The Anatomy of the Golden State Warriors' Top-Rated Defense

The Golden State Warriors have the best defense in the league with arguably no holes. How are they doing it?

The best defense in the NBA currently belongs to the Golden State Warriors, who are only allowing a stingy 97.6 points per 100 possessions. No other team is even below 100. How exactly are they doing it, and can they keep it up?

Let’s break this down with lots of statistics, starting with the defensive four factors –- opponent eFG%, opponent turnover rate, defensive rebound percentage, and opponent free throw rate. Here’s how the Warriors are faring so far (rank in parentheses).

Opp eFG%: 44.6% (1)
Opp TOV%: 14.1% (12)
DRB%: 74.0% (15)
Opp FT rate: 0.205 (12)

As you can see, the Warriors are above average in every category, but only really elite in just one –- effective field goal percentage. The best recent team in regards to this category was the 2003-2004 San Antonio Spurs, who allowed a ridiculous 43.3% eFG%. The difference between the two is that the Spurs that year were also the best team in the league in grabbing defense boards. This was also during a time in which offenses aren’t what they are today –- there were six teams that season that had a DRtg of below 100, so this isn’t exactly an apples-to-apples comparison.

So the Warriors are incredible at forcing inefficient, contested shots. They aren’t forcing as many turnovers as some teams, but it hasn’t really mattered when teams can’t buy a shot anyway. But how exactly are the Warriors holding opponents to such a low shooting percentage?

League AverageWarriors
Opp FG%45.2%40.9%
Opp Shot Distance13.77 ft13.42 ft
Opp Dribbles Before Shot1.922.16
Opp Touch Time Before Shot2.66 sec2.94 sec
Defender Distance4.14 ft3.93 ft
Shot Clock at Shot11.72 sec11.82 sec

The difference between the Warriors and the rest of the league is even higher when looking at pure field goal percentage (eFG% adds in a 3-point component). A lot of this has to be attributed to increased minutes for Draymond Green. Since David Lee has been out this season, Green has been starting and logging heavy minutes alongside Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, and Andrew Bogut.

Those perimeter defenders – and don’t forget about former perennial NBA All-Defensive Team candidate Andre Iguodala and long-winged guard Shaun Livingston – don’t have a glaring weakness. Curry is probably their worst perimeter defender in that group, and even he has been good in that regard this season. Teams can’t attack any perimeter guy -– they’re all too good.

The length and quickness of Thompson, Barnes, and Green give opposing offenses fits. Thompson can guard 1-2-3, Barnes can guard 2-3-4, and Green can just about guard 1-2-3-4-5. They can legitimately switch almost every pick and roll thrown at them. How do you score against that versatility at every position?

As you can see by the table, opponents are holding the ball more, dribbling it more, and shooting more contested shots against the Warriors. Their defender distance data is absurd (an “open” shot is defined as one with a defender four feet away or more). The Warriors are under that threshold on average. Opponents rarely get open shots, and you can guess how efficient contested, perimeter jumpers are.

So what do you do against an elite perimeter-defending team like that? You take them to the basket. Except the Warriors have probably the best rim protector in the world right now in Andrew Bogut. Opponents are shooting 38.6% around the rim against Bogut, which is other-worldly. That’s better than fellow rim protectors like Dwight Howard, DeAndre Jordan, Anthony Davis, Tim Duncan, Andre Drummond, Tyson Chandler, and Serge Ibaka – he’s just the best right now.

When David Lee returns, it will be interesting to see how he fits in with this group. Just about every rotation piece for them currently is a plus defender, and Lee is definitely a minus one. He has justified playing time in the past because of his contract and his offensive ability, but that might not be important this year because the Warriors are actually legitimate contenders and shouldn’t worry about contracts, and his replacement, Green, is a better offensive player this season anyway.

If this roster stays healthy, there is no reason that they can't keep going with this defensive pace. Add in their new offense under head coach Steve Kerr and this team has the perfect recipe for a title this season. In fact, they might just be the favorites at this point.

Table data courtesy of the amazing