The Las Vegas summer league is almost complete for the Golden State Warriors. Having finished up their fourth game of the "season" with a 66-57 defeat of the Chicago Bulls, they'll play just one more on July 21 before leaving Sin City.
And while analysis of summer league games should always come with a grain of salt, something very strange is happening with this Warriors team. They're entering undiscovered country, but not just because they're 4-0 so far—they've done that before.
These past four games have seen the Warriors change in a way that, despite the general irrelevance of summer league, is genuinely meaningful.
The Warriors are playing defense.
Against the Bulls, the new defensive emphasis was on full display. Every player on the floor was talking, calling out screens and yelling for help. That's a huge change from the terribly silent Warrior teams from years past.
Moreover, all that talk is yielding results. The calls for help were actually answered, and the answers came at the right places and times. Warriors defenders constantly made the correct rotations.
What's even more impressive is that they often made the correct secondary rotations—meaning they even helped the helper.
The Warriors collapsed on drivers, plugging the lane and forcing awkward kickouts and contested shots. They forced three shot-clock violations in the first quarter alone. Overall, the Bulls only managed to shoot 25 percent from the field.
And get this: the Warriors forced 16 turnovers and blocked 11 shots. That's some active defense.
It's hard to say if there's any one cause of the Warriors' new defensive intensity. It could be a continued emphasis from coaches. Or maybe it's a result of having a summer league team largely comprised of fringe NBA players hustling to catch on in the league. Who knows?
For what it's worth, though, there's one Warrior who's been right in the middle of everything on the defensive end: Draymond Green.
I've been skeptical about Green in the past, but never questioned his IQ or desire. Both of those things have turned him into the Warriors' defensive anchor during summer league. It's not just that he is always in the right place—there's more to his defensive contribution than that.
Green has shown incredibly active hands and a motor that won't quit. His foul totals have piled up at an alarming rate, until you look closely at how he's committing those violations. The truth is that they're all hustle-related. In the game against the Bulls alone, five of his six fouls were good ones.
Green's always on the glass, and against Chicago he pulled down 11 rebounds. But he battled for twice that many. Two of his fouls came while wrestling for position and tipping rebounds. Both could have been no-calls.
Three more fouls came on smart hustle plays. Green was the lone defender back in transition, and his foul saved a layup while guarding two players on the break. Then he committed another by sacrificing his body on a "could have gone either way" block/charge call. Finally, he earned another one rotating to block out a teammate's man on a rebound.
All in all, Green has shown himself to be a very rugged, yet clearly intelligent defender. Even if his box score contributions continue to underwhelm, I'm convinced his smarts and grit will turn the Warriors' new focus on defense into tangible success.
There's nothing more exciting than the prospect of this year's Warriors pairing tenacious defense with their high-octane scoring skills. If Golden State's defensive numbers climb to somewhere in the middle of the NBA pack, their top-five offense will look even better.
Draymond Green may never contribute big scoring numbers or play starter's minutes. But his contributions to the Warriors this summer have given the team the identity it'll need to be successful.
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