For all the talk of the Golden State Warriors’ defense not being as sharp and locked in as it was last season, their offense has been the end of the floor that has underperformed for most of the season.
Before their game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Warriors were scoring 114.9 points per 100 possessions with garbage time and end-of-quarter heaves eliminated from the equation — ranked 13th in the league, per Cleaning the Glass.
Thirteenth isn’t too bad. They’re a league-average offense with a half-court efficiency (100.2 points per 100 half-court possessions) that is eighth in the league and well above the league-average mark of 97.6. Both are on pace to be improvements on their offense last season, where they scored 112.8 points per 100 possessions (17th) and 97.3 points per 100 half-court possessions (12th).
(Of course, the caveat is that league-wide offense this season [league-average offensive rating of 114.5) has taken a significant leap compared to last year [112.3].)
But only being 13th considering the amount of offensive talent on the team is somewhat relatively disappointing. Having an all-time-great offensive player on the team should automatically garner them a top-10 spot. But also having the kind of auxiliary weapons surrounding Steph Curry — coupled with a scheme that caters to all of their strengths — should theoretically have them be no lower than top five.
Injuries and missed time have also played a part, so some of it has been well out of the players and coaches’ hands. Nevertheless, if history is to teach us a lesson, it’s that Curry is a walking elite offense all on his own; it all bogs down to how everyone else around him takes advantage of his presence on the floor.
Historically speaking, two of Curry’s most advantaged teammates whenever he’s out there have been Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. However, it’s by no means a one-sided parasitic relationship.
Curry draws plenty of benefits from having another all-time shooter beside him to draw some of the attention away. Having a premier point-forward acting as a hub and ball handler allows him to do what he does best off the ball.
It’s pretty much stating the obvious at this point, but the Warriors’ Big Three of Curry, Thompson, and Green has been gashing defenses all season long. In 30 games of this trio on the floor, the Warriors have scored 119.0 points per 100 possessions — equivalent to the best offense in the league and 16th out of 85 three-man combinations who have played at least 650 minutes this season.
As aforementioned, Curry benefits as much — if not more — from Thompson’s gravitational pull and Green’s high-level decision making and processing:
When it’s typically Curry who pairs up with Green on screen-and-roll possessions, it’s Thompson who receives the handoff from Green, draws two defenders, and releases Green into his short-roll comfort zone. From then on, it’s a simple numbers game; kickout to Jordan Poole in the corner with a single defender splitting the difference, swing pass to Curry on the slot, and a wide-open three is generated.
The pairing that started off the possession above — Thompson and Green — isn’t as lauded among mainstream circles as the Curry-Green partnership has been. Thompson has mostly been relegated to a third-party beneficiary of the two-man dance between Curry and Green, whose synergistic fit in ball-screen possessions has been stuff of legends over the past decade.
The Warriors pride themselves on layering options on top of options, but it’s tough to do anything else other than the Curry-Green pick-and-roll. Have them run ball screen after ball screen and make defenses have to pick their poison: either allow Curry to dictate the possession or force the ball out of his hands and onto Green.
All while Thompson calmly waits on the weak side, ready to punish low-man help:
But the Thompson-Green chemistry deserves its flowers. Green’s preternatural knack for finding cutters with precision passes and Thompson being a perpetual motion machine is one heck of a potent combination.
Even while some of his pre-injury form has remained in the past, Thompson’s willingness to move off the ball and ability to make himself available as a target have flashed vintage form:
But even more rarely mentioned has been the direct relationship between Curry and Thompson. Their partnership has often been considered mutualistic but not exactly directly involved — i.e., both can co-exist with each other despite being volume three-point shooters.
Much of that is possible because each of them generates gravitational pull that uplift each other rather than create tension and resentment. Curry is an unselfish superstar, while Thompson is more than happy to benefit from Curry’s willingness to do all sorts of things — even the blue-collar dirty work.
Guard-guard ball screens have been favored actions in order to force defenders to make a choice, all of which are designed to torch them in a variety of ways. But less common than direct ball screens are off-ball wide pindowns between Curry and Thompson that force the same choices but are arguably much harder to defend.
For example, take this possession against the Thunder:
What initially starts out as a Thompson pindown for Curry involves a twist. Taking advantage of the fact that Curry’s man isn’t willing to detach from him, Curry curls around Thompson’s screen, stops, and sets a screen of his own on Thompson’s man. This is called a “Korver” screen, named after Kyle Korver who popularized this maneuver.
Thompson’s defender is caught with his pants down and is unable to get past Curry’s screen, allowing Thompson to drill the three.
This isn’t the first time the Warriors have used Curry and/or Thompson as an off-ball screener for the other Splash Brother — nor will it be the last. Deadly shooters screening for other deadly shooters sounds like a concept too obvious and too low hanging of a fruit to not be used by most teams.
But not enough of them leverage the threat of their shooters like the Warriors do. Even if none of Curry and Thompson directly score from their screening partnership, it opens up plenty of opportunities for their teammates and generates efficient offense that’s hard to pass up.
Curry and Thompson combined for 66 points against the Thunder on 62/50/100 shooting splits (2P/3P/FT) and a 74.1 TS%. As usual, Green had an all-around stat line of 7 points, 9 rebounds, and 12 assists and flashed his typical all-world defense.
They’ve accrued a ton of mileage together, and Father Time isn’t exactly on their side. But the Warriors’ Big Three has shown that they still have what it takes to carry this squad toward further championship aspirations.
In a Western Conference where there’s plenty of wiggle room in terms of seeding (the Warriors are now the fifth seed with a 26-24 record), having a proven title-winning core goes a long way toward securing prime playoff position — and garners much more than a puncher’s chance of going all the way.