Western Conference Finals Preview: Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors
Analysis provided by Synergy Sports Technology
Golden State Warriors Offense vs. Houston Rockets Defense
Golden State Warriors: PlayType Analysis
Though the Warriors’ 58 regular season wins fell well below the standard they set in recent seasons, the reigning NBA Champions still secured the second seed in the Western Conference despite only one player on their roster appearing in over 73 games along with Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry missing a combined 45 games. They battled all season with the Rockets for the title of most explosive offensive team in the NBA, ultimately finishing the regular season ranked as the league’s most efficient group thanks to the unique blend of spacing, passing, and player movement that has taken them to three straight NBA Finals and propelled them to two 4-1 series victories so far this postseason.
The Warriors remain perhaps the most unique team in the NBA to defend as they have cemented themselves as the gold standard for off ball offense. They generate significantly more offense from Cuts and Off Screen actions than any team in the NBA, and score both at a spectacular rate. They finished the regular season averaging 1.336 points per Cut possession [5th] and 1.131 points per Off Screen possession [1st], and though their efficiency in both areas has dipped slightly in the postseason, their usage has climbed. They put a tremendous amount of stress on opposing defenses by spacing the floor with multiple All-Stars who can shoot, create off the dribble, and find the open man in impressive fashion.
Golden State averages 17.7 points per game from Cuts and 14.8 points per game from Off Screens. Houston’s defense ranks fifth in the NBA allowing only 8.9 points per game against Cuts and first in allowing 4.2 points per game against Off Screens. However, the Warriors scored 18.7 points per game from Cuts and 11 points per game from Off Screens against the Rockets during the regular season. The Warriors are in a class of their own with regards to the kind of situations they can create and capitalize on in the half court against even the most talented, prepared defenses. In their lone win over the Rockets this season, the Warriors were particularly dominant scoring 32 points from Cuts, one of the highest marks any team put up this season. Houston did a far better job limiting the Warriors’ looks off those actions in their two wins.
Part of the reason Golden State is so successful off the ball is that they also typically score at an elite rate in conventional offensive situations. The Warriors ranked in the top-4 in the NBA in Transition, Pick & Roll Ball Handler, and Isolation scoring efficiency during the regular season. Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry have both posted gaudy numbers attacking off the dribble with Klay Thompson ranking as this team’s most consistent threat in transition. Golden State has struggled at times to score off the dribble this postseason averaging only 0.72 points per Pick & Roll Ball Handler possession and 0.79 points per Isolation possession, down from the 0.96 and 0.95 points per possession they scored during the regular season respectively. Their inconsistency hasn’t held them back in a significant way to this point in the postseason, but it is something to keep an eye on moving forward.
Golden State Warriors: Spotlight Players
Curry missed over a month of action late in the season nursing a knee injury, an unfortunate asterisk on what has otherwise been the most efficient scoring regular season of the two-time Most Valuable Player’s NBA career. Ranking among the NBA leaders averaging 1.086 points per Pick & Roll used by the Ball Handler [96th percentile] and 1.308 points per Spot Up possession [98th percentile], Curry’s small jump in efficiency this season from the elite pace he set the last few years is based on his improved consistency as a midrange scorer and finisher and the way he has sought out contact to get to the line. He showed few ill-effects from his time out of the lineup in his return to action in the Warriors second round series against the Pelicans, a boon for Golden State’s chances to repeat as NBA Champions.
Durant has not been quite as efficient in his second year with the Warriors due to a dip in his effectiveness in transition, but has otherwise been brilliant in a variety of areas. Shooting a combined eFG% of 52% in Isolation and Pick & Roll situations while scoring 1.370 points per Spot Up possession [100th percentile] and 1.515 points per Cut possession [91st percentile], Durant can carry the Warriors offensively and double as the league’s best offensive role player on the nights Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson run hot.
Houston Rockets Offense vs. Golden State Warriors Defense
Houston Rockets: PlayType Analysis
The acquisition of Chris Paul set the Rockets on a collision course with the Warriors for Western Conference supremacy. After sitting out the end of Houston’s opening night victory over Golden State with an injury and missing the next month of action to get back up to speed, Paul helped the Rockets finish with the NBA’s best record. He has guided Houston to 68 wins versus only 10 losses in games he appeared in while fitting in next to MVP-favorite James Harden as well as anyone could have expected.
After relying heavily on James Harden who created, assisted, or scored 80 points per 48 minutes last season, the Rockets offense has looked a bit different in the team’s second year under Mike D’Antoni. Having two elite guards empowered to create off the dribble at every opportunity and spacing the floor as aggressively as ever led to the most productive and efficient Isolation scoring season in modern NBA history. Long eschewing traditional shot selection norms to hunt high value attempts, the Rockets redefined what constitutes “high value” shots this season. Finishing the regular season averaging a record-breaking 1.122 points per Isolation possession [1st] along with an impressive 0.934 points per Pick & Roll Ball Handler possession [3rd] and 1.199 points per Transition possession [1st], Houston’s guard play has been nothing short of stellar all season as they dominated individual matchups while continuing to score at strong rates in D’Antoni’s fast-paced, Pick & Roll friendly system. Paul’s proficiency as a passer and his low-mistake, high-efficiency style of play has meshed exceptionally well with Harden’s polarizing one-on-one ability and the group of role players Houston has assembled, allowing Houston to put up huge offensive numbers playing a style all their own.
Houston has averaged 17.2 points per game in Isolation situations and 19.2 points per game in Transition this year. Golden State’s defense surrendered 23.3 points per game in Transition during the regular season, but only allowed 1.155 points per Transition possession [3rd]. They were also one of the NBA’s stingiest Isolation defenses allowing only 0.949 points per Isolation possession [4th]. However, in their three regular season matchups, the Rockets scored 29 points per game in Isolation situations on gaudy efficiency numbers. Though the Warriors have no shortage of high level individual defenders, Houston put up 33 points per game going one-on-one from the perimeter in their two regular season victories against Golden State as their game plan to attack individual matchups was seldom as clear as it was on those occasions.
Houston Rockets: Spotlight Players
Harden has not been quite as dominant statistically as he was a year ago, but is still arguably playing the best basketball of his career this season. He is having the best isolation scoring season on record averaging an astounding 1.220 points per Isolation possession [96th percentile] and single-handedly scoring more points per game in one-on-one situations than any team in the NBA. Harden has scored with unprecedented frequency and overwhelming efficiency playing a style that the rest of the league has trended away from. Continuing to get to the line at a strong rate to buoy his efficiency numbers and scoring a very serviceable 0.909 points per Pick & Roll Ball Handler possession, there is plenty of substance to Harden’s play this season past his one-on-one scoring, but it is hard to get past the way he has redefined iso ball.
As well as Harden has scored in one-on-one situations, Chris Paul has been almost as impressive in terms of efficiency averaging 1.101 points per Isolation possession [91st percentile] to go along with 1.022 points per Pick & Roll Ball Handler possession [92nd percentile]. Paul has been deadly off the dribble this season and has also scored the ball with impressive consistency in limited opportunities as a set shooter and finisher. Posting a 5.2 assist-to-turnover ratio in transition, he has set the tempo for the NBA’s most efficient transition offense, made the game easier for Houston’s role players, lowered the team’s turnover rate with his decision-making, and taken over a number of games as he did against Pelicans in his standout Game 5 performance.