HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – As was written in this space last week, there was no correlation between ball movement and offensive efficiency on the league level last season. There were top-10 offensive teams (Oklahoma City and Phoenix) that didn’t move the ball a lot and bottom-10 offensive teams (Charlotte, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and the Lakers) that did.
Does that mean that the Golden State Warriors (12th in offensive efficiency, dead last in passes per minute in half-court possessions) should aim to move the ball more this season?
Nearly 11 percent of the Warriors’ possessions last season were isolation plays, the third highest rate in the league, per Synergy Sports. Nor were the Warriors efficient on those plays, scoring just .842 points per isolation, which ranked 14th.
The Warriors’ internal analysis was just as damning. By one assessment, the Warriors were among the league leaders in possessions in which the ball never changed sides of the court. And yet the Warriors had their best success in games in which they averaged three to four passes per possession.
These are the numbers that Kerr and his staff—led by veterans Alvin Gentry and Ron Adams—are trying to hammer home as they work to change bad habits.
According to SportVU, the Warriors were indeed better offensively in the games they passed the ball more (though they averaged more than three passes per possession in only four games).
- In the games they registered their 20 highest passes-per-possession numbers (a range of 2.63 to 3.14), the Warriors scored 107.5 points per 100 possession and went 16-4 (6-3 against playoff teams).
- In the games they registered their 20 lowest passes-per-possession numbers (a range of 2.09 to 2.35), they scored 105.3 points per 100 possessions and went 9-11 (1-10 against playoff teams).
The difference in efficiency (2.2 points per 100 possessions) isn’t that huge. And if you take the entire season on a game-by-game basis, there’s just a minimal correlation between how frequently they passed the ball and how efficiently they scored. There were some bad offensive games in which they passed the ball a lot and some good ones in which they didn’t.
But that 16-4 record when they moved the ball a lot is hard to ignore, while the 1-10 record against playoff teams when they were more stagnant has to be a concern.
Looking at individual possessions, SportVU tells us again that the Warriors were more efficient the more they passed the ball. In fact, on possessions in which they passed the ball less than four times, the Warriors barely cracked a point per possession, a mark that would rank in the bottom 10 in the league. But on possessions in which they passed it four or more times, they scored close to 1.2 points per possession, a mark that would rank No. 1 in the league, by far.
As one of the league’s two or three best shooters with the ball in his hands, Stephen Curry is a matchup nightmare. He doesn’t need a pass — just a screen or a little bit of space on the break — to get an good look at the basket. Curry and Carmelo Anthony tied for the league lead with 456 unassisted field goals each last season, and Curry (142) had 54 more unassisted 3-pointers than any other player.
But Curry is still a better shooter off the pass than off the dribble. Last season, he made 48.9 percent of his catch-and-shoot jumpers and 43.7 percent of his pull-up jumpers.
So yes, there is motivation for the Warriors to pass the ball more. Less than 25 percent of Curry’s jumpers were of the catch-and-shoot variety last season. If the Warriors can get him off the ball more, they should be a more efficient offense.
Good news. In the five Golden State preseason games of which we have video, Curry has taken more catch-and-shoot jumpers (23) than pull-up jumpers (17). Some of those catch-and-shoot attempts have come after just one or two passes, and he was sometimes off-balance as he tried to get off a quick shot after coming off a pin-down screen, but the team’s intent to get Curry shooting more off the pass is there. And he seems willing to give the ball up early in a possession in order to get it back for a better shot.
The Warriors ranked third in defensive efficiency last season. Ranking 12th offensively was a disappointment given their talent. With their shooting in the backcourt and their passing in the frontcourt, the potential is there for an elite offense.
If Kerr can help the Warriors realize that potential without regression on defense, the Warriors will be a championship contender.