Warriors need more from their support scorers.
Perhaps the most alarming thing about this young season so far is that Steph Curry has to work hard — and I mean, really hard — for the Golden State Warriors to even have a chance to score in the half court.
Prior to their game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Warriors’ half-court offense was at a decent-but-not-elite 97.3 points per 100 possessions. Per Cleaning The Glass, that was the 11th-ranked half-court offense in the NBA.
It’s safe to say that will go down a bit after tonight’s 116-110 loss to the Wolves, where they managed a paltry 86.3 points per 100 possessions in the half court — 26th percentile, and equivalent to the third-worst half-court offense in the league. This is one night after scoring only 87.9 points per 100 possessions in the half court against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
One might argue that the Wolves and the Cavs are perfect foils to the Warriors: lengthy, athletic, and highly physical — built to take away their beautiful brand of offense, willing to muck things up, and having an abundance of youth and juice to run them off the floor.
There’s even a bigger caveat when it comes to the Wolves, who have been the best defensive unit in the NBA so far. They are holding opponents to 101.2 points per 100 possessions — 82.2 points per 100 in the half court, per Cleaning The Glass. Both marks top the league. Knowing that, the Warriors were going to have a tough time; theory did indeed become reality.
But the other side of that argument: The Warriors came into this season expecting to be championship contenders, with a superstar that is supposed to give them more than just a puncher’s chance to return to the top of the mountain. They traded away Jordan Poole for Chris Paul to increase the maturity levels across the board, to provide them with a steadier and more risk-averse hand.
On paper, that was the direction they had to move toward. But something is happening that perhaps none in the Warriors organization expected to occur this early in the season.
The decline in offensive production beyond Curry has been quite alarming.
Curry scored 38 points against the Wolves on 11-of-25 shooting (6-of-12 on twos, 5-of-13 on threes), 11-of-12 from the free-throw line, and 62.8% True Shooting. He’s averaging 30.7 points on 57.8% shooting on twos, 44.6% on threes, and 93% on free throws. He’s scoring at a highly efficient mark: 68.6% True Shooting.
He’s putting up all of those marks while being defended like an absolute DEFCON-1-level threat on the floor on a nightly basis — being top-locked away from off-ball screens, doubled around ball screens in attempts to get the ball out of his hands, physicality ramped up to extreme levels to make him uncomfortable and hassled, etc.
Even against the Wolves, who employ one of the best perimeter defenders in the league in Jaden McDaniels and a resurgent Rudy Gobert, who is looking like his Defensive-Player-of-the-Year self, Curry still had his moments.
When the Wolves blow up “stack” action (another name for a Spain pick-and-roll), Curry audibles into patented two-man action with Draymond Green. Again, McDaniels and Gobert are on top of it — but Curry not only gets the layup above a premier rim protector and shot blocker, he gets contact and goes to the line for a three-point play:
With no other Warrior in a consistent offensive rhythm in the first half, sights like the one above was common — Curry laboring to find even the smallest of holes in a defense that doesn’t present that many, and trying to pounce on minute mistakes that most players (including players on the Warriors not named Curry) don’t have the ability to punish.
These are fun to watch from an entertainment perspective. They are testaments to his legend and serve as further confirmations of his all-time-great status.
But in the present context, it’s quite worrying that Curry has to work *this* hard for the Warriors to score in the half court:
It’s also not a guarantee that Curry will score on every half-court possession — especially not against this Wolves team that has successfully locked off the paint against most teams they’ve faced this season.
The Warriors weren’t any different. While they were a respectable 11-of-15 at the rim against the Wolves, 15 attempts constituted only 19% of their total shot diet — seventh percentile, per Cleaning The Glass. They took more shots in the “short” mid-range area, otherwise known as floater range, but only managed seven made shots out of 24 total attempts.
In short, that is the Gobert effect. And Curry was by no means immune to it:
There was a small glimmer of hope for the Warriors’ half-court offense in the form of attacking Gobert’s base drop coverage using both off-ball action and on-ball screen-and-roll action. On “Quick” action — an early offense staple where a big sets a wide screen near the slot area for Curry to curl toward the ball — McDaniels gets caught up on the screen.
With Gobert in drop, Curry drills a rhythm three:
Later on, with Green at the five and Gobert guarding him, Curry tests Gobert’s drop coverage once again by initiating ball-screen action with Green. Again, McDaniels gets caught up on the screen, which forces Gobert to have to switch out onto Curry — far away from his comfort zone in the paint:
But these were too few and far in-between, even in a season where Curry handling the ball in the pick-and-roll has been his most common play type, per Synergy. Including passes out of the pick-and-roll, the Warriors have scored 1.043 points per possession with Curry as the ball handler. On off-ball screens for Curry, they’ve put up an even better 1.429 points per possession.
Curry will get his and will find ways to score, no matter the nature of the coverage, how well it’s executed, and which personnel is geared to stop him in his tracks. That has been true throughout his career.
But it’s clear that Curry needs all the scoring help he can get — and he’s not getting it right now.
Klay Thompson was the Warriors’ second-leading scorer against the Wolves — he scored 16 points on an inefficient 5-of-16 shooting from the field (2-of-6 on twos, 3-of-10 on threes). Andrew Wiggins is the other designated support scorer but managed only 6 points on 3-of-7 shooting from the field.
So far this season:
- Curry: 30.7 points, 68.6% True Shooting
- Thompson and Wiggins: 25.2 points, 49.7% True Shooting
Dario Šarić has been the only Warrior to reach the 20-point mark this season not named Curry (20 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder). Save for Curry, no Warrior has scored more than 20 in a game.
To put it frankly, this is not an acceptable situation if the Warriors are looking to contend. Adjustments can definitely be made — perhaps it’s as simple as players needing to play better and for shots to fall in. The coaching staff can do a better job trying to put them in better positions to succeed, finding the correct combinations of players, and empowering them.
But as of this current moment, the Warriors aren’t looking like championship contenders. Not unless Thompson and Wiggins return to their scoring ways, and not unless the entire team — from the coaching staff to the players — correct the course accordingly.