The Golden State Warriors' Already Solid Defense Still Has Room to Improve
The Golden State Warriors' offense gets all the glory, but much like an award-winning supporting actor, their defense gets little credit for how good it's actually been.
Before blowing a huge lead against the Memphis Grizzlies last week, the Warriors briefly led the NBA in defensive rating. They're currently third, allowing 104.4 points per 100 possessions, but their defense hardly ever gets attention when they win.
When you have an offense like they do -- ranking first in the league in offensive rating (116.1) and scoring the most points per game (117.5) -- it makes sense. But their defense is an important part of the puzzle, and the Dubs, despite already being very good defensively, can get even better on that end of the court.
We have already talked about Kevin Durant as a potential candidate for Defensive Player of the Year, but the Warriors' defensive skill goes way past that. A frontcourt with Draymond Green, Durant and Zaza Pachulia has been pretty tough to score on this season.
Using defended field goal percentage (DFG%), here is Golden State's frontcourt and the average field goal percentages of those they defend.
While Pachulia may not stick out as much in DFG%, his defensive real plus-minus (DRPM) has been one of the best at his position. Here is another look at the Dubs' starting frontcourt using ESPN's defensive metric, designed like defensive win shares (DWS).
Only three other teams have three starters ranked inside the DRPM top 10 at their position. The Los Angeles Clippers and Atlanta Hawks are also the only two teams with three starters who rank higher than the above trio.
Durant and Green are the only pair of teammates currently in the top 10 with regard to DWS (2.4 each), and they're easily the anchors of the team's defensive effort. Klay Thompson is also usually regarded as strong on this end of the court, but he's never earned more than 3.2 DWS in a season. However, he is part of the overall team effort on defense, which is probably the most underrated part of Steve Kerr's coaching and the squad's evolution with Durant.
Before the 2016-17 season, the Warriors could count on Green, Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut to slow down opponents. When they went small, they got even better by sliding Andre Iguodala into the lineup.
While Golden State's defense can look out of whack and lacking rim protection at times, their numbers from recent seasons are very similar to what they're currently producing as we approach the halfway point. Since their title season of 2014-15, here's a look at the Warriors' defensive rating (DRtg) and the effective field goal percentage (eFG%) of opponents.
Over the last two and a half seasons, Golden State has ranked either first or second in opponent eFG% while easily holding other teams to fewer than 105 points per 100 possessions. They're also leading the league this season in limiting opponents from beyond the arc, holding teams to a 32.9% clip from three.
Areas For Improvement
Even though their stellar offense can outscore pretty much anyone in the league, the Warriors can play great defense. There are, however, some weaknesses.
Here is a look at their opponent's eFG% on specific play types, courtesy of NBA Stats.
|Play Type||Opponent eFG%||Rank|
|Pick-and-Roll Ball Handler||45.3||15th|
Not many are better in transition defense than the Warriors, and they're still at least league average in isolation and on pick and rolls. There is still room for improvement, though. Since their loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Christmas Day, they have allowed opponents to post an eFG% of 50.8% over their last six games.
Thankfully for Kerr's squad, defense doesn't have to be their best trait -- especially when the offense is averaging 116.1 points per 100 possessions. It won't garner tons of headlines as we head toward the second half of the regular season, but Golden State's team defense is something that shouldn't be discounted because it'll be important to their run at another NBA title.