Preview: Warriors, Wolves and what's changed in a year
We take a deep dive into the offensive changes ahead of tonight's game against Minnesota
Fresh off another evening of Stephen Curry shooting fireballs out of his every orifice, the Golden State Warriors are set to host their trading partner that brought in Andrew Wiggins (and the pick that became Jonathan Kuminga).
Whether the Warriors feel any sort of oblesse oblige for the wayward Minnesota Timberwolves or not, there’s no mercy in the NBA, so Golden State will be gunning hard to add to their burgeoning win total.
There’ no major injury updates for the Warriors, so we should see Otto Porter back from his one game of rest.
WHO: Golden State Warriors (9-1) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (3-6)
WHEN: Wednesday, November 10, 2021 // 7:00 pm PDT
Taking a look at play calling - what are the Dubs doing differently?
There’s no question that Golden State looks a whole lot better than they did at the same point last season. Rather than stumbling out to a slow, concerning start, the Warriors have come into this season with guns blazing. The faithful have wasted no time in getting the pitchforks and torches out for all the doubters, but I was a bit curious to see exactly what has changed from a strategic standpoint.
Using play type data from Synergy, I poked around with the data a bit before deciding to use the percent of each type. This is a year-over-year comparison using the percent of total scoring plays. Remember that because of how Synergy tracks this information, we are looking at percentage of total plays that result in a shot. So although it’s not exactly showing what plays are being called, we can still infer a lot just by looking at how the team is scoring.
Interestingly (well, to me anyways), the biggest net change was in one of the least used play types: cuts. Jumping from 8.8% of total plays last year all the way up to 13% this season, it’s a 46% increase. Hats off to Bob Myers and the Warriors organization for identifying and bringing in players that embrace the ethos of Kerr’s offense.
This is the most efficient play type in both seasons, clocking in around 1.3 points per attempt. There’s room for improvement here too, since the conversion efficiency is just about dead middle of the pack. If guys like Kevon Looney and Andrew Wiggins can start hitting those bunny layups more frequently, there’s a lot of room for improvement - as-is, the Warriors have what Synergy calls “good” efficiency, falling in as the 12th-best in the NBA in this regard.
All told, this is a big deal because it shows that the ancillary players are doing a better job of capitalizing on the spacing gaps created by Curry’s chaos.
Another change that stands out when I look at the past two seasons next to each other is spot up shooting. In Kerr’s offense, this is the highest goal - using passes to find a great shot (in this case, a stationary shooter) - so it’s no surprise that spot ups are the most frequent shots.
But take a gander at the “rank” column. Last season, the Warriors were the 24th-ranked team when it came to scoring efficiency off spot up opportunities. This year? They’re the 4th best:
Anyone watching this team over the past couple of seasons can pretty easily fill in the details on where exactly this improvement is coming from. With no players shooting themselves through historic slumps, it would be difficult to imagine a scenario where this season’s shooting wasn’t better compared to last season. But in a game that often boils down to whether or not your shot happens to go in, popping high damage jumpers in at one of the best rates in the league is a great early sign.
Now, Golden State’s high-volume bench players are hitting their shots at a reasonable rate, and it’s been a big part of why the Warriors have looked so much better this season. Here’s the full listing for spot up shooting (again from those same Syneegy stats). note that the “rank” is based on the player position… but one way or another, Porter and Bjelica are looking real nice so far in this regard. Not bad for the B squad!
All told, the Warriors are sitting real pretty after the first 10 games of this season. As Stephen Curry said after the last game:
“Anytime you’re talking about being championship contenders and all that … you can’t win a championship in November,” Curry said after he scored 50 points in a 127-113 victory over the Hawks on Monday at Chase. “But you sure can take yourself out of the equation pretty quickly. A la last year.”
Thanks again, Minnesota!
The franchise that selected two point guards ahead of Stephen Curry will always have the gratitude of the Warriors (and their fans). This relationship was further deepened with the D’Angelo Russell / Andrew Wiggins (and a pick that became Kuminga) trade. Wiggins has slotted in nicely for the Warriors, and though there are obviously some opportunity costs associated with carrying Wiggins’ hefty contract, his on-court performance has been fine. More than fine sometimes, even.
Minnesota unfortunately did not solve many of their problems with that trade. With a core of Karl Anthony-Towns and Russell, the Timberwolves hoped that adding dynamic young star-in-the-making, Anthony Edwards, would realize the dream that this was something that could be build around.
Sadly, that’s not been the case. If anything, Anthony-Towns and Russell have helped shaped the narrative that the legacy of this core is anything but inviolable. They’ve struggled mightily - and though the entirety of the problem goes well beyond just the stars, it’s looking more and more like the next step for this franchise may need to be a major shake up.
The Timberwolves have lost five in a row and are still looking for their winning formula. The problems run deep. It’s a roster with talent, but as the Warriors demonstrated last season, you can have high quality top tier talent, but until it all comes together, the end result can just be too discombobulated to work.
The Wolves will be out looking for a statement win, but with the way Golden State is playing right now, they are going to need to keep looking! Another win for the Warriors. They’re too good, too experienced, and playing too well to get shook up by a Timberwolves team that is still trying to figure out how to make it all work.