It takes a long time to build a reputation, so it stands to reason that it will take a long time to shed one, too.
That seems to be what’s going on these days with the Golden State Warriors, a team that for decades has been known for its offense. This year, though, the Warriors have relied more on their ability to get stops than to get buckets.
Don’t believe it? Take one glance at the defensive statistics and you find the Warriors are in some strange company, along with teams such as San Antonio, Indiana and Chicago. The Warriors, get this, are third in defensive field goal percentage (.433), still the mother of all team defensive statistics.
They’re also tied for fifth in three-point defensive field goal percentage (.344), an increasingly important stat category in today's three-point-happy NBA. Some nights the Warriors seem to win games because of a simple formula: They hit their threes and their opponents don’t.
If there’s one thing coach Mark Jackson should get credit for, it’s that he’s developed a defensive style despite a roster built around Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and David Lee, all considered offensive players.
Truth be told, Curry and Lee probably aren’t as bad defensively as many think. Steph Curry ranks tied for 15th in the NBA in defensive win shares, and David Lee is right behind at 20 (win shares are an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player from his defense). Thompson has proven himself capable of checking offensive-minded point guards as a 6'7" wing.
Still, there’s no getting around the fact that Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala are the most responsible for the Warriors’ defensive turnaround. Those two veterans are the ones who have gotten the Warriors to the next level.
Bogut was banged up most of last year, but showed his worth during the postseason. He’s been mostly healthy this season, and has been able to re-create that level of play. Iguodala was the Warriors signature acquisition in the offseason, and he has provided the Warriors with a consistent defensive force on the perimeter.
Only two other starting centers—Roy Hibbert and Robin Lopez—have a better defensive field goal percentage at the rim than Bogut, among those who see at least eight attempts against them per game. He can not only block shots (1.9 bpg.), he also takes charges, a rare parlay for a center. Bogut has given Jackson flexibility up front with his ability to guard both centers and power forwards. That usually allows Lee to guard the weaker opponent offensively.
Bogut is also probably the nastiest Warrior and he certainly leads the teams in scuffles participated in.
While Iguodala has been iffy on the offensive end, his defense has been quite consistent. Iguodala doesn’t fit the mold of defensive stopper, but opponents don’t get over on him, either. What he does well is turn players into volume shooters. On the Warriors’ just-concluded 4-2 road trip, Iguodala helped coax a 7-for-26 shooting night out of New York’s Carmelo Anthony and an 8-for-23 game from Indiana’s Paul George.
While it’s often difficult to measure a player’s impact defensively, suffice it to say Iguodala must be doing something right, as he’s among the league leaders in plus/minus.
The Warriors have gotten an added boost on defense with second-year forward Draymond Green, the kind of dirty-work player plenty of teams could use. Green has the size, quickness and toughness to hang in against both 3s and 4s, and nobody on the team comes up with more loose balls.
Green has given Jackson the luxury this season of being able to go to a defensive unit, and that’s exactly what Jackson has done plenty late in games.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence, then, that the Warriors have won games this year with late defensive stands. On Dec. 1, Bogut blocked an Isaiah Thomas drive with two seconds remaining to preserve a 115-113 win over Sacramento.
On Christmas night, with the Warriors clinging to a two-point lead against the Clippers, Thompson blocked a Chris Paul drive in the waning seconds to lock down a 105-103 win. And just a couple of weeks ago, veteran Jermaine O’Neal came up big, blocking a Chandler Parsons’ dunk attempt with 24 seconds remaining in overtime that would have given Houston a lead. Instead, the Warriors ended up with possession and a 102-99 win.
Of course, these defensive positives often get overlooked on a team that has carved out its personality on the offensive end, mostly behind the prolific shooting of Curry and Thompson. But underneath those jumpers is a sturdy foundation of defense for the Warriors.
For the first time in a while, the Warriors and defense go together.