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The Warriors offense is regaining the efficiency that once made it the pinnacle of basketball beauty

New Orleans Pelicans v Golden State Warriors Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

The Golden State Warriors aren’t the best offensive team in the league right now. Their offensive rating of 109.2 places them 9th in the league. With Stephen Curry on the team and a bunch of better-fitting personnel surrounding him, that number should theoretically be higher.

But 8 games into the young season, there is much to be bullish about when it comes to how the Warriors are generating efficient offense. The Warriors’ ethos of ball and player movement aims to create a multitude of advantage situations, and so far, they have been successful at forcing defenses to make tough choices.

Look at some of the numbers the Warriors offense has been putting up:

  • 2nd in effective field-goal percentage (55.7%)
  • 1st in assists per game (30.1)
  • 1st in assist rate (72.4%)
  • 3rd in three-point attempts per game (42.0)
  • 3rd in three-point percentage (38.4%)

Add the element of the Warriors being the stingiest defense in the league so far — they are limiting opponents to 96 points per 100 possessions — and they are outscoring opponents by 13.2 points per 100 possessions, the best net rating in the league.

They’ve been humming on offense despite Curry having a “subpar” start to the season, at least by his elite all-time-great standards. Curry is averaging 25.8 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 6.8 assists, on 41/38/97 shooting splits and 59% True Shooting. The Warriors being able to squeeze efficiency out of their offense even while Curry hasn’t been as efficient as he was in seasons past is, to put it quite simply, insane.

If you’re the rest of the league, replace “insane” with “concerning.”

Should Curry finally find his shooting groove — take note, he is missing a LOT of his open looks, making 30.2% of his “open” (closest defender 4-6 feet away) and 37.5% of his “wide open” (closest defender greater than 6 feet away) three-point shots, per tracking data — the Warriors could very well take the league by storm.

(And, of course, Klay Thompson has yet to return.)

Even without Curry at his absolute shooting best, there has been plenty of beautiful offense, born out of exquisite passing, excellent positioning, and pristine execution. Under Steve Kerr’s coaching regime, all of the tenets above have been the ideals that he constantly tries to strive for — with mixed success last season.

The past few years haven’t been pretty, mostly due to lacking the correct personnel who can flesh out the best of Kerr’s vision. This year is turning out to be different — and in several ways, is serving as a callback to the Dynasty Warriors, where the beauty of their offense was at its prime.

An important part of why their offense just works — given the appropriate personnel that can execute to the highest degree — is the multiple layers of variation they can glean from their staple actions.

Take these possessions, for example:

The beauty of the Warriors’ trademark low-post split action is the variability and interchangeability of the parts involved.

In the first clip above, the Warriors run the “modified” version of the split action, involving a cross screen underneath the rim prior to the post entry, followed by a topside screen by Damion Lee for Jordan Poole’s dive cut. The necessity of such an initial action is justified when Lee’s defender has to choose between switching onto the dive cut or to stay with Lee. Unable to decide properly, he lags behind the crux of the play: Lee running around the classic split-action down-screen, freeing him for the catch-and-shoot three.

The second clip is the more standard split action, but the unconventionality comes in the form of who is the beneficiary of the down-screen: Nemanja Bjelica, playing as the 5. It is unheard of to run the split action for a big man, but when that big man possesses the shooting chops to stretch the floor, that option is very much a viable one.

Unsurprisingly, the Warriors make the most use of possessions involving off-ball screening actions (9.5%) and are generating 1.10 points per possession (PPP) on such actions — good for 6th in the league.

Proper technique of setting screens — the timing, the positioning, and the ability to make solid contact — is paramount to the success of the offense.

Naturally, the threat of a Curry or Jordan Poole being set loose around screens drives the progressions within the offense. It is a very common sight for defenders to miscommunicate; what should be switches are turned into botched possessions.

The Warriors thrive upon this chaotic dance; they count on defenses to overcommit, giving up slips and backdoor cuts, often against a disadvantaged backline.

The Warriors are the most frequent cutting team in the league (13.0%) and are garnering 1.29 PPP from their cuts. Such is the effect of the matrimony between spacing and astute passing.

There is much more room to cut and attack the rim when defenses are forced into pick-your-poison scenarios. Playmakers on the low post, the high post, and on the short roll are left with more options.

What makes all of these possible is the team’s depth. Beyond Curry, Poole, Andrew Wiggins, and Draymond Green, there are bench pieces who contribute in a myriad of ways: scoring from Damion Lee; shooting and spacing from Otto Porter Jr; playmaking and a huge boost in terms of basketball IQ from Bjelica and Andre Iguodala; and defense and hustle from Gary Payton II.

The Warriors are third in bench points per game (39.8). They are largely surviving without Curry on the floor; per PBP stats, they are outscoring opponents by nearly 16 points per 100 possessions during the 115 Curry-less minutes they have played this season.

Of course, there will come a time when Curry’s MVP-caliber play will need to be relied upon, especially as the competition gets tougher and the schedule becomes more unforgiving. But the importance of laying down the foundation of the culture and identity of the team this early in the season will help the team overcome eventual adversity.

The new pieces are fitting in, and the old ones are yet to achieve their peak form. Consistent success isn’t guaranteed, but one thing has been certain.

This team has become fun to watch yet again.

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