Beyond Shame: Analyzing Warriors’ Defensive Breakdowns and Crafting a Comeback

In six games at Chase Center this season, opponents are shooting 42.7% on threes — 94-of-220 — against the Golden State Warriors.

Of course, a small sample size means one extreme outlier would shoot the Warriors down toward the bottom of the opponent three-point field goal rankings. That outlier came tonight against the Oklahoma City Thunder, who shot a whopping 19-of-32 — 59.4% (!!!) — on threes.

But take away tonight’s game — Warriors’ opponents would still be shooting 39.9% on threes at Chase Center. That ranks them 27th in terms of opponent three-point accuracy with garbage time eliminated, per Cleaning The Glass.

It’s easy to conclude that opponents have been showered with a strange case of shooting luck — that even those the Warriors intend to leave open because of their questionable outside shot have been drilling their jumpers, or those who they defend and contest tightly are still making their shots. There’s value to be garnered from knowing your personnel, and the Warriors do know their personnel at times — but have apparently been flipping the coin and getting tails on multiple occasions.
Warriors' defense were fooled multiple times by the Thunder — should it be  shame on them? - Golden State Of Mind

But there’s a difference between leaving it all to chance and doing even the slightest bit of effort to make sure that the odds will be in your favor. At this level, even the shakiest of jumpers gain a steady boost if they’re left wide open.

Take the case of Josh Giddey, for example. Prior to tonight’s game, he was posting career lows in both three-point attempt rate (1.9 per game) and three-point percentage (19%). Virtually every look he’s been given and are taking this season have been considered “wide open” (1.8 per game) — and he’s been shooting a ghastly 4-of-20 on such shots.

Giddey is a 29.1% career shooter from beyond the arc. There was going to be some sort of correction toward the mean at some point — unfortunately for the Warriors, it came against them (3-of-3 on threes).

Some of the process and decision making behind leaving Giddey open wasn’t at all bad. The Thunder lead the league in drives per game — 60.5. They live off of paint touches and are constantly putting pressure on the rim, which can generate tons of efficient shots from different parts of the floor.
Jonathan Kuminga, Chris Paul graded in Warriors loss to Thunder - Golden  State Of Mind

The logical thing for the Warriors to do in order to wall off the paint is to send help against drives down the middle. An example is sending the weak-side slot defender toward the “nail” (the area approximating the middle of the free throw line) to stunt or dig at the ball handler to slow down middle penetration and get the ball out of his hands.

In theory, putting Giddey on the weak-side slot makes it an easy decision for his defender to help off and position himself at the nail. That was what Chris Paul thought in the possession below with Jalen Williams driving middle.

But Giddey had other plans:

The decision to leave Giddey is even more sound on paper when you have a choice to make between him and Isaiah Joe — shooting 41% on threes this season prior to the game, 38.8% for his career, and ended up shooting a perfect 7-of-7 from beyond the arc tonight.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander attracts multiple bodies on the transition drive below. Paul matches up onto Joe in the corner, with Giddey trailing his way toward the wing. If you’re Paul, who do you choose to close out on?

The logical answer is Joe. Giddey, however, had something to say about that:

There’s occasionally a tricky balance between having to leave someone open and hope the odds play out like they should and leaving someone open and giving them the time to set their shot and capture their rhythm. It felt like *some* of the threes the Warriors gave up against the Thunder were of that variety — which engenders the notion that they were justified in such a plan but were on the short end of the stick when it came to spinning the wheel.

The other side of their opponent three-point woes, however, looked a bit like this:

There’s dissonance between Cory Joseph and Kevon Looney on which ball-screen coverage to play above. On the “ghosted” screen (setting a fake screen to flare toward the slot/wing) by Joe, Joseph switches onto Gilgeous-Alexander, while Looney stays — which leaves Joe open for the three.

Joseph can clearly be seen gesturing toward Looney as if to say, “What are you doing? Why didn’t you switch?” This — along with this possession to open the game against the Thunder, in which Paul switches onto Chet Holmgren willingly:

Tends to make me think that the Warriors’ chosen coverage on screens against the Thunder was to switch everything. If that was the case, the three by Joe above was indeed caused by a mistake on Looney’s part.

What’s weird, however, was that Looney wasn’t the only one who made that mistake. Andrew Wiggins also missed two switches on ghosted screens by Joe:

The gaffes above could range from simple communication issues to brainfarts in terms of knowing which coverage to play. In any case, it’s inexcusable for the Warriors to be making these kinds of mistakes, especially with their backs against the wall — without Draymond Green for the next four games, without Steph Curry for who knows when, and potentially without Gary Payton II, who suffered an ankle sprain during the game.

That’s their offensive engine and overall best player out, and two of their best defenders sidelined. Those handicaps are reasonable — but far from being 100% valid as excuses for some of the mistakes they’re making.

It’s getting to a point where it’s baffling — even making basic mistakes such as helping off the strong-side corner, which is generally considered a no-no in a league where corner threes are the most high-value shot types:

The Warriors are already letting opponents drill corner threes at a 47.5% success rate at home — a combination of which are due to strong-side corner mistakes such as the one above, and some due to having undersized “low-men” (the designated weak-side corner defender whose responsibility is to help against dribble penetration) who have near-zero ability to affect shots or passes in the paint.

This shot didn’t result in a corner three — but it easily could’ve. Instead, with 6’2” Joseph as the low man, Luguentz Dort smartly cuts along the baseline for the dunk:

With the Thunder once again being their opponent on Saturday, the Warriors have plenty of film to pore through and holes to fix if they don’t want to fall into an even deeper hole than the one they’ve already fallen into.

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