Spurs Motion Weak/Strong and the Triangle, and I guess it's Kerr's (unholy) hybrid of the two. In my notes, I call it Reversal because the top man has the option of continuing the reversal by passing to the weak side, or returning it to the start and starting a strong side set.

Now let's see how Wing ISO, Post-Cross and HORNS plays can develop from this same start.

1. Wing ISO

So in these videos, you'll see the play start with the lag pass up top, then the top man completes the reversal to the weak side. When the ball gets to the weak wing, his defender might have been playing to deny the pass, or at least to deny middle drives. So, this sets up a chance for the wing to call his own number and go 1 on 1 and drive by his man.

Let's start with a Reversal which, since it's against the Lakers D, is kind of the platonic ideal of the play. This play is exactly from Motion Weak by the Spurs, where (1) the guard (Lasagna Nedovic) loops from strong side to weak and receives the reversal and (2) in the meantime, there is cross screening in the paint. Nedo sees daylight and just drives very nicely to the hoop. Notice the complete chaos under the basket as Kapono and Green cross-screen their defenders into each other leaving the hoop completely open. You can find more about Spurs Motion Weak on the web. Also notice how quickly they pushed the ball on the made basket. Run On Everything.

Here's one with a Reversal to Klay, who ISO drives. Lee draws his man up high by cutting to the elbow, and there was space under the hoop for the drive, but the on-ball D was positioned well.

Here's a Reversal where Barbosa drives and makes a phenomenal floater to score. There was no cross-screen under the hoop, so the bigs could rotate to force a very tough shot. I don't know if Ha-Kuz was supposed to cut to the elbow, or what...

Here's another Reversal where Nedo drives and again there's no cross screen in the paint, so Harden(!) is free to defend the drive. Barnes was probably supposed to do something to punish Harden for helping like cut to the basket, but instead he had his back to the play.

2. Post-Cross.

Here is a basic example from Part 1. You know the ending (it's the Post-Cross), but now we can talk about the beginning. The play begins with a lag pass to Bogut up top. He continues the reversal to Curry who then triggers a Post-Cross by entering to the post.

Why didn't they just throw the ball into the post on the original side? They could have. But in this weak-side version, Lee gets a cross-screen from Klay so he can get better post position. (Klay actually sets a lazy screen, so Lee doesn't get great position, but you see the idea.) You can also see Klay gets a (perfunctory) down screen from Bogut as he zippers up to the top. (This is a common action in the flex system, where someone like Klay cross-screens and then gets a down screen coming up to the top.)

So the end result is that they are in the Post-Cross play, but each player had a pre-screen before getting into position: Lee had a pre-screen getting position, Curry could have had a cross-screen from Klay right at the start of the play, and Klay has had a screen before he gets into the play. If you trace the action, Klay's man got to run by two (terrible) screens and if either of them had connected, Klay would have been wide open.

And here is another example from Part 1 revisited. The play starts with the lag pass. But instead of completing the reversal, Bogut sends the ball back to the strong side which goes straight into Post-Cross with Barnes declining the cross screen and making an excellent cut to the basket.

Why not throw the ball into the post without the reversals? Well, they could do that. But by reversing and then reversing back, you can see Lee gets time to re-post with his defender's vision turned away as he tracks the reversal. (He actually could have re-posted all the way into the paint... I'm not sure why he didn't. I think there was a mixup and he was supposed to cross-screen with Klay in the paint and when they didn't they got distracted. Or maybe it's intentional to get a better angle to feed the cutter? Not sure.)

So you can see in these two examples how you can start with the same basic Lag Pass and flow into Post-Cross on either side of the block. Deception and Flexibility!


Quick HORNS Primer. HORNS is not as famous as Pick and Roll/Pop, but it is a very commonly used set. The core formation is this: two bigs stand at the elbows, two smalls stand low and wide and there is a small up top. Top small then throws it to an elbow big and then (usually) runs over to set an off-ball screen for one of the other four people. You can find lots of documentation elsewhere on the intertubes.

Here is a nice compilation of Jackson-era HORNS (that I didn't make). By the end of this short video, I expect you to be able to recognize the HORNS starting formation.

Once you know what HORNS looks like, you can usually recognize it immediately. Teams typically just walk up and set up camp in HORNS... the deception (if any) is not in the format, it's in the question of whom the top small will screen, will he curl back or get a screen, do the weakside men do any cross-screens, etc.

Which Play Is This? Now let's look at a new Warriors Offense play that starts as a Reversal. This beautiful play starts out with a lag pass into a reversal all the way across to Klay, who actually sends a second lag pass which is reversed all the way to Lee. To get the full effect, freeze the video at 0:08 right when Lee claps at the top of the key and is about to get the second reversal pass. Starting from there, can you recognize the play?

You shouldn't be able to recognize the play, but you probably guessed, it's HORNS! A second later, see the bigs at the elbows, the smalls down low, and the small up top (Rush) feeding one elbow (Lee) and walking over to down screen for the weakside small (Klay) who uses the down screen plus the weakside elbow (Bogut) to curl around. Lee feeds him for the nice J.

Unlike most HORNS, this one materialized out of thin air out of the flow of the reversals. When the play starts, through 0:06, it looks like a typical reversal to a Cross-Post, just like above, where the entry could have gone to Bogut and then Klay would have gone to cross-screen for Rush (who's curling up the other side). Bogut is sumo-wrestling with DJ in the paint, so instead, the second reversal happens back to the other side. When Lee gets the ball at 0:08, the team is not in HORNS formation. But Bogut sprints high and Klay wanders low, and in one second, HORNS starts from nowhere.

Midterm Exam

Identify the Plays. In this following clip, the Ws run two plays with five passes each and multiple cuts. To most people (and hopefully for lazy defenses), it's just a blur of movement and criss cross passes. But now given everything we've covered in Part 1 and Part 2, you should be able to explain every single cut, pass and mistake in this sequence. Let's roll.

Okay, the play begins with (wait for it) the three-man Lag Pass and Reversal. The ball comes back for a second lag pass and reversal to Barbosa to Lee. This flows straight into a disguised HORNS set exactly as in the video above (Lee & HaKuz at elbows, Barnes and Klay low, Barbosa up top). As usual for HORNS, Barbosa feeds an elbow (Lee) and goes to screen for a low small (Barnes). In the meantime, the other low small (Klay) uses the weak elbow big as a down screen and Lee finds him for a semi-open jumper. Klay would have been more open except HaKuz whiffed on screening Klay's defender (CDR).

Barnes gets the rebound and wisely resets to Lee, so we get a bonus play to identify. Lee passes to the sideline -- the start of basic Post-Cross from Part 1. Barbosa feeds HaKuz and as usual in Post-Cross goes to screen for Klay (it's a bad screen, more of a slight deflection). You've seen this movie before. Klay gets the ball back and, in homage to Curry who has just fouled out, tries to drive baseline around the double-team and gets trapped in the corner EXACTLY as Curry had been twice at the end of Part 1. He tries to hit HaKuz, but CP3 intercepts. You can bet the team has watched video and put heads together to fix this bug in the play.

Bonus Question: Who Broke The Play?

This next play is fascinating to analyze. Watch it one time and figure out who is to blame for this awful possession.

I'll tell you my thoughts watching it live. Hmm, lots of passing around looking for the open man, the ball gets to Green, good old Draymond, he'll settle them, what the, don't pick and roll there, there's no space, don't shoot that, argh, why is Green playing crazy hero ball? Is it for the contract??

When you watch it in slow motion on tape (and now that we've done Part 1 and Part 2), a completely different story unfolds. You can see the play starts off with a (wait for it) Lag Pass and Reversal. Then you see the bigs Green and Kuz (eventually) come to the elbows... yes, it's disguised HORNS again.

What happens next is only informed speculation, but of course I think I'm right. If the play was to follow the pattern of the first "Which Play Is This?" HORNS video (and many other Ws HORNS plays), then the ball should be passed to Green while Kapono screens weakside for Barnes and Kuz also gives a second screen for Barnes as he curls up. You can see Green is calling for the ball and expects it (0:06).

In the meantime, Kuz is taking his sweet time coming up to the elbow (mistake). When he finally gets there, Kapono passes to Kuz instead of Green (mistake). Green looks at Kuz with the ball thinking What the hell is going on here, I'm supposed to run this play... okay fine we'll do the weak side version of the play (like the previous video in "Identify The Plays") so he turns around and motions for Nedo to curl up around his down screen (0:10). But Nedo has his own ideas and instead cuts backdoor even though his man is looking right at him (mistake) and he's covered and then joins a Shooters Club on the weak side.

Kuz watches Nedo go by and has no place to throw it except to Green. Barnes was supposed to have curled up on Kapono's screen, but he appears to see the confusion unfold and gives up on the play instead of curling (mistake). Now (0:12) Green is stuck with the ball with 8 on the shot clock, completely on an island with all his shooters clustered on the other side of the court, impossible to skip pass to. He's probably wondering Why the hell did Coach put me on Clown Patrol? He signals Kuz to come give him a desperation pick and tries to create at the elbow.

Since Nedo is lounging in the weak corner (mistake), Kapono and Barnes have to drift up and now are standing too close to Green so a single defender can cut Green off from using the pick and going middle, and still cover both Barnes and Kapono at the arc. Now Green is in the fourth stage of grieving, in deep despair, and throws up an awful shot.

So the moral is: when a player as smart as Green does something crazy on the court, it may not be his fault. Everyone else maimed the play but I think the real death blow was when Nedo cut backdoor and then continued to the weakside. This permanently destroyed their spacing and floor balance. If he had cut backdoor and then came back out to the strong corner, Green might have been able to flow it into a side Pick and Roll with shooters spaced.

Final Notes

I hope this was enjoyable and interesting for you. Part 2 has focused on how the Ws use the same play beginning (Lag Pass Reversal with three men high) to flow into different plays. Now don't get me wrong, the Ws do sometimes still (lazily) walk up and run a straight HORNS, ISO or Pick and Roll. But the new offense gives them more flexible ways to get into these sets and I imagine the number of straight plays will decrease over time.

The stuff in Part 1 and Part 2 covers about 50% of the pre-season offense. Maybe another 30% is transition and pushing the ball and the rest is various options off the lag pass reversal and occasionally specific plays like Inbounds Triple Screen, Floppy, Hawk, 25.

I will love to keep writing this kind of post in the future at irregular intervals. Future parts could potentially look at:

More Technical Notes

- the Ws running game

- other options after the Lag Pass and perimeter screens

- focus on different plays

Personnel in the New Offense

- the new offense and The Bench

- Curry's creativity (or lack of) in the new scheme

and updates as we learn more about the actual scheme under the duress of real play.

Also I think it might be fun to look at plays requested. Put any requests in the comments here. I'll try to dig up video and we could analyze them together in future posts.

Thanks for reading, and remember, I think we all love it when people add their own analysis of the video clips. Half of the reason I want to write these is so we can all dig into video of these plays. Also, remember I also love it when people Paypal me LOTS OF MONEY, so get on that.

This FanPost is a submission from a member of the mighty Golden State of Mind community. While we're all here to throw up that W, these words do not necessarily reflect the views of the GSoM Crew. Still, chances are the preceding post is Unstoppable Baby!