New for The Bird Writes (At the Hive): Predicting the Pelicans Offensive Changes: Part Two
New for At the Hive, Predicting the Pelicans Offensive Changes
Here is my first post for SB Nation’s New Orleans Pelicans blog, At The Hive:
Despite his offensive contribution, David Lee’s overall value is limited. Simply put, Lee is a very bad defensive player. While the entirety of his defense could use improvement, here are the aspects of defense David Lee could feasibly improve that have the greatest effect on the Warriors.
According to mysynergysports.com, David Lee allowed 0.94 points per possession against isolations, 277th in the league. At this point in his career, it is highly unlikely that Lee becomes an above average defender. He is limited by athleticism and mobility. Despite his physical disadvantages, many of Lee’s defensive issues are a product of poor fundamentals. His footwork and initial positioning is often flawed and he has a tendency to bite on most pump fakes.
Here David Lee is defending a big man, LaMarcus Aldridge, in an isolation situation. First off, Lee’s initial stance is problematic. He is completely vertical on the catch and barely bends his knees once Aldridge turns to the basket. Lee’s positioning is also an issue. He is positioned as if to force Aldridge to his right towards the baseline, as most defenses would. Lee has his body oriented correctly but is not actually denying Aldridge any lane. He should be a step closer to the elbow, completely preventing Aldridge form getting to the middle of the court. There is not enough space for Aldridge to turn the corner going right.
Instead, Lee allows Aldridge to go left into the middle of the lane. Lee is not quick enough to cut off Aldridge’s progress, displaying his physical deficiencies. As Aldridge turns back, Lee reveals another one of his defensive flaws. When he should simply hold his position, Lee jumps forward. This could prevent Aldridge from taking a shot, though Aldridge had a nice counter move, but moving into rather than holding position against an offensive player generally results in a foul. According to mysynergysports.com, Lee commits a shooting foul on 8.6 percent of the isolations he faces. This, along with non-shooting fouls, increases individual foul trouble and brings opponents into the bonus.
Lee’s positioning and footwork issues also affect him against perimeter players.
Here, Lee is switched onto Tony Parker following a pick and roll. Against Parker, he should focus on not allowing an open jumper. Parker will be able to get a relatively easy jumper regardless of Lee’s defense, while allowing him into the lane allows a layup and opens kick out opportunities to higher value threes. Once switched onto Parker, Lee should immediately sag towards the paint, as it is highly unlikely that Parker takes an off-the-dribble three. Also, Lee does not position himself well to keep Parker out of the middle of the court.
Lee follows Parker towards the sideline, allowing Parker to cross back over and get to the middle of the key. This is obviously easier said than done, but Lee should attempt to force Parker to drive baseline, where Parker can be corralled without forcing help defenders to leave wide-open shooters.
Despite several years in the league, Lee does not have the defensive recognition and fundamentals necessary to compensate for his limited athleticism.
In post up situations, Lee’s poor defensive awareness and positioning is the main culprit of his struggles, while limited leaping ability serves to exacerbate these issues. According to mysynergysports.com, Lee allows 0.84 points per play to post-ups, 159th in the league. Lee’s on ball post defense is poor. He does not have the length to contest most shots and, as his unnecessary step towards LaMarcus Aldridge shows, he generally practices poor individual defensive technique. He commits a shooting foul on 12.2 percent of post up situations and often will place both hands on the back of an offensive player, warranting an automatic whistle.
However, despite his significant on-ball struggles, David Lee’s post-up weakness is likely a product of poor positioning and off-ball defense.
On this possession, the Warriors’ are playing zone. Though many defenses utilize weak side zone principles anyway, a zone defense typically requires increased defensive awareness from big men, who must now deal with baseline cutters and post movement in addition to help responsibilities. Here, Lee loses track of Kosta Koufos as he stands out of bounds (an action that may soon be disallowed). Even after noticing Koufos, Lee does not fully engage, allowing Koufos to cut to the middle of the lane for ideal post position.
Even in man-to-man defense, Lee often allows deep post position, especially to roll men and after cross screens. He does not often appear to recognize the importance of post position and is rarely gives the effort necessary to force opponents out of this position. Again, Lee’s effort and positioning lead to defensive struggles.
Pick and Roll:
According to mysynergysports.com, Lee allows only 0.6 points per play to roll men, 10th best in the league! However, this disguises the damaging effect of Lee’s pick and roll defense. In the last couple seasons, the Warriors have reconstructed their defense to compensate for Lee’s poor pick and roll defense. I covered the reconstruction of the Warriors’ pick and roll defense when describing how assistant coach Mike Malone affected the Warriors:
“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 from using Tiago Splitter’s screen while Andrew Bogut stays in the paint to contain penetration. Miscommunication may lead to wide open driving lanes and more defensive pressure is placed on the guards, but Ice allows the Warriors’ big men to effectively contain pick and rolls.
Another addition to the Warriors’ pick-and-roll 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 roll men. According to mysynergysports.com, 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 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 scenarios 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”
David Lee is slow laterally and practically immobile when changing direction. He often struggles to contain ball handlers in “Ice” coverage, a strategy used to limit his weaknesses, and is slow to recover to his man, forcing the Warriors to compensate by having help defenders rotate down to the roll man.
Though a lack of athleticism may be the root of his defensive issues, much of Lee’s defensive futility is generated by poor positioning, footwork, and awareness. It may be unlikely that any significant changes occur at this point in his career but even minor improvements to the non-athleticism based components of defense will increase David Lee’s value to the Warriors.
(Written For Blue Man Hoop)
In Game 3 of the NBA Finals, the San Antonio Spurs made a Finals record 16 three pointers en route to the third largest victory in Finals history. Other factors contributed to the victory but it was the three point shooting, led by Danny Green, 7-for-9, and Gary Neal, 6-fo-10, that blew open the game.
The 16-of-32 three point shooting is incredible but more significant is the ease with which San Antonio found open three point opportunities.
The Spurs understand Miami’s defensive system and are able to take advantage of its flaws. Here is an example indicative of a common breakdown in the Miami defense.
This is a variation on the “Loop” set San Antonio often runs. After passing to Manu Ginobili at the top of the court, Tony Parker runs through a series of screens, curls towards the ball, and receives a pass from Ginobili. San Antonio knows that Miami is a very aggressive pick and roll trapping team. The loop often flows directly into a pick and roll with the last screener serving as the roll man after Parker makes the catch.
On this play, Duncan expects Chris Bosh to trap Parker off his screen and immediately drops into post-position. Parker makes a nice pass into Tim Duncan, getting him the ball before Bosh is able to recover. This forces LeBron James to switch off Kawhi Leonard to guard Tim Duncan, leaving Dwyane Wade to defend Leonard.
Leonard instantly recognizes that Miami has overloaded the strong side and moves to basket, forcing Wade to stay tightly on him. This leaves Mike Miller to defend both Ginobili, his original man, and Danny Green, now in the corner. Duncan, and excellent passer, finds Ginobili, who swings the ball to Green for a wide-open corner three.
San Antonio uses a clever misdirection to further take advantage of Miami’s defense. On a typical Loop set, Green would be positioned in the left corner. At the beginning of the play, he appears to be headed to this spot but stops at the post area near Tim Duncan. Green than fakes as if he were setting a screen, another common variation of the Loop, but cuts back and runs to the opposite corner.
Thought this shot was missed, San Antonio was able to find open opportunities out of similar sets designed to take advantage of Miami’s pick and roll traps.
So, what does this have to do with the Warriors?
To achieve future success, the Warriors will have to consistently overcome defenses geared to stop them. Like San Antonio has done to Miami, the Warriors must be able to acknowledge and take advantage of defensive tendencies, a test in both innovation and execution.
(Written For Blue Man Hoop)
Carl Landry is expected to leave as a free agent this summer. Despite this, the Warriors’ frontcourt should be able to improve going into next season, complimenting an already elite backcourt.
The easiest route to a superior frontcourt comes through internal improvements. Improved health from Andrew Bogut could give him increased mobility and comfort in the offense, potentially improving the Warriors both offensively and defensively. Festus Ezeli, Bogut’s back up, was a rookie in the 2012-13 season and should improve naturally as he increases his understanding of NBA rotations and positioning. Ezeli’s offensive game was close to non-existent this season, mostly due to an inability to catch less-than-perfect pass, especially when on the move. If Ezeli’s “hands” improve, he may become more of a threat to finish pick and rolls, secure offensive rebounds, and take advantage of opportunities when opposing big men abandon him to play help defense.
At power-forward, Draymond Green showed promise during the Warriors’ playoff run. Green is already a very good defender and has potential as a stretch four offensively. He shot only 20.9 percent from three in his first year but improved to 39.1 percent during the playoffs. Even as a poor shooter, Green’s position on the perimeter forces defenders to a few steps further out of the paint that David Lee typically would offensively. Though inconsistent, Green often shows good court vision and was a very good rebounder in college. He finished the season with an assist percentage of only 7.0 percent and a total rebound percentage of 13.5 percent (many of his minutes came at small forward, affecting rebounding numbers) but has the fundamentals and physical abilities to be an above average rebounder. Any offensive improvement from Green would be a welcome addition to his already excellent defense and could greatly improve the Warriors’ frontcourt.
Harrison Barnes, like fellow rookie Green, had success playing power-forward during the playoffs. Though it is unlikely that the Warriors rely on Barnes as a full-time power-forward, stretches of small ball could help the Warriors replicate their playoff success. At power-forward, Barnes is able to attack slower players from the perimeter and has fewer defensive big men to account for at the rim. Many power-forwards are not accustomed to defending players on the perimeter, giving Barnes, a 35.9 percent three point shooter, open opportunities. Even when opponents add a perimeter player to match the Warriors, defensive help schemes often force opponents to leave open shooters on the perimeter against four out lineups.
Both Barnes and Green will also get significant time at small forward next season. The off-season improvements of both players will change the Warriors outlook at both small-forward and power-forward.
While a free-agent signing is unlikely due to the Warriors’ salary situation, there are several valuable front court players on the market this offseason that could potentially be obtained through sign and trades or outright signings using the mid-level exception. Players like Marreese Speights, Elton Brand, Earl Clark, Lamar Odom, Chris Anderson, Mike Dunleavy, and a few others could all potentially be signed under the mid-level exception. However, that the Warriors choose to sign a power-forward if they are willing to enter the luxury tax, as retaining Jarrett Jack is likely a higher priority for the front office.
The Warriors could pursue alternative routes, including a sign and trade or actual trade but most of the necessary frontcourt improvements can likely be made within the orginazation.
(Written for Blue Man Hoop)
The Golden State Warriors received some bad news last week. Yes, Stephen Curry’s ankle is still attached to his leg, and no, Andrew Bogut has not lost his affinity for looping behind the back passes, nor has he lost his consistently entertaining Australian accent. Instead, the NBA reported that expected salary cap for next season is now 58.5 million, only slightly higher than the current cap. Prior estimates expected a salary cap closer to 60 million dollars, which would result in a higher luxury tax line. With a lower tax level, the Warriors’ salary issues are amplified, leaving even less flexibility in a very important offseason. Here are four paths the Warriors could take this off-season, each with its own rewards, detriments, and underlying philosophy.
Option One: Convince Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson to leave the team to pursue careers as comedians, thus voiding their contracts. As their on court performance shows, Biedrins and Jefferson have already mastered the art of comedy. While the basketball world appreciates their current comedic endeavors, Biedrins and Jefferson could appeal to a much wider audience. As neither player learned the playbook, their on-court improvisation would likely translate to the stage. Removing Biedrins and Jefferson’s contracts would resolve the Warriors binding salary problems with minimal detriment to the two, save for many millions of dollars. But really, what do ten million dollars matter when you could bring smiles to millions of people?
Option Two: Last season, the Warriors traded Charles Jenkins and Jeremy Tyler to get below the tax line. While it saved money during the year, it was a move for the future. Teams that are in the luxury tax for three straight are subject to a more punitive luxury tax. By avoiding the luxury tax last year, the Warriors allowed themselves to enter the luxury tax this coming season with a three year barrier prior to repeater tax exposure. Re-signing Jarrett Jack at anything remotely close to market value would push the Warriors over the luxury tax line.
The Warriors only have 33 million dollars in guaranteed salary in the 2014-2015 season. Do not confuse this with future flexibility, not including a potential Jack extension. But future free agent beware, this number will not hold. Including a hypothetical Jack extension, the Warriors would have around 40 million dollars guaranteed to only six players. Filling out a roster with anything other than players on rookie or minimum contracts would push the Warriors close to the luxury tax with Klay Thompson and the 2012-13 rookie class’s extensions pending.
For those who believe the Warriors current core can succeed as players develop, re-signing Jack allows the Warriors to maintain current levels of play while still planning for the future. However, the reliance on Jack may limit the development of the Warriors’ perimeter players. Stephen Curry was often used in an off-ball role as he shared the court with Jack. Stephen Curry is already an elite offensive player, but the reliance on Jack, especially at the end of games, could limit his development as a consistent player. Jack’s presence prevents Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes from taking over as secondary ball handlers. Though both would likely struggle in that role, Thompson and Barnes’ future dribbling ability will help dictate their future levels of play. Jack also keeps Kent Bazemore, a potential defensively impactful backup point guard, out of the rotation, limiting his ability to improve. Jack may raise the Warriors short-term ceiling, but his long term effect is unknown.
Option Three: Adding a superstar to an already-good team without cap space is very challenging. Unlikely though it may be, Dwight Howard presents the opportunity for the Warriors to add an all-star level player to the roster. I already addressed many of the pros and cons of pursuing Howard, one of the few superstars potentially attainable.
The Warriors almost certainly must be willing to surrender a young player to acquire Howard and risk upsetting players if the trade does not go through, but the rewards would be a player who raises the Warriors potential to heights not seen in many, many years.
Option Four: The philosophical antithesis to option two, the Warriors could let Jack and Landry walk and look to trade David Lee. The Warriors had success in the playoffs without Lee but this is less about short-term success and more about the future. Lee is set to receive $44,383 over the next three years, an unjustified burden on the already financially bound Warriors. Especially given his salary, Lee may limit the Warriors ceiling.
Interior defense and pick and roll coverage are vital to a good defense. The laterally slow David Lee cowers at the mere mention of a speedy ball handler (or rather, waits five seconds to react and then cowers), and is still confused as to why a disappointed glare is not enough to stop opponents at the rim.
To accommodate for Lee’s defensive shortcomings, the Warriors over-compensate with help defense. On this Parker-Diaw pick and roll, Klay Thompson comes all the way to the edge of the paint, knowing Lee is likely to be late recovering to Diaw. The Warriors often help this aggressively on the roll-man side when he is in the pick and roll, often resulting in open corner three point attempts for the opponent. David Lee is one of the worst interior defenders in the NBA.
However, his struggles are not limited to help and pick and roll defense. In addition to being a very bad defender in two of the most vital aspects of NBA defense, Lee struggles to defend his own man, allowing 0.94 points per play in isolation, 276th in the league, according to mysynergysports.com.
While teams can generally hid poor perimeter defenders, bad interior defenders are often crippling. Lee’s contract and defense place a potential ceiling on the Warriors. With increased playing time for Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes, and the potentially trade return at power-forward, the Warriors could replace Lee’s passing and scoring with the valuable spacing he does not provide to keep the Warriors functional offensively. Though letting Lee, Landry, and Jack walk may cause the Warriors to decline next season, they would be in a better position for the future.
As a younger fan, perhaps I do not appreciate the rare success the Warriors had this season. A step back after the first step forward in a long time may discourage fans who are content with consistent playoff appearances. It is difficult to envision a championship team built around Lee’s salary and defense, though as Kevin Garnett so eagerly reminds us, “anything is possible.”
(Written For Blue Man Hoop)
With the Golden State Warriors ready to enter a potentially formative off-season, here is a chronological reflection on the Warriors’ recent free agent successes.
Speedy Claxton: 2003
Claxton played 46 games for the Warriors in the 2004-05 season before being traded along with Dale Davis to the New Orleans Hornets for Baron Davis. Claxton played 32.6 minutes per game, averaging 13.1 points and 6.2 assists per game. He was not a very efficient scorer, with an adjusted field goal percentage of 44.1 percent, but managed to attempt 5.1 free throw attempts per 36 minutes. While his production was decent, Claxton is significant as a key piece to Baron Davis trade.
Brian Cardinal: 2004
After being waived by the Washington Wizards the previous season, Cardinal signed a one year deal with the Warriors. In 76 games played, he average 21.5 minutes and 9.6 points per game. In his lone year with Golden State, The Custodian sure cleaned up. Cardinal lead the league in true shooting percentage at 62.6 percent, had a plus-20 rating differential, and recorded .212 win shares per 48 minutes, clearly indicative of the elite player we all know Cardinal was, not an insignificant role player.
Kelenna Azubuike: 2007
On January 2nd, 2007, the Warriors signed Azubuike, then playing for the Fort-Worth Developmental League team to his first professional contract. Azubuike went on to play 205 games over four seasons with the Warriors before being sent to New York in a trade for David Lee. Though his career was derailed by injuries, Azuibike gave the Warriors consistent defensive effort and perimeter athleticism, and embodied the reckless mentality that carried (or maybe complimented, you know, tangible things like matchups and defense) the Warriors to their upset of Dallas in the 2007 playoffs.
Corey Maggette: 2008
During the 2008 off-season, the Warriors blew up the “We Believe” core, letting Baron Davis sign with the Los Angeles Clippers, and signed Corey Maggette to a then-and-now ridiculous five year, 48 million dollar contract. He scored relatively efficiently in his two years with the Warriors but struggled with health issues. Maggette, often an example of the foolish contracts NBA teams “used to” give, was vilified for his poor effort and has become associated with many of the Warriors’ recent failures.
Dorell Wright: 2008
The summer before the 2010-11 season, Wright signed a 3 year, 10 million dollar contract with the Warriors. A decent defender and three point shooter, he played 38.4 minutes his first year as a Warrior, but fell out of favor with Mark Jackson towards the end of his second. More importantly, Wright was sent to the Philadelphia 76ers as part of the three-team trade through which the Warriors acquired Jarrett Jack.
Carl Landry: 2012
Before this season, Landry signed a two year, 8 million dollar contract with the Warriors. The second year is a player option Landry is expected to drop, allowing the reserve power forward to enter free agency. Landry served as an efficient scoring big man (True Shooting Percentage of 60.5 percent), was a decent rebounder, and was not fatally flawed defensively. Though he will likely depart this offseason, Landry was a key to the Warriors’ success.
Kent Bazemore: 2012
The Warriors signed Bazemore after he went undrafted in prior to the season. While Stephen Curry, David Lee, and others dominated on the court, Bazemore made his presence known from the bench. With Jarrett Jack’s returning next season in doubt and the Warriors flexibility limited, Bazemore may play a vital role on the team sooner than expected.
(Written For Blue Man Hoop)
For the first time in many years, the Warriors are regarded as a future contender. While Dwight Howard’s opinion has proven to be untrustworthy, the ability to attract top-level free agents is a drastic change for the Golden State Warriors franchise. Here are some of the pros-and cons the Warriors will consider with regards to pursuing Dwight Howard.
Pro: When healthy, Dwight Howard is the best center in the league. Though, likely due to back and shoulder injuries, he struggled this season, Howard has been the league’s premier center for several seasons. Howard has, or at least recently had, the mobility to cover pick and rolls and rotate on help defense, the strength to defend post ups, the leaping ability to contest shots at the rim, and the positioning to prevent many shots from being attempted. Offensively, Howard relies on the same mobility and athleticism. He is stronger than many defenders in the post. More importantly, he was the single best pick and roll roll-man in the league. When healthy, he has the mobility to attack the lane, the coordination to catch most passes, and is one of the better finishers at the rim. With Curry’s shooting and Howard’s finishing, the Warriors’ pick and roll would be a consistent source of efficient offense. Of course, the same claims were made about the Nash-Howard pick and roll before this season.
Pro: He has been healthy most of his career. Despite injuries, Howard played 76 regular season games for the Lakers, 92.6 percent of the possible 82. In terms of games played, 2011-12 was Howard’s worst season. He played 54 of 66 regular season games, about 81 percent. In seven other career seasons, he has played a greater percentage, including a full 82 games five times. Recent issues included, Howard is far less of a health issue than Andrew Bogut.
Also worth mentioning is that despite health issues, Howard was not as bad this year as many portrayed him to be. After a discouraging start, he regained something resembling his typical form over the course of the season.
Con: Chasing Howards restricts off-season mobility. He is not known for quick decisions (nor good ones). Though he is likely hesitant to replicate last season’s “Dwight-mare,” Howard’s free agency courting process could easily last weeks. A dragged out process could prevent the Warriors from making other key moves.
Con: Giving Dwight Howard the maximum four year contract he demands will restrict future flexibility. Along with Andris Biedrins’ and Richard Jefferson’s, Bogut’s contract expires after next season. Currently, the Warriors only have 33 million committed to the 2014-2015 season, per basketball-reference. Adding Howard’s contract, along with the contracts of players included in the trade or brought in to fill roster spots, the Warriors salary flexibility could be drastically decreased. The possible Klay Thompson extension would kick in during the 2014-15 season and likely join Howard Curry and Lee in a growing collection of big-money contracts pushing the Warriors up to the salary cap. Harrison Barnes would be due for an extension the year after Thompson (though one of Barnes or Thompson would almost certainly be surrendered in a trade for Howard). If Howard plays to his typical standards, this decreased flexibility would be a minor issue but given the variability of human health and the NBA, Howard’s contract is a concern.
Con: He seems committed to fulfilling the historic role of an offensive center. Amid the chaos of the Laker’s locker-room, there was one constant clamor. Dwight Howard wanted more touches. While he finished with the third lowest usage percentage of his career, he still finished with a 21.3 percent usage rate, not ball-dominant, but still a focus of the offense. The concerning part of his possession pleas was the demand for more “post-touches.” According to mysynergysports.com, he scored 0.74 points per play in post up situations, 121st in the league. In the pick and roll, where he has excelled his whole career, Howard scored 1.29 points per play, 8th in the league. Howard draws attention in the post, freeing up shooters, but his desire for more post-touches indicates a misunderstanding of his own strengths and weaknesses not beneficial to the development of an elite team.
(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 mysynergysports.com, 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.