It’s obvious, but bears repeating: The Warriors can’t hope to get better without playing some semblance of defense
By Geoff Lepper
At the 4:12 mark of the first quarter of Denver’s 129-116 not-as-close-as-all-that win over Golden State Saturday night, Warriors forward Anthony Randolph sank a pair of free throws. Twenty-seven seconds into the fourth quarter, swingman Linas Kleiza continued the uninterrupted stream of Nuggets heading to the basket with yet another layup.
In the less than 29 minutes worth of game time between those events, the Nuggets outscored the Warriors by a 97-51 count.
97. To 51.
I don’t want to belabor the pain by delving too deeply into the 3-on-nothing breakaways off turnovers, the tip jams with teammates fighting each other to get credit for the basket, Carmelo Anthony doing whatever he wanted plus six other Nuggets in double-figures.
Just consider that Denver shot 36-for-59 in that stretch (61.0 percent), with the following breakdown of baskets:
Dunk – 10
Layup – 9
3-pointer – 9
Jumper – 5
Tip – 1
Hook – 1
Twenty buckets at the rim in less than 30 minutes of play is as good a recipe for draft-lottery status as has ever been devised in the NBA. Yes, Andris Biedrins and Brandan Wright were on the shelf, and yes, Randolph and Ronny Turiaf got into early foul trouble, but those cannot completely explain the Warriors’ failures.
I bring up these defensive statistics because I’ve been doing some digging into team rankings over the last decade in terms of Offensive and Defensive Ratings (the per-possession efficiency stats developed by Dean Oliver).
The Warriors currently rank 11th offensively out of 30 NBA teams but are 28th on defense, ahead of only Washington and Sacramento. Last season, they were equally unbalanced — fourth on O, 22nd on D.
What I wanted to find out with my number-crunching was how far a team that’s that skewed can generally go in the playoffs.
Of the last 20 teams to make it to the NBA Finals, only three were as unbalanced as the current Warriors. Two of those clubs were skewed in the opposite direction, an outstanding defense carrying a ragged offense; the 2003 Nets were 18th offensively and first on D, while the Knicks were 26th and fourth in the lockout season of 1999.
The only recent club to drag such a truly poor defense to the title was the 2001 Lakers, and that team represents a bit of an aberration. It was the middle year of the Lakers’ three-season run as titlists; in 2000, they had the league’s best D and 2002 they were back to seventh.
Here’s the breakdown of average team rank for Defensive Rating over the past 10 seasonso:
Champions – 4.8
Lost in the Finals – 5.5
Lost in the conference finals – 8.6
Lost in the conference semis – 9.9
Lost in the first round – 12.1
The Warriors? They’ve averaged a team rank of 21.4 over the last 10 years. And as for Don Nelson, his personal team rank since 1999 (his second season in Dallas) is 19.1.
Obviously, nobody’s talking about the Warriors going from 28-54 (or whatever it ends up being) to the Finals in one fell swoop. But if they’re even going to make the playoffs again, it’s almost a necessity to get out of the bottom third of the league. In 2006-07, they were 19th defensively (and 10th offensively); last season, when they fell short, they were 22nd and fourth, respectively.
Of the 80 playoff teams who made it out of the first round over the last 10 seasons, here’s the (short) list of clubs that ranked in the 20s as far as defensive efficiency goes:
Champions – 2001 Lakers (21st)
Lost in the Finals
Lost in the conference finals – 2001 Bucks (20th), 1999 Pacers (24th)
Lost in the conference semis – 2005 Supersonics (27th), 2004 Kings (21st), 2002 Mavericks (25th), 1999 Lakers (23rd)
You all know the suggestions of how the Warriors can get better defensively, since they’ve already been talked to death – dump Jamal Crawford, determine if Monta Ellis can and will get back to defending, play more Ronny Turiaf, help Anthony Randolph reach his potential, etc., etc., etc.
These numbers just illustrate that the improvement is a necessity, not a luxury, if the Warriors are ever to become something more than a lottery fixture or first-round playoff fodder.
4 Responses to “It’s obvious, but bears repeating: The Warriors can’t hope to get better without playing some semblance of defense”
justafan March 30th, 2009 at 6:02 pm
Here’s a solution: Clean house, start at the top “Boycott the Warriors until Chris Cohan sells the team. Fire Rowell, fire Nellie, trade Magghogball, Craw, Marco, (maybe be Jack) and any defenseless non player who just collect their paycheck (you know who you are) make it very clear to all that remain that Defense wins Championships, Three points Chuckers may be fun and may be fast but if you live on it we will be a lottery team forever. Driving to the hoop is more preferable. Obviously we need a PG, Monta is maybe one of the ten best 2’s in the league but PG, Please………………
White Hat March 30th, 2009 at 7:29 pm
Randolph and Turiaf did a decent job of keeping people away from the hoop early on, but fouls kept them from being agressive for long. With 5-man defense, they wouldn’t have to be that aggressive. Good defensive play from guards can stop many drives before they start.
Poor defensive play, especially among guards, is a longstanding Don Nelson trait, though. Earlier this season he seemed to have recognized that, but now we don’t hear any more about Smart running the defense, unfortunately. Now the team is simply playing every game to lose. I’m glad I didn’t buy season tickets. I’d feel cheated.
J Canseco March 30th, 2009 at 8:43 pm
Nice work Geoff.
Realistically, it may be too much to ask Monta to be the primary scorer, the primary ball handler/decision maker and play good defense. Players who do that are superstars. This just underscores the fact that we need a pass first, defensively adequate point guard;how much quicker would , randolph ,wright and morrow develop if they actually got consistent touches and handed the ball in positions were they were most comfortable.
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TagsAcie Law Al Harrington Allen Iverson Andris Biedrins Anthony Morrow Anthony Randolph Baron Davis Brandan Wright C.J. Watson Chris Cohan Chris Hunter Chris Mullin Corey Maggette Dan Dickau DeMarcus Nelson Devean George Don Nelson Gilbert Arenas Jamal Crawford Jason Richardson Jeff Fried Jermareo Davidson Keith Smart Kelenna Azubuike Kevin Durant Kevin Garnett Kobe Bryant Larry Riley Marco Belinelli Marcus Williams Matt Barnes Mickael Pietrus Mikki Moore Monta Ellis Patrick O'Bryant Richard Hendrix Robert Rowell Rob Kurz Ronny Turiaf Stephen Curry Stephen Jackson Stephon Marbury Steve Nash Troy Murphy Vladimir Radmanovic
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