Warriors Offense and the Art of the Screen
I’ll start by saying that I’m not a Warriors fan, in fact I’m a die hard Lakers fan. But the fact is the Warriors are the face of today’s NBA and have defined a new play style and have caused a shift to a more fast paced game, positionless players, as well as an increase in the use of the 3 point shot (although I’ll also say the ‘06 Suns were some of the first proponents of this shoot/offense first mentality).
Never the less, back to the point. If you have ever played organized basketball then you know the importance and effectiveness of screens. I’ve seen countless teams who were more talented than their opposing team but except the opposing team won the game because they were well coached and used screens to their advantage.
A screen is defined as a blocking move by an offensive player, by standing beside or behind a defender, to free a teammate to shoot, receive a pass, or drive in to score.
Why are screens so effective? Screens are so hard to guard against because in order to go around them you must see them coming. If you don’t see a screen coming you will have a sore neck for the rest of the game because that player is going to blindside you hard and it’s going to hurt.
I’ll give a scenario. Say Durant is dribbling at the top of the key and you are defending Curry who is in the corner at the 3 point line. Now you must focus on Durant who’s a huge threat at the a the top of the key; but you can’t lose sight of Curry who is also a deadly shooter. All of a sudden, you take your eyes off Curry for a second and Curry runs quickly across the baseline to the other corner. There are 2 bigs that were previously at the elbows but come down to set an elevator screen. You don’t see this coming you aren’t able to make it over the screens and the shot goes in.
An elevator screen is such an underutilized but strong basketball weapon and is called such because the offensive player lets say for example here Curry first runs towards the doors (his 2 teammates) then as soon as he crosses by them they shut the doors and Curry’s trailing defender is met with a huge wall that they can’t get around.
Even if they try to run around the two offensive players by that time that split second is too long and the shot is already up.
THE NBA IS A LEAGUE FOCUSED ON 1 ON 1 SCENARIOS BOTH OFFENSIVELY AND DEFENSIVELY
When players first enter the NBA they notice a very different vibe and dynamic as opposed to college. In College team basketball is highly talked about; team defense, team chemistry and such. However, although this is still true to a fault in the NBA; the NBA is primarily focused on individual players. The NBA rewards strong individuals and gives players more shine as they are on a brighter stage.
The NBA is an essentially pick and roll league and is a reason why college players who are inexperienced in both utilizing it offensively and guarding against it struggle in their NBA transition. College you can play zone which allows players to sort of rely on their teammates if they mess up or get blown by.
In the NBA there are no zone defenses and is the reason why great 1 on 1 defenders such and Kawhi Leonard both excel and are so coveted. Players who can’t guard other elite player’s individually are quickly exposed and their team can’t help as much because it leaves their men open.
Now the warriors are so effective because they make opposing teams play Team Defense. They make all the defenders have to work and be aware of their offensive players. Most teams can get by with a couple defensive liabilities if those players are good offensive scorers. The problem is that the warriors will set a ton of screens and cause a bunch of mismatches which lead to buckets.
The Greatness of Ray Allen or the Greatness of Screens?
Now I will argue that Ray Allen is a great player and one of the best shooters of all time. However, Ray Allen wasn’t much of a create his own shot type of scorer, the Celtics didn’t just give the ball and see what he would do.
How was he so effective though?
Screens and ball movement.
The Celtics set so many plays and screens that running around picks and chasing Ray Allen over screens was a marathon in itself. It took so much discipline because the defender must be so aware of the other players in order to see or make reads on the upcoming screens because if they get distracted even for a second that 3 is going in.
Screens are frustrating and annoying to play against. This is because you can’t simply sit back and rest and let your guy dribble for half of the shot clock. It requires constant movement and thinking in order to get around them. You must effectively know the other teams offense.
The fact is that a lot of NBA players take plays off on defense both physically and mentally. And teams such as the warriors that use a lot of screens take advantage of that. When teams are tired on defense and of running around chasing players then they are tired on offense. Very few players play better when mad/frustrated.
In addition, once teams and players are fatigued their moves are slower, they get to loose balls less, they settle for jump shots and so on. This leads to less efficient offense.
What do these metrics say? Well from these stats we can see that Warriors score a lot of points off assists which translates to they move the ball a lot. They are #1 in catch and shoot points per game and #2 on Screen assists per game at about 13 scoring baskets a result of a screen that was set. Since a lot of catch and shoot shot come as a result of screens we can correlate both of these stats and say even if all of those 12 assists off screens were 2 pointers (when in fact we know most were 3s) that’s 24 points per game as a result of a screen being set.
In ultimatum I would like to argue that the new NBA is here and its here to stay. Teams such as the Cavs that rely too much on 1 on 1 situations and rely on individual players to make plays for the whole game will not fair well in today’s NBA and is what eventually led to their downfall in this past years finals. When players such as Lebron have to do all the work on offense and dribble a lot then they get fatigued and as result have a harder time playing defense since they expanded so much energy on offense.
The warriors on the other hand; expended so little energy on offense by ball movement and setting screens that when they go back on defense have more energy and as a result lead the league in deflections.
The spurs are also really effective in scoring because they have a great system and set a lot of plays and screens. They play great team basketball which is what makes it tough to defend against them as well. Even though they have a lot of old players Popovich’s IQ and strategy utilizes his players in ways that they can positively lead them to success.
So if coaches don’t step up, set forth faster ball movement, bring back the use of screens, and utlitilze less 1 on 1 dribbling situations then they will be left in the dust. We already know the result of the last final and if you want to compete then you must adapt. Change is good.