For the Golden State Warriors’ intricate offense, rhythm and flow have always been mutualistic concepts.
Without rhythm, there is often no semblance of flow. Without flow, the beautiful tapestry the Warriors weave instead turns into a jumbled mess. When things get ugly, bad habits start to surface. Hesitation, poor shot quality, turnovers, and everything else that is a consequence of bad decision making become prevalent.
Even if the Warriors have the ultimate get-out-of-jail-free card in Stephen Curry, they are at their utmost best when the ball touches multiple hands — and when the bodies attached to those hands move around in a near perpetual state. Being able to establish that kind of rhythm often produces reason amid their chaotic trademark.
When the ball pops, the whole offense pops — that is the hard and fast rule of Warriors basketball. Which is why they have been leading the league in passes made per game this season — 325.0. In the entirety of the Steve Kerr era, they’ve never finished lower than ninth in that metric.
They’re also leading the league in assists per game — 29.2 — which isn’t a surprise. They’ve led the league in assists per game in every year Kerr has coached the team save for two seasons: 2021-22 (fifth) and 2019-20 (ninth).
Defensive problems have dominated headlines this season, while offense remains the better-performing end of the floor for the Warriors. They’re 11th in non-garbage-time offensive efficiency and fourth in half-court efficiency, per Cleaning The Glass. Despite some glaring problems in terms of shot selection and decision making, the process has been largely sound.
Shot selection has been an adventure for some of their personnel. Klay Thompson, in particular, has found it difficult to gain traction in terms of obtaining a personal rhythm and consistent shooting flow.
Thompson has been the face of arguably the biggest problem the Warriors are facing on offense. It’s clear that his attempts to press and take shots in a wanton manner are self-serving — not necessarily in an inherently bad way. An in-rhythm Thompson can only mean good things for the entire team, as his previous nine seasons can attest.
But it’s not the intention that has been the problem; it’s the process. Early clock jumpers and off-the-dribble attempts have been part of the Thompson experience throughout the dynasty years, but at this stage of his career — 32 years old, with multiple lower-leg injuries in the rear-view mirror — doing the things he did in his twenties just isn’t hitting the same notes as it did before.
Which is why this possession against the New York Knicks was intriguing:
Klay has taken more shots in the rhythm of the offense tonight. Curls off the wide pindown and nails the free-throw jumper. Has his legs under the shot. pic.twitter.com/FMXFPAVzGs— Joe Viray (@JoeVirayNBA) November 19, 2022
It may look routine — Thompson has hit these in-rhythm jumpers off of wide-pindown curls plenty of times in the past — but positive trends and patterns can be discerned even from the most mundane of possessions. He has his legs underneath him on the shot. He takes only one dribble prior to the pull-up; he’s shooting 50.0% on two-point shots this season when he doesn’t exceed one dribble.
Whenever he does exceed that one-dribble threshold, the success rate dips: 28.1% on two-pointers preceded by two or more dribbles.
What’s even more interesting is the fact that the shots above were off the dribble going to his left, an area of strength for Thompson prior to his injuries but currently something he’s been struggling with, according to this excellent piece by Charlie Cummings of Swish Theory.
Additionally, what Cummings calls “positive momentum” shots — Thompson’s off-the-dribble and movement shots going to his right with an emphasis on a left-foot plant — have been serving him much better post-injury.
These two transition shots off of Curry passes were examples of such:
Steph "Dennis Rodman" Curry with two consecutive assists to Klay Thompson in transition for two threes. The lower base looking good on both of those shots for Klay. pic.twitter.com/SO1MMB0ssv— Joe Viray (@JoeVirayNBA) November 19, 2022
But what stood out even more than just the improved rhythm and mechanics on Thompson’s shots was his sound decision making. Instead of pressing, Thompson was more attuned to the overall flow of the offense. Most of his shots came not to the detriment of their overall ethos, but to enhance it.
The improved shot selection was encouraging — but the awareness to use his pull to create shots for his teammates was even more of note.
Wide pindown for Klay turning into empty-corner action. Gotta love Klay deciding to pass it to the rolling Kevon Looney instead of the heat check. pic.twitter.com/3k7R0Qe6hU— Joe Viray (@JoeVirayNBA) November 19, 2022
Thompson was even responsible for a weak-side Curry three made possible through classic low-post split action. Typically, it’s Curry being the mover and beneficiary of these split-cut screens, while Thompson is the stationary spacer on the weak side who’s always ready to catch and shoot out of a created advantage.
In this instance, it’s Thompson’s willingness to pass out of split action to a Kevon Looney short roll that gets his Splash Brother an easy look:
Klay Thompson's decision making off of split action leads to short-roll Looney, draws help inward, and leaves Steph Curry open on the weak side. A little bit of a role reversal here from the Splash Bros. pic.twitter.com/flQrFxcIeI— Joe Viray (@JoeVirayNBA) November 19, 2022
This balance of shot making and passing encapsulated Thompson’s night, where he scored 20 points on 16 shots, including a 4-of-10 clip from beyond the arc.
His personal quest to capture his old form and rhythm has had its ups and downs — and on more than one occasion, it has come to the detriment of the team’s collective flow and success. But as the game against the Knicks showed, there is a palatable middle ground to this predicament, one proving that the former can happen without compromising the latter.