Splash! Interesting how the sound of another dagger three-pointer is so very similar to that of champagne spraying uncontrollably throughout a locker room. Welcome to the life of the Golden State Warriors – 2015 edition. One of the best teams of all time? Possibly. (Very well could be the best team since Jordan’s 72-win Bulls. We’ll leave that open for debate.) One of the most exciting teams of all time? Definitely!
Congratulations to the NBA champion Golden State Warriors, very deserving. But how exactly were they able to achieve something that no Bay Area fan since 1975 ever thought would be possible?
By now, it would be beyond stating the obvious to call Golden State an offensive juggernaut. With a regular season offensive rating of 109.7 (points per 100 possessions) that rates among the highest in the past 10 years in the league, an offensive pace of 100.69 (number of possessions per 48 minutes), an effective field goal percentage of 54.0 percent (adjusted for made threes being 1.5 times more valuable than twos) and an assist ratio of 19.9 percent (rate of possessions scored from an assist) it is easy to see why the Warriors are standing on top of the offensive mountain with all their league leading efficiency stat stuffers.
Everyone’s cousin that knows absolutely nothing about basketball knows of the Warriors prolific three-point shooting ability.
Stephen Curry – 286 *breaking his own NBA regular season record (unheard of 98 postseason threes; smashing Reggie Miller’s previous record and any thoughts of anyone else without the name Curry every breaking it.)
Klay Thompson – 239.
First and second in overall threes made. When you think Warriors, you think ‘live and die’ by the three. We’ve all heard it, and the common fan would be right. But what many don’t know (and the talking ESPN heads won’t tell you) is that the Warriors’ success is much more than surface deep. Or, better put – Oracle parking lot range deep.
First of all, I have to recognize one stat that won’t show up in the box score. The overcoming LeBron James stat (which should be a measurable statistic in itself). What he did in the NBA Finals is nothing short of remarkable. All the Jordan worshipers out there can say all they want about Jordan’s Finals performances and that he went 6-0. But without LeBron, the Cavs might not have won the D-League championship. (Side note: Golden State’s D-League team Santa Cruz won the 2015 title.)
According to fivethirtyeight.com, through the first five games, James had gathered an incredible 18 percent of all the points scored, assists dished and rebounds collected by anyone in this series. That is an unreal stat in itself. That stat doesn’t only count the Cavs statistics, it’s everyone’s statistics. Jordan’s highest ever percentage – 15.6 percent in 1991. But as everyone knows (or should know) no matter what sport or line of work, no one can do it on his own.
According to analytical stat guru Nate Silver, the Cavs supporting cast ranks 60th out of 62 all-time Finals’ teams. And how about this for a stat… Since 1985, players with 35 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in a playoff game: LeBron (2009), LeBron (2010), LeBron (2015), LeBron (2015), LeBron (2015).
The Warriors take full advantage of what I call ‘The Foundation Stats.’ Without them, all the glorified Hollywood-esque stats wouldn’t be possible. Within five feet, in the battle-zone of the paint, Golden State shot 62.9 percent (second highest total in the league, only behind the dunkfest of the Clippers) and scored 45.3 points per game. Points off turnovers – league leading 19.7 per game along with a transition efficiency rating of 1.159 points per possession. To say the least, turning defensive stops and turnovers into points was a huge factor to the Warriors offensive success.
Defense, inside-five-feet paint scoring, points off turnovers, that doesn’t sound Warriors-sexy, does it? What’s on the surface can be very deceptive, but never judge a book by its cover.
Offensively, the NBA can basically be broken down into two very important offensive situations; ball screens and spot-up shooting. That’s 70 percent of the majority of NBA offenses. To state the importance of being high level in these aspects is an understatement itself. Golden State ranked second overall in ball screen situations with an adjusted field goal percentage of 48.4 percent. They ranked first first overall in spot-up shooting situations with a points per possession of 1.094 and an adjusted field goal percentage of 56 percent.
A common known fact in basketball is this: What a team does well on one side of the ball, they normally struggle with on the other side of the ball. Not the Warriors, they are an anomaly to the theory. Defensively in ball screen situations, Golden State ranked sixth in the league holding opponents to a 0.745 points per possession. Against spot-up shooting, the Warriors shut down opponents to a dismal 36.9 percent score rate, ranking them third overall. If that wasn’t enough to demonstrate their defensive prowess, they held opponents to 41.9 percent field goal percentage and 30.9 percent from behind the arc. As good as the Warriors were shooting the three, they were equally as good defending the line.
And when the stakes got higher? Well, so did the Warriors efficiency. In clutch stats (stats in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime), Golden State only turned the ball over 0.6 times, and had a league leading 18.8 percent points off turnovers, while also ranking second in the league with a 62 percent rebound rate. So to sum that up, late in the game the Warriors took care of the ball at the highest level, translated points to turnovers, and secured rebounds better than nearly every team in the league.
All of these efficiency rates and analytical stats are great, and as you can see the Warriors thrive in almost every offensive and defensive area. But are stats really what define a champ? Can a great points per possession produce a 67-win regular season team? Understand that the players are what make those stats happen, no question about it. But without leadership and a captain to direct the ship, the ship is destined to sink.
The reason the Warriors are the world champions? The coaching staff and management. There are not many owners in the game that truly have the passion and desire to do whatever it takes to win. Joe Lacob has those qualities. And what is great about him is he understands how to put the right basketball minds in positions to make the decisions that are needed. The Warriors have been the most efficient offense and defense for the majority of the season, and they are also the most efficient organization.
The hire of Steve Kerr in the offseason is what put the championship wheels in motion. Everything that Kerr resembles has been infectious to his team on the floor – stability, togetherness, grit, and a never-give-in attitude. Have you ever seen Kerr look flustered on the bench? Nope. Can you ever count the Warriors out of a game? Nope. Just ask the Pelicans about Game 3 of the first round. Nineteen points down in the fourth quarter, no big deal. Adversity doesn’t faze Kerr one bit. Overlooked throughout his playing college recruitment, playing career, and facing the toughest life adversity anyone can face. The reason the Warriors are solid as a rock and are never flustered in any situation, well look no further than to the bench where it all starts with their coach. Kerr will deflect any praise or credit, part of his overly modest persona that is infectious.
But as much credit as he deserves as a coach, he also deserves the credit for putting together what I think is one of the best assistant coaching staffs in the past 25 years with Alvin Gentry, Ron Adams and Luke Walton.
Strong management, high level coaching, the foundation for the blueprint of an NBA champion.
So as you watch the champagne shoot through the Warriors’ locker room in Cleveland and hear every analytical stat known to man, just remember where it all begins. Everyone from top to bottom in the organization, on the court and off the court, functioning as one. Sound like the 2014 Spurs, right? Team over individual all over again.
David Nurse is a professional shooting coach. You can learn more about him at PerfectShotsBasketball.com, the best shooting and skills basketball website in the world. You can also follow him on Twitter @davidnurse05.