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The Golden Breakdown: Strength (and weakness) in numbers

The Warriors have reached the 41-game mark. Let’s take a look at a few of the numbers that have defined the first half of the season for the defending champions.

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NBA: Golden State Warriors at Sacramento Kings Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The Golden State Warriors have always been analyzed under the microscope of statistics; after all, their style of play — both on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor — have gone beyond statistical precedents, making them a darling of advanced statistics junkies and analysts. Coupled with the fact that they are considered the top dogs of the NBA, their performance on a per-game basis is continually being scrutinized.

The halfway point of the season has come and gone, and it has been a wild joyride of a first half. The initial rise toward what seemed like a dominant season quickly turned into an ugly series of events, both on and off the court. With a record of 27-14, the Warriors have stumbled after initially gaining a tremendous head start.

For this edition of The Golden Breakdown, let’s take a look at a few of the team’s numbers that have defined this roller coaster season so far for the defending champions.

113.7 – The Warriors’ offensive rating through 41 games

NBA: New York Knicks at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Go on Twitter, peruse all of the tweets from Warriors’ fans, read comments and posts from Reddit, or even from some of the comments being posted on this site — and it would be easy to conclude that the Warriors are mightily struggling on offense. On the contrary, their offensive rating of 113.7 points scored per 100 possessions is still ranked 1st in the NBA.

Despite all of the complaints about the perceived misuse of Stephen Curry by the coaching staff, Kevin Durant’s penchant for going on isolation possessions, Klay Thompson’s unprecedented shooting slump that has stretched for almost half a season, and Draymond Green being the modern-day Tony Allen, the Warriors are still getting the most of out of their motion offense, with a huge boost from their two MVP superstars.

It’s hard to believe that the Warriors are still the most efficient offensive team in the league. Not too long ago — after a 10-2 start that had everyone smelling another record-breaking regular season — the injury to Curry put a wrench in their early season period of joy. With Durant and Thompson shouldering the scoring responsibilities, the Warriors had an offensive rating of 109.7, which would be 13th in the current rankings. This much is obvious: Curry is a big part of the Warriors’ offensive identity, and he is the engine that keeps the machine running.

The proof is also in the numbers; in the first 12 games of the season before Curry’s injury, the Warriors posted an astronomical offensive rating of 118.8; since Curry’s return, their offensive rating is 112.8 — much lower than pre-Curry injury, but still better than it was without the two-time MVP.

With that said, the fact that the Warriors were able to reach an offensive rating of 118.8 — which would have been the highest in NBA history if it were maintained all season long — brings about questions of how much the Warriors would be better off right now if Curry had stayed healthy.

One thing to watch out for in terms of the Warriors’ continuing offensive experimentation is the eventual addition of DeMarcus Cousins. An offensive juggernaut himself, Cousins will no doubt prove to be a boost to an already talented scoring lineup — assuming that he will integrate himself seamlessly into the system.

108.9 – The Warriors’ defensive rating through 41 games

NBA: New York Knicks at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Offense — or the perceived lack of it — has been at the forefront of the various amounts of criticism directed toward the Warriors. But perhaps the most egregious pitfall for them so far this season has been their steep decline on the defensive end. Once considered the best defense in the NBA — ranking 1st in defensive rating in the 2014-15 season and 2nd during the 2016-17 season — the Warriors are currently ranked 16th in the league, allowing 108.9 points per 100 possessions. This is on track to be their worst defensive rating in the regular season during their current five-year dynastic run.

While the early season absence of Green due to a lingering toe injury contributed to the Warriors’ struggles on defense — they are sporting a defensive rating of 102.6 with him on the court as opposed to 110.9 with him off it — several other factors, such as difficulty in defending three-point shots, have been equally important. Save for last season — when they finished 10th in opponent three-point field goal percentage — the Warriors have always finished within the top five in that category, peaking during the 2016-17 season when they finished as the best team at defending the three-point shot (32.4 percent). Last season, they finished outside of the top five, allowing opponents to shoot 35.7 percent from three-point range.

This season, they are currently ranked 9th, with opponents shooting 34.4 percent from three. They have already been part of two record breaking games involving three-point shots: they allowed the Los Angeles Clippers to shoot 18-of-23 from three-point range, setting a new record for three-point field goal percentage in a single game (78.2 percent); along with the Sacramento Kings, a new record for three-point field goals in a single game was set at 41. Furthermore, they allowed the Kings to shoot a franchise-record 20-of-36 on threes, good for 55.6 percent.

Another interesting statistic to take note of: the Warriors have given up a total 1,652 “wide-open” and “open” three-point shots combined — the most in the NBA, according to Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic.

Coupled with the fact that they seem to be allowing a lot of points in the paint — ranked 16th in the league with 48.6 — the Warriors aren’t living up to their reputation as an elite defensive squad. The effort — or lack thereof — is quite noticeable, at times letting the opponent penetrate too easily, or sagging off of players for prolonged periods, resulting in back cuts, dives, and open shooters on the perimeter.

Of course, the Warriors proved during the 2017-18 season that they could coast their way toward the playoffs while playing mediocre defense. It was during the playoffs that they then turned on the switch and put the clamps on their opponents. Their defensive rating of 101.7 led all playoff teams, and it was a testament to the fact that their ability to play excellent defense was solely dictated by them and them alone.

Perhaps this season is another instance of defensively coasting their way toward another playoff berth, after which they will wake up from their defensive hibernation and start to care a whole lot more. When asked about the team’s struggles on defense amid a league where defending is much more of a challenge, Thompson didn’t seem all too concerned.

“I think we’re getting better. Defense might be harder, but we still do what other teams do less on offense. … Obviously the game gets called differently come playoff time, but at the end of the day, we have the most talent offensively, so we shouldn’t be too worried about defensive rules,” said Thompson.

32.4 – The Warriors’ three-point attempts per game

NBA: New York Knicks at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

For a team that has three of the best shooters in the league, the Warriors do not belong to the list of teams that jack up threes at an extremely high rate. Consider this: in 2015-16, the Warriors topped the league in three-point attempts per game at 31.6. They have barely exceeded that number so far this season at 32.4, yet it pales in comparison to the current league leaders: the Houston Rockets, who attempt 42.8 threes per game.

It seemed like it was only yesterday that the Warriors were the poster team for the three-point shot, but the rest of the league not only has caught up with them, but has shot past them (pun intended). It’s unusual for a team that has two of the best three-point shooters in the history of the league to be stuck in the middle of the pack in terms of attempts. But as Steve Kerr pointed out before, the Warriors’ tendency to not hunt for the three with reckless abandon is by design.

“What I care about is great shots. I want to get really good open shots. Doesn’t matter if they’re from three or two. But I want them to be good ones, in rhythm. I’m not entirely convinced that math is everything. I’d rather go 6-for-12 from two and have the team take the ball out of the net six times than go 4-for-12 from three and have to deal with eight fastbreaks,” Kerr answered when asked about the Warriors’ relatively low ranking in three-point attempts.

While the Warriors may not be jacking up as much threes as people expect them to be, they are among the league leaders in a category that should matter more.

38.1 – The Warriors’ three-point field goal percentage

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Sacramento Kings Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Going by pure percentage alone, the Warriors still knock down their threes at a rate that is higher than all but three teams — their 38.1 percent shooting from beyond the arc is ranked fourth, behind the Clippers, the Kings, and the San Antonio Spurs.

In a league where most teams are trending toward maximizing their three-point volume shooting, the Warriors are sticking to the philosophy of being as efficient in shooting the three as possible.

“It’s the type of threes you get. The last few games have been really good ones for the most part in terms of moving the basketball and finding the open guy,” Curry answered when asked about the Warriors’ recent shooting success. “Shooting 44 percent on them is key. You can put up 43 bad ones and it doesn’t really do anything for you. That’s what we’re proud of the most.”

Tomorrow we’ll take a closer look at some of the individual numbers underlying these team statistics.

*Stats are current as of Jan. 8, obtained from NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com

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