Lately there has been a lot of talk that all one needs to do to defeat the Warriors is slow down the game and force Golden State to beat you in the half-court. This statement’s lack of validity should be most evident in the Warriors’ shellacking of San Antonio, Chicago, and Cleveland in recent weeks. Regardless, analysts still espouse the “slower pace” narrative, and consequently, in the debate world, this argument is what we like to call fallacious.

My theory on how to beat Golden State has remained the same as it was over one month ago. But, I’d like to add, it is much more difficult than I eluded to in that article. Nevertheless, let’s examine why this argument about how “forcing Golden State to play slow will lead to their demise” is so misinformed.

First, let’s look at offense. One would assume, if forcing Golden State to play slow is the key to beating them, that their eFG% with less time on the shot clock would be lower than the rest of elite teams. Essentially the argument follows that, by slowing down their offense, the Warriors will struggle offensively. Let’s examine those statistics while comparing them to the other top teams in the NBA (Spurs, Thunder, Cavaliers, and Clippers).

eFG% With Regards To Time Left On Shot Clock

Figure 4 Stats via Basketball Reference

What Figure 1 demonstrates is that the Warriors are actually better at shooting with less time left on the clock than nearly every other team listed. Moreover, the differential change between shot clock times is insignificant. I.E., all five teams shoot poorly with less than four seconds left on the clock, however, the Warriors are still very good.

Why is this? Essentially, people make the mistake of assuming that Golden State’s offense is similar to Mike D’Antoni’s “seven seconds or less” Suns. The latter offense was led by Steve Nash between 2002-2008 with the sole goal of getting a shot off in seven seconds or less. This created efficient shots by not allowing the opposing defense to completely set.

The biggest weakness in D’Antoni’s offense was when the other team slowed down. Effectively, this resulted in the Suns taking the fastest shot they could, while the other team took the best shot they could. A second weakness was that Suns players, throughout the course of a season, tired out and could not give full effort for an entire game. These two defects resulted in the Suns being unable to win playoff series against the Spurs and Mavericks.

I would argue that, last year, Golden State did, in fact, suffer from the former problem. This is why Memphis and Cleveland gave them trouble early in each series. Slowing down the pace resulted in an ability to force Golden State into more inefficient shots than their opponents took efficient shots. Frankly, had either team been able to maintain full health, this strategy may have been effective enough to cost Golden State their finals victory.

The issue, though, is that people view this season’s Warriors as an extension of the “seven seconds or less” Suns and/or last year’s Warriors. Whereas in fact, the three offenses are very different. First, let’s compare the same shot clock eFG percentage stats as above with this year’s and last year’s Warriors.

eFG% With Regards To Time Left On Shot ClockWarriorscompar

Figure 4 Stats via Basketball Reference

What Figure 2 demonstrates is that this year’s Warriors are better at shooting towards the end of shot clocks than last year’s team was. The data does not exist for the 2004-05 Suns, however, we’d imagine it would show similar results.

Thus, why is this? Essentially, this year’s Warriors utilize assists beautifully to combine with their wondrous three-point shooting to guarantee efficient shots, regardless of the time left. They do not rely on their opponent’s defense not being set. Let’s compare the three aforementioned teams’ assist percentages below.

Assist Percentage of 04-05 Suns, 14-15 Warriors, and 15-16 Warriors

Figure 4 Stats via Basketball Reference

What Figure 3 shows is that this year’s Warriors shoot a significantly higher percentage of their shots off assists than the 2004-05 Phoenix Suns did (the highlight of the “seven seconds or less” era), and a noticeably higher percentage than last year’s Warriors. As noted previously, the passing results in more efficient shooting opportunities. Consequently, slowing down the pace of the game may slightly disrupt the Warriors’ offense; however, not nearly as much as it effects other offenses, therefore leaving the Warriors as still dominant.

Moving on to defense, we see a similar trend. Here, we utilized Basketball Reference’s data to examine games in which the Warriors’ played a slower than league average pace (97.8 possessions per game) and their defensive eFG%. Let’s look below.

Figure 4 Stats via Basketball Reference

What Figure 4 demonstrates is that, rather than harming the Warriors’ defense, slowing down the pace actually helps it become more efficient. This is because, as noted by the various graphs above, slowing down the pace and waiting until later in the shot clock to shoot results in less efficient shots. This is because, the longer a possession takes, the more likely it is to end as an isolation shot, which is inherently less efficient than nearly any other play type.

Consequently, while pundits criticize Tyronn Lue for saying the Cavaliers need to play at a higher pace, or say that the Spurs’ strategy of playing slow is the only way to defeat Golden State, they are missing the big picture. Defeating Golden State is not about forcing them to slow down, rather, a more matchup based approach is necessary. Throughout the course of the season, and especially the playoffs, it will be interesting to see how teams address the relentless efficiency of Steve Kerr’s Warriors.



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