Offensive adjustments and understanding the Golden State Warriors' Weave
This is the first of a series of short articles focusing on adjustments made to the offense and defense as the season has progressed. We do a deep dive into one fun play that the Warriors have installed, the Weave.
This season has already brought a series of big challenges and opponent adjustments, and Steve Kerr, Alvin Gentry, Ron Adams and the rest of the coaching staff (henceforth referred to as KerrCo) have done an outstanding job responding. It's a testament to the power of having three top NBA minds -- each of whom could run their own team -- collaborating and sharing credit.
Below I list what I see as the big challenges so far. Most of the article will be on #1. I hope to write follow-up articles on the other challenges.
Learning the New Playbook. (A little more detail below, with a big deep dive into the Warriors Weave.)
Opponents Pass Denial. As teams have begun to scout out the W's playbook, they have started to recognize basic play structures. Teams are now trying to deny the pass into the first option. The main W's counter has been an increase in backdoor cuts. This has been very effective and beautiful.
Opponents Blitzing Double Team of Curry. Cut off the head of the snake, the snake dies. The W's took all of last year's Clippers playoff series to figure out how to counter the double-team blitz of Curry. The Xmas Clippers game showed the W's were not (yet) ready to counterpunch the Blitz. The Raptors, Pacers and Hawks, among other teams, have adopted this strategy against Curry. The Warriors' counter has been improved spacing and quick cuts when your defender leaves to double team. This has worked with some mixed positive results.
Juggling Personnel. Just juggling minutes and lineups has been a challenge. Andrew Bogut has missed 12 games and David Lee missed much of the season. Festus Ezeli is in and out. Bogut begins missing time on December 8th vs. MIN; despite this, the W's extend their streak to 16 in a row. During this phase, KerrCo starts Marreese Speights at C even though Lee returns. Just getting Andre Iguodala and Lee to come off the bench has been a masterpiece of player sacrifice and coach motivation. (Others have written well about this, so this won't get an expanded piece.)
Trying to Activate the Bench. The W's have been challenged getting the bench players into their offensive sweet spots -- Shaun Livingston in the post, Leandro Barbosa driving and taking very open threes, Justin Holiday cutting and spotting up for three, Speights taking elbow jumpers, Lee attacking the post in motion, getting Andre to take any shot. The easy diagnosis is that there's no spacing on the bench, and I think the easy diagnosis happens to be true. KerrCo has tried bench mob and also mixing in bench players with Curry/Klay. This is an ongoing project with more misses than hits so far.
Learning the New Playbook
When the Warriors began this season, no one really knew what to expect. We heard Kerr talking about more passing, more big passing, rhythm and pace. We knew that in theory the offense would improve, but there would be an adjustment period. I personally figured conservatively that it could be a wash and I hoped for a new improvement to 55 wins plus momentum and togetherness going into the playoffs. Instead, they exploded out of the gate with poise and savvy.
In preseason we saw them introduce the basics: the reversals, post-cross, HORNS and various other sets. (See our coverage of the Offense Part 1 and Part 2).
The W's showed a pleasing flowing offense though the first seven games, though their horrific 20-ish turnovers per game ensured that their offensive rating was only middle of the field. So after the Suns and Spurs game, the team realized they were dropping winnable games through turnovers. (See Notes on Turnovers.)
As Curry and others mentioned, the W's simplified the offense in order to cut down on the number of options and reduce turnovers. The offense was stripped down to the basics of: early quick offense (with Green setting drag screens at the top of the key), reversals, post-cross (post splits, official name), curls for Klay Thompson, HORNS for the bench, plus a few other plays. Options were reduced to lessen the reads and communication needed. It worked, and the offense began a steady upswing in efficiency.
Now that a stable base offense has been installed, with really sound principles of play and sharing, slowly more plays are being worked into the offense (Welcome back, Elevator Doors. More HORNS sets, nice to see you again.) A wider range of set out-of-bounds plays are being installed.
To keep this article from getting too long, we will just focus on the most fun-looking new play in the W's playbook, the Weave.
Understanding The Warriors Weave
On first glance, this play just looks like a rush of players going back and forth. Something like this:
The first few times I saw the play, I wasn't sure what was the set play, how much was improvised, and what possible outcomes there were. Now that I've seen dozens of these, I can say it's actually a pretty simple play with a very consistent outcome.
1. The Basic Weave
Here is the classic recipe for the weave, with the starters (though other personnel can and do use this play). As usual, we start with a Lakers clip so you can see the play run with token defense.
Let's break this down in detail. You start off with Klay wide left, Draymond Green middle left, Bogut middle right, and Harrison Barnes wide right. Like this:
The goal of the play is ALWAYS to end up with a Bogut-Klay high pick and roll like this:
That's Klay splashing a three as Kobe Bryant says "I'm too old to fight around a Bogut pick."
Now, we could just have Klay dribble into a high pick and roll. But wouldn't the pick and roll be better if somehow Barnes could dribble-pitch to Klay and take out Klay's man before the pick and roll, effectively giving Klay a double screen? Of course. So here is Barnes dribble pitching to Klay RIGHT BEFORE the high pick and roll with Bogut pictured before.
Now, for floor spacing, it would be great to have Curry and Green spotting up around the arc so no one could help out on the dribble-pitch to pick and roll. If they just stand around on the arc, the whole D will know they are only there for spacing. It would be better to get them there IN MOTION. So, let's have the play begin with Curry dribble-pitching to Green and going to one corner, and Green going to the other corner after dribble-pitching to Barnes.
Watch the full play again, but you now know that Curry will toss to Green who tosses to Barnes, and they will both cut through as spot-up shooters at the arc. Then Barnes will dribble-pitch to Klay who then gets a pick and roll with Bogut with three shooters spacing at the arc. I've embedded it again for your convenience:
Also notice how the back and forth motion makes defenders have to dodge each other as they cross laterally, and how the double screen at the end is tricky for Klay's man to navigate. (In this case, it's Kobe, but imagine someone actually trying on defense.)
The funny thing about this play is now you can understand all other instances. It is always EXACTLY the same in terms of floor arrangement. The players will set up across the middle of the floor, say A B C D from left to right. Someone brings up the ball (E). Then E pitches to B, who pitches to D, who pitches to A, who gets a pick and roll with C. Even if the personnel changes, the play still runs relative to the positions on the court, so whoever is on the far left ends up with a pick and roll with the guy on the right middle. The variations that happen come out of changes in how the defense responds to the pick and roll.
2. Weave, Defenders Switch on PnR
Here is a second example. The initial camera angle is artistic, but you can see the exact same setup and passes happen, ending with Barnes dribble-pitching to Klay, and putting a first screen on Klay's man Tyreke Evans. Then Bogut nails Evans a second time in the pick and roll with Klay. Now Klay has the big Omer Asik backing up and he runs by him and past two other defenders.
Why didn't the other two defenders help? Because Barnes and Curry are spotted up at the arc, and help would mean an open 3. Why didn't Anthony Davis come over to help? Because then Green is open in the corner. As it turns out, Klay misses the layup on the Asik contest, but Bogut has been trailing the whole time, knowing that (because of the switch) he only has the mouse in the house Evans boxing him out. Bogut gets the huge putback slam.
3. Weave, Defenders Double-team on PnR
So what happens if the pick and roll gets blitzed? Here is another one that runs with the classic recipe of starters.
Bogut comes down a little to properly block off Klay's man. New Orleans doubles Klay so Bogut rolls to the hoop. Jrue Holiday on the weakside alertly rotates over to pick up Bogut in the paint, but has to leave Curry open in the corner. Klay makes a good find and a scary-but-effective rainbow skip pass to Curry. Holiday makes a nice recovery, but Curry gets off his patented quick-release 3 and scores.
4. Weave, Defenders ICE the PnR
The play can be run, of course, with different personnel. Here Andre is in for Barnes and Mo is in for Bogut. It ends with a Klay-Mo pick and pop, since the Bulls ICE the screen.
The Bulls alertly rotate to Speights, knowing his sweet spot, but this leaves both Andre and Curry being defended on the weak side by Derrick Rose. Andre very wisely cuts to the hoop to make Rose choose. Rose chooses Curry, probably a good idea in general, but even Andre wouldn't decline a dunk alone under the basket and Mo makes the correct read.
Final Exam Question
Okay, let's see if you have the hang of the Warriors Weave. Here is the start of a Weave. You can see the Ws have SL bringing up the ball, with from left to right, Barbosa, Barnes, Mo and Andre. What will happen on the play? Remember, it's the physical position on the court that determines who gets the ball. Peek at the A B C D thing at the end of (1) if you can't figure it out.
Okay, let's roll tape.
Were you right? The answer was SL to Barnes to Andre to a Barbosa-Mo pick and roll.
Here are a few more notes on the play.
Mo does not make contact on his screen. He slips it way too early.
It doesn't matter that Mo missed the screen because Barbosa puts his head down and turns on the jets to go by everyone. I'm not sure what he would have done if he were cut off -- it's the good and bad of LB in one second.
This play should not work. In slow-mo, the correct play is for Wes Matthews to help off of SL in the corner and to cut off LB in the paint. This connects to the basic problem for where to play SL. If it's not in the post, then his man can double team.
Andre goes way out of his way to NOT make contact on the screen in the dribble-pitch. I hadn't quite realized how much he avoids contact on screens, but in the dozens of Weaves I watched, Andre did not set a screen with contact ever. This makes sense if you believe his health is fragile. On the other hand, if this pattern holds (Andre never screens), this will make it a little difficult for him to play with the full range of the offensive playbook, because KerrCo's system really goes better if EVERYONE screens or threatens to screen on plays. This deserves its own post...
The Weave has a lot of elements that KerrCo wanted to see in the offense. The ball switches sides multiple times, the pick and roll/pop happens in motion and with deception, every player is involved in the play, and good spacing makes the play possible. It's also fun to watch, but it isn't really much more complex than a simple high pick and roll with shooters spaced. As the Weave is scouted, the Ws will have to find counters to the counters. In fact, the Ws also have a variation on the Weave where Green does a fake Weave and drives instead. But to keep the article short, we skipped that -- maybe next time.
So, this is my first post as an official staffer! I'd like to keep doing these occasional deep dives into the playbook and into various issues of import. I have ideas for a few more of these features, as I listed above. However, I am always interested in getting guidance from the community on what other topics to handle, or whether to increase/decrease the technical level or otherwise make this an enjoyable read for you. I also really like it when people point out things in the videos that I didn't talk about or notice, so don't be shy. I'm learning too.