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The 4-Point Play: Warriors' backcourt is three-mendous

By Zach Harper | NBA writer

Nobody has ever put up 3-pointers like these two. (Getty Images)
Nobody has ever put up 3-pointers like these two. (Getty Images)

This is the greatest 3-point shooting tandem on a team in the history of the NBA, but they aren't on a team that is in love with the 3-point shot.

That's the beauty of what the Golden State Warriors do with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, and it's part of the genius behind Mark Jackson's plan of attack with his roster. It's the kind of coaching that we often yearn for when we see stubborn taskmasters unsuccessfully trying to make a player fit the system, instead of seeing if the system can be tweaked to fit the personnel existing in it.

Golden State isn't a team that shoots an unusual amount of 3-pointers. When adjusting for pace, the Warriors are 14th in the NBA in 3-point attempts per game. They're also the team that shoots the highest percentage in the NBA with a 40.2 percent success rate, which makes them just the ninth team in league history to shoot over 40 percent for a season. The Warriors are so abundantly efficient at shooting 3-pointers because they simply don't have guys gunning for outside shots.

They leave that up to Curry and Thompson.

The Warriors have attempted 1,549 3-pointers this season, but 1,060 of them have come from the Curry-Thompson duo. Both players have attempted by themselves more 3-pointers than the rest of their teammates combined. With Curry's 555 attempts from beyond the arc and Klay's 505 attempts, they joined the 2001-02 tandem of Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker as the only teammates in NBA history to attempt more than 500 3-pointers in the same season.

And they recently passed the 1995-96 pairing of Dennis Scott and Nick Anderson as the most prolific 3-point shooting duo in NBA history in terms of 3-pointers made.

Golden State's philosophy of attacking the opposing defense seems pretty simple. Run Curry and Thompson off screens to get them shots behind the arc. If they don't have the shot, then they work the middle of the floor and either get a good midrange shot or find a shot at the basket. Because of the spacing that these two provide on the floor, the Warriors have a ton of options for scoring off cuts and guys spotting up while waiting for the ball to swing.

When Thompson and Curry are on the floor together, the Warriors are taking a 3-point shot in 26.3 percent of their attempts from the floor. When either of them is on the floor without the other, that number goes to 21.3 percent (it's odd that it's the same number, but it's true). When neither player is on the floor, their percentage of shots that are 3-point attempts drops to 16.3 percent.

Distribution of shots when Klay-Curry are on and off. (nbawowy.com)
Distribution of shots when Klay-Curry are on and off. (nbawowy.com)

The Warriors just pepper you with 3-point shots when these two are on the floor, which is most of each game. The Warriors have had 2,368 minutes this season with both on the floor and just 516 with them both off.

Here's how the Warriors attack you.

A month ago, Ethan Sherwood Strauss of Warriorsworld wrote a fantastic piece about the "Elevator screens" the Warriors use to free up Curry and Thompson.

It's such a brilliant style of play because it's not something the defenders are used to navigating. Players are taught to run around staggered screens, fight over picks that are designed to curl the offensive player out from the middle of the floor and go over screens to try to take away passing angles. Rarely are they asked to slide through closing doors like Indiana Jones trying to escape a collapsing temple.

This puts the onus on the big men defending the screeners, which opens up the middle from slipped screens and cuts to the basket. It's something that forces a defense to be really disciplined in how they try to take away passes, pressure the ball handler throwing the pass and rotate to open players.

The Warriors use their two prized shooters so well in so many different ways. The ball movement is often flowing to shooters to create space for one of the five players on the floor, and rarely do you see ball domination that kills the flow of their 10th-ranked offense. Using Curry and Thompson off the ball with guys like Jarrett Jack and David Lee as willing passers to the spot-up shooters is huge.

Curry isn't great at just isolating and attacking off the dribble. But if you make his defender worry about a screen coming (which Steph is elite at using to his advantage), then he can get a quick drive to the hoop, make the defense collapse and find Klay on the wing or in the corner. On the flip side of that, the Warriors are great at using a Lee-Jack pick-and-roll and finding Curry spotting up on the weak side of the floor once the defense is forced to commit to protecting the rim.

Klay shoots 46.6 percent on spot-up 3-pointers, which would be extremely impressive if I had never seen that Steph shoots an absurd 50.7 percent on spot-up 3-pointers. 25.5 percent of Curry's 3-pointers are spot-up attempts while 50 percent of Thompson's attempts come from spotting up.

The way that the Warriors use Klay and Steph the most is by playing to their strengths. Curry is one of the best players in the league at shooting when running the pick-and-roll. He makes 42.9 percent of his 3-pointers in that situation, and he navigates screens on the perimeter better than pretty much anybody. If you go under the screen, you might as well start heading the other direction down the floor. If your big man doesn't hedge properly, his quick trigger and perfect form will annihilate you.

As for Klay, his ability to spot up and run off screens to get free is where he's at his best. He's not a very strong ball-handler, so using him in the PnR isn't ideal. Instead, you can run him off a waterfall of picks in the middle of the floor and allow him to curl to the wing or flare off into the corner before he squares up for his deadly release.

And, in transition, the Warriors encourage their guys (especially Steph) to fire up 3-pointers and leave the shots at the basket for Lee, Harrison Barnes and the other more athletic players on the roster. The Warriors are the sixth-most efficient team in the league in transition, which is mainly because they knock down 42.9 percent of their 3-pointers in transition.

Klay actually struggles at the three in transition, shooting just 33.9 percent from the field. But he does help spread the floor and allow for guys filling the lane to get to the basket. Curry, on the other hand, is constantly looking to pull up in transition for the three, which is his deadliest way of hitting 3-point shots. He makes 53.1 percent of his threes in transition, and they account for 20 percent of his attempts.

One final tip: it's dumb to just leave a shooter like Klay Thompson without a plan of rotation.

Curry has a realistic chance at setting the single-season record for most 3-point makes. He's sitting at 249 connections from downtown, which is 20 behind the record of 269 by Ray Allen in the 2005-06 season. Curry takes 7.5 attempts per game and makes 3.4 attempts. With four games left, he'd have to get a little hotter than usual from downtown to set the record. With the way he's letting the ball flow from his fingertips this season, it wouldn't shock me if he got it.

Shumpdidas (Getty Images)
Shumpdidas (Getty Images)

It's like looking into a mirror... (Getty Images)
It's like looking into a mirror... (Getty Images)

Nobody celebrates like Nate Rob and the Booze. NOBODY. (Getty Images)
Nobody celebrates like Nate Rob and the Booze. NOBODY. (Getty Images)

Pau-Fu is the much anticipated sequel to the Shaq-Fu video game. (Getty Images)
Pau-Fu is the much anticipated sequel to the Shaq-Fu video game. (Getty Images)

Kings situation is heating up and Slamson is nervous. (Getty Images)
Kings situation is heating up, and Slamson is nervous. (Getty Images)

Not what Amir Johnson had in mind for team photo. (Getty Images)
Not what Amir Johnson had in mind for team photo. (Getty Images)

Just play it cool, Chris. (Getty Images)
Just play it cool, Chris. (Getty Images)

Lacob promises a title someday. (Getty Images)
Lacob promises a title someday. (Getty Images)

As long as it's not the Brooklyn Knight. (Getty Images)
As long as it's not the Brooklyn Knight. (Getty Images)

Mr. 1000, Rick Adelman. (Getty Images)
Mr. 1,000, Rick Adelman. (Getty Images)

“We're good. We're good. Five more games to go. We lost a tough one, that team shot the ball well tonight. Hit some tough shots all night. We forced them to shoot some tough ones and they hit them. Tip your hat to them. Other than that, what's the need to panic for? We're good.”

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant after the Thunder's loss to the New York Knicks on Sunday. Via Daily Thunder

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