Even though the Warriors pace (103.30) is the third fastest in the league behind the Suns and Brooklyn Nets, they still give up too many points. For those curious, 103 stands for how many possessions the Warriors get per game. The fact the Warriors allow 108.2 points per game means they give up 1.19 points per possession. This ranks them thirteenth in the league at this point. To compare, the Warriors gave up 1.16 points per possession the last two seasons.
Points per possession isn’t the best way to explain the Warriors defensive struggles to start the season. Defensive efficiency does a much better job of that.
Defensive efficiency was created by author and statistician Dean Oliver as a way to measure a player and teams effectiveness at preventing the other team from scoring.
The year the Golden State Warriors won the NBA Championship they had a defensive efficiency of 98.2, which was tops in the NBA, while having a defensive efficiency rating of 100.9 last season. The current rating of 104.6 is troubling. Though the Warriors are averaging 2 more possessions per game than last season, it doesn’t change the fact the Warriors aren’t playing the kind of defense needed to win an NBA Championship.
Just to contrast, the Cleveland Cavaliers are going in a different direction. They were 20th in defensive efficiency three years ago, tenth last year, while currently sitting seven spots ahead of the Warriors at nine. They are the barometer the Warriors need to follow and so far the Warriors are behind their biggest competition.
The biggest reason the Warriors aren’t the same defensive team is because they are playing a faster pace and can score 120 points per game. When a team can score as easily as the Warriors they tend to forget about defense because they know the other team can’t outscore them.
This strategy works well in the regular season, but come postseason time, teams need to play defense. Postseason is a long way off, so the Warriors have time to sort out their issues.
Another reason for the struggles is rim protection. Even though Andrew Bogut was a somewhat polarizing player for the Warriors, his impact is missed on the defensive end. Zaza Pachulia is an adequate starting center, but he doesn’t do what the Warriors need him to do, which is, defend the paint. Pachulia not being a rim protector gives opposing guards and slashers confidence they can penetrate without fearing getting the shot blocked in their face.
Javale McGee and Kevon Looney do what the Warriors need, but neither has proven to be a consistent rotation player as of yet. David West is a good offensive player, but doesn’t strike fear into an opponent driving to the rim.
Without rim protection it puts more pressure on the Warriors perimeter defense, which has been up and down. Draymond Green is a constant force on the defensive end, but he’s the only guy consistently blocking shots and providing rim protection. Kevin Durant can do it on occasion, but he’s not an All NBA defender like Green and Bogut.
The old cliche defense wins championships gets annoying, but looking at the numbers it’s true. The last time a team won the NBA championship ranking outside the top 10 in defensive efficiency was the 2005-06 Miami Heat. The Heat won because of a Herculean effort from Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal protecting the rim.
The Warriors have the type of players where they can win behind their offense, but as we saw in the NBA Finals last season, jump shooting teams legs go away as the season progresses. This means the Warriors will need defense to win.
Steve Kerr needs to get back to preaching defense and let the offense take care of itself, because without defense the Warriors won’t win the Championship.