The Golden State Warriors’ half-court offense can be described as a tale of two extremes, depending on how it’s faring.
When in full harmony and synergy, it can be some of the most beautiful basketball out there. The energy flowing from the ball being whipped around is palpable. The willingness of every player on the floor to move, relocate, and/or cut is infectious. When it results in a made bucket, the morale and spirit can rise to monumental levels — which transfers over to the other end through a willingness to play hard, suffocating defense.
But when those factors aren’t present — little to no energy, no force and “oomph” behind the actions, and the ball stops moving and the players stay in one spot for too long — it can get ugly. Such is the root of confusion and disconnectedness.
One glaring example of the lack of a coherent half-court plan born out of confusion and disconnectedness came on this particular possession:
The one thing the Warriors can't afford to do is not execute. I don't care if it's off-ball, pick and roll, the margin for error isn't there. Poole calling for a pindown, Kerr calling for a P&R with a flare. Can't go backwards in that area. pic.twitter.com/M1f7W8IP6Z— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) March 2, 2022
As noted NBA Twitter personality and former Memphis Grizzlies video guy/Brooklyn Nets assistant coach Steve Jones Jr. (highly recommended Twitter follow) points out above, the lack of flow on this half-court possession is apparent. The confusion is even more so — Steve Kerr wants to run a flare screen out of HORNS for Andrew Wiggins, but Jordan Poole points to Wiggins, wanting him to set a down-screen for Otto Porter Jr. in the corner.
It devolves into a Poole isolation, but when Poole fails to gain any sort of advantage through his handle, he hands off to Porter for a three that misses — a microcosm of the team’s inability to generate any sort of half-court coherence.
Since their nine-game win streak to close out January and start February, the Warriors followed it up with perhaps their worst stretch of the season: a 2-7 record that has seen their defensive calling card becoming crumpled and torn, with a non-garbage-time defensive rating of 116.8 (24th over that period).
Even more telling has been their struggles on the offensive end: a 109.8 offensive rating in non-garbage-time, 25th over that nine-game period, with a half-court offensive rating of 93.6 — 21st over that same period.
The Warriors’ troubles in the half court boils down to two general reasons:
- The lack of consistent shot creation beyond Stephen Curry.
- The lack of stops on defense which has forced the Warriors to take the ball out of the basket and face a set half-court defense.
Despite his unprecedented troubles in terms of efficiency this season, Curry hasn’t significantly declined when it comes to self-creation. The pull-up threes haven’t gone in as much (37.2% this season, a three-percentage-point decline from last season); his finishing at the rim (60%, 58th percentile) hasn’t been this low in nine seasons.
But while his shot making hasn’t been at an MVP level, it’s still at an All-Star level — especially when compared to his supporting cast.
Curry will get his numbers, but it’s clear that during this difficult stretch of not having the likes of Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala available — high IQ veterans who know how to play off of Curry and also shore up the defense — scoring from the non-Curry contingent is all the more crucial.
But that component just hasn’t been there.
Poole, in particular, has had a nightmare February. Since leading the Warriors to a morale-boosting win over the San Antonio Spurs on January 1 — during which he scored 31 points — his splits have been ghastly: 12.2 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 3.8 assists, on 42/24/96 shooting splits and 54.5% True Shooting.
Whether it’s due to his ever-changing role — from being the sixth man off the bench and starting in lieu of Klay Thompson whenever Thompson was deemed unavailable, to not starting at all even when Thompson was out — or just a general slump, Poole hasn’t been living up to expectations as a secondary ball handler, playmaker, and shot creator.
When the flashes are there, they’re extremely mouth watering. Poole has enough downhill juice to put pressure on the rim, which can collapse defenses and open up slot cuts for the likes of Damion Lee:
But Poole doesn’t pressure the rim enough — only 25% of his shot attempts this season have been at the rim, 50th percentile for his position, per Cleaning The Glass. He opts for ill-advised pull-ups that are contested, and he hasn’t been converting open looks — a combined 112-of-322 (34.8%) on open and wide-open threes.
Let’s summarize the series of mishaps above:
- Poole relocates to the right corner for a three that airballs.
- Poole gets the switch onto D’Angelo Russell, initiates 1-5 pick-and-roll action with Kevon Looney — and with the Warriors in the bonus, opts for a long contested pull-up three that airballs again.
- Poole has a wide-open three that misses. Curry gets the offensive rebound and kicks out to an open Andrew Wiggins — who also misses the shot.
On the topic of Wiggins, he himself has looked far from being his “All-Star” self. His February splits have looked equally ghastly: 13.6 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 2.5 assists, on 42/36/41 (you read that right — 41% on free throws!!!) shooting splits and 49.5% True Shooting — 6.6 points below league average.
Also, there’s this:
Andrew Wiggins hasn't scored 20 points since January 31, a 10-game skid during which he's averaged 13.6 points with 41.5/36.2/41.2 shooting splits.— Brady Klopfer (@BradyKlopferNBA) March 2, 2022
Often counted on as the go-get-us-a-bucket-when-anyone-else-can’t person, Wiggins hasn’t been as dependable as a secondary scorer behind Curry, part of which is due to shots simply not falling in — as shown in the third clip above — and part of which is due to questionable shot selection.
The Warriors run a common set below: a wing entry, followed by a wing DHO/exchange, then a 3-5 high pick-and-roll between Wiggins and Jonathan Kuminga. Taurean Prince denies Wiggins from using the screen and shades him to his left.
Karl-Anthony Towns easily contains the drive, mainly because Kuminga doesn’t put pressure on him by not rolling hard to the rim. With Porter stationed on the weak-side corner, the Wolves would’ve been hesitant to tag a Kuminga roll, which would’ve opened up a pocket pass or a lob; if the Wolves opt to tag, then that opens up the corner look for Porter.
But it doesn’t happen, and Wiggins is forced to pull-up for a mid-range jumper, which has consisted the majority of his shot diet this season (37% frequency), but has drilled only 40% of them — 56th percentile among forwards.
Even when the Warriors resort to playing straight-up mismatch basketball, they’ve been having a difficult time scoring:
Curry gets the matchup (Russell) he wants, and isolates. He drives into help — the stunt by Jaden McDaniels and the rotation from the strong-side corner by Jaylen Nowell — and passes to a cutting Gary Payton II, who is met by Towns underneath the rim and passes out to Wiggins.
This is where Wiggins has often been counted on to bail out the Warriors’ half-court stagnation — but he misses another mid-range jumper.
Such is an example of the Warriors having to face set half-court defenses and having difficulty generating efficiency in the half court. Giving up buckets and having to take the ball out of the rim has been an understated culprit behind their offensive troubles.
Against the Dallas Mavericks, the problems on defense consisted of a failure to contain at the point of attack and giving up corner threes due to massive overhelping — which has been a season-long problem. Against the Wolves, the glaring problem was the lack of options against Towns.
Towns feasted on a limited and depleted Warriors frontcourt: 39 points on 22 shots. Looney, normally a capable post defender, was simply out-sized and out-talented by Towns, whose touch at the rim was too much for Looney to handle.
Looney was also forced to play Towns close on the perimeter, due to the threat of Towns’ outside shooting (40.8% on 5.2 three-point attempts per game). This allowed Towns to blow past Looney for layups.
Pay particular attention to this two-way possession:
Looney, forced to play Towns close, gets blown by for the layup — too easy for Towns, which forces the Warriors to have to set up their half-court offense on the other end. There’s a noticeable dearth of energy and flow to their possession; the reversal to Wiggins in the corner, followed by a wide down-screen for Curry, has little force behind it.
It devolves into a high pick-and-roll for Wiggins, who opts to pull up for the top-of-the-key mid-range jumper instead of attacking the rim with Towns in front of him.
Such a half-baked half-court possession — half-baked intentions, half-baked energy, and half-baked effort — encapsulates their offensive problems throughout this recent stretch.
Make no mistake — having the likes of Green and Iguodala back to settle down the offense, push the pace, and shore up the defense will help a ton. But the question remains: how will the coaching staff and the players solve their problems and steer the ship while the key rudders remain absent?
How they answer that question could be the difference between having home-court advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs, and finishing third in the West — or worse.