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Synergy Sports Data: The Golden State Warriors versus four dangerous teams

Synergy Sports provides an interesting lens to examine what the Warriors do well, in terms of both offensive and defensive efficiency. This article compares them to the Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls, Memphis Grizzlies, and San Antonio Spurs.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Why those four teams? Because they each have: an outstanding coaching staff, consistency with their roster (compared to both the beginning of the season and last season), great chemistry, and a win against the Warriors this season (2 of them at home). If there are more teams you'd like to see in this discussion, please let me know in the comments.

This article looks at:

  • How these teams like to end their offensive possessions
  • How efficient they are at finishing in different ways
  • What kind of plays the Warriors are particularly strong/weak at defending
  • What kind of plays the Warriors' defense is good at preventing/encouraging

And here we go...

SPOT UP

What does Synergy define as a spot up play? Basically a catch-and-shoot or a catch-and-drive. The Bulls, Grizzlies, Hawks, and Spurs finish more offensive possessions with spot up plays than any other kind of play. According to league-wide data, spot ups are the 4th most efficient way to finish an offensive possession (out of 10). More on this later.

% off. pos. ending in a spot up Efficiency (pts/100 spotups) League rank (efficiency)
Golden State Warriors 16.8% 110.0 1st
Atlanta Hawks 21.9% 107.3 2nd
Chicago Bulls 18.3% 105.3 4th
San Antonio Spurs 23.7% 103.2 7th
Memphis Grizzlies 17.3% 89.9 26th

Why is this relevant? Well, the Warriors happen to be #1 in the league at defending spot up plays. That's the sound of Dubs fans licking their chops.

Spot up plays are often a reference to a team moving the ball well, and finding the open man. This is probably particularly true of Atlanta and San Antonio. So does defending spot ups well in this case mean that the open man is less open? Or that the defense is willingly pushing the ball towards an open shooter that they want to shoot? Maybe the defense enjoys funneling drivers towards Andrew Bogut? A combination of all the above? We have to be careful what kind of conclusions we draw from these advanced metrics, but this is certainly good news.

POST UP

It should come as no surprise that Memphis leads this group by finishing 14% of their offensive possessions with post ups (2nd most common finish for them). The Spurs and Bulls are hovering around 10%, while the Hawks and Warriors are not big fans (around 5%). Post ups are not particularly efficient plays league-wide (8th out of 10). Obviously the efficiency depends on the players involved.

Since the Warriors use a lot of small-ball lineups, and defend the perimeter well, they're probably not so hot at defending post ups, right? Wrong. The Dubs lead the league in defensive efficiency at 77.2 points per hundred post ups. Andrew Bogut doesn't enjoy being scored on in the post, and neither does Draymond Green for that matter:

Total post ups defended Points allowed per 100 post ups
Ognjen Kuzmic 7 28.6
Andrew Bogut 81 63.0
Draymond Green 148 70.9
Harrison Barnes 52 75.0
Marreese Speights 90 93.3
Festus Ezeli 26 100.0
David Lee 30 103.3

The Warriors' coaching staff has often shown the propensity to double in the post, especially with size mismatches, often forcing the ball out of the post. This is important to consider in conjunction with the above stats - a lot of those possessions are probably match-ups that the staff and players think are favorable. I was so excited to see Barnes doing well in the above table, that I quickly jumped to the conclusion that he's a good post defender. Then I was reminded (thanks Nate!) that Barnes might play most of these possessions against Small Forwards, for whom post ups might not be a strong suit. Kuzmic could definitely use a bigger sample size (actually most could).

PICK AND ROLL

This is another popular one, especially situations where the ball handler is finishing (and very inefficient, 10th out of 10 league-wide). It looks like for these teams, the roll man finishes about half as often as the ball handler, which seems like an exploitable trend. This is the second most common finish for all the teams except for the Warriors and Grizzlies (for both the 3rd most common).

% off. pos. ending in P&R (ball handler) Efficiency (pts/100 P&Rs) League rank (efficiency)
Golden State Warriors 12.1% 87.6 2nd
Memphis Grizzlies 13.7% 84.3 4th
Atlanta Hawks 14.0% 83.3 6th
Chicago Bulls 15.3% 83.3 7th
San Antonio Spurs 14.5% 77.0

21st

% off. pos. ending in P&R (roll man) Efficiency (pts/100 P&Rs) League rank (efficiency)
San Antonio Spurs 5.9% 102.4 7th
Golden State Warriors 6.6% 97.8 13th
Atlanta Hawks 8.9% 97.8 14th
Memphis Grizzlies 7.2% 94.3 17th
Chicago Bulls 5.4% 93.0 21st

The Warriors defend the pick and roll well when it comes to the ball handler, limiting teams to 74.7 points per hundred possessions, good for 9th in the league. They don't do as well defending the roll man though, allowing 106.0 points on those, for a dreary ranking of 29th in the league.

TRANSITION

The Warriors are the only team in the NBA that finishes more possessions with transition plays than any other play (18.5%). Spot up is by far the favorite league-wide. This is probably an indication of how good our defense is. Not sure how sustainable it is that the Warriors continue on this path in the playoffs, considering that the playoffs are filled with the best teams, offensive execution tends to be more crisp (fresher legs, more coaching), and as a result there's often more time spent in half-court sets. No surprise that transition plays are some of the most efficient league-wide (2nd out of 10).

% off. pos. ending in transition Efficiency (points/100 transitions) League rank (efficiency)
Golden State Warriors 18.5% 116.5 4th
Memphis Grizzlies 11.5% 115.2 7th
Atlanta Hawks 14.0% 111.9 12th
Chicago Bulls 12.1% 109.4 18th
San Antonio Spurs 11.8% 97.4 30th

LIMITING EFFICIENT PLAYS

Credit to Nate Parham and this article by Nick Restifo for getting me thinking about this concept.

Here's a ranking of the Synergy plays by efficiency league-wide, as well as how well the Warriors limit those plays from occurring, and their efficiency at defending those plays:

Avg. pts/100 pos. (league average) % of tot. plays that GSW defends % of tot. plays on off. (league average) GSW def. eff. (pts/100 pos.) GSW def eff. ranking
Cut 118.9 6.8% 7.63% 105.6 1st
Transition 110.4 13.5% 13.77% 108.3 14th
Put Back 108.0 6.7% 5.75% 108.5 17th
Spot Up 97.6 16.8% 19.08% 88.7 1st
P&R - Roll 97.0 6.3% 6.83% 106.0 29th
Off Screen 89.3 4.5% 5.05% 86.2 9th
Hand Off 86.3 4.4% 3.78% 77.6 5th
Post Up 85.7 9.0% 9.00% 77.2 1st
Iso 84.9 8.8% 7.78% 76.6 3rd
P&R - Ball 78.6 17.5% 14.96% 74.7 9th

Just looking at the first column of data, you might be tempted to ask: why don't teams run the top 5 most efficient plays more often? Well, some definitely try. But that's a lot easier said then done. Points off cuts are often the result of sloppy defenses, while points in transition are often a result of sloppy offenses on the other end. Also, if you concentrate on some plays too much, you might develop weaknesses (e.g. chasing offensive boards and put backs is usually correlated with a porous transition defense).

Furthermore, if a coach runs an offense that doesn't have enough balance, preparing to defend against the offense becomes easier. If teams just run pick and rolls in order to pass to the roller, the opposing teams can mostly forget about the ball handler, and really lock down the roll man. Not balancing an offense can lead to defenses making otherwise efficient plays a lot less efficient.

This chart should make the 2nd and 3rd columns of data a little easier to decipher:

Why is this important? A team ideally takes away the most efficient options from opposing offenses. For example, in pick and rolls, the roll man tends to finish at a much more efficient clip than the ball handler. So even if a team does not defend the ball handler well by league standards, if the defense as a unit is denying the pass option to the roll man this could lead to a more efficient defense.

How can you tell if the Warriors are preventing certain plays? In the table, if the percentage in the 2nd column of data is lower than the percentage in the 3rd column of data, the Warriors are likely denying that kind of play (in the chart, whenever the blue bar is lower than the red bar). Ideally a team has lower percentages at the top of the table (denies the efficient plays), and larger percentages at the bottom (encourages the inefficient plays). For the chart, the left side represents inefficient plays, so you want to see blue bars larger than red bars there, and the opposite on the right.

In this vein, the Warriors are good at encouraging inefficient plays from their opponents. Opposing teams run more isolation plays, more hand off plays, and more pick and roll where the ball handler finishes (compared to league averages). The Dubs also deny some of the more efficient plays: cuts and spot ups in particular.

The Warriors are poor at defending the roll man in pick and rolls. They are average at defending against offensive rebounds and put backs, but unfortunately opposing teams get more put back opportunities against them than the average. Keep in mind that the Dubs' most valuable asset in preventing offensive boards is Andrew Bogut, and that he's missed significant time. Still not a fun trend.

SUMMARY

What we already knew:

  • The Warriors' offense in transition is one of the best in the NBA
  • Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green are mean post defenders
  • Offensive boards for opponents are a concern
Mostly new?
  • The Warriors are #1 in defensive efficiency for plays finishing in catch-and-shoot and catch-and-drive
  • Spot up plays are the most common way to finish a possession in the NBA, as well as for some of the most dangerous teams
  • The Warriors' defense encourages opposing offenses to finish with inefficient plays: isolations, hand offs, and pick and rolls where the ball handler finishes
  • The defense also limits efficient plays, notably spot ups and cuts
  • The Warriors are poor at guarding pick and rolls where the roll man finishes

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