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The Golden Breakdown: The Warriors’ improved spacing is making Stephen Curry’s life easier

Better-fitting personnel in the form of Otto Porter Jr. is spreading the floor and releasing pressure off of Curry, who had virtually no space to work with last season.

Denver Nuggets v Golden State Warriors Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/NBAE via Getty Images

It feels like these early film studies must open up with the following caveat: It’s only preseason.

Preseason can be indicative, but not necessarily conclusive. It can provide glimpses of many things that could come to pass during the regular season: lineups, rotations, schemes, and how much the new fits in with the old. But any conclusions drawn — positive and negative — must always be taken with a sizeable grain of salt.

Consider, however, the problems the Golden State Warriors had last season. The first is obvious: finishing 20th in offensive rating, despite the presence of one of the best offensive players in NBA history in Stephen Curry.

Curry won the scoring title on otherworldly efficiency — shooting splits of 48/42/92 and 65.5% True Shooting (TS) — despite the most glaring offensive problem the Warriors had last season: the lack of floor-spacing personnel surrounding Curry.

This tweet speaks volumes as to how much of the offensive burden was placed upon Curry whenever he was on the floor:

Defensive studs such as Kelly Oubre Jr. and Kent Bazemore provided value mainly on one end of the floor. Their pesky brand of defending played a significant part in the Warriors’ 5th-ranked defense — but their inability to fully complement Curry on offense, coupled with their poor fit within the Warriors’ pass-heavy motion scheme, made their tenures last season highly controversial.

Upon their departure from the team, the Warriors had an opportunity to replace them with personnel — a combination of floor-spacers and high-IQ passers — who slot in better within Steve Kerr’s offensive ethos. Based on the first two preseason games, where the Warriors attempted a combined 110 shots from three-point range (and drilling 40.9% of them), the problem of spacing and fit surrounding Curry is trending toward being solved.

To stomp on the brakes for a bit, the Warriors offense visually looks the same. Nothing much has changed, if at all; there are still the typical sets out of “Horns” formation, “Chicago” action (pin-down into a dribble hand-off), “Motion Strong” (wide pin-down around staggered screens for a corner man), and the staple low-post split action.

This particular type of split action — commonly ran by the Warriors last season — is a modified version that adds a few wrinkles to the cookie-cutter original:

The modified part of the split action comes in the form of Curry screening for a curling and cutting Andrew Wiggins. The dive cut is the first option; should that be denied, Curry then curls around a down-screen, which constitutes the classic split-action maneuver. The added element of a cutter can confuse defenses, as they were in the clip above when two defenders attach themselves to the cutting Wiggins, leaving Curry free to catch and launch beyond the arc.

Those who were expecting a bunch of novel concepts from Kerr are going to be disappointed, at least if these two preseason games turn out to be highly representative of the regular season. But rather than expect schematic changes, it would be more prudent to expect the same concepts to be boosted by the addition of better personnel.

Even on basic high ball-screens, there is more punishment-potential against defenses who are forced in rotation by Curry. When switched against someone like Nikola Jokić — a mismatch of epic proportions — Curry is more than willing to take him all the way to the rim. That will force plenty of helping one pass away, particularly from the strong-side corner which is typically a defensive faux pas.

Last season, defenses were more than willing to help off of Oubre, who is a career 32.6% deep-range shooter, with a 30.3% success rate on corner threes. Although wide-open threes should be minimized no matter who is shooting them, there are certain players with whom defenses can stomach leaving open, due to the simple fact that the odds are monumentally in their favor.

Unless, the man you’re helping off of and leaving open on the corners is Otto Porter Jr.

Porter’s mere presence unloads a considerable amount of pressure off of Curry, who finds himself with a passing target who can reliably drill shots from anywhere beyond the arc. Porter’s career 40.2% clip on threes — broken down into an above-the-break three-point percentage of 40.0% and a corner-three percentage of 40.4% — will be indispensable when it comes to spreading the floor.

Porter is already garnering attention from defenses, to the point that two defenders are willing to sell out on him, just to prevent a corner shot that is more than likely going in. Such Curry-esque treatment from defenders for someone who isn’t Curry is wild — especially if the man himself is on the floor, left wide open by a defense in scramble mode.

In addition to being a dangerous complementary piece alongside Curry, Porter has also played a big part in boosting the bench crew. Such second-unit lineups historically have had trouble with Curry sitting on the bench. Last year, the Warriors were 11 points per 100 possessions worse on offense without Curry, with an offensive rating of 104.4 in 1,309 Curry-less minutes — equivalent to the second-worst offense in the league last season.

Porter, along with Jordan Poole and Nemanja Bjelica, are the kind of offensive sparkplugs that can buoy the Warriors’ second-unit offense while Curry takes a breather. Poole, in particular, continues to impress with his varied offensive attack, both on and off the ball.

While his shooting regressed, Poole’s finishing at the rim was the highlight of his second preseason game.

The Warriors’ complementary pieces surrounding Curry are checking the boxes. Porter — who is shooting 8-of-13 from beyond the arc after two preseason games — is the high effort, high IQ, high-percentage shooter that makes Curry’s lineup spacing percentile unlikely to remain at 5%. Poole is developing at a rapid pace, enough for him to become a reliable backcourt partner for Curry and to shoulder the creation responsibilities in the second unit. Bjelica — who is shooting 5-of-8 on threes in two preseason games — is living up to his reputation as a dynamic stretch big with playmaking equity.

It may just be Game 2 of the preseason, but the Warriors’ stock — particularly when it comes to depth — is trending upward.