Real Time Analytics

How The Warriors, Spurs Generate Offense Through Assists

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Examining a key similarity between the Spurs’ and Warriors’ offenses, and using player involvement metrics to see how their strategies differ.

The San Antonio Spurs and the Golden State Warriors currently sit atop the Western Conference and have been regarded as, by far, the two best teams in the NBA since the beginning of the season. While most talk is about the awe-inspiring play of Stephen Curry or the defensive ability and coaching of the Spurs, how the teams actually create their offense is often forgotten.

The Spurs and Warriors are on another offensive level compared to the rest of the league simply because they pass the ball. With weapons such as Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala (among others), the Warriors better be moving the ball around. The same goes for the Spurs, who are led by their floor general Tony Parker

This is exemplified in their assist numbers this season. The Warriors are first and the Spurs are sixth in assist percentage (percentage of the team’s field goals that are assisted). The Warriors and Spurs are first and second respectively in assist to turnover ratio and assist ratio (average number of assists per 100 possessions). A summary is shown below.

TeamAST% (League Rank)AST/TO (League Rank)AST Ratio (League Rank)
68.4 (1st)1.90 (1st)20.6 (1st)
Spurs61.7 (6th)1.88 (2nd)19.3 (2nd)

Additionally, we can look at the same stats in the clutch. The NBA defines clutch time as the last five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter or overtime in games that are within five points or fewer. Clutch stats give us a good idea of how the offense is really run when it matters most. The clutch statistics are given in the table below. 

TeamAST% (League Rank)
AST/TO (League Rank)
AST Ratio (League Rank)
Warriors 64.4 (2nd)2.0 (T-5th)17.5 (2nd)
Spurs65.2 (1st)2.0 (T-5th)18.3 (1st)

These two teams clearly know how to move the ball around. It’s no surprise they are the dominant NBA teams considering they are the best at finding the open man, and they do it with very few turnovers. What’s interesting is that the Spurs’ AST% is actually higher in the clutch than throughout all play. For most teams, it’s the opposite; they give it to their best player and let them do their work through isolation basketball. The Cleveland Cavaliers, for example, have a massive drop in AST% from 58.2 to 38.1 in the clutch. So even a drop off of four percent by the Warriors is still quite impressive. It isn’t too often you see game winners with this kind of ball movement:

Point Balance and Assist Balance

This analysis of raw assist stats gives us a solid overview of how the teams dominate on the offensive end. However, it fails to differentiate the natural playing styles of the Warriors and Spurs. So we know that the teams share the ball, but how do they share it, who’s doing the sharing, and who are the recipients? To answer these questions, I examined player involvement metrics. Player involvement statistics attempt to analyze how teams balance their scoring between different players. To calculate player involvement, I used a method called Shannon’s Entropy. Shannon’s Entropy is a measure of diversity or uncertainty. When looking at the Shannon’s Entropy of points, we want to see how diverse the scoring is on a certain team. In other words, given a team, how unsure are we of who is going to score the next point. For a team like the Spurs, this number should be high, but for a team like the Oklahoma City Thunder, this number should be low. 

From there, we can calculate the player involvement metrics of Point Balance (PB) and Assist Balance (AB). Dr. Stephen Shea, the inventor of these statistics, defined PB as “the degree to which the five players on the court spread the offensive burden (in terms of points scored) regardless of how many players the team rotates in and how many minutes each player plays.” It is calculated by dividing the Shannon’s Entropy of points by the Shannon’s Entropy of minutes. AB is defined and calculated analogously by assists. The table below shows the PB and AB for the Spurs and Warriors in 2015-16 and their respective ranks (highest being first). 

TeamPB (League Rank)AB (League Rank)
Warriors.986 (21st).976 (16th)
Spurs1.045 (2nd)
1.001 (9th)

Unsurprisingly, the Spurs are second in the league in Point Balance behind only the Philadelphia 76ers. This has always been the typical for the Spurs; no offensive juggernauts, but a plethora of extremely solid players. However, their assist distribution is not quite as diverse. This could be due to the fact that after Tony Parker (5.1 assists per game), only two other players, Ginobli and Duncan, average more than three assists per game. 

As for the Warriors, they are in the middle of the pack in both PB and AB. It goes to show that you can win in any way, and that the Spurs are truly unique. The Warriors are in the bottom third in PB because after Curry (29.8) and Thompson (21.3), there’s a fall to Green (14.2) and Barnes (12.2), and another fall to Iguodala (7.5) and Ezeli (7.5) in terms of points per game. Their assist diversity isn’t much different as there’s a gap from Green (7.2) and Curry (6.6) to Iguodala (3.5) in terms of assists per game. 

Overall, one of the keys to success for both the Warriors and Spurs is how well they move the ball. However, they do it in different ways. The Spurs rely on Tony Parker to distribute the ball to let the entire team score. The Warriors, on the other hand, have Curry and Green to assist the ball, and Curry and Thompson to dominate the points column. 

Stats courtesy of and

Quote and methods taken from Dr. Stephen Shea’s book “Basketball Analytics”

Edited by William Ledy, Ben Moore.

By how many points did the Warriors beat the Spurs in their first meeting in 2015-16?
Created 2/18/16
  1. 25
  2. 27
  3. 30
  4. 35

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