How Does Mike Malone’s Departure Affect the Warriors?


(Written For Blue Man Hoop)

Mike Malone, the Golden State Warriors assistant coach, will reportedly become the head coach of the Sacramento Kings next season.  Malone is considered to be the “X’s and O’s” brain that compliments Mark Jackson’s motivational skills.

Though television footage of the Warriors’ often shows Malone diagramming plays, there is little concrete evidence as to the extent of Malone’s influence on the Warriors’ plays, schemes, and system.  The Warriors’ coaching staff expands far beyond Jackson and Malone.  The systemic innovations recently enacted may have been created by Malone, to whom public sentiment attributes them, but was just as likely created through a process of intellectual cooperation.

Even if they cannot be fully attributed to Malone, the creation of several important changes to the Warriors’ defensive and offensive strategies coincided with the beginning of Malone’s tenure.

The job of a coach is to put players in the best possible position to succeed.  This may require players to deviate from their preferred roles or even their personal strengths but, as the San Antonio Spurs have shown, is often designed to limit the weaknesses and accentuate the strengths of players at an individual level to the benefit of the team.

In 2010-11, the season before Malone and Jackson joined Golden State, the Warriors started David Lee and Andris Biedrins at power forward and center.  Neither of these players is even remotely quick, but the Warriors’ required them to hedge hard and recover on the majority of pick and rolls they defended.

Though it may look like a trap, this was the Warriors’ standard pick and roll defense in the 2010-11 season.  Many of the Warriors’ big men, Lee and Biedrins especially, were being forced into a position of weakness by the Warriors’ defensive strategy.  Apart from Ekpe Udoh, the Warriors’ big men were generally unable to recover back to their man off the hard-hedge.  Also, the high-hedge leaves only one big defensive player in help position, forcing the remaining big to defend both his man and any guards that beat the hedge or roll men driving before the hedging big can recover.

Beginning with arrival of Malone and Jackson, the Warriors transitioned to a defensive strategy better adapted to the abilities of their personnel.

Notice how David Lee sags all the way into the paint on this high pick and roll.  Instead of hedging the screen and getting stuck 27 feet from the rim, Lee drops into the key, denying the drive and willingly surrendering a mid-range jump shot.

To limit the damage wrought by their big men’s lack of lateral mobility, the Warriors’ often defend pick and rolls with the “Ice “coverage.   In Ice, the guard attempts to prevent the ball-handler from using the screen, while the big man stays below screen-level on the side to which the ball handler is being forced.  Notice how Stephen Curry has jumped in front of Tony Parker to prevent him form using Tiago Splitter’s screen while Andrew Bogut stays in the paint to contain penetration.  While miscommunication may lead to wide open driving lanes and more defensive pressure is placed on the guards, Ice allows the Warriors’ big men to effectively contain pick and roles.

Another addition to the Warriors’ pick and role defense under Malone’s tenure is increased help from wing defenders.  In the image, Klay Thompson has dropped into the paint, leaving his man in the corner open, in an attempt to contain Splitter’s role.  This strategy has been effective in limiting the productivity of opposing role men.  According to, the Warriors allowed only 0.9 points per play to role men, the second best rate in the league.  The results of this strategy are entirely beneficial.  The commitment to shutting down role men often leaves opposing shooters open in the corners.  Imagine Tony Parker driving a few steps towards the left elbow, forcing Bogut to commit to containing him.  Parker could then pass to a rolling Splitter.  Thompson would attempt to deny Splitter’s path to the basket, and Kawhi Leonard would likely be wide open in the corner.  That and similar scenario’s play out several times per game versus the Warriors, who surrendered the most three point attempts and corner three point attempts per 48 minutes this season.

Injuries, trades, and draft picks have left the Warriors’ roster in constant flux over the last two seasons.  Thus, the direct impact of Malone is difficult to discern.  The removal of Monte Ellis and addition of Andrew Bogut likely had a large impact on the Warriors’ offensive playbook.  However, the extent of this impact may not have been revealed through Bogut injury issues.

From set plays like the one above to entire offensive systems, the Warriors have undergone significant change during the last two seasons.  Sets such as the now-famous elevator play clearly suggest a dedication to taking advantage of the players’ strengths.

It is unlikely that Malone controlled the Warriors X’s and O’s to extent often reported.  Even if that were the case, do not expect a significant decline in the quality of the Warriors offensive and defensive sets, for though Malone may leave, he has already imparted his knowledge upon the rest of the staff, likely filled with equally brilliant basketball minds.

Could The Warriors Have Beaten The Memphis Grizzlies?

(Written for Blue Man Hoop)

Monday night, the San Antonio Spurs completed a sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies, securing a spot in the finals and leaving Memphis to join the 26 other teams watching the conference finals on TV.  Though Games 2 and 3 were decided in overtime, the Spurs appeared to be in control throughout the series.  San Antonio dispatched the Golden State Warriors in the second round, but appeared to struggle in the process, losing two games and overcoming a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter of another.

San Antonio scored 104.4 points per 100 possessions to the Warriors in their second round series, and allowed 99.7, per  In the four games versus Memphis, the Spurs scored 105.3 points per 100 possessions, and allowed 93.4.   During the regular season, the Grizzlies allowed only 100.3 points per 100 possessions, second only to the Indiana Pacers, and scored 104.9.  As was expected, Memphis affected San Antonio’s offensive production.  Memphis had been scoring at a top ten rate after the Rudy Gay trade, and likely needed to maintain at least average offensive production to beat San Antonio.  Instead, San Antonio held Memphis to an offensive rating 6.8 points per 100 possessions worse than the league-worst Washington Wizards’ season production.

Despite the drastic difference in performance versus San Antonio, the Warriors’ success relative to Memphis should not be perceived as superiority.  Though teams work to become versatile, performance in the NBA is often dictated by match-ups, and the Spurs are better equipped to overcome Memphis’ strengths and take advantage of their weaknesses than the Warriors.

Led by Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, Memphis finished 15.7% of their offensive possessions with a post up, according to  The post-up itself is not a very efficient offensive weapon.  The 8th ranked Grizzlies scored 0.86 points per play off post ups and 0.9 points per play overall.  However posting up, especially if it forces the defense to double team, as Randolph and Gasol often do, forces defenses to adjust, drawing help defenders, forcing rotations, and opening other opportunities for the offense.

The removal of David Lee skews the data, but the Warriors allowed 0.85 points per play to post ups this season, 19th in the league.  Andrew Bogut, as he showed against Tim Duncan, is a very good post defender, but the other Warriors defenders lack the size, strength, mobility, or defensive intelligence to be effective versus Randolph and Gasol.  San Antonio, conversely, allowed only 0.76 points per play to post ups, best in the league.

The more significant difference is between the two teams help strategies against post ups.

Here, the Warriors allow San Antonio to make a clean inbounds pass, leaving Tim Duncan isolated in the post against Carl Landry.  Only after Duncan has established deep post position, Klay Thompson leaves Manu Ginobili at the top of the key to help on Duncan.  Thompson’s help defense is not aggressive enough to affect Duncan’s move, but leaves Manu Ginobili wide open for three one pass from the ball.   The Grizzlies spot-up shooters are far less of a concern than San Antonio’s, making this defense still unacceptable defense less damaging. Even against Memphis, surrendering decent spot up opportunities is poor defense.  Though they ranked 28th in the league in spot up points play, the 0.9 points per play scored by Memphis of spot ups is equally efficient to their overall offense and more efficient than a post up field goal attempt.

Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan give San Antonio the ability to defend post-ups without double-teaming.  Also, San Antonio’s pre-post up defense is generally more effective than the Warriors.  The Spurs’ wing defenders, especially Kawhi Leonard, are very good at harassing in bounds passers and helping on to posting big men prior to an entry pass.  Entry passes are made even more difficult by San Antonio’s commitment to fronting the post.

At 31 percent, the Grizzlies have the second highest offensive rebound percentage in the league. Memphis has the league’s 3rd least efficient offense off offensive rebounds, scoring 1.01 points per play according to  But as with spot ups, Memphis’ inefficiency relative to the rest of the league does not mean plays ending in a shot off an offensive rebound are inefficient relative to Memphis’ own offense.  Of the categories tracked by Synergy, offensive rebounds is the third most efficient source of offense for the Grizzlies, trailing only cut and transition opportunities.

With David Lee off the court, the Warriors allowed a 58.6 percent offensive rebound percentage to shots by the opponent generated off offensive rebounds, compared to only 43.9 percent off a made field goal or free throw (To clarify: after the Warriors made a field goal or free throw, the Warriors allowed their opponents to shoot 43.9 percent adjusted field goal percentage) and 46.8 percent off a defensive rebound (meaning after the Warriors missed a field goal or free throw attempt, and the Warriors’ opponent rebounded, the Warriors opponent shot a 46.8 percent adjusted field goal percentage), according to  The Spurs allowed only 51.0 percent effective field goal percentage shooting after offensive rebounds.

Given the limited sample size of the Warriors’ without David Lee and with a healthy Andrew Bogut, it is difficult to predict the results of a hypothetical Memphis-Golden State series.  Perhaps the injuries to Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut that affected their performance versus San Antonio may not have occurred, but given the injury history of those two players, that cannot be guaranteed.

Mike Conley and Tony Allen are elite on ball perimeter defenders and a threat to the Warriors hypothetical offensive production.  However, despite his on-ball prowess, Allen is not a consistent off ball defender, often straying off his man in misguided attempts to wreak havoc on opposing offenses.  Had Lionel Hollins chosen to defend Stephen Curry with Tony Allen, the Warriors use of Curry off the ball may have had more success than it did against the Spurs.  However, had Curry not injured his ankle he may never have shifted into this off ball role, in which case Allen and Conley may have drastically decreased his offensive efficiency.

While the Warriors would not be guaranteed a loss versus the Grizzlies, they would not be able to target Memphis’ weaknesses and limit their strengths as effectively as the Spurs.

Andrew Bogut and David Lee: Best Passing Big Men Tandem Ever?

(Written For Blue Man Hoop)

The Golden State Warriors intended started big men, Andrew Bogut and David Lee, played only 31 games, 720 minutes, together for the season.  The Bogut-Lee frontoucourt has many strengths and many flaws.  But amid the rebounding success, transition struggles, and other features of the pair, the unique passing ability stands out.

Of all the Warriors 2-man lineups to log over 100 minutes, the Bogut-Lee pairing trailed only Lee-Jarrett Jack in assist percentage.   While the assist percentage team-dependent both Bogut and Lee are very good passers, and together, form one of the best passing big-men tandems in the league.

Both Lee and Bogut are excellent interior passers, consistently finding cutters and opposite big men for easy layups as defenses rotate, but the tandem’s passing talent expands beyond typical big men skills.

The Warriors offense relied on Bogut and Lee’s ability to find shooters out of a pick and roll.  Often on the move, Lee and Bogut balanced a scoring threat with the ability to launch a pinpoint pass to nearly anywhere on the court at angles and to players unexpected by the defense.  Of course, Bogut and Lee’s passing could not be truly enjoyed without the added flair they often provide.

To Bogut especially, this flair is often detrimental.  What could be a simple chest pass is often a one handed rocket.  To Bogut, a defender just adds an object around which a pass must be thread, and though the point result remains the same, added risk creates an apparent sense of accomplishment.  Though many of his passes are as enjoyable as any monster dunk, an unnecessary amount of turnovers are generated by Bogut’s forced passes.

While Bogut is guilty of overpassing, Lee goes through periods of limited court vision, especially with an open driving lane.  Lee makes many impressive passes but often fails to attempt simple ones.  On countless occasions Lee has missed an open Klay Thompson in the strong-side corner as he drives down the lane.

The Bogut-Lee frontcourt faces an inherent weakness as passers.  When the Warriors shifted to a small-ball lineup after Lee’s injury, they did not suffer from decreased ball movement, despite the removal of Lee, a very good passer, from the lineup.  The presence of two big men constantly within 17 feet of the basket limits spacing.  Small-ball lineups are generally known for opening driving opportunities, but the added spacing also creates passing lanes not available with two big men and their defenders clogging the middle of the court.

Along with Al Horford and Josh Smith, Boris Diaw and Tim Duncan, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, and many other big men tandems, Lee and Bogut consistently pressure defenses in ways most players cannot.

Though best ever is a stretch far greater than that into which Bogut and Lee force defenses, the pair may follow Divac-Webber and Gasol-Odom as the next great west coast passing tandem.

Can Klay Thompson Develop As A Scorer?

In what fans hope soon becomes a less rare occasion, the Golden State Warriors are not going to spend their offseason scouting potential lottery picks.  The refreshing lack of draft picks does not remove the doubts of the typical off-season.  Though the players were already on the roster, the principle remains the same: the Warriors are hoping that their young players, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, Festus Ezeli, and even Kent Bazemore are able to improve.


Klay Thompson’s recently addressed defensive improvements salvaged a frustrating offensive season.  In a pre-season ESPN poll surveying 30 league officials, Klay Thompson was voted “most likely to breakout,” and though his defense was a revelation, this almost certainly predicted an offensive explosion.  Instead, Thompson was inconsistent; sometimes brilliant, sometimes depressing, and nearly always confusing.


Thompson clearly has offensive skills.  At 1.26 points per play, he ranked 16th in points per play in spot up situations according to, despite a shot selection likely poorer than comparable shooters.


Most of Thompson’s offensive game is built around his shooting ability.  He is always a threat spotting up, often in transition.  As the his offensive role expanded, Thompson became the beneficiary of many of the Warriors’ off-ball actions.  He is Stephen Curry’s partner in many of the Warriors cross screen sets and runs countless pin-downs per game.



As he established himself as a scoring threat off these pin-down style plays, further offensive opportunities emerged.  Defenders often overplay to deny the jump shot, allowing Thompson to get into the lane.  Though his 55.3 percent field goal percentage within five feet of the rim is slightly below average, that amounts to 1.106 points per shot, excluding free throws.  With free throw attempts included, the Warriors scored 1.085 points per shot this season.


Once Thompson became a threat to drive off overplays, defensive big men began stepping into his driving lane, allowing him to pass down to the offensive big man rolling off the screen.  As the season progressed, Thompson improved at reading the defense in these situations.


With improved shot selection and more consistent footwork, Thompson can become a very effective offensive player on the already established base of his shooting ability, but can he improve beyond that point?  As Kawhi Leonard so eagerly displayed, good defenders can take away much of Thompson’s efficient option.

Picture 2

Many of Klay Thompson’s inefficiencies are generated by struggles around the rim.  He can get by his man, but does not have the explosion to beat the rotating big men to the rim.  Thompson is forced into taking many layups from beyond his limited comfort zone.  An improved finishing ability would obviously make Thompson a more potent scorer.  He blows several transition opportunities per game, both from a fear of driving and an inability to convert when he does drive.  Thompson’s fear of contact at the rim should draw no comparisons to the problem that once haunted Derrick Rose.  While Rose contorted his body to avoid contact and finish the layup, Thompson consistently jumps to early or at awkward angles in trying to simply get a shot off.  As he becomes more comfortable with NBA defense, Thompson may be able to draw fouls at a rate higher than the 0.11 free throws per field goal attempt he drew this season.


Towards the end of the season, Thompson revealed another aspect to his offensive game.  Often off 1-2 pick and rolls, he began posting up defenders, usually in the mid-post below the elbow.



Thompson often takes the fade-away, but is also able to get defenders off balance and drive into the lane, opening up kick-outs to shooters and dump off passes to big men. Several of the actions Thompson already runs would allow him to take advantage of a more developed post offense.   Misdirections and seals can be incorporated into many of the Warriors’ sets.  The baseline runner in the flex-style offense shown in the video above has many opportunities for deep post position.



The Warriors’ corner sets offer another opportunity to create post touches for Thompson.  At 0:56, Thompson stops his cut below the basket instead of continuing to the perimeter, allowing him to seal off Manu Ginobli for an easy layup.


The greatest impediment to Thompson becoming a consistent scorer is his dribbling ability.  For many players, dribbling is one of the most difficult skills to improve. Thompson will likely never have the control or creativity to be an effective off the dribble scorer, but developing a steady handle will open many more opportunities.


According to, Thompson finished 7.5 percent of his plays as a pick and roll ball handler, very low for a high-usage guard, and was very inefficient in these situations, scoring only 0.57 points per play.  Better dribbling and more consistent footwork when shooting off the dribble will allow Thompson to use the pick and roll as a secondary option after several off-ball sets.



With an improved handle, Thompson’s already established off-ball prowess will increase the Warriors offensive options.  Sets similar to the Denver Nuggets single down imitate the pin-down the Warriors typically run to open Thompson for a mid-range jumper, but are designed to give the offensive player a lane through the middle of the court.  By adding wrinkles to his own game, Thompson allows the Warriors to diversify their offense and put Thompson in better scoring position.



Teams like the San Antonio Spurs and Indiana Pacers often have wing players cut across big men in the high post for handoffs.  Players like Paul George are given lanes to the basket, as the high-post big man’s defender is likely out of position to pick up a drive as he defends his man.  When defenders go under the screen, the cutter is generally given an open jump shot.  With improvements to his dribbling and finishing, Klay Thompson could be very effective in similar situations.


Klay Thompson needs only to make minor improvements to become an efficient scorer in his current role.  Improvements beyond shot selection and minor footwork will be needed for him to become the diverse wing scorer the Warriors currently lack.

Breaking Down Ben Mclemore’s 1st Halft Versus Iowa State


0:00    Mclemore appears hesitant to rotate down to Iowa State big man, allowing the big man to be in position for the offensive rebound had the layup missed. It is hard to blame Mclemore for this because Jeff Withey never fully committed to contest the drive, and Mclemore was likely hesitant to leave his own man open in the corner for a kickout if Withey was not clearly out of position.


0:09    Mclemore is not required to affect this play defensively, but gets into position to make a rotation if necessary then denies his man an opportunity to go for the offensive rebound.


0:15    Mclemore takes a poor angle to get around the screen, the his mistake is emphasized by an uncalled moving screen.   He was trying to deny the pass, but in this situation it may have been easier to go under the screen straight to his man in the corner.  With Mclemore is a good enough defender to prevent his man from beating him baseline, and Iowa State’s spacing would have prevented a drive to the middle of the court.


0:24    Though the high hedge (and the limited ability of college basketball pointguards) prevented a pass, Mclemore should have cut off the rolling big man and denied a pass.  Generally this would have been Withey’s responsibility, but the off ball screen on Withey’s side of the court left an Iowa State shooter open, meaning Withey could not drop all the way into the paint without leaving an open shot and lane for the same man likely to receive the outlet pass off the high pick and roll.  In the NBA, many teams have their wing players “bump” the pick and roll roll man.  Mclemore will have to get used to hurrying into the lane to deny a pass allowing the defensive big man to recover, and sprinting back to cover his man.   Mclemore does appear to make an attempt to do this, but does not really affect the roll man.


0:29    Mclemore looks comfortable coming around the screens, and draws the attention of the strong-side wing defender, who helps one pass off the ball.  Mclemore makes the easy pass to his open teammate.  Also, Mclemore repeats the awareness of rebounding shown earlier by continuing his curl into the lane and attempting to box out a defender.


0:40    This is a poor decision.  There is time left on the shot clock to find a better shot, but Mclemore opts for an off-balance step back.  This is no excuse, but his ability to drive was limited by Kansas’ offensive spacing.  Withey was attempting to post up on the strong side, leaving no room for Mclemore to operate.  Also, notice how Iowa States’ number 13 has his head turned towards Mclemore as his man is running to the opposite side of the court, preventing him from driving middle.


0:44    This play shows Mclemore’s defensive potential, but reveals some flaws.  He is comfortable defending his man above the three point line, and is in position to deny a pass to the big man without allowing a drive.  After the pass, Mclemore turns his head towards the ball and is caught off guard by the cut and screen.  I would criticize Mclemore for choosing to go under the screen, but that was likely an attempt to recover as quickly as possible to the shooter and not the same decision he would have made had he expected the screen.


0:55    Mclemore executes a coordinated euro-step in transition, but cannot get the off-balance shot to fall.  He may have gotten to the rim with another dribble before his move.


1:00    Similar to 0:15, Mclemore chooses to go over an off-ball screen, leaving his man open in the corner.  If he is going to go over off-ball screens, he must be able to get above the screen setter before the ball-handler is in position to throw the pass so that he can deny.  He may have expected McGee to continue to the wing, suggesting Mclemore is not used to guarding good off-ball shooters, something that may be be easily mended by NBA coaching.


1:09    Mclemore attempts to pressure his man near half court, but opens his stance towards the middle of the court, allowing an easy drive.  Perhaps he was trying to deny the screen, but he was not close enough to the screen and the big man was not in position for that defensive strategy.


1:17    Mclemore finds the open space in what appears to be a zone defense, and knocks down an impressive shot.  To the enjoyment of every CYO coach in the country, he immediately follows his own shot.


1:23    Mclemore is not in great position to get the rebound, but the Iowas State big man goes too close to the hoop, allowing Mclemore to take advantage of his athleticism and grab the rebound.

Will Harrison Barnes Develop Behind Curry and Thompson?

(Written for Blue Man Hoop)

With their recent success and wealth of young talent, the Warriors are considered a team on the rise.  But despite Curry’s star-power, how far they rise may be dictated by the development of Harrison Barnes.  Barnes, the karmic reward for Charles Jenkins’ 2011-2012 late season heroics, David Lee’s “unfortunate” injury, and most definitely not shameless, calculated, and committed tanking, has the highest ceiling of any non-Curry player on the roster.



Though he may not realize it, Harrison Barnes is extremely athletic, as Nikola Pekovic can confirm.  While his athleticism may be his greatest asset, Barnes rarely appears to be fully engaging his athletic ability.  Offensively, he will often resort to his nonchalant, rehearsed, and entirely inefficient mid-range jumper over a drive to the rim.  Barnes’ lack of aggression with the ball is further accented off the ball.  He tends to disappear for lengthy stretches, and rarely actively puts himself in position to affect the game.


Barnes’ general lack of aggression is not inexcusable.  While his playoff performance may suggest otherwise, Barnes was often the fourth or fifth scoring option for the Warriors, and rarely was required to create offensively.  However, to maximize both his and the Warriors’ potential, Barnes will likely need to expand his role offensively, and develop the skills that allow him to do so.


The problem facing the Warriors, a problem they likely do not mind having, is that established young talent already occupies much of the role Barnes may seek to grow into. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson appear set to be the Warriors’ primary offensive weapons for years to come, barring any core changing trade.  Barnes’ offensive attack would likely be different from Thompson or Curry’s.  Offensively, the ideal Barnes repeatedly attacks the rim, taking advantage of his athleticism and finishing ability, and draws help defenders, opening Thompson and Curry.


Barnes’ ability to fulfill this role is limited by his currently no better than mediocre dribbling ability.  Barnes often appears very rigid when moving on the court.  He is a capable dribbler, but lacking the ability to quickly react to his defenders movements, he is restricted to committing to a move or destination and picking up or clearing out if he cannot beat his man.


Klay Thompson suffers from the same dribbling deficiencies as Barnes.  Both players’ potential can only be maximized if they develop their dribbling ability, and both will likely spend countless hours attempting to improve their handle during the offseason.  The potential impact of this practice is unknown, and the Warriors may struggle to find sufficient in game situations for each player to develop their abilities.  Now that they expect to contend for a playoff spot, the Warriors will likely not be able to dedicate regular season possessions to Barnes and Thompson’s development.  Though Jarrett Jack may think otherwise, the Warriors are at their best offensively with the ball in Curry’s hand, and the margin for error next season may be smaller than Warriors’ fans expect.


It is difficult to predict Thompson and Curry’s impact on Barnes’ development.  While they may limit his growth, Barnes could also have an experience similar to Kawhi Leonard in San Antonio. With Curry and Thompson as an offensive safety net, Barnes may be able to expand his game without being immediately relied upon to support the team, and can refine his dribbling skills without having to compromise his development for immediate team performance.


The development of Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson, and the Warriors’ young core is expected, but for the Warriors to approach a high level of contention a core similar to the current one, several players will have to make drastic improvements.

Where Does Klay Thompson Rank Among The League’s Top Shooting Guards?

(Written For Blue Man Hoop)

Improved defense and a few offensive outbursts cemented Klay Thompson as a key piece to the Warriors’ future.  With his national recognition on the rise, where does Thompson rank among the league’s top shooting guards?

Tier 1:

1.         Dwyane Wade:  Wade, James Harden, and Kobe Bryant, or some iteration of the three, are widely considered the only stars at shooting guard.  Wade’s defense is the decisive factor in creating the slight separation between Wade, Harden, and Bryant.  While Wade is not always dedicated defensively, he positively affects Miami at that end far more often than Harden and Bryant do their teams.  Harden and Bryant have very little interest in on ball defense, and can often be found drifting off their man, floating on defense without purpose.  While his effort can be criticized, he is more consistent defensively than either Harden or Bryant, and has a greater impact at maximum effort as well.  Though Wade benefits from playing with LeBron James, his offensive efficiency may be equally valuable to the slightly less efficient creation of Harden and Bryant.


2.         James Harden:  Often called the future of the shooting guard position, James Harden is already the present.  At only 24 years old, Harden is one of the best offensive players in the league.  Though he can score from anywhere on the court, Harden generally restricts his shot selection to only the most efficient areas, behind the arc and at the rim.  The Houston Rockets have built their entire offense around him in the pick and roll.  Along with being an incredible scorer, Harden is one of the best passers in the league, and repeatedly finds teammates for open threes as defenses collapse on his drives.  At 50.4 percent, Harden and Bryant have the exact same adjusted field goal percentage.  What separates Harden from Bryant, and most of the league, is his ability to draw fouls.  Harden’s true shooting percentage, which includes free throws, is 60 percent, incredible for a guard, while Bryant’s is slightly less efficient 57 percent.


3.         Kobe Bryant:  Though Bryant’s season may be remembered for his Achilles’ injury, his offensive performance this season was very impressive.  Fighting old age, injuries, roster instability, coaching change, and possibly Dwight Howard, Kobe finished with his highest true-shooting percentage since the 2007-2008 season, and the highest assist percentage of his career.  Though his defense was often crippling, his offense was brilliant.  With him on the court, the Lakers scored 110.4 points per 100 possessions.  Bryant is often criticized for his supposed “selfishness,” but had a higher assist percentage than James Harden, who rarely suffers the same criticisms.


Tier 2:

4.         Andre Iguodala:       Iguodala played small forward for most of his career, but transitioned to a shooting guard role for Denver (one of the few intricacies of player analysis actually covered in these rankings).  Iguodala is decent offensively.  He creates opportunities for his teammates, but does not always convert ones he creates for himself, and has a high turnover rate.  Iguodala has his moments offensively, and is consistently great defensively.  He defends the opponents best perimeter player, from LeBron James to Steph Curry, and produces among the best defensive results in the league.


Tier 3:

Here it gets a bit (a lot) more convoluted.  Potential disrupts the perception of current ability, but potential should also affect current value.  For an older player, performance over the duration of a season outweighs a strong finish, while for younger players, a strong finish could be a sign of long-lasting improvement.  Players like Klay Thompson, Bradley Beal, and Jimmy Butler all made dramatic improvements by the end of the season, but players like Arron Afflalo, Joe Johnson, and J.J. Redick may have been better over the duration of the season.


At least at this moment, this third tier consists of the Joe Johnson, the oft-injured Eric Gordon, Arron Afflalo, J.J. Redick, Bradley Beal, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, and Manu Ginobli.  Beal, Butler, and Thompson all finished the season at a high level, Afflalo and Redick were consistently above average for mediocre to bad teams, Johnson was consistently above average for an above average team, Gordon was consistently not playing for a team, and Ginobli was inconsistently excellent for a great team.  All of these players have flaws, but all are, or at least  by the end of the season appeared to be, a positive factor for their team.


Tier 4: 

Now we reach the depths of even greater convolution, where potential and production vary from game to game. Here the flaws are more fatal,  the potential is less likely to result in production, or the ceiling of production is lower.  This tier includes Avery Bradley, Lance Stephenson, Tyreke Evans, Demar Derozan, Kevin Martin, Iman Shumpert, Danny Green, Tony Allen, Wesley Matthews, Warriors’ acquaintance Monta Ellis, and others.


As a disclaimer, these tiers and rankings do not indicate a finite judgement of these players boundaries and abilities.  Finding Klay Thompson’s place relative to his peers helps improve perspective on Thompson’s value to the Warriors, his progress and current abilities, and his future.


Thompson has an elite skill, separating him from many of the other shooting guards in the league.  His inappropriate use of this skill is what limits him. Thompson likely lacks the athleticism to ever reach the Wade-Harden-Kobe plateau, but by improving his shot selection, Thompson can become a consistently dangerous offensive threat.  Thompson’s ability to shoot not just out of spot up but off screens allows him to create for teammates in atypical ways.  Dump downs to big men and kick outs to wings off drives stemming from defenses overplaying the jump shot are as important to Thompson’s offensive value as his scoring.


Thompson needs to improve his decision making and general offensive awareness, along with his dribbling, if he ever wants to become an offensive star, but his shooting ability and defense will make him a very good shooting guard with only minimal improvements.

Should The Warriors Trade Klay Thompson?

Around the trade deadline, rumors of a potential Klay Thompson for Eric Gordon trade surfaced.  A particularly astute observer may realize that this trade never came to fruition.  However, the concept of a Klay Thompson trade has not been entirely eliminated.  Though they may appear set for the future, the Warriors are a team in flux.  With Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry’s possible departures looming, next year’s roster may be dramatically different from the one that challenged San Antonio in the second round.


By the 2014-2015 season, several of the Warriors’ major contracts expire, giving the Warriors the flexibility for several major moves.  Stephen Curry appears to be a star worth building around, and the Warriors must determine if the current core sets the team up for success better than another attainable option.


Klay Thompson’s playoff performance demonstrated many of his basic merits and flaws.  He played excellent defense on several wings as well as Ty Lawson and Tony Parker, and won the Warriors a few games with hot shooting.  However, in between the performances that have inspired national praise, Thompson is inconsistent at best, and was easily defended by Kawhi Leonard.  Though being shut down by a defender of Leonard’s caliber is no great shame for a developing player, Thompson did not display any of the skills necessary to contribute offensively when he can not get open for his own shots.


That adjective, “developing” is the reason why Thompson’s future is so uncertain.  Had he already reached his ceiling, he would be an entirely expendable piece, but the potential for Thompson to improve his dribbling ability, defense, finishing, shot selection, passing, and general basketball awareness make a trade for equal value difficult to justify.  For Thompson, the areas needing improvement constitute a majority of a basketball players’ function, but the potential for any significant improvement in any of these categories, combined with several of Thompson’s already above-average skills, renders Thompson as more than just another quality young player.


A Thompson trade would most likely target a player similar to Eric Gordon, though there are several other possibilities.  The Warriors may believe that the lack of an off the dribble penetrator limits the team’s success.  While Thompson is able to get into the lane, usually as defenders overplay his jump shot, he lacks the explosion and handle to consistently penetrate from the wing.  Even when Thompson gets into the lane, he is not consistently productive.  Thompsons’ penchant for creatively, misguidedly, and consistently missing layups is one of his biggest flaws.  Be it a jump from one side of the hoop to attempt a Carly Landry-esque reverse layup on the other, or a jump away from the defender while trying to toss up the layup across the body, “Klayups” are one of the many consistently entertaining aspects of Warriors basketball.  This season, Klay Thompson shot 51.06 percent in the restricted area, slightly below league average, and was dreadful from slightly farther out.

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Targeting a dribble penetrator is a simple enough idea, but as Thompson’s layups so often remind the unsuspecting viewer, even the simplest tasks can be difficult.  Despite what the preceding paragraph may suggest, young players on rookie contracts have an inherently high value in the NBA.  The modern dedication to floor spacing gives Thompson and his ability to function as a “three and D” type player an important role in the league regardless of potential improvements.


Given Thompson’s relatively impressive playoff performance any Thompson trade will likely bring back a potential or actual all-star.  Even if the Warriors believe that a dribble penetrator more consistent than Stephen Curry is necessary a trade may not be necessary.  Harrison Barnes, especially towards the end of the season, flashed potential as a secondary ball handler.  Barnes has the speed and athleticism to get to the rim and finish when he gets there, and along with Thompson, is expected to improve dramatically as he gains experience.


The Warriors would be unwise to completely ignore all Thompson trade offers, but openly shopping Thompson when the market has little of attainable equivalent value to offer is not a more desirable alternative.  Klay Thompson has several flaws, but also has a very attainable potential to become a high-level player.  Trading David Lee may be a path worth exploring, but Lee’s value, both on the market and to the Warriors, is a topic worthy of another article.

Could The Warriors Have Beaten San Antonio With A Healthy David Lee

(Written for Blue Man Hoop)

For the many eliminated playoff teams, the weeks after elimination are a time of regret.  With the draft lottery looming, 14 teams are hoping for the fortune that eluded them during the regular season, leaving now-eliminated playoff teams to reflect on what could have been.  While many Warriors fans may be looking forward, eagerly waiting to build on this season’s playoff success, some may still be mired in frustration.


Among more enjoyable trends, injuries have been a central theme of this postseason, and as anyone reading this article has heard, the Warriors were not left unscathed.  David Lee tore his hip-flexor during Game 1 of the Warriors’ first round series against the Nuggets.  Lee was expected to miss the rest of the season, but played limited minutes versus San Antonio.


Lee did play a role off the bench, generally as an offensive interlude to begin the second quarter, but was drastically limited in role and effectiveness.  Playing almost entirely without their lone all-star, the Warriors lost 4-2, but contended in nearly every game.


The Spurs played consistently excellent defense on Stephen Curry and seemingly benefited from a severe injury to Curry’s ankle.  A healthy Lee demands defensive attention that may otherwise have been focused on Curry, and could have helped in freeing Curry offensively.  Lee is a very good offensive big man.  The Curry-Lee pick and roll was the staple of the Warriors’ productive regular season offense.  Per, 20 percent of the Warriors offense was finished by a pick and roll ball handler or roll man.  This would be a significant portion without considering Lee, Curry, and other Warriors’ passing out of the pick and roll to other players after forcing defensive helping help.


So, it stands to reason that adding a fully healthy Lee would have drastically increased the Warriors chance at upsetting San Antonio, right?


Well, maybe not.  During the regular season, the healthy David Lee played in all four of the Warriors games versus San Antonio, totaling 155 minutes, about 38 minutes per game.  Though this is a small sample size, and the playoffs are a different situation, Lee did nothing in these minutes to signify that San Antonio would struggle with him in the playoffs.  The Spurs held Lee to a far below average 47.3 percent true shooting percentage, and Lee was not compensating for this in other areas.  Lee rebounded 17.8 percent of available rebounds, only slightly above his regular season 16.8 percent rebound percentage, and his assist percentage dropped from 16.8 percent to 12.1 percent.  Furthermore, Lee’s inefficiency and lack of creation did not come in a decoy role similar to Curry’s post-injury, but at a greater usage than his season average, meaning Lee’s offensive struggles had an increased impact.

With Lee on the court in the regular season versus San Antonio, the Warriors surrendered a respectable 101.1 points per 100 possessions, but only scored 99.6.  With David Lee off the court, the Warriors allowed only 98.9 points per 100 possessions, and scored 104.6.  While these sample sizes, especially the 42 possessions with Lee off the court are too small to be determinant, they do not suggest that a healthy Lee would have helped the Warriors.


In the series against San Antonio, the Warriors scored 101.9 points per 10 possessions, and allowed 105.9.  The Warriors had an offensive rating of 106.5 and a defensive rating of 105.5 during the regular season.  Their offense struggled against San Antonio during the playoffs, while the defense was only slightly worse than average.  However, in their two victories, the Warriors held San Antonio to 92 points per 100 possessions, and scored 102.7.  Elite defense, rather than elite offense seemed to be the Warriors winning formula versus San Antonio, and though David Lee helps an offense, his defense is damning.


Though some may find his precise passing majestic, Lee earned the nickname “Golden Gate” for a different reason.  Interior help defense is arguably the most important singular role in NBA defense.  Defenders, generally big men, must prevent opposing offenses from getting easy looks at the rim and finishing when they do.  Simply put, Lee protects the rim worse than almost every big man in the league.  With David Lee on the court, the Warriors’ opponents attempted 27.4 percent of their shots from zero to three feet, and converted 64.2 percent of those opportunities.  With Lee off, 25.8 percent of opponents’ attempts came from that range and only 60.8 percent were converted.  According to HoopData, the league average field goal percentage from three feet and in was 64.6 percent.  When David Lee came off the court, the Warriors improved from slightly above league average to fourth in the league at opponent field goal percentage within three feet.   If further evidence of Lee’s defensive deficiency is necessary, along with coining the name Golden Gate, Kirk Goldsberry detailed and attempted to explain this phenomenon for Grantland.



Lee’s poor defense extends beyond rim protection.  While the Warriors help schemes protect Lee in the pick and roll, Lee struggles to defend other offensive attacks.  Lee’s slow lateral speed leaves him vulnerable to drives, often forcing him to compensate by giving his man a wide-open jump shot.   According to Synergy, Lee allows 0.94 points per play to isolations, 275th in the league.  Lee’s poor positioning and effort have effects just as adverse as his foot-speed.  Lee rarely positions himself well to defend post ups (along with most other plays), allowing 0.84 points per play to post ups, 143rd in the league.


Though Lee’s offense is beneficial, a team like San Antonio is well prepared to exploit any and all defensive flaws presented by their opponent.  In Game 1 of the San Antonio-Memphis series, Tony Allen, widely considered an elite defender, was victimized by San Antonio’s ball movement as they repeatedly took advantage of his inconsistent off-ball defense.  The Warriors best performances versus San Antonio were more a result of productive defense than offense, and while a healthy Lee may have given the Warriors a new weapon against the Spurs offense, he often creates many more holes in the Warriors own armor.


San Antonio Drops The Hammer: Death By Execution

(Written for Blue Man Hoop)


Game after game, year after year, the San Antonio Spurs exercise their calculated, methodical genius.  Possession after possession, play after play, the Spurs pass, cut, screen, and penetrate their way through the opponents’ defense, and though the defense resists, the Spurs almost inevitably find their shot.  “The hammer”, the set shown above, represents many of the principles of San Antonio’s offense.  While San Antonio’s system whittles away at a defense, it is the aptly named “hammer” that often drives the final nail.San Antonio’s hammer sets, as the video shows, generally involve off and on ball movement prior to this point, but the first key step is what appears to be a high screen.  San Antonio knows that many defenses attempt to prevent the ball handler from using the screen.  In accordance with the set, San Antonio has cleared the middle of the floor, leaving an open lane for the ball-handler, in this case Cory Joseph, to drive.As the guard drives, the weak-side defensive big man is forced to step in to contest.  Meanwhile, San Antonio’s big man sets a back screen on the defensive wing, usually a couple steps off his man in help position, while San Antonio’s shooter cuts to the corner, setting up an easy pass to a wide-open man for the best shot in basketball.While the specific play may have been used no more than a couple times against the Warriors, it displays the intelligence that couples with San Antonio’s talent to make the team as successful as it is.  The Spurs account for the nuances of the opposing teams expected defense on the initial deceptive screen, and take advantage of help schemes with the back screen.The Warriors may have resisted San Antonio, riding their own hot shooting and San Antonio’s unexpected turnovers and inconsistent shooting to two victories, but a large part of the Warriors performance was simply unsustainable if the Warriors hoped to win.  The Warriors presented an intriguing case, but not one that held up against San Antonio’s aggressive examination.  From their own shooting to the Spurs’ struggles to convert on repeated open corner threes, among other opportunities, the Warriors could not maintain their performance, and were, like many teams before them, sentenced to death by San Antonio’s compassionless execution.

Fortunately for the Warriors, the NBA death is not finite.  The Warriors have next year, and an eternity after that, to build on this season.  While a loss is never welcome, the San Antonio Spurs gave the Warriors a model on which they can base their aspirations.  While the brilliance of Duncan, Parker, and Ginobli may be responsible for much of San Antonio’s success, the Spurs have set the standard for player development and on court execution for several years.  Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter, and Danny Green, recent products of San Antonio’s system were key in carrying out the Warriors’ sentence.

The Spurs, at least more so than other teams, take advantage of their players’ talents, bringing success not just to the players but to the entire team, and apart from a few creative diversions from Manu Ginobli, the Spurs’ players generally stay within this system.

The Warriors have a bright future, but as the Spurs have shown the last few years, success is not guaranteed.  While loss is not always a learning experience, the Warriors could learn learn a lot from the Spurs.