This postseason, there is one thing Warriors forward Draymond Green is doing nearly twice as much as some of his high-profile teammates, more than LeBron James and more than every playmaking point guard that was in the playoffs — passing the ball.
Green, a versatile undersized power forward, leads all players this postseason with 82.4 passes per game. That’s a lot more than his next-closest teammate, Stephen Curry (49), and more than Chris Paul (45.2), the leader of the Rockets, whom the Warriors just vanquished in seven games.
Green’s output is part of the Warriors’ 301 passes per game, the second most of any team in the playoffs, and it highlights a stunning contradiction in the way the league’s two most potent offenses went about getting their points in the Western Conference finals. It’s a contradiction of styles that played out to a lesser extent in the Eastern Conference finals between the Cavaliers and Celtics.
Golden State and Houston were first and second respectively in offensive efficiency this season. Golden State has incorporated more ball movement into its offense, with a good portion of it coming from Green, while Houston brought back isolation drive-and-kick basketball thanks to Paul and James Harden. What’s remarkable is just how much more Golden State moved the ball than Houston. The Rockets averaged 223.9 passes in the playoffs, nearly 80 fewer per game than Golden State. For reference, NBA games are roughly 100 possessions per game, meaning the Rockets were averaging roughly .8 fewer passes per possession. That adds up.
There was plenty of standing around, waiting for Harden or Paul (injured for Games 6 and 7) to do something. Harden (42.7 passes per game) is adept at creating havoc in the lane, getting to the free throw line and finding open shooters. And it’s still effective basketball. The Rockets were getting open shots in Game 7 even without Paul — they just weren’t hitting them.
Houston missed 37 three-pointers Monday night, including 27 in a row at one point and all 14 attempts in a game-turning third quarter. According to NBA.com, the Rockets shot just 1-for-16 on three-pointers considered “open” or when a defender is four to six feet away from the shooter.
Golden State (which shot 16-for-39 on threes Monday) gets shooters open thanks in part to its ball movement, and if one player is not feeling it, his teammates still are creating open shots. If the Warriors want to take a break and play iso-ball, Kevin Durant (42.8 passes) is their go-to player.
Similarly, the Celtics outpassed the Cavaliers in the East. Boston averaged 295.4 passes per game, Cleveland 247. It’s not as big a discrepancy but still significant.
Expect a miniature version of what the Rockets-Warriors matchup looked like in the finals, especially since Cleveland was third in the league in three-point attempts this season.
As for the Wolves, it may come as no surprise that they ranked in the bottom third of the league given ball-dominant players Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague and Karl-Anthony Towns — they finished 23rd with 241.5 passes per game. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. The Wolves still had the fourth-most efficient offense in the league.
The NBA may be trending in the direction of firing as many three-pointers as possible. But the four conference finalists showed that even when the end goal on offense is the same, there are still different ways you can get there.