Are the Golden State Warriors Beatable?

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The Golden State Warriors have been the most discussed team in the 2015-16 NBA season. Grant Hughes, from Bleacher Report, has recently provided statistical information regarding how Golden State has crushed their opponents early in games. Additionally, writing for ESPN, Zach Lowe contends that executives from young teams are considering waiting out the Warriors dominance due to fear. This is for good reason. At points their offense seems nearly unstoppable, they have four of the top ten lineups in the NBA in terms of Net Rating, they play with the fastest pace in the NBA while still maintaining strong defense, and, up until a little over one week ago, they were undefeated.

That last point is important. This Warriors team has been one of the most dominant teams in NBA history; however, they are beatable. This article will examine what teams need to do in order to defeat Golden State.

Certain teams have tried playing as fast as Golden State and beating the Warriors offensively (I’m looking at you Suns, Kings, Pelicans, and Pacers). I’ll give a brief rundown: It does not work. Golden State’s offensive talent is far and away the best in the NBA so outscoring them is like Finn trying to beat Darth Vader in a lightsaber duel.

So how does one beat a nearly unbeatable Warriors team? The answer lies on the defensive side of the ball. More specifically, denying certain shots. This can be seen in the Warriors latest close contests between the Bucks and Celtics, as well as in their finals series versus the Cavs last summer.

As a general rule, Golden State shoots nearly 32% of their shot attempts on catch-and-shoot opportunities and only 18.1% of shots with a defender near two feet (or tight defense).

Below are the percentages of catch-and-shoot shots the Warriors average in 2015-16 and what they averaged against the Bucks and Celtics.

 

Warriors Shooting Frequency 2015-16 Whole GamesFigure 1 via NBA.com/stats

 

More specifically, below is a game-by-game breakdown:

Warriors Shooting Frequency 2015-16 Splits

Figure 2 via NBA.com/Stats

 

What these charts explain is that, overall, in the three games against the Bucks and Celtics, Golden State shot five percent less of their shots on catch-and-shoot opportunities. This is important because the Warriors’ offense generates efficient shots by utilizing a motion offense that creates catch-and-shoot opportunities. Thus, by denying those shots, Golden State needs to reformat their offense in-game, which is easier said than done.

This trend can even be seen last year in the finals. Below is a chart comparing Golden State’s shooting numbers in the 2014-15 finals with their playoff numbers in general. I utilized Golden State’s playoff numbers rather than those for the entire season because, during the regular season last year, the Warriors had the fastest pace in the NBA; however, they only had the eighth fastest in the 2014-15 playoffs.
Warriors Shooting Frequency 2015-16 Splits Warriors-Cavs Finals

Warriors-Cavs Finals

Figure 3 via NBA.com/Stats

 

Here, while the thesis this article posits is still true, the numbers are less significant. Thus, as pointed out earlier, the tightness of an opponent’s defense against Golden State must be considered. Below is a chart that does just that.

 


Figure 4 via NBA.com/stats

 

Thus, what this suggests is that, in order to beat the Warriors, one needs to play extremely tight defense. This season they are averaging only 18.1% of shots in tight coverage; yet, Boston, Milwaukee, and Cleveland (last year) have been able to prevent this because of excellent perimeter defense.

When the Bucks defeated Golden State, the Warriors actually shot less shots in tight coverage, but also significantly less catch-and-shoot shots. This implies stopping both catch-and-shoot opportunities and open shots are necessary to defeating the Warriors in a playoff series.

Beating the Golden State Warriors is easier said than done. Nonetheless, through prevention of catch-and-shoot attempts as well as very tight defense, defeating Steph Curry and his teammates is possible. This is not an exclusive solution, as opposing teams need to play good ball throughout, but this strategy provides for an opportunity to defeat Golden State. Eventually the Warriors will begin to face better defensive teams like the Cavaliers and Spurs, and when this happens, it will be interesting to see how their offense changes.

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