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Ball Don't Lie

The Warriors are a jump-shooting team, and that’s fine

Eric Freeman
Ball Don't Lie

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Stephen Curry (Gary Dineen/ Getty)

Most every Thursday on TNT's "Inside the NBA," America's sweetheart Charles Barkley criticizes teams that take too many jump shots. By his reasoning, NBA games are won in the paint, not on the perimeter, because that's a more dependable way to score. This opinion is grounded in Barkley's own experience as a power forward, but it's also conventional basketball wisdom.

Nevertheless, there are good teams that subsist primarily on jump shots. For instance, take the Golden State Warriors, something of a surprise this season at 30-17 and fifth in the West. With Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, the Warriors take a lot of jumpers. So far, it's working out for them just fine.

But is that a long-term problem? Ethan Sherwood Strauss of WarriorsWorld considers the team's approach:

Charles Barkley expressed concerns that Golden State’s “a jump shooting team,” and he’s right. Stephen Curry isn’t going to knife towards the hoop on iso after iso when the going gets tough. But I believe we should differentiate between different kinds of jump shooting, though.

There’s the Rudy Gay kind, where teams vomit up long shots out of isolations–as opposed to driving and drawing fouls. And then there’s the Spurs-imitating GSW kind. Not only do the Warriors have two of the best three-point shooters in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, but they boast the ability to pressure defenses with Curry and Thompson off the ball, simultaneously. [...]

There’s a boring, haphazard way to be a jump shooting team, and a way that actually optimizes your team’s talent. I’m happy to say that the Warriors are in the latter category for once.

Strauss's general point is that the Warriors work to get open shots, which means they're more likely to reproduce good performances instead of relying on the luck of making low-percentage shots. It's a smart approach, because there's really no reason why any single offensive approach would be better than another if the success of each is equally reproducible. It's not as if the Warriors are hoisting up prayers — they enter each game with the express purpose of taking open jump shots. If the shots aren't open, the offense isn't working, just as a team that tries to get the ball inside has failed if it can't make good entry passes.

Still, Barkley's point typically isn't that a team can't make the playoffs just by taking jump shots — it's that the team can't contend for a title. Frankly, there's some truth to that. The playoffs operate under different rules than the regular season, because the competition is better and a long series gives the opponent multiple chances to adjust. That's particularly true of the later rounds, when defenses tend to be more adept at disrupting offenses dependent on precision over in-the-moment creativity and individual brilliance.

But the challenges posed by that scenario affect any offense, no matter if it's predicated on jumpers or post touches. The idea that a team can't win just by shooting jumpers is the same as saying that a team can't win by being one-dimensional. Every champion needs to present multiple options in order to win, because the nature of the NBA playoffs is that team's can't rely on one method of scoring. Even teams with superstars can't expect constant genius.

If the Warriors don't get very far in the playoffs, it'll be because they can't react to changing situations, not because they take jumpers. Basketball is never so simple as to prize one approach over another. It's all dependent on context and the ability to adjust on the fly.

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