Draymond Green and Warriors’ Veteran ‘Dogs’ Lead NBA’s Best Defense and Create Blueprint for Title Battle

SAN FRANCISCO — Steph Curry’s logo three-pointers. Klay Thompson’s unfathomable hot streaks. Draymond Green’s borderline telepathic passing and anticipation. For the better half of the past decade, the Golden State Warriors have been the epitome of modern basketball strikes. Fast. accurate. Accurate. Deadly.

The graceful beauty of that offense, especially after Kevin Durant joined the fray, made it easy to overlook the rough, disciplined effort on the other side of the floor. During the Warriors’ three title runs in 2015, 2017 and 2018, their postseason rankings in defensive efficiency were first, second and first, respectively. The two times they didn’t win the championship in their five consecutive NBA Finals appearances, they finished the playoffs in seventh and eleventh place defensively.

With that corporate knowledge safely housed in their collective hippocampus, it’s easy to see why defense has remained the top priority for the Warriors, who hold the NBA’s most miserly defensive rating during their 7-1 start to the 2021-22 season. Green said Warriors defense coordinator Mike Brown “challenged everyone” to be defensively responsible, and so far it’s working.

“What they have in their favor is that they have had success defending. They have that in their history and in their experience. Steph understands that. Draymond understands that,” said Charlotte Hornets coach James Borrego, whose team suffered recently. a 114-92 loss to Golden State. “When your two best players have the attack on the defensive side there has to be a buy-in and they understand that. They are a smart group. It probably forces the younger guys to defend at a higher level much faster than they had before.” expected, and I think that’s important.”

The Warriors’ defensive success carries over from last season, when they finished fifth in the league in defensive rating and first in the last 20 games. But there were still questions on that side of the floor due to new additions to the roster. They lost two versatile fullbacks in Kent Bazemore and Kelly Oubre Jr., replacing them with Nemanja Bjelica and Otto Porter Jr., who were not particularly known for their defensive skills or mobility at this stage in their careers. The acquisitions also saw the defense’s first striker Juan Toscano-Anderson, who played nearly 28 minutes per game during that 20-game period until the end of last season, cutting his playing time in half.

Those questions were answered early, however, as Golden State appears even more connected and diligent defensively. As with so many things with the Warriors in recent seasons, it all starts with Draymond Green.

“It’s everything. It’s identity. It’s the versatility to be able to guard, of course, many different positions,” Curry said of Green’s defensive impact. “It comes up every night in terms of our efficiency, making teams struggle to find looks alone. His presence and his IQ just always come out.”

Green sets the tone, but the players around him have to buy in. That’s where the experience and attitude of the veterans really comes into play. Andre Iguodala’s return puts a defensive IQ on par with Green’s — or at least close to it. Kevon Looney has been a reliable base in the Warriors defense for years. Andrew Wiggins, mocked for his lack of defense effort early in his career, blossomed every night as the lead defender of the opposing team’s best wing scorer. You also can’t sleep on Curry, who Warriors coach Steve Kerr constantly identifies as defensively undervalued.

“I think Steph has been great defensively. People are pretty quick to say he’s not a good defender without actually looking at the tape,” Kerr said. “Steph is a very good defender.”

And then, of course, there’s the Bay Area’s latest toast — Gary Payton II — whose defensive highlights were just as overwhelming as his poster suggests.

“[Draymond’s] have some dogs with you now,” said Curry [Gary Payton II] get off the couch, Loon does his job, Wiggs at the ball. So, just trying to create that identity and that expectation, we can do that every night, no matter who we’re playing against.”

Payton, whose basketball resume reads like the itinerary for the world’s most boring vacation — with stops in Rio Grande, Oshkosh, El Segundo and Mississauga — plowed his way into Steve Kerr’s rotation with sheer force, frustrating and disrupting the guards of the opponent into submission. Initially, Kerr was going to bet Payton to bolster the defense at the end of the quarters, but something funny happened. Payton continued to steal the ball, not unlike his father and namesake.

“Defensively, he was incredible. He’s all over the floor,” Green said of the younger Payton. “When you have a guy who puts pressure on you 94 feet, even if they don’t take the ball, it’s exhausting. It weighs on you… …I think he has tremendous skill on that side. He has a great speed, and can keep up with guys. He has good strength and doesn’t get bullied. And he has incredible hands.”

Even if not every Warrior is a Defensive Specialist, the schedule, effort and IQ more than made up for it. Probably the worst defender on paper in the Warriors rotation, Bjelica has even brought a shine to the other side of the ball thanks to a little help from his teammates.

“I’m happy my defense is getting better,” said Bjelica. “To play with Draymond and Andre—those guys, they’re just helping you. I look better on the field with them.”

The numbers support Bjelica’s gracious sentiment, as lineups with him, Green and Iguodala have allowed a laughably frugal 66.7 points per 100 possessions in 18 minutes so far this season.

While the Warriors may have expected to have a strong defense after last season’s success, there is a potential concern that was a pleasant surprise. Golden State plays small ball for a significant portion of their matches, with either Green, Bjelica or Toscano-Anderson in the middle, so rebounding can be a serious problem. But so far it’s just the opposite. The Warriors are second in the NBA in defensive rebound, despite no player averaging more than 8.8 per game (green). It just goes to show that rebounding isn’t necessarily about size or jumping ability – it’s about effort and technique.

“For me it’s just having a lot of experienced players who understand the value of boxing. When you have four guys boxing and one guy going for the ball, you get your share,” Kerr said. “We haven’t had some of the leaks in terms of our weak side, we just let guys run in and just get a walk at the hoop. We don’t have a lot of them on tape because we have experienced guys who are locked up and they take care of their man, boxing every time.”

A stop is no good if you don’t get the rebound, and Golden State’s ability to finish possessions has contributed to their excellent defense to start the season. Getting stops and securing backboards also leads to a transition, with the Warriors having some of the deadliest weapons in all of basketball.

They understand better than anyone how defense creates attack, and that’s part of the reason why they keep putting so much effort on the less glamorous side of the ball.

“Their ability to run offensively and shoot a high percentage makes their defense very solid as teams play against solid defense. But everything for the Warriors starts in defense,” said New Orleans Pelicans head coach and former Warriors assistant Willie Vegetable. “They have really good principles, guys who can play in multiple positions, and once they’re stopped and run, they’re pretty dangerous.”

While the Warriors are off to a stormy start in both record and stats, the veteran leaders understand that there is still a lot of work to be done. Iguodala recently characterized the team’s start as “OK”, noting their favorable schedule to open the year. At the time of writing, the Warriors’ seven victories had been won against teams with a combined record of 22-32, and nine of Golden State’s first 12 games have taken place at Chase Center.

Yet there is an unmistakable atmosphere around this team that exudes comfort and promise, two things that haven’t been around for a few years. With Thompson and James Wiseman ramping up activity in anticipation of a return to the lineup, paired with a few presumed NBA title favorites stumbling out of the gate, the Warriors certainly look like they could be a bonafide title contender when the postseason comes. rolls around.

“We have a chance to do something special,” Iguodala said. “Just trying to make the most of every day and get guys to mentally lock up with the grueling schedule and how it can be — it’s like a trap. You know, 7-1 can be a trap. You just have to stay locked up.”

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