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Explain One Odd Play: Draymond Green Pass to Stephen Curry Layup

Video breakdown of a play from the Warriors-Lakers game on Jan 5 2016.

Jason Thompson, man of mystery.
Jason Thompson, man of mystery.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

What a mess. This was a painful game to watch. You knew the Warriors were going to win, but they were playing at about 50% power and precision the whole game. The main tension was whether Curry was going to get his leg swept (answer: yes).

For the previous Lakers game, the Warriors broke out three new plays, shipped in by the mysterious shadow coach known only as "Steve Kerr". This game was such a broken down mess and Klay Thompson got off to such a hot start that most of the Warriors plays were quick transition hitters and trying to force feed Klay. Then the Lakers defense in general was so shambolic that it was hard to tell what was a play and what was taking advantage of broken coverage.

Anyway, here is one simple play I haven't seen the Warriors run in precisely this way, which resulted in a pretty pass from Draymond Green to a Stephen Curry layup. But the truth is, I can't quite figure out what the play is supposed to be because the Lakers defense was so terrible.  First, a refresher.

Refresher: Back Screens

A player who cuts towards the baseline can get a screen which keeps his defender "back" away from following him to the basket. This is called a "back screen".  Here is an example from the Pacers game, a gorgeous back screen that Klay Thompson sets for Andrew Bogut who shambles into the play late:

Indeed, basically almost all set plays for Andrew Bogut's alley-oop dunks are back screens like this from Klay or Steph, or fake pindown screens, as we examined in Explain 1 Play: Bogut Alley-Oop Dunk from Iguodala.

Tonight's Odd Play

Tonight's odd play actually looks rather similar to the back screens the Warriors run for the Bogut alley-oops (as shown above) and the back screens set for the Warriors Rip play (detailed in Explain One Play: Curry Screen = Barnes Dunk AGAIN).  Let's just look at the play, and then reflect on what the play was supposed to accomplish.

It's clear that the set part of the play has Curry running across the court and suddenly cutting towards the baseline while getting a back screen from Jason Thompson at the elbow.  What the Warriors could not have hoped for is that both Jason Thompson's defender stay glued to Jason while Curry's defender got completely consumed by Jason's grabby screen. This left Curry completely wide open. At that point, it was a matter of Curry cutting to open space and Draymond hitting him with a nice crisp pass.

Okay, so NBA level defense will not typically double team Jason Thompson and leave Curry open. So what could the play be intended to achieve? If it was anyone besides Curry cutting, this play might get an alley-oop at the rim. But that's obviously not going to happen here.

My best guess is that option 1 is for Curry to get open under the basket for a back screen when the screener's defender is too slow to switch. This is very Next Level since the Warriors are trying to deepen their offense to handle defenders denying passes to Curry at the arc.

Option 2 is to create a switch and have Curry guarded by a slow big and Jason Thompson guarded by a small at the elbow.  The passing angle is very awkward for Draymond to enter a pass to Curry on a mismatch (which would happen at the low post to the right of the basket), but it's not awkward to enter a pass to Jason Thompson posting up a small defender at the elbow (or if both defenders go to Curry, he will be open for an elbow jumper).

So in the end, given that the Warriors ran one or two further plays involving Jason T, my interpretation of this play is that it is supposed to get Jason Thompson an elbow jumper or a post-up on a small defender mismatch. But the Lakers defended it so badly, it got Curry a backdoor layup instead.

Bonus Dot Diagram of Play

Final Thoughts

It should have been fun to dissect Klay's 22 points in the first quarter, but I don't think there's a lot to dissect. A lot of early offense 3's, some very simple drives to the hoop, a nice backdoor cut by Klay, with poor defense throughout.

It feels like the Warriors discombobulate their offense when they go into conceptual modes like "let's get Klay more points" or "let's get Draymond assists for a triple-double".  In a serious game, that's bad basketball, but good basketball team-togetherness building. It's a long season, so the more subgoals the Warriors can come up with, the better.

Jason Thompson still doesn't seem up to the speed of the game. At least one Curry pass whizzed by him today, resulting in a turnover.  At least he caught that behind-the-back Curry feed for the dunk!

If you want to read more breakdowns, check out the rest of the series of Explain One Play articles. For the full updated index, go to The Explain One Play series index.

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