2018 NBA playoffs
Warriors vs. Rockets: A clash of two types of shooting juggernauts
by Sam Beech
The Houston Rockets love the three ball, perhaps more than anyone in history. The Rockets became the first team in history to attempt more three-pointers than two-pointers this year, with 50.2% of its field goal attempts coming from behind the arc in the regular season.
While we tend to associate the Golden State Warriors with three-point shooting, the Warriors actually rely a lot less on the long ball. Their three-point attempt rate was 33.9%, which was 15th in the NBA and below the league average of 34.2%. They also only averaged 28.9 three-point attempts a game, which ranked just 17th. Conversely, the Rockets shot 42.3 threes per game—by far the most in the NBA.
The Warriors, while they are not as reliant on the three-pointer, were more efficient from distance than any team from long range; Golden State shot 39.1% from distance this season, comfortably the best in the league. While Houston took (and made) more threes per game, it ranked just 13th in efficiency at 36.2%.
A main reason the Warriors did not rely as much on their three-point shooting this regular season is because defenses tried deliberately to force them into shooting more two-pointers, by keeping defenders closer to (and beyond) the three-point line. As a result, the Warriors got more looks inside the arc.
This strategy often did not pan out well, as Golden State led the league in two-point shooting efficiency this season, making 56.0% of their shots inside the arc. The team hit 43.4% of all jump shots it took, which included mid- to long-range two-pointers—tops in the league. The Warriors also converted on 62.8% of their layups, which was second in the league.
Golden State will likely have the edge in three-point shooting in this series simply because of how prolific their shooters. Stephen Curry, despite having to deal with injuries for much of the season, shot 42.3% from distance. Klay Thompson (44.0%) and Kevin Durant (41.9%) were also very efficient. The efficiency from this trio, given that they all shoot a healthy amount of threes, is incredible and, frankly, unheard of.
The Rockets do not possess any shooters that are quite as efficient as Golden State’s trio, but they have an arsenal of guys who are pretty good shooters. In fact, Houston has eight gunners in their rotation who shoot between 35% and 39% from distance. MVP candidate James Harden and sidekick Chris Paul are in that group—shooting 36.7%, and 38.0% respectively.
A stark contrast between these teams can be found in the midrange game. Midrange jump shots are a vital part of the Golden State offense. The Warriors attempted the third-most shots between 10 and 16 feet in the NBA, with 13.9% of all of its field goal attempts coming in that range. They were also the most efficient team by far in that distance range, converting on 48.5% of those shots.
Golden State also ranked seventh in the league in shot attempts from 16 feet to the start of the three-point line, or “long two-point jumpers.” The Warriors again were well-ahead of the rest of the league in shooting efficiency from that distance, shooting 46.4%.
Meanwhile the Rockets were a lot less dependent on shots in those areas. Only 6.2% of the Houston’s shot attempts were in the 10-16 foot range, and only 4.4% of their shots were in that longer two-point area—both the lowest in the NBA by a considerable margin. The Rockets were near the top of the league in efficiency for mid-range jumpers, but preferred to shoot either at the basket or beyond the arc.
The Rockets will likely stick to the status quo of shooting a bunch of three-pointers, and relying on their depth of above average (but not great) shooters to convert on enough of them to give them an edge over the Warriors in scoring from deep. On the other hand the Warriors will likely use the three-point line as a weapon of their own, but will also try to be more balanced and shoot a greater variety of shots.
No matter how efficient each team is shooting the ball, the stark contrast in styles of these two teams will make the Western Conference Finals fun to watch.
*Statistical support from Basketball Reference and NBA Miner was used in this article.