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How the Warriors and Rockets offenses are two worlds apart

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The Warriors and Rockets offenses are both prolific but they execute very differently.

Golden State Warriors v Houston Rockets Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

The Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets both sit atop the Western Conference standings at the mid-way point in the season. Both teams are also the highest scoring offenses in the NBA.

Although both teams are well known for their three-point shooting, the Warriors and Rockets are two very different teams in how they run and execute their respective offenses.

The impact of the assist

Currently James Harden averages 9.9 assists per game this season while Chris Paul is averaging 9.1 assists a game. On the surface, that would generally indicate that a high percentage of the Rockets made baskets come off assists. Instead, the Rockets sit at 19th in the league with an assist percentage of 57% (percentage of made baskets via assist).

Additionally, the Rockets assist ratio (percentage of teams possessions ending in an assist) is in the bottom third of the NBA at 16.8%. The Warriors happen to lead the league in both of these categories with an assist percentage of 69.9% and assist ratio of 21.6%.

What this means: The Rockets run a high tempo offense, but their passing efficiency isn’t even up to league average. The stats are mainly a factor of higher volume of plays run.

Digging even deeper, the Warriors rank third in the league in average touches per game at 450. On the flip side, the Rockets average about 385 touches per game which is 29th in the league. This demonstrates the stagnant behavior and lack of ball flow in Rockets offense while the Warriors thrive off of moving the ball.

Isolation Chamber

The lack of ball movement as illustrated in the touches per game leads into the next topic of discussion. What type of offensive plays do both teams generally like to run?

The Rockets lead the league in frequency of their plays coming off isolation at 13% while the Warriors run just 6% of their plays off isolation. Now when we look at individual players who lead the league in percentage of their plays coming from isolation, the numbers make more sense.

Leading the league in isolation plays is James Harden with 31% of his possessions. Who is second in the league? Surprise surprise, it’s Chris Paul at 27% of his possessions.

Dallas Mavericks v Houston Rockets
ISO all day every day
Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images

Just to benchmark these guys against other players in the league (isolation frequency): Kevin Durant (14%), Russell Westbrook (18.8%), Kyrie Irving (15%).

It’s not a surprise that both players like the ball in their hands but it’s a bit peculiar that they both lead the league in isolation plays while on the same team.

On top of isolation plays, the Rockets like to find guys on the perimeter for spot up shots. Roughly 20% of the Rockets plays are spot up jumpers which puts them close to middle of the league. The Warriors run just 14% of their possessions off spot up jumpers which ranks dead last in the league.

Cuts, Screens, and Transition

While the Rockets’ bread and butter are isolation and spot up jumpers, the Warriors dominate in different areas of the game.

The Warriors rank second in the league in transition offense with about 19.3% of their possessions. Most of this comes off of the Warriors ability to push the offense in the open court and find catch and shoot opportunities.

Here is a play where the Warriors inbound the ball to Draymond Green and he takes just two dribbles before he kicks it to Klay Thompson on the wing for a three-pointer.

Other opportunities come off a defensive stops and pushing the same type of tempo with fewer dribbles and more touches.

The Rockets by comparison run about 14.5% of their plays through transition. That ranks around league average.

Another area the Warriors thrive in are off possessions off cuts to the rim. Roughly 13% of the Warriors possessions come off of cuts. As a benchmark, the Sixers are second in the league and just run about 8.9% of their possessions off of cuts. The Rockets rank dead last in this category with just 5.3% of their possessions coming off of cuts.

Here is a common play we see run for Curry as he cuts to the basket:

The Warriors also like to run a lot of plays off of screens. In fact, they also lead the league in that category too. Roughly 12.1% of their possessions come off of screens. The Rockets by comparison are in the lower half of the league with just 4.7% of their possessions coming off of screens.

So what does all of this mean?

The Rockets and Warriors run the two highest scoring offenses in the league while boasting the best offensive ratings and true shooting percentages. However, that is where the similarities end.

The teams execute plays in completely contrasting styles. The Warriors like to move the ball to keep the defense on edge and search for the most efficient shot. The Rockets like to run more isolation plays where the primary ball handler will dictate a drive or kick out for a spot up attempt.

The Warriors’ offense can be run through any number of players which allows them to be more versatile in their play calling. Any guy can cut to the rim or set a screen for another guy. The transition offense can be run through Draymond Green, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, or anyone leading the break. The ball doesn’t stop.

The Warriors and the Rockets are worlds apart in how they run their offenses.

All stats pulled from stats.nba.com