What Makes the Golden State Warriors Such Willing Passers?
In the earlier stages of the season, the NBA community was in awe of the Golden State Warriors' masterful passing.
Among many others, Shane Young touched on the historic levels of their ball movement. At the time, they were just under a record pace in terms of total assists and, with 31.3 helpers per 100 possessions, they ranked first all-time in that category.
They're no longer on that exact pace, but, according to Basketball Reference, Golden State is still averaging a league-leading 31.02 assists per game and are on pace to finish the year with more assists than all but two teams (the 1984-85 Los Angeles Lakers and 1978-79 Milwaukee Bucks) in NBA history. In addition, the Warriors are assisting on 71% of made field goals, which is 6.1% higher than the Boston Celtics (64.9%).
The majority of people will chalk this up to Golden State's wide-open system and the general unselfishness among the team. Those are definitely factors, but we're overlooking the obvious -- they're a team full of great shooters.
Shoot, Shoot, Shoot
Klay Thompson's and Stephen Curry's shooting prowess, especially from the perimeter, is well documented. They're the Splash Brothers for a reason. All they needed was a third brother, right? Well, since signing in free agency, that's exactly what Kevin Durant has been, shooting the lights out from just about everywhere on the floor.
As you can imagine, the trio of sharpshooters have demolished opposing defenses from beyond the arc this season.
That's just not fair.
Curry, Thompson and Durant account for 75.6% of the Warriors' 11.9 three-point makes and 72.8% of the team's 30.9 long-range attempts per game. So, outside of the team's top three scorers, the rest of the squad is shooting 34.5%. That's actually more than a percentage-point below the league-average of 35.9%, making it very beneficial to have the three amigos.
Catch and Shoot
Even as a three-man lineup, they average 52.5 points and 5.9 threes in just 19.9 minutes together per game (according to NBA.com). They convert at a rate of 51.5% from the field and 40% from three. With 13.8 assists, or .69 per minute, Chef, Klay and KD assist on 72.4% of their made field goals and a remarkable 84.4% of their made threes when they share the floor.
The same can be said for most of the team's lineups. Of the 17 five-man lineups to have played in at least 10 games, only 3 have a three-point assist percentage below 80%. In fact, more of those lineups (5) consist of groups who have assisted on 100% of their made three-point field goals. Each of those contains at least one of the team's three-point assassins, so there's no coincidence there.
But, other than, "Yeah, they're really good," how exactly is this possible?
The short answer is they're historically great shooters. The long form of that same answer is they're really, really good off the catch -- and here's the proof.
|Catch and Shoot||Points||3PM|
Again, with the help of NBA.com, we find that Thompson, Curry and Durant rank 1st, 7th and 22nd in points via catch-and-shoot situations. Even better, among those with at least five points per game, their effective field goal percentages of 69.1%, 63.6% and 60.9% place 2nd, 7th and 13th, respectively. Boston, Cleveland, Houston, Portland, San Antonio and Washington all have two players in the top 20, but Golden State has three in the top 13 alone.
Having the firepower to so effectively convert off the pass is all the more incentive to make the extra pass. It means higher individual and team assist numbers. It's good, easy basketball, and most of all, it translates to wins.
The Warriors lead the league by a wide margin with a record of 41-7. According to our algorithms, they're the NBA's top team, have a 100% chance of making the playoffs and, at 37.7%, possess the best odds to win the 2017 NBA championship.
So, when we ask ourselves, "What came first? The chicken or the egg? The great passing or the great shooting?", in reality it doesn't matter. However, it is much easier to trust one another knowing you have three guys who can turn a single pass into three points in the blink of an eye.