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How one simple play allowed Andrew Wiggins to match his personal three-point record

A play usually reserved for Klay Thompson allowed Wiggins to match his career single-game mark.

Houston Rockets v Golden State Warriors Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

In their win against the Houston Rockets, the Golden State Warriors took a whopping 60% of their shots from beyond the arc.

It’s somewhat ironic that the Warriors suddenly turned into a team that espouses the principles of “Moreyball” — named for former Rockets general manager Daryl Morey — against the team that took the concept of “three is greater than two” and dialed it up all the way to the extreme.

But that’s exactly what happened against this iteration of the Rockets — no longer the spread-out heliocentric version built around the individual talents of James Harden, but a younger iteration trying to claw its way back toward NBA relevancy.

Nearly 46% of the Warriors’ shots this season are threes — almost matching the Rockets’ 46.7% at the peak of the Harden-era in 2017-18, where they won 65 games and was one win away from knocking off the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, if not for 27 consecutive threes that failed to go in.

It’s poetic that those Rockets were felled by the very same concept that placed them at the cusp of an NBA Finals appearance — and that the Warriors were the ones to prove that a system built almost solely on threes and layups was bound to hit a wall.

Even if this season’s Warriors are approaching those Rockets in terms of three-point attempt rate, their overall offensive ethos could not remain any more different. They still rely on the heavy ball and personnel movement. While they may run more ball-screen possessions compared to years past, they still prefer to do most of their work through hubs and connectors on the low post, elbows, and at the top of the key.

The Warriors drilled 25 threes on 52 attempts against the Rockets — just two shy of matching their franchise record for most threes made in a game. The usual suspects made up the list of those who contributed to the 25, in addition to Moses Moody, who saw minutes due to the absence of Klay Thompson:

  • Andrew Wiggins: 8-of-10
  • Stephen Curry: 8-of-17
  • Jordan Poole: 5-of-8
  • Draymond Green: 1-of-5
  • Moody: 3-of-3

Whereas the Rockets that threatened the Warriors a half-decade ago were more of a drive-and-kick-based offensive scheme, the Warriors are more varied in terms of their long-range attack. Relocations, off-ball movement, pull-ups off the dribble, and set shots — every manner conceivable of how a three can be taken, the Warriors are able to do.

Interestingly, one method the Warriors have been using to get efficient looks from beyond the arc is through the pick-and-roll. It’s common knowledge that the Warriors haven’t been the most pick-and-roll heavy team during the Steve Kerr era — they ran the second-least amount of ball screens per game last season (12.6% of their possessions), with only a slight increase this year: up to fourth-least (13.2% of their possessions).

Even so, Kerr has been more lenient in terms of running ball screens for his superstar — who also happens to be one of the most efficient operators as a ball handler in the pick and roll. When Curry receives one or multiple ball screens and shoots, or passes to a teammate who shoots, the Warriors score 1.27 points per possession (PPP) — the most efficient out of 58 players who have tallied at least 150 such possessions this season, per Synergy.

Having Curry run around a single ball screen is deadly enough. Defenses are forced to pick their poison — drop and hope that the on-ball defender can navigate his way around rock-solid screens from either Green or Kevon Looney; or go up to the level of the screen or downright throw two bodies Curry’s way, at the risk of opening up the short-roll against a disadvantaged backline defense.

But when it’s two ball screens that are being set for Curry, it’s almost comically unfair.

The Warriors like to run double-drag screens — two screens set by trailing players in transition — for Curry. Sometimes, the double-drag alignment is used in the half court without them being considered “trailing.” In those instances, they are considered plain double ball screens.

The Warriors’ terminology for double drag/double ball screens is “55.”

The alignment of screeners in “55” should typically include a shooter (usually the first screener) and a roller (second screener). The first screener pops/flares out after setting the screen, while the second screener rolls hard to the rim. This puts the defense in a bind having to defend multiple options.

When Curry is the ball handler, that usually means two bodies are being thrown his way. What becomes a virtual three-on-three then becomes a two-on-one.

As was shown above, the first screener in the alignment is usually Thompson. But with him not playing the second games of back-to-backs, the Warriors had to insert someone in his place in the “55” set.

That person was Wiggins, who matched his career high of eight threes in a single game.

(The second “three” in the clip above was ruled as a long two. Wiggins had his foot on the line, which kept him from eclipsing his own personal record.)

Down the closing stretches of the game, the Warriors ran “55” again — but this time, the Rockets were so keen on preventing another Wiggins three that they forgot one fundamental rule.

Never duck under screens for the greatest shooter of all time:

Wiggins is having a career shooting year: 56.5% on twos and 45% on threes on 6.8 attempts per game. All are on pace to become career-high marks. As a result, Wiggins is also having the most efficient scoring season of his career (62.1 TS%, also on track to become a career high).

Coupled with the high-level wing defense that he provides on a game-to-game basis, Wiggins has truly become a foundational piece for the Warriors. Team record notwithstanding, he may have a good argument for a second-consecutive All-Star appearance — and this time, his argument has been much stronger.

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