- Harry How/Getty
- The Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors are the NBA’s two best offenses, and on the surface, appear to have similar styles.
- Steve Kerr explained that the two teams actually have fairly different personnel and rely on different methods of playmaking to get shots.
- Kerr also noted that he believes, as a former role player, that it benefits teams to have multiple players touching the ball on a possession.
On the surface, it’d be easy to think that the NBA’s two most prolific offenses, the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets, are similar.
They both push the pace, bomb three-pointers, and are driven by high-octane guards. Both teams score 112.9 points per 100 possessions, tied for best in the NBA, and blitz opponents who can’t find ways to slow them down.
However, the similarities just about end there. The Rockets are a true Mike D’Antoni team – they play small, fast, spread the floor, rain three-pointers, and rely on the pick-and-roll.
The Warriors, however, don’t play all that similarly to the Rockets. As Steve Kerr explained to Business Insider, the Warriors are actually a much more eclectic mix of offensive systems and have some key structural differences than the Rockets.
“To be honest, our system isn’t really that similar,” Kerr said. “I think our philosophy of pace and three-point shooting was something that I definitely agreed with and Mike had sort of set the tone in terms of the way he was playing with his teams … We took elements of Mike’s offense and implemented those elements into a bigger system that was more our own.
“We were much different than Mike’s teams because we had passing big men and most of Mike’s teams didn’t have passing big men, they had dominant point guards. They had rolling big men whether it was [Amar’e] Stoudemire or [Shawn] Marion, guys like that. We had [Andrew] Bogut, David Lee, Draymond Green, great passers. So our system was much different. I think we were near the bottom of the league in the number of screen-and-rolls a game and Mike’s teams have always been at the top or near the top.”
Kerr saw D’Antoni’s offensive stylings up close when he was GM of the Phoenix Suns and D’Antoni was head coach. He said he was inspired by D’Antoni’s philosophies, but also borrowed from the triangle offense he ran under Phil Jackson with the Chicago Bulls and the motion offense he ran under Gregg Popovich with the San Antonio Spurs.
Likewise, Kerr said his experiences as a player shaped the way he wanted the Warriors to play.
“I suppose I’m a little more egalitarian in my approach than Mike. Mike believes in, you got a great player, you give him the ball every time, in Harden and Nash, and it’s very effective. And I feel, maybe because I was a role player myself, I feel there’s a power in everybody touching the ball and everybody sharing in the offense. There’s nobody who’s right or wrong.”
As ESPN’s Micah Adams noted, the Warriors and Rockets are pretty different in their ball movement. 58% of Rockets possessions have 0-1 passes, most in the league, while the Warriors only have such possessions 36% of the time. Likewise, the Warriors have possessions with 5 or more passes 11% of the time while the Rockets have such possessions just 4% of the time.
Indeed, follow closely and the two teams’ mechanics to getting shots are fairly different. It’s not unusual to see James Harden or Chris Paul run one play, then pick out their targets like a quarterback analyzing the coverage.
Meanwhile, the Warriors like to pass the ball to their big men, then run their guards off screens, creating confusion until a hole opens up. Watch Pachulia analyze the court while Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant screen for each other, trying to create a mismatch, only to find the open Klay Thompson instead.
As Kerr said, there’s no right or wrong in the offenses. D’Antoni prefers almost a more straight-forward approach, giving his best players the ball, and setting up plays for them to make something happen. Kerr, meanwhile, likes the ball to bounce around while the unique weapons at his disposal create chaos on the floor.
Both approaches work. It’s the Rockets’ leap this season that has people wondering if there’s finally a true challenger to the Warriors in the West. Those answers won’t come immediately, despite the two teams’ Thursday meeting, as Harden is out with an injury.
But should they meet in the postseason, expect high-scoring affairs and an interesting chess match as the two try to go basket-for-basket.