The Golden State Warriors have long been perceived as a team that can score, but defense has always been their Achilles' heel. When Mark Jackson was hired as a coach, his first goal was to change the defensive culture of this team.
Gone from the weight room are the photographs of scoring plays, which have been replaced with photos of defensive plays. Besides all of the attention that has been concentrated on injuries, Jackson keeps the focus inside the locker room on defense.
The Warriors added tremendous depth this offseason with the additions of Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack to go along with the extremely talented draft class of Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli and Draymond Green.
However, the Warriors lost one of their prized defenders when Brandon Rush was injured for the season by tearing his ACL.
The Dubs also have their prize from the Monta Ellis trade, but Andrew Bogut has played sparingly, and everyone is waiting for his healthy return. Bogut brings strong defense acumen to the team.
In the clip, Bogut makes the key block against Grizzlies center Marc Gasol as he puts himself in a position where it was very difficult for Gasol to make it to the rack, and Bogut not only swatted him, but left Gasol out of control with his landing.
When Bogut possibly returns this Saturday against the Indiana Pacers, he can start demonstrating his defensive skills and support a Dubs team that is already making leaps and bounds compared to previous seasons.
The Warriors have lowered their points allowed per game from 100.3 PPG to 98.8 PPG in just one week. The ranking went from the 26th-best team to being tied for 17th place in the NBA.
A big reason for their improvement on defense is team rebounding. The Dubs have been much improved as glass cleaners by ranking third in the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage.
Last season, the Dubs pulled down only 69.1 percent of their available rebounds on defense, which ranked them last in the NBA. I understand that team was a shell of what this season’s squad resembles, but it was still dead last.
David Lee is setting the example by pulling down 8.2 of his 10.9 rebounds on the defensive end. He has to pull down more boards with Bogut out temporarily. Landry is also coming up with more boards, especially in the past couple of games by using his body to position himself in the right place.
Besides improving on rebounding, Jackson has to be impressed with their defensive grittiness. If they are using the “fake it ‘til you make it” strategy, they are almost there.
During this exchange, Carl Landry sets the tone that the Dubs aren’t rolling over for anyone, especially Blake Griffin and the Los Angeles Clippers.
Landry and Griffin are fighting for a loose ball as it goes out of bounds, and Landry gets the last push. Landry stands his ground to the complaining Griffin, and the rest of his teammates come immediately to back him up.
It doesn’t look like much, but that is the culture that Coach Jackson is trying to instill in the Bay. The more aggressive the team is on defense, the better off they will play and coexist as teammates.
This was the same game where David Lee called out Griffin. As you can see from the lip reading, Lee tells Griffin to stop flopping. The Dubs are acting tough and trying to show a lot more physicality on the court.
Another large part of the new success is attributed to the rookies. As seen in this photo, Harrison Barnes is manning up against the Dallas Mavericks' Shawn Marion.
Barnes has really come on the scene both offensively and defensively. In his past seven games, Barnes has had double-digit rebounds three separate times and has raised his average to 5.0 RPG.
Ezeli is also showing why he belongs on the Warriors' roster by sticking his big frame in the middle of things on defense. He has showed that he can dominate in the post at times and has the discipline not to stray too far from his assignments.
Green also factors into the defensive culture. He started off the season in a very rocky position, but he has excelled in the past week. He was a key cog for the Dubs in their win against Dallas in the second of back-to-back games.
Green pulled down seven boards, but he also contributed with three steals. His increased playing time from single minutes to playing recent games in the 20-plus range is paying off.
This photo of Klay Thompson getting in Kobe Bryant’s face shows how the Warriors are affecting their opponents’ shots.
During the 2011-12 campaign, the team allowed opponents to shoot 45.3 percent from the field, which ranked them 18th in the Association.
During the early part of this season, the Dubs have dropped that number to 43.1 percent, which is third in the NBA. The defense is getting in front of defenders a lot more this season and filling the lanes to force more difficult shots.
The perimeter defenders are also doing a better job staying on their defenders without getting beat. As a result, teams are staying behind with the arc with their shots and hitting only 32.7 percent (fourth in the NBA). Last season, opponents shot 36.5 percent from three-point range, which tied the Warriors for 27th place.
This team is still learning as they go, but the improvements are substantial, and it shows with their 8-6 record. The Warriors are also clamoring down on defense without the help of their two best defenders in Bogut or Rush.
The team is finally making the necessary stops at the end of the game and continues to play hard when behind. The longer Jackson can keep this frame of mind going, the better off they will be when they meet the likes of the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder.
Defense wins championships, and if the Warriors have any dreams of one day getting there, they need to start now. Making the playoffs is a tangible first step.
Follow me @ScottInTheBay
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