Photo by oskay via Flickr
I’ve always been a big fan of doomsday theories; it’s probably part of being a Suns fan. One of my favorites, which popped up during the failed bid by the Mayans to win the 2012 End of the World championship, is the idea that the Earth’s magnetic field might suddenly and dramatically reverse its polarities. In an instant (or a minute, or a day, as there’s usually no timetable associated with this catastrophe, other than it being, you know, sudden), all of our fancy electronic gadgetry that depends on a predictable electromagnetic field would be useless — save classic iPods and original XBox controllers, bludgeoning tools when the time comes to fight your neighbor for the last bag of apocalypse rations from Whole Foods.
It is, unfortunately, nonsense. Earth’s magnetic field does shift, and at times what is now north was magnetic south. Those changes are gradual, though, and no real threat to humanity. I know this because science says so, and science gave us the Magic School Bus, which cannot tell a lie. But watching the Golden State Warriors in the 2013 playoffs, and Wednesday night in particular, really makes it seem that the world is upside down.
One of the bedrocks of modern NBA defense is forcing teams into taking midrange jumpers. Long twos are the worst shot in the game, as they incorporate all the risk of increased distance from the basket without any of the upside of a three-pointer. The San Antonio Spurs were one of the earliest adopters of this defensive strategy, and their tendency to allow teams to shoot from the midrange continued through this season. Only the Pacers “allowed” more shots from what NBA.com/stats defines as the midrange than the Spurs in the regular season. San Antonio’s opponents took 20.5% of their field goal attempts from the ring of zones just inside the three point line.
Furthermore, the Spurs were in the bottom 10 in opponent corner 3s allowed, limiting the damage from one of the most efficient zones on the court. Generally, San Antonio tries to employ optimal defensive techniques as we currently understand them, and to good effect; they finished 3rd in defensive efficiency in 2012-13.
And the Warriors are just fine with that. During the course of the regular season, 22.9% of their shots were those same long twos. They shot exactly league average from the slots (the areas diagonally extended from the elbow), but shot 2.4% better from the top of the key, 3.2% better from the left baseline and 4.5% better from the right.
If we limit the sample to lineups that included Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, which better simulates the tighter rotations of the playoffs, that number of long twos drops slightly, to 21.3%. Those lost attempts aren’t moving inward, though; instead, the Warriors with Curry and Thompson on the floor took an even larger share of above the break threes, and they hit them much more accurately.
In the playoffs, Golden State has been a bit more judicious in the midrange, regardless of what your bleeding eyeballs are currently screaming to your brain about Jarrett Jack heroball. Only 18% of their field goal attempts have been midrange jumpers, as the percentage of 3s from every area of the court has skyrocketed. Still, the Warriors take a lot of long twos, more than you’d normally like an offense to take. But they’ve flown in the face of that conventional wisdom during the playoffs. It’s not just that they’re hitting at an acceptable rate in those areas; so far this postseason, long twos represent some of the best value generated for the Warriors. LOOK AT THE SHOT CHART. LOOK AT IT.
Even if you chase Thompson or Curry (not to mention Draymond Green or Harrison Barnes) off of the three point line, they’re just as likely to throttle you from 18 feet. True, they’ve also thrived from the areas of the court that make stat nerds weep tears of efficient joy, blitzing both the Nuggets and Spurs from deep and finishing well — particularly for the Warriors — at the rim. But even some of Golden State’s higher efficiency shots are semi-questionable, especially their reliance on above-the-break three pointers. League average on those 3s this year was 35.1%, compared to 37.9% from the corners. The Warriors shot 39.2% on non-corner 3s — better than all but 12 teams shot from the corner — but they were straight magma on those shorter corner 3s, shooting 45.9%. They didn’t take maximum advantage of that accuracy, though, as they were 21st in the league in corner 3s attempted, despite playing at the fourth fastest pace.
On Wednesday night in particular, Klay Thompson went thermonuclear from the right wing, an evergreen Lost Woods from which San Antonio could not extricate themselves. The Spurs were forced to adjust their base defensive principles, having Tim Duncan show more aggressively on side pick and rolls in an attempt to either force the ball out of Thompson’s hands or, at the very least, get a hand in his face when he inevitably pulled up, yet Thompson kept finding his spot and launching from deep. Tony Parker went under screens and over screens when matched up with Thompson, yet little was effective against Particle Man. But the Warriors were 3-for-12 on all other 3s, and San Antonio protected the rim beautifully. If it weren’t for the polarity-shifting midrange game of Golden State, San Antonio may very well have pulled out this game despite the aerial bombardment from Thompson:
It seems the Warriors have found a market inefficiency that they plan on exploiting as long as they can. The San Antonio Spurs want to force opponents to take long twos. They’ll accept wing 3s over corner 3s. And the Golden State Warriors are more than happy to take those jumpers — and hitt them at a ridiculous rate. It might not be sustainable, but it’s certainly entertaining. And if Golden State can ride midrange jumpers to the Western Conference Finals, we might have to take Mark Jackson’s word that he has the best shooting backcourt in NBA history.
Statistical support for this post provided by NBA.com/stats