The Golden State Warriors have played 19 games since the start of February, and their 10-9 record over those contests both captures the motion of their roller-coaster season and maps a nearly perfect pattern.
No, the Warriors aren’t just winning when Steph Curry plays and losing when he’s injured. Nor are they simply beating the bad teams and losing to the good ones. Instead, they’re winning basically all their home games (10-1 since the start of February, including recent wins over the admittedly shorthanded Bucks and Suns) and losing all their road ones (0-8).
That pattern perpetuates a season-long puzzle. Entering Wednesday’s game at the Clippers, the Warriors are 29-7 at home versus 7-26 on the road, giving them the third-largest split for any team since the 1960s. The 1989 Nuggets, playing in Denver’s high altitude, are the only team with a wider home-road gap in an 82-game season.
Biggest Home-Road Splits in NBA History
|Team||Home Record||Road Record||% Difference|
|Team||Home Record||Road Record||% Difference|
|1952 Indianapolis Olympians||25-6||4-24||66.4%|
|1955 Boston Celtics||21-5||4-22||65.4%|
|1957 Fort Wayne Pistons||23-5||5-23||64.3%|
|2020 Philadelphia 76ers*||29-2||10-24||64.1%|
|1951 Fort Wayne Pistons||27-7||5-27||63.8%|
|1989 Denver Nuggets||35-6||9-32||63.4%|
|1957 Philadelphia Warriors||20-5||5-25||63.3%|
|1966 Baltimore Bullets||29-9||4-25||62.5%|
|1953 Syracuse Nationals||32-2||10-20||60.8%|
|1951 Philadelphia Warriors||29-3||10-22||59.4%|
|2023 Golden State Warriors||29-7||7-26||59.3%|
To some extent, every team should expect to be better at home. But the 2022-23 Warriors are taking it to the extreme, and given that home-court advantage has seen a long-term decline over the decades, they look even more aberrant.
So, why is Golden State so inconsistent depending on location? The offense isn’t the problem. The Warriors score 3.8 more points per 100 possessions at home versus on the road, per Cleaning the Glass—very close to the league average difference of plus-3.2 at home. The Warriors rank 12th in home offensive rating and 15th on the road.
The flip side of that stat is that the average team allows 3.2 more points per 100 possessions on the road versus at home. But the Warriors defense falls off with much greater severity—by a whopping 12.5 points per 100 possessions, from 108.1 at home to a ghastly 120.6 on the road.
For context, the only teams with better home defenses than the Warriors are the Grizzlies and Cavaliers. The only teams with worse road defenses than the Warriors are the Spurs and Rockets.
On the road, the Warriors allow a few more offensive rebounds and free throws than they do at home—but the major difference comes from the 3-pointers they surrender. Warriors opponents are shooting 8 percentage points worse from distance in the Chase Center than in other arenas. That’s double the next-largest gap in the league this season and the largest for any team since the 2009 Clippers, who played before the 3-point revolution increased that shot’s importance.
3-Point Percentage Allowed
Go ahead and gawk at those percentages in the Warriors’ row in that chart; they’re astounding. In San Francisco, Warriors opponents are shooting 3s like Kelly Oubre Jr.; everywhere else, they’re shooting as well as Kevin Huerter.
Yet the most confounding piece of this puzzle is why the Warriors are being burned from deep on the road. It’s a real mystery because they allow essentially the same shot quality regardless of where they play. Based on factors like shot location and defender distance, Second Spectrum’s shot-quality model estimates that Warriors opponents should be shooting only 0.3 percentage points lower on 3s at the Chase Center than elsewhere, a much smaller margin than the actual difference. (Second Spectrum actually has two shot-quality models, one that accounts for the shooter’s identity and one that doesn’t. Both show the exact same pattern for the Warriors.)
Zoom in on the characteristics of all the 3s that Golden State allows, and it’s hard to pinpoint a reason why opponents are making so many more when the Warriors are visiting. They’re attempting 3s from basically the same spots on the court, with basically the same amount of time to fire, with basically the same amount of openness.
Warriors Opponents’ 3-Point Attempt Attributes
|Corner 3 Freq.||23.9%||25.2%|
|Avg. Shot Distance||25.4 feet||25.4 feet|
|Avg. Defender Distance||6.4 feet||6.6 feet|
Instead of shot quality, then, the discrepancy appears to be the result of shotmaking. In San Francisco, Warriors opponents have shot 3 percentage points worse than expected from distance, according to Second Spectrum. In other cities, Warriors opponents have shot 4.9 percentage points better than expected.
That comes out to a home-road split of about 8 percentage points. For context, in the last five seasons before this one, according to an analysis of Second Spectrum data, the largest gap for any team was only 4.3 percentage points, from the 2019 Pacers. The Warriors, again, have that beat by nearly double!
Here’s a handy chart to sum up the strangeness:
Warriors Opponents’ 3-Point Shooting
For just one case study, look at Malik Beasley, who’s attempted the most 3s against the Warriors of any player this season. Beasley actually enjoyed easier looks when playing at Chase, per Second Spectrum—but he shot just 3-for-22 there, versus 12-for-24 when the Warriors were visitors.
Those discrepancies add up quickly. Spreading an 8-percentage-point difference across 35 3-point attempts per game yields an extra eight points. In other words, out of the 12-point difference between the Warriors’ home and road defenses, two-thirds of that is attributable to opponent 3-point shotmaking.
Granted, there may be other factors at play that these numbers and shot-quality models aren’t capturing. A few of the Warriors’ most important players have missed more road games, likely due to the team’s load-management regime.
Proportion of Games Missed for Key Warriors
Draymond Green’s more frequent absences could certainly explain some of the defensive difficulties on the road—but still, the Warriors are just 6-21 in road games where he plays, so that factor isn’t a satisfying answer by itself.
Perhaps, as the likes of Green and Steve Kerr have suggested, the Warriors aren’t playing with as much urgency or purpose on the road. But if an intangible factor like effort or hustle is the culprit behind the Warriors’ defensive shotmaking splits, then why does it show up only with 3-pointers? On 2-pointers against the Warriors, the difference between home and road shotmaking is a mere 0.3 percentage points, per an analysis of Second Spectrum data.
The problem is limited in scope to opponent 3s, yet it’s still massively important because the modern NBA is such a make-or-miss league. I’ve scoured the data and film, and I still haven’t been able to discern any convincing reason why the Warriors defense is so much worse on the road, beyond a sense that they’re suffering from a historically weird run of luck.
Will this mystery matter going forward, though, as the Warriors attempt to repeat as champions? It shouldn’t, at least according to past precedent. This century, the correlation between a team’s home-road winning percentage split in the regular season and playoffs is just 0.09, on a scale from zero to one. Looking only at playoff teams that played multiple series, that figure is still just 0.13. (These calculations ignore the 2020 bubble playoffs.) That means there’s almost no carryover between the regular season and playoffs.
But the Warriors’ split carries so little precedent that, who knows, it might just keep lingering throughout the spring. It has already defied the odds to last this long. In early January, ESPN’s Kevin Pelton wrote about how Golden State’s split likely wasn’t sustainable—a reasonable conclusion, given all of history’s indicators. For previous teams with large home-road differentials early in the season, Pelton found that “Over the remainder of the schedule, … their performance evens out considerably.”
Yet the large split persisted for these Warriors, and their performance hasn’t come close to evening out. It will have to at some point in the playoffs if the currently fifth-seeded Warriors want to make another championship run. But for now, the mystery remains and only grows deeper with every home win and matching road loss.