Jan 7, 2014; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Golden State Warriors center Andrew Bogut (12) defends Milwaukee Bucks center Larry Sanders (8) during the first quarter at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Are the Golden State Warriors a Poor Defensive Team?


It’s a fair question, they certainly used to be.

During the 2011-2012 season, Head Coach Mark Jackson’s first with the team, the Golden State Warriors ranked 27th in the league for defensive rating, barely edging out the Charlotte Bobcats, Sacramento Kings and the then-New Jersey Nets.

The starting frontcourt of David Lee and Andris Biedrins offered little to no support for one-sided perimeter players like Monta Ellis, Nate Robinson, Stephen Curry and Dorell Wright. Layups went uncontested, rotations were missed and David Lee stayed being David Lee. Even with the amount of punch the team could provide on offense (105.4 points per 100 possessions, per basketball-reference.com), Golden State’s utter inability to generate stops yielded a 23-43 record by the end of the lockout-shortened season.

Fortunately for the Warriors, those days are behind them.

Golden State has shaken its long held reputation for poor defense this year, thanks in part to the successful implementation of a defense-first identity pushed by Jackson and former assistant Mike Malone. That emphasis on defense, along with personnel upgrades in the form of Andre Iguodala and a healthy Andrew Bogut, has generated strong results this year. Through 43 games, the Warriors rank fifth in the league in defensive rating (99.7) and fourth in points per possession (0.86), according to statistics compiled by NBA.com and Synergy Sports.

Bogut and Iguodala’s importance to the team’s defensive framework cannot be understated. Iguodala provides the Warriors with an additional ball handler can match up against the one, two or three position. This relieves some of the defensive pressure that had been placed on Curry and Klay Thompson last season, which in turn allows them to focus on their roles as primary and secondary scorers, respectively.

In Bogut’s case, having an anchor provides the team’s perimeter defenders with some much needed support in and around the restricted area. By bottling up opposing ball handlers around Bogut, the Warriors force teams to choose between taking a heavily contested shot at the basket[1] or kicking the ball out to the perimeter, where Iguodala, Thompson and Draymond Green have proven themselves effective at pestering shooters and forcing turnovers.

The latter point is particularly important. With offenses growing ever more reliant on three-point shooting, Golden State allows a respectable 35 percent from beyond the arc, according to NBA.com.

The addition of Bogut provides a remedy to some of the much deserved scorn heaped on David Lee over the years. Like Curry, Lee is an offensive specialist who struggles mightily at the other end of the court. When he’s freed up from anchoring the defense, it allows him to focus on his strengths – rebounding and scoring. The Warriors post a 6.6 percent differential in total rebounding percentage when Bogut and Lee share the court, according to basketball-reference.com.

As with any team, there are weaknesses. Although they rank in the top half of the league, the team’s propensity to foul gives opponents 24.9 attempts at the line per game.

Part of this can be attributed to Bogut’s struggles against opposing big men. Although he has proven highly effective at stopping opposing backcourts at the rim, he accumulates fouls quickly when teams throw power forwards and centers at him. This forces the Warriors to play smaller lineups, which then translates into frontcourts getting better looks around the basket. In pick-and-rolls that end with the roll man, the Warriors allow a sub-average 1.0 points per possession[2], according to Synergy.

In a similar vein, the team also struggles to contain post-ups, where they rank 23rd in the league and allow 0.89 points per possession.

The Warriors surrendered at least six points to post-ups in their 102-94 loss loss to the Indiana Pacers on Monday, according to footage available through Synergy Sports. On all three scoring plays, Indiana pushed the ball away from Bogut, which enabled them to focus their efforts on Warrior defenders who are less adept at defending the rim (in this case, David Lee and Iguodala).

Despite the latter points, Golden State’s improvements on the defensive end transformed the team from a flashy offensive sideshow into a legitimate contender. With a young core and many of the team’s starters locked up for the next several years, Golden State fans can take solace in the fact that the days of horrendous defense have finally come to a close.


[1] The Warriors allow 0.79 points per possession in pick and roll sets that end with the ball handler, per Synergy-Sports, which puts them somewhere slightly above the league median.

[2] Bogut allows 0.82 points per possession when he’s on the roll man, which pegs him for 30th in the league. Opponents have shot 40 percent from the field in those situations.

 

Tags: Defense Golden State Warriors