The Golden State Warriors, after spending 96 minutes on an NBA court during the 2019-2020 season, finally had their first lead of the season.
It was somewhat poetic that the Warriors’ dynamic duo of Stephen Curry and Draymond Green, the grizzled and battle-hardened veterans of this young squad, were the ones to lead them out of the doldrums. It was through this sequence, the Warriors’ first possession of the game.
The very presence of Curry is what makes this play possible, but credit must also be given to Green for his situational and positional awareness. The New Orleans Pelicans’ interior defense was nonexistent, and it allowed Green’s fake hand-off to catch them unawares for his easy stroll toward the rim.
That first lead for the Warriors during this season ended up portending the Warriors’ success against the Pelicans, eventually leading to their first win of the season. After suffering two consecutive blowout defeats, the Warriors handed out one of their own, getting a much needed wire-to-wire 134-123 victory.
The final score may have indicated a win by 11, but the Warriors led this game by as much as 29 and never gave up the lead. Their scoring harkened back to years past, when they became the NBA’s most dominant offensive team. Only a last second surge by the Pelicans’ garbage time crew cut the final score to an 11-point victory for the Warriors.
And they did it on the shoulders of their two best players, whose first sequence set an example that the rest of the team soon followed.
Curry’s role on offense
Going into the game against the Pelicans, head coach Steve Kerr grabbed headlines after being asked about the possibility of using Curry in a high-usage role with lots of on-ball screening action.
Should Steve Kerr crank Steph Curry’s usage? “We could turn him into James Harden and give him the ball every play, but that’s hard to do. You have to build a team for that..I don’t think the answer is just run a million high screens. We don’t really have the personnel for that.” pic.twitter.com/p0w4ks7Rnb— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) October 28, 2019
Within Warriors fandom — especially within that small but highly vocal subset that is Warriors Twitter — there is that specific school of thought that Curry’s usage should increase, and that the Warriors should utilize him in a similar manner as James Harden or Damian Lillard. That is, run endless pick-and-rolls and let Curry create shots for himself and his teammates, who theoretically should all be situated around the perimeter as spacers.
The problem with this is that the Warriors are simply not built like the Houston Rockets or the Portland Trail Blazers. As Kerr mentioned, they simply lack the spot-up shooting personnel like the Rockets have, nor do they have the kind of athletic and dynamic roll men that the Blazers possess. Defenses can simply hedge or trap Curry off of the pick-and-roll, simply because they are content with letting every other Warrior shoot.
On the other hand, there is one aspect that I do agree with, and it is that Curry must be used more as the focal point of the offense. Without Curry being the engine that keeps the machine running, it simply ceases to run smoothly, if it manages to run at all. Curry screening for Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, or Klay Thompson was acceptable in the past, but Curry screening for Omari Spellman or Marquese Chriss isn’t ideal. This might not be the time for using Curry as an off-ball screening threat. As good of a supporting actor as he may be, Curry needs to be the leading man in this screenplay.
With that said, there are a number of ways the offense can run through the two-time MVP without necessarily resorting to several high pick-and-rolls in succession.
Take this possession, for instance.
Looks familiar, doesn’t it? It’s a staple low-post split action from the Warriors, with Green running things from the low post. The Warriors have been running this action for nearly six years now, yet despite the amount of repetitions it has had on the floor — enough for teams to scout and stop it — it still is deadly. Why? Because Curry running around the floor and making things hard for the defense to keep track of him is what makes this effective. Watch Damion Lee, who runs just ahead of Curry on the weak side. He eventually spots up at the top of the arc, unguarded and left alone, and shoots the open three.
But that doesn’t mean the Warriors shouldn’t rely on the pick-and-roll at all. Offensive versatility is a must for this young team, and while keeping it simple all the time might not be the right approach, sprinkling in a bit of simplicity would go a long way toward establishing a rhythm on offense.
The sequence above involves a bit of misdirection and trickery. It initially looks like a Curry/Chriss pick-and-roll, but it’s the initial action that disguises the actual set. The play develops into a quick-hitting split action, with Curry relocating to the corner for a catch-and-shoot three.
The Warriors are still intent on not abusing Curry in a high-usage role and is instead using him as on off-ball threat. More of the same as the previous five years? Yes, but they are trying to throw in more on-ball screening to keep things varied and to keep defenses on their feet. Against this young Pelicans squad — one that proved to be a defensive sieve, with their defensive rating of 119.5 — the Warriors looked like offensive juggernauts, with Curry being front and center as he should be.
You can just feel Curry’s fingerprints all over this game. This approach should be the way to go for the Warriors going forward: Not necessarily running a ton of pick-and-rolls for him, but keeping him constantly involved as a scoring threat, whether it be through DHOs (dribble hand-offs), split action on the low post or elbows, or through creating backdoor cutting opportunities.
It’ll be interesting to monitor how this will work against teams who are much better defensively, but it’s a step toward the right direction.
Draymond’s offensive value
Draymond Green’s triple-double consisting of 16 points, 17 rebounds, and 10 assists — as well as a team-leading plus-36 — was as much of an important factor in this Warriors victory as Curry’s presence on the floor was. Look no further than the fact that in regular season games, the Warriors are still undefeated whenever Green notches a triple-double.
Good stat from @ESPNStatsInfo: With this win the Warriors will be 23-0 in the regular season games when Draymond records a triple-double.— Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) October 29, 2019
Green started the game as the small-ball center for the Warriors, mostly due to the team’s big-man depth being decimated by injuries to Willie Cauley-Stein and Kevon Looney. While Chriss and Spellman are still there, they still haven’t proven themselves to be the kind of high-IQ, playmaking big men that the Warriors place a huge premium on.
The Warriors need someone like Green to make good decisions on the floor, someone who has the vision to see the open man on the perimeter, to pass to perimeter players who are cutting toward the rim, and to lob the ball to rolling big men who are open for the alley-oop.
The first good decision by Green in the game came from the opening sequence above, where he faked the hand-off and strolled toward the rim for the layup. When asked about that particular sequence, Green revealed that it was part of an “option” play, one where the decision on how to proceed was left up to him.
“It’s an option play,” Green said. “I can either pitch it back to Steph, I can fake it and go to the hole, I can take it and go DHO with D’Angelo (Russell) out the corner. ... It’s just about trying to set a tempo. I think the first two games I didn’t set a good tempo.”
Draymond Green: “(We) got a lot of young guys. You got to lead them a way. The first couple games, I led them the wrong way.” pic.twitter.com/Fo8USA5wJn— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) October 29, 2019
Green being the primary decision maker on the floor is always the best course of action for the Warriors, so it was very prudent for Kerr to put him in a position where he thrives the most on offense. Take this sequence during the second quarter, for instance.
The Pelicans defense chooses to ignore Green on the perimeter. Upon receiving the ball back from Curry, Green — who is faced with the prospect of a wide-open three — decides to charge toward the rim instead, forcing the defense to collapse and allowing him to lob it over the top to Chriss, who slams it in.
Or take this sequence, simple in its execution but nonetheless a good example of how connected Green is to the proclivities of his longtime running partner.
Out of the HORNS formation, a simple give-and-go results in Curry cutting toward the basket and scoring, courtesy of a well-placed pass from Green. Plays like these look easy enough — Curry’s defender overplaying him with no interior defense certainly helps — but it’s another testament to Green’s apt decision making on the floor.
But perhaps even more important than Green’s passing was his 16 points, the third-highest points total among the starters, behind Curry’s 26 and D’Angelo Russell’s 24. (Overall, fourth-highest, behind Damion Lee’s 23.) Before the start of the season, much was made of Green being that important third scoring option, especially with Klay Thompson nowhere close to returning within the calendar year. While Green isn’t going to be shooting the lights out anytime soon, it’s his ability to be aggressive with his drives and penchant for crashing the boards on the offensive end that will be important sources of point production, providing Curry and Russell with the support they’ll need throughout the season.
After two games where both Green and Curry were written off by several pundits and analysts, this performance that resulted in a much-needed win provided a sigh of relief. More importantly, it took some pressure off the shoulders of the Warriors’ most important players. The burden on their backs, heavier than it has been during the previous five years, is an enormous load to carry, and with it comes little praise and non-stop scrutiny and criticism that come — and will continue to come — from almost every corner.
“Everybody loves to label you when you’re down and when you’re losing,” Curry said after the game. “That’s easy — that’s easy to go on TV and say whatever you want. It’s easy to just throw darts at a team that’s trying to figure it out based on how much success we’ve had. ... If you wanna get on, say whatever you wanna say, fill that 24-hour news cycle, that’s cool with us. We’re still gonna hoop and just play basketball.”
Stephen Curry responding to the recent Warriors scepticism: "Everybody loves to label you when you're down." pic.twitter.com/bT1ClHpIEJ— Wes Goldberg (@wcgoldberg) October 29, 2019
Three down, 79 more to go.
Stay Golden, Dub Nation.