“What will or can the Warriors do to address the lack of defense—worst in the NBA in terms of points scored by opponents? Is this a coaching issue or personnel issue? Or both?” – commish, danville

The most sure way of addressing poor defense is bringing in good defenders. The problem is, it is so rare to find a guy who can defend with consistent tenacity AND be capable on offense. The fact is, defense is such a hard thing to do well, it’s tough to find guys who can be adept on defense and score.
So, the Warriors are going to have to do it the hard way, which is make poor defenders better — via individual development and by masking defensive weaknesses with the scheme.
This is the hardest way to become a better defensive team. It doesn’t happen overnight, or even in a season. It takes time, patience, dedication, great coaching, chemistry, etc.
From my view, the Warriors have already taken step one, that’s becoming more athletic. The trade helped them drastically in this department, so now they have the tools to be better defensively. Another thing they have done, which I think was the right move, was identify what type of defensive team they want to be. The Warriors have properly determined where do they want to rest their defensive hat — creating turnovers and forcing opponents to shoot low field goal percentages.
The Warriors aren’t going to be a team that holds you to 90 points or fewer, because it requires a couple excellent man-to-man defenders, someone who can protect the basket and a slower pace. The Warriors defensive philosophy, ideally, is disruption. They want you to turn the ball over, they want you to take bad shots, they want the ball to end up in the wrong hands, things like that.
Now, obviously, they haven’t perfected their philosophy. While they are currently first in steals (8.77) and turnovers forced (17.79) per game, they are 22nd in field goal percentage defense. But because their scheme is so heavily reliant on chemistry and knowledge of the system, it’s going to take awhile. Right now, you have guys routinely out of place, rotation breakdowns, lack if hustling, poorly timed gambling, etc. Injuries and the trade haven’t allowed for cohesiveness and understanding to develop.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Under Montgomery, Monta Ellis made a contribution to the Warriors by pressing full court. He was a defensive specialist who harrassed opposing point guards and disrupted opposing offenses. Because of Richardson’s injuries, Ellis has been forced into a more prominent role on offense. They NEED him to score, to be a force on offense. So he can’t expend as much energy on defense or risk picking up fouls by applying.
You can say the same for Pietrus and Barnes, players who when this roster is healthy will be called upon for defense first. They have been too integral to the offense to yank them for poor defense.
A lot of things have to happen for the Warriors to become good at the type of defense they want to play. And guess what? They won’t happen this year.

Marcus Thompson

  • commish

    Wow, thanks for the explanation. You (almost) give me hope that at some point we’ll have a more balanced team, capable of both making and succeeding in the playoffs. I guess Dallas is a good example of what could happen under Nellie’s coaching. Obviously it would help if we could trade for a least one player with solid defensive skills. At least we have a few players other teams would want, including BD who once again has built then shattered our expectations with his inability to play an entire season.

  • Marcus,

    I’ve been a Warriors fan for over 40 years, but I’m living outside the Bay Area and it’s a lot harder to know the true state of the team when my viewing is limited to televised games against the Sonics and a few games on national TV. So I really appreciate the quality and quantity of the insights you provide in your articles, Q & A forum, and blog. Your blog on the Warriors’ difficult but crucial quest to improve their defense was especially helpful. You’re right: it’s not going to improve dramatically overnight, but you made the light at the end of the tunnel seem a bit brighter by pointing out that guys like Pietrus, Barnes, and Ellis will be able to focus more on defense if JRich and Baron can ever get healthy at the same time. If you have more specific thoughts on the limitations or upside of Harrington, Jackson, Powell, Sarunas, and Azubuike as defenders, I’d love to hear them. Keep up the good work.

    Steven Kent
    Lynden, Washington

  • Marcus Thompson

    First of all, let me point the probability is that the stars won’t align for the Warriors to become a good defensive team. I didn’t mean to get your hopes up, instead explain how difficult a prospec that is without overhauling the roster. It didn’t work in Dallas until Avery came in and stressed it, and he was willing to bench Dampier for Diop, who could protect the basket. They have a stopper in Howard, and their scheme and dedication to defense covers up Nowitzki and Terrys defensive shortcomings. In fact, Terry has become an OK defensive PG for Dallas after being a matador for Atlanta.
    As far as the four new guys defensive abilities, I can only give you an analysis based on the little I’ve seen:

    Harrington — a good post defender because he’s quicker than most guys backing him down. But he makes a lot of mistakes with gambles and getting lost in the shuffle. Some of it is trying to learn the scheme, some of it is trying to hard to make a play. He has the physical tools to defend, don’t know if he has the desire.

    Jackson — He reaches too much, looks for steals to much. His technique needs work, as far as his stance and understanding of angles. He just has a lot of bad habits. His strength, athleticism and long arms have covered up makes up for some of those bad habits.

    Sarunas — He just isn’t athletic enough. He can’t keep his man in front of him, a must for a point guard. But he’s tough, so he can take some charges, force players to the help and hold his own if he’s posted up.

    Azubuike — He has all the tools, and he has the desire. He just needs the experience to develop his instinct and understanding of defensive principles. He doesn’t care enough about offense to sacrifice his defense, so he has the right mindset. Let’s see how long that lasts.

    Powell — Seems like a solid shot blocker because he can get up. Still too inexperienced to be a good post defender. Right now, he’s a good weakside helper with the potential to be more. Like Kelenna, he’s just trying to get on the court. So he’s willing to make his money by giving all he has to protect the basket and clear the boards.

  • Greg Crum

    Hi Marcus,

    I think the Warriors should strive to be like the Sonics team of the 90’s. Under George Karl their defensive was frenetic;there was a lot of double teaming,playing the passing lanes, and then recovering back to your assigned man.

    Granted they had Gary Payton and Nate McMillan but with their current personal the Warriors could be a “poor man’s” Sonics.

  • fulminating

    @ Greg Crum,

    I like the Sonics idea but let’s not underestimate that they had Gary Payton (the best defensive PG of his generation) and Mr. Sonic. Let’s compare them to our backcourt:
    – Baron to GP: Similar tools, but not even close in intensity and defensive skill. Give Baron a 6 to GP’s 10.
    – JR to McMillan: Again, our model is not nearly as good as the Sonics. JR’s never been a great defender (when’s the last time he took a charge?) and he doesn’t move laterally so well. JR gets a 4 and McMillan an 8.
    – Ellis to GP: Monta’s got the tools but the mentality is not always there anymore (b/c of Marcus’ reasons). So, Monta a 7, GP a 10.

    So it’s still a good idea, but our execution would still leave a lot to be desired.