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Why the Warriors are the golden standard: A statistical analysis

After winning three out of the past four Finals, let’s take a look at what helped the Warriors win back-to-back titles from an analytics point of view.

Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Golden State Warriors have enjoyed a lot of success over the past couple of seasons - bringing back home a championship trophy for three out of the past four years, they have a lot to be happy about. While other teams try to find ways to topple the Warriors(see Houston Rockets), let’s try to look at what makes the Warriors such a special team.

#1. The Warriors have rare consistency in knocking down threes

The first and most obvious thing that sets the Warriors apart is their ability to shoot and knock down 3-pointers. Any random, average basketball fan could tell you that the Golden State Warriors are known for their barrage of threes throughout the games, and there are two notable players who contribute to such notoriety: Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. While most NBA fans know them as two perennial All-Stars, the Warriors fans have a special title for their two beloved long range snipers - the Splash Brothers.

The first category that Curry stands out in is true shooting percentage. Curry led the league last year with a .675 true shooting percentage. The next non-post players who had the best true shooting percentages were Kyle Korver and Kevin Durant, who shot .652 and .640, respectively. True shooting percentage not only takes into account the points scored and shots attempted, but also takes into consideration the number of free throw attempts.

Taking a look at the equation for true shooting percentage, Curry stands out because of the sheer volume of shots that he has took last season. Based on position roles, it’s ordinary to assume that post players would have the highest true shooting percentage — seeing as how they have a higher field goal percentage, we would expect their true shooting percentage to be high as well. However, Curry defies those odds — he holds the best true shooting percentages in the league, and it’s because of his rare ability to shoot (and make) shots from long range.

In other words, this statistic isn’t supposed to give value to the pure number of three pointers that Curry made, but rather the efficiency in which he makes them — this is a true testament to his ability to not only be precise, but also repetitive, with his shot.

For those who argue that Curry’s true shooting percentage is inflated because of his free throw percentage (in which he also led the league), you are correct, at least partially. However, this argument is non unique. “Inflated” gives a negative connotation that the quoted statistics does not accurately represent the players ability on the field. However, the argument that his free throws inflate his TS% can be made for almost any player in the league.

Basically, almost every single player’s free throw percentage helps, instead of hurts, their true shooting percentage. Based on the true shooting percentage equation, if free throws make up 88% of a player’s true shooting percentage (or 0.88 * TS%), then they break even — the player’s free throw production is then independent of the value of their given true shooting percentage. In other words, if a player’s free throw percentage eclipses 88 percent of their true shooting percentage, then their true shooting percentage is positively affected.

When taking a look at the true shooting percentage, the Warriors led all the other teams in the league at 60.3%, with the next best team being the Houston Rockets at 59.0%. The difference isn’t huge (probably around 27 extra shot attempts on Houston’s part...), but it was subtle enough for Golden State to march their way to another championship.

#2. The Warriors know how to pass, and how to pass well

Throughout the past couple of seasons, the Warriors have also stood out because of their high assist ratio.

The reason why I like taking the assist ratio statistic as opposed to the assist rate and assist percentage is because it takes into account the total number of field goals attempted as well as the number of turnovers that a team commits. In other words, the teams with higher assist ratios are the ones who actually get more assists per field goal attempts and who don’t commit that many turnovers, which should be telling of the Warriors assist ratio given their high turnover rate.

For a team like the Warriors, this statistics speaks more loud and clear than it would for most teams. Since the Warriors do not run an ISO offense as much as other teams, their assist ratio is a testament to their ability to pass, and everything that leads up to the pass that generates a shot - the off-ball screens, the occasional double team, and their ability to read such defensive adjustments.

However, that’s not to say that the Warriors aren’t capable of running an ISO offense if they wanted to. Having the versatility to run both offenses makes opposing defenses have to worry about that much more.

The high assist ratio is also due to the fact that they have some players who can shoot lights out when they are open. As defenses converge onto a specific player as they drive or become open, then that, in turn, opens up opportunities for other players. And that is why the Warriors “death lineup” is so lethal, because every player is capable of knocking down a three pointer.

#3. The Warriors know how to make the most out of every possession

The final statistic that stands out from these Warriors is their offensive efficiency rating.

Taking a look at the team’s statistics, the Warriors top the league in the points per game category, at 112.3, just ahead of the Rockets. We can assume that the reason why they are tops in the league is because they have a combination of exceptional ball movement as well as pinpoint shooting, and they have mastered that craft enough to be the best in the league.

Being efficient with the ball means being able to take care of it when you have possession of it, and being sure that you come away with a shot that the team generally wants. This is especially true of a team that has a tendency to turn the ball over a decent amount too, like the Warriors. They were tied for the second highest turnover ratio with the Atlanta Hawks.

However, when they do not turn the ball over, they do an exceptional job at making sure they get the most of their possessions. What’s also important to note is that as they continue to make shots and get the most out of their possessions, it helps their defense. They are allowed to set up on defense and not be subject to fast break opportunities by the opposition.

There are many more reasons why the Warriors were able to win back-to-back championships. Coach Steve Kerr, basketball intelligence, and a roster stacked with natural talent are just to name a few. As they continue to progress and with the addition of DeMarcus Cousins, it will be interesting to see how these statistical advantages that have favored the Warriors will progress throughout this season.

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