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Warriors are still a really good three-point team

Don’t let the narratives fool you.

Golden State Warriors v Los Angeles Lakers - Play-In Tournament Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

It’s fair to say that Steph Curry — and by proxy, the Golden State Warriors — forever changed the way that basketball is played. The reason Curry is blowing by every three-point record in NBA history isn’t just because he’s the best shooter ever (which he is) — it’s equally, or even more due to his willingness to hoist triples at every possible turn.

Three is more than two, it turns out. Took NBA teams a long time to figure out that complex equation.

Consider: when Steph Curry won his unanimous MVP award in the 2015-16 season, he averaged 5.1 made threes per game. That very same year, the Milwaukee Bucks trailed the league in threes made, with just 5.4 per game. Curry was very nearly splashing in as many triples per game as an entire team.

It’s hard to imagine that with any other stat. What if Russell Westbrook dished out as many assists as an entire franchise? What if Rudy Gobert blocked as many shots as one team? What if James Harden attempted as many free throws as a whole crew of five players in 48 minutes?

Fast forward to the present, and Curry once again averaged 5.1 made threes per game, tying his career high. Only this time the least-prolific three-point team in the league, the San Antonio Spurs, averaged 9.9 made threes.

In a span of five years, Curry’s three-point regularity stayed the same, while the league exploded (the average in that time shot up from 8.5 to 12.7).

Game changed.

A common criticism of the current Warriors roster construction is that they’ve been unable to keep pace with the evolution that they created. The refrain goes that the Warriors, by way of Curry, forced the league into a three-point heavy attack, and now are shying away from that.

But is it true?

I’m not here to defend the Warriors roster construction from criticism. They missed the playoffs despite Curry being an MVP finalist and Draymond Green being a Defensive Player of the Year finalist. Even with Klay Thompson’s injury, it’s hard to view that as anything but an indictment of the roster construction, the coaching, or both.

But, as much as I would love to see a player like Joe Ingles added to the Warriors rotation, which always seems to be lacking in three-point shooters other than the stars, the concerns about the team’s three-point shooting are a little bit off.

Let’s take a look at how the Warriors have ranked in two key categories since the start of the dynasty: three-point attempts per 100 possessions, and three-point percentage. I’m omitting the 2019-20 demon season.

Warriors threes

Year 3s attempted per 100 (rank) 3-point percentage (rank)
Year 3s attempted per 100 (rank) 3-point percentage (rank)
2014-15 6 1
2015-16 1 1
2016-17 5 3
2017-18 17 1
2018-19 9 3
2020-21 6 9

The Warriors three-point percentage took a bit of a hit this year, which is expected when you lose both Thompson and Kevin Durant. Yet even so, the Warriors were still a top-10 team in terms of three point efficiency.

Obviously having Curry firing in 5.1 of those bad boys a game helps that stat dramatically, but you don’t become a top-10 three-point shooting team based entirely on one player. In reality, it’s a lot of factors including, but not limited to: Curry’s gravity; the system creating not just looks from deep, but good looks from deep; Andrew Wiggins having a career year from distance; and some decent bench shooters.

Most encouraging, however, is that the Warriors attempted threes with more regularity (relative to league average) than they did in the last two years of the Durant era.

Now, that’s a tiny bit misleading. Part of why the Warriors limited their three-point attempts in those years is because the offense was so unfathomably good that they often got good looks at the bucket. But even so, this year’s iteration firing more threes — sans Thompson and Durant — is a terrific sign for what could happen when Thompson and a choice free agent or two are plugged in.

In fact, the Warriors were one of only four teams this season who finished in the top 10 in both three-point attempts per 100 possessions and three-point percentage. The other three are the Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz, who finished with the league’s second and third-best offenses, respectively, per Cleaning The Glass, and the Boston Celtics, who finished with the 10th-best offense.

Shooting a lot of threes and making a good percentage of them isn’t a fool-proof way to have a good offense, as evidenced by the Dubs finishing just 21st in the league in offensive rating. It certainly is a strong foundation, however.

The Warriors need to make improvements on offense, both in terms of personnel and scheme. But contrary to what it might seem, surrounding Steph Curry with Andrew Wiggins, Jordan Poole, and some players in the Kent Bazemore, Damion Lee, and Mychal Mulder tier is enough to give a team a very solid three-point shooting backbone. A backbone that should leave the Warriors as an elite three-point team when Klay Thompson returns.

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