Golden State’s biggest off-season acquisition? Defense.
by Ryan McNeill / @ryanmcneill
The Golden State Warriors have raced out to a 5-2 record this season due to an improved effort on the defensive end and out-rebounding their opponents.
Yes, this is the same franchise that ranked among the five worst defensive teams in the NBA the past four seasons.
It turns out all the franchise needed was for Don Nelson to step aside and hand the reigns over to Keith Smart while the front office quietly added a couple of key pieces over the summer.
“This year we have a different team for the most part,” Smart admitted to the media earlier this week while the team was in Toronto. “We have two guys coming back into the fold of a team that rebounds the ball well. Now we have guys understanding their roles and understanding their rotations on the defensive end. We’ve worked on it we’re seeing some really positive things right now.”
A Warriors team that has spent time working on defense? You could have knocked the members of the media over with a feather when they heard this bold claim.
But, after talking with the coaching staff and players, it became clear that everyone associated with the team this season is willing to dedicate a lot of time to getting better on the defensive end. That has meant countless hours in practice working on schemes and then players have followed this up with individual meetings with coaches going over game tape.
This newfound focus on defense began in training camp when Smart realized this team had the potential to have success on the defensive end.
“There was a moment in training camp that I saw a flash of potential,” Smart explained. “There was moment where we were in transition and everybody got back. Everyone sorted out their players. Everyone contested the shot and went in and got the rebound. That was the moment I think everything came together and then we just kept developing from there.”
But, if Smart is going to be completely honest, the seeds of this defensive mindset were sowed before training camp even started and the coaching staff started to install their defensive philosophies.
“I saw it when our guys first started coming back,” Smart admitted. “The guys came back for training camp before Labor Day for some pre-workouts. As they started working together you started seeing some things they were doing naturally without any coaching. Then as we moved into training camp they were buying into the amount of time spent on defense. We were spending 25-35 minutes on just defense. There wasn’t long faces or guys complaining, ‘Oh, here we go again.’ They were actively engaged in it. The guys have bought into the time you have to put into defense in the film room and individual study with coaches.”
It’s one thing to want to play defense, it’s another thing to have the kind of players who are good defenders. Luckily for Smart, the Warriors the roster is full of players who have the physical attributes to be solid defenders and take away passing lanes.
Not only that, but the team has come out with a new focus on cleaning the glass that is paying huge dividends.
“It also helps that our rebounding is improved this year,” Curry added. “We have a frontline that is dominating the boards so if we get one stop we know they’ll get the rebound. It helps to know we won’t have to keep working on defines because they are getting multiple attempts.”
The marquee addition to their frontcourt, David Lee, was quick to admit a lot of their success on defense is due to players wanting to get gritty and make key stops.
“It’s one thing to have the horses on defense, it’s another thing to be successful and execute it,” Lee told the media after a win against Toronto. “We’ve been doing a great job of flying around [the defensive end]. Anybody who comes into the game has been doing a great job on the defensive end and it’s made up for the fact that we haven’t played incredibly well on offense.”
The fact the Warriors’ success is due to their defense is almost as shocking as the fact they are 5-2 to start the season despite the fact their offense is sputtering early on.
But, if the team continues to buy into Smart’s philosophies, they might be able to make some noise in the Western Conference this season.