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Rim aggression from Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins gives the Warriors offense a novel dimension

The Warriors aren’t historically a frequent rim-pressuring team, but having Poole and Wiggins be more aggressive in hunting for downhill excursions could have added benefits to an already humming offense.

Golden State Warriors v Detroit Pistons Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images

The most scrutinized aspect of the Golden State Warriors’ dynastic run of the past decade has been their heavy reliance on jumpers, particularly the three-point shot. Having two of the greatest shooters of all time on the team puts the focus solely on their unmatched ability to marry volume and efficiency, with the product of such a union revolutionizing the game of basketball.

The focus on jump shooting and creating open looks from the perimeter for your two shooting gods to feast has typically come at the expense of attacking the rim. The Warriors have historically been a middling or bottom-ranked squad in terms of the percentage of their shots taken within 4 feet of the rim.

The Warriors’ rim frequency during their dynasty years, per PBP Stats:

  • 2014-15: 31.2% (19th)
  • 2015-16: 32.6% (14th)
  • 2016-17: 32.5% (13th)
  • 2017-18: 29.2% (25th)
  • 2018-19: 27.6% (29th)

Over their five-year run as the top dogs of the NBA, the Warriors haven’t had to rely on consistent rim pressure in order to dominate the opposition. Replete with jump shooting talent and smart playmaking, the Warriors have been the rare exception to the rule, organically bypassing the necessity of putting pressure at the rim that has often been a prerequisite for an elite championship offense.

That doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that the Warriors are completely without some rim-pressuring equity. They have their own unique brand of attacking the rim, mainly through the cuts they generate off of Stephen Curry’s gravitational pull and boosted by the passing and playmaking chops of intelligent operators such as Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala.

In other words, the majority of their rim-pressuring equity has always been opportunistic in nature.

But the Warriors have never really emphasized having someone who can put the ball on the floor and drive downhill, with the possibility of getting a finish at the rim, a shooting foul, or both. Again, most of that has been due to the nature of their offense, one that dispenses with intentionally pressuring the rim in exchange for getting the most efficient shots possible.

The byproduct of such a philosophy has also been reflected in the frequency of free throws the Warriors attempt — i.e., not a lot.

The Warriors’ free-throw attempt rate (FTr) during their dynasty years, per Basketball Reference:

  • 2014-15: .239 (26th)
  • 2015-16: .250 (25th)
  • 2016-17: .259 (20th)
  • 2017-18: .239 (20th)
  • 2018-19: .227 (28th)

The Warriors are currently the best team in the league, with a 14-2 record and, as of this writing, are the second most efficient offense in the league, just behind the Utah Jazz. They’ve been generating good offense through the same tried-and-tested formula: have Curry wreak all sorts of havoc on and off the ball, with everyone around him benefiting from such an arrangement.

But a further look at some of the numbers — in particular, their rim frequency this season — adds a bit of a novel dynamic. Through 16 games, the Warriors are the 8th most frequent rim-attacking team in the league (30.8%). They’ve also been getting to the line more — their .233 FTr is currently 8th in the league.

(Such a relatively low FTr — compared to previous seasons — being ranked 8th is a telling reflection of the league’s emphasis on calling fewer fouls.)

In their game against the Detroit Pistons, the Warriors were without the services of Curry, Green, Iguodala, and Otto Porter Jr. The offensive emphasis shifted from revolving the offense around Curry to revolving the offense around Jordan Poole, while also using Poole’s improved finishing at the rim and Andrew Wiggins’ renewed emphasis on rim pressure to generate offense.

Poole had an efficient scoring night: 32 points on 22 shots, 9-of-14 on twos, 4-of-8 on threes, and 69.9% True Shooting. Shooting an ice-cold 28.6% from beyond the arc on nearly 8 attempts per game going into the matchup against the Pistons, Poole found his shooting groove, even as the Pistons defense treated him as a Curry doppelganger.

But the most noteworthy aspect of Poole’s scoring was his aggressive drives and finishes at the rim. Poole showed a variety of moves at the point of attack that allowed him to get downhill, while also displaying off-ball awareness through finding open cutting lanes.

Poole’s finishing was absolutely pristine:

Poole has drastically increased his rim attempts this season. Compared to his first two seasons (15.7% in 2019-20, 19.0% in 2020-21), he has upped his rim frequency this season to 26.0% — a 10-percentage-point increase from his rookie year.

What’s even more amazing has been the success rate of Poole’s attempts at the rim. He is finishing 73% of his attempts at the rim — 92nd percentile, per Cleaning The Glass. It is a massive improvement from his 48% finishing rate during his rookie season.

“I think he’s physically stronger,” Steve Kerr said of Poole’s finishing. “I think he just is able to absorb more contact. He’s just got more confidence. You think about his first year, two years ago, if he had a clear lane to the rim — he could dunk the ball, but it looks like he’s getting up six inches higher now. He’s just athletically much improved from two years ago. That extra power and bounce is really paying off at the rim.”

Meanwhile, Wiggins complemented Poole’s night against the Pistons with some scoring of his own: 27 points on 19 shots, 8-of-15 on twos, 1-of-4 on threes, and 56.6% True Shooting. Without Curry to drive the engine of the offense, Wiggins was visibly more aggressive on his downhill excursions, some of which resulted in eye-popping finishes.

Wiggins is attacking the rim at a 32.4% rate this season — nearly five percentage points higher than his rate last season. But it’s still a far cry from his rookie and sophomore seasons, where the rate of his excursions to the rim hovered close to 35%.

The main takeaway from Wiggins’ downhill aggression against the Pistons was his willingness to draw contact, resulting in 11 trips to the free throw line, where he went 8-of-11. He is making a career-high 78.7% of his free throws this season, which necessitates an uptick of his attempts to draw fouls — his FTr of .271 is a significant improvement over last season’s .225.

Both Poole and Wiggins have displayed the temerity to put their heads down and go for the finish, but that tendency needs to be more consistent, even while playing with Curry. Frequent rim pressure is a dimension that has been largely unexplored by the team. While it is by no means fundamental to their success, it could provide ample relief for Curry and take some of the burden off of his shoulders, all while providing respite during nights when three-pointers aren’t falling.

What Poole and Wiggins displayed against the Pistons is a good starting point, something they could build off of moving forward.