As the preseason winds down and rosters, lineups, and rotations start to take some semblance of shape and coherence, I couldn’t help but think of two themes that could be crucial to the Golden State Warriors’ offensive success this upcoming season.
Rim pressure and perimeter shooting.
In today’s modern NBA, both of these concepts are arguably obligatory when it comes to successful offenses. Both of them feed off of each other — frequent and effective rim pressure causes defenses to be stretched thin, resulting in more opportunities for outside shots; having multiple deep-range threats opens up driving lanes and can equally stretch defenses to their rotational limits.
Last season, the Warriors were among the most proficient rim attackers in the league — their rim field-goal percentage of 67.14% ranked 7th in the league, per PBP Stats. But their relative infrequency in terms of attacking the rim (28.58%, 21st in the league) meant that not enough rim-attacking opportunities were taken.
There could be several factors explaining the infrequence. For one, the lack of viable perimeter spacing could’ve meant that defenses were willing to pack the paint to cut off driving lanes, which in turn discouraged rim attacks and general forays in the paint.
It could be as simple as the fact that there was a dearth of capable rim-pressuring personnel last season. Two capable ones that come to mind are Stephen Curry and Andrew Wiggins — but while Curry’s rim field-goal percentage of 64% (72nd percentile, per Cleaning The Glass) placed him above the crop, he wasn’t a prolific rim attacker (21% rim frequency, 30th percentile); Wiggins had similar accuracy on rim attempts (67% rim accuracy, 73rd percentile), and while he pressured the rim more often (31% rim frequency), the frequency of his attacks was more or less average for his position (54th percentile).
With the Warriors’ acquisition of spacing relief in the form of Otto Porter Jr. and Nemanja Bjelica, there should theoretically be more opportunities for rim attacks — not just for Curry and Wiggins, but for anyone else on the roster who has the tenacity for downhill aggression and possesses the requisite north-south juice while handling the ball.
Some of that tenacity and juice came from players you wouldn’t expect.
Damion Lee in the clips above takes Russell Westbrook off the catch and works his way toward the paint. Westbrook’s notorious reputation as an ineffective point-of-attack defender notwithstanding, Lee possesses the bounce and zeal to attack should the opportunity present itself, which is helped by the presence of Porter in the first clip, in which Carmelo Anthony was somewhat hesitant to fully commit to rotate and help.
On-ball and off-the-catch possessions aren’t the only avenues through which rim-pressure could be generated. The Warriors were already one of the more prolific cutting teams in the league, ranking 4th in terms of cutting frequency last season. Being cognizant of recognizing cutting lanes and opportunities is a prerequisite for being an important cog within the motion offense; this season’s crew may already have such a requirement in spades.
The 15th and final roster spot is still up for grabs, and there are valid arguments for each of the two leading candidates. If Gary Payton II should win the contest, his off-ball activity and awareness of when to cut may be the deciding factors.
Both of the clips above are fine examples of Payton’s off-ball value, but the second clip is telling of the kind of damage he and the others can do with the presence of two shooting threats. An “Iverson” cut by Porter, followed by Bjelica lifting from the corner to the wing, bamboozles the defense and gives Payton a lane to dive cut toward the rim.
Bjelica himself isn’t foreign to cutting, especially when he’s tightly defended due to his reputation as a deep-range sniper. Peep at the second clip below, where Dwight Howard — taken out of his comfort zone and forced to pick up Bjelica at the three-point line — gets beat on a cut.
Include Jordan Poole — the Warriors’ hottest commodity — in the list of able cutters. Poole has shown flashes of being able to replicate the off-ball mannerisms of Curry. He is a perpetual motion machine who is now commanding top-lock/overplay treatment from defenses, which can open up a plethora of back-door opportunities.
But the beauty behind the dynamism of Poole’s offensive awakening is the fact that he can do pretty much whatever you want him to do on offense. Off-ball cuts are the cherry on top, but his on-ball prowess — especially when it comes to his newfound penchant for attacking the rim — is the meat of what makes his upcoming season enticing and a must-watch.
Poole is not afraid to take it all the way to the rim. He showed glimpses of it last season, but he seems ready to take the leap — figuratively and literally.
The fruits of a ramp-up in rim pressure could come in the form of a relentless in-and-out attack. A healthy balance between downhill aggression and outside shooting might be the key in achieving an efficient offensive season. They’re already setting unprecedented volume-shooting marks in the preseason, leading the pack in terms of three-point attempts per game at 55.0, which blows away their 38.7 three-point attempts per game last season. Furthermore, their current three-point-attempt rate of 58.2% overwhelmingly exceeds their 43.9% mark last season.
Those are preseason-inflated numbers. Chances are, they will settle down to more reasonable numbers (by today’s standards) during the regular season. But they still portend a drastic shift in philosophy: augmenting rim attacks with unbridled outside shooting.
We’ve already seen plenty of examples of this in-and-out attack this preseason.
The additions of Porter and Bjelica, as well as the eventual return of Klay Thompson this season, gives the Warriors’ rim-pressure specialists license to attack inside. It’s a dynamic they sorely lacked last season, which may have played a significant part in their failure to achieve an efficient offensive season.
But with more weapons at their disposal, retaining the ones they already have, and finding novel ways of using such an arsenal, the Warriors could very well shoot up the efficiency rankings this season. All they will need is proof that the glimpse of what the preseason window is providing isn’t a mere illusion, but a foretelling glance of what could come to pass.