The Golden State Warriors have been known as the team that broke the game of basketball due to their high-paced play and unconventional three-point shooting. Simply put, it has led to the re-invention of the game. Never have teams in the history of the NBA, or maybe even ever, played with such an emphasis on spacing out the floor and shooting more long-range shots than now.
Even with this, there still is another side of the game to play. Golden State may have run through the league offensively, and to multiple championships, but their calling card to those titles was actually their defense. Since the end of the Don Nelson era and the back half of the Mark Jackson era, and now under their current head coach Steve Kerr, the Warriors have drastically improved defensively.
In fact, the team ranked top 5 in defense each year where they were in serious contention for an NBA title starting in the 2014-2015 NBA season. Last season that came to a crashing halt. Attempting to squeak through the season after two of their major stars were hurt, Klay Thompson’s ACL tear during the 2019 NBA Finals and Steph Curry breaking his hand a couple of games into the 2019-2020 season, the team unfortunately ranked last in the NBA in team defense.
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Defense Wins Championships
For them to have a modicum of a chance in competing within an all-time tough western conference, they’ll need to regain their mastery on the defensive end, and Kerr knows it. On NBA TV, he spoke about what the team will look like on that side of the ball with so many changes to the roster this off-season.
“I think we’re going to be different, just because of the nature of our roster,” Kerr said on NBA TV on Friday. “And so a lot of that will have to happen organically. Guys have to play together to feel comfortable with one another, figure out where each one is on the floor. We have to figure out as a coaching staff the best rotations, the best combinations.
“The biggest thing from my standpoint, my staff’s standpoint is, we have to become a top-10 defensive team again. That really was the underrated aspect of the Warriors teams the last seven, eight years. It’s always been one of the best defensive teams in the league, and in order to really compete at the highest level, you’ve got to be excellent defensively. So that’s the focus going into training camp. We’re going to try to rebuild our defense. We’ve got the length and the athleticism to be very good, but it’s going to require a lot of work and we know that.”
New Player Defensive Expectations
Losing Thompson for the season will be a major blow for the Warriors. Coming into the year they were expected to be the primary team to challenge last season’s champion Los Angeles Lakers.
However, all hope may not be lost. While it is tough to say the Warriors have a great chance at winning the title, they do have the opportunity to be a good defensive team. Having Andrew Wiggins as a primary defender will be an added bonus that Curry and former Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green have in the arsenal. On top of the #2 overall selection from the 2020 NBA Draft James Wiseman, potentially protecting the paint.
Yet that’s not all. The newly acquired Kelly Oubre Jr. has also improved defensively over his last two years. He even stated last season, as a member of the Phoenix Suns, that he wanted to be recognized as one of the NBA’s best on defense.
“I’m a defensive-minded first player,” Oubre said. “I take pride in being a two-way athlete. Just not somebody who is a one-dimensional player. So, defense is my first bread and butter that got me where I am today. … I’m just going to continue to hone in on that and try to be the best defender I can. My goal is definitely first-team All-Defense multiple times in my career, Defensive Player Of The Year, stuff like that.”
With the Warriors adding a player of his caliber to the team in wake of the Thompson news, they may surprise teams, and analysts, with their defensive play and rank high among title contenders if they can get off to a great start.