This is the start of a what I hope is a running series through the season, where we can look at one play from a recent game and do a deep dive analysis. Over the course of the season, I hope this series will illuminate the different pieces of the Warriors schemes. I will try to make it readable for all levels of basketball fans.
Here is a nice play from last night's Pelicans game. A casual viewer might see the Warriors throw the ball around, and the Curry does magic and Bogut gets a dunk. In fact, here, just enjoy it as a fan for its beauty.
From The Spurs Playbook: Motion Strong
I picked this play because I noticed in preseason that the Warriors have been expanding their options out of the Spurs Motion plays, and this play is one option they have been working on.
Here is a rule of thumb to identify Motion Weak and Motion Strong. If you see three Warriors across the top of the court, and a guard swings it from one side of the court to the other, it's probably a Spurs Motion play. When the guard swings it to the center and stays on the original side of the court, it is called a Motion Strong play. If the guard swings it and then cuts across to the non-Strong side, it's called Motion Weak.
So let's look at the play again, but let's attend to the parts of the play.
- The Motion Strong start. Three men across the top, Curry swings the ball to Bogut who swings it to Barnes on the weak side. Curry stays on the strong side.
- First option is Draymond Green gets a screen from Curry and cuts up to the top. Anthony Davis defends as expected, so they move to the next option.
- Second option is a Curry-Green pick and roll. This is the real option the W's are planning on.
- Curry gets a great screen from Green, gets in front of his defender, and drives all the way to the paint. Bogut's defender comes over to help, so Curry makes a wonderful bounce pass to Bogut, who makes a very nice catch and dunk.
I've re-embedded it here for your convenience.
Did You Notice? Big Man Soap Opera
- You can clearly see Perkins very early in the play realizes there is going to be a Curry-Green pick and roll, and he yells and points for his guards (Eric Gordon #10 and Dante Cunningham #44) to be ready to switch on to Bogut when Perkins rotates to stop a Curry drive. Cunningham is distracted covering Barnes in the far corner and lets Bogut roam freely and eventually get the pass for a dunk.
- Bogut recognizes his good fortune about one second after Perkins calls for help, and as Steph turns the corner, he actually motions twice to Steph to throw a lob, since Perkins is far away and Cunningham is small.
- Perkins expected Cunningham to cut off the pass to Bogut and right after the dunk, he gives him a death glare and punches his fist, enacting the Perkins Curse, which will cause Cunningham to get smashed in the head later that game.
What's Good About This Play?
Why not just let Curry and Draymond walk up and settle into a sideline pick and roll with spot-up shooters around the arc? Three reasons: fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency preventing ICE.
Surprise. Just as a general principle, when different plays develop out of the same formation, the defense will be slower to react than if they know exactly what play is coming. Contrast: Lebron James in the Finals with his predictable isolation plays.
Fear. Notice how the other players are in motion for the whole play. Defenders of Barnes and Klay have to track their movements behind them, out of line of sight of the ball. Bogut's defender has to track his movements behind him. As discussed above, this is the key to the whole second part of the play because the motion makes both Perkins and Cunningham lose Bogut.
Ruthless Efficiency. The best (in my opinion) defense scheme against the sideline pick and roll usually is ICE, which is run by the Warriors themselves (documented in detail here). The early motion makes the ICE defense impossible. ICE defense requires Anthony Davis to sag back to the paint while Ish Smith puts himself between Curry and Green to force Curry towards the sideline and a waiting Anthony Davis. But just before this, Curry was screening AD while Draymond cut up top, so AD had to come out to respect Draymond's competent three point range. Then Green runs to set the screen, making it hard for Smith to get between him and Curry, and for AD to sag into the paint.
That leaves the only viable defense options:
- Anthony Davis to switch to stop Curry (leaving Draymond to post up the small),
- Anthony Davis to come out to harass Curry until Ish can recover (likely allowing Curry to run around him),
- blitz Curry with Ish in a double team (like the Cavs did in the Finals, letting the rest of the Warriors play 4 on 3),
- Ish Smith to go under the screen (which is suicide against Curry)
- or the actual answer: Ish going over the screen and letting Curry in the lane to finish over Perkins, except instead Curry found Bogut due to Pelicans Big Man Soap Opera.
- It is usually foolish to ICE a Curry pick and roll since he is so adept at the midrange jumper that ICE gives up. But Anthony Davis may be the one big who can ICE a Curry pick and roll.
- Curry tossed in 24 points on 12 shots in the first quarter without trying too hard. Then he spent the rest of the game trying to set up Klay, Barnes and others and scored another 16 on only 14 further shots. What other top player would have done that?