Every year around the end of the first round of the playoffs, we hear a lot about how certain superstars are carrying their teams to playoff victories. But more importantly there is one message that is constantly repeated to the point that we all get sick and tired of hearing about it, but it’s the cold hard NBA reality: defense wins you championships. By the time the second round of the playoffs are in full swing, the one dimensional teams have been eliminated and we start to see the teams that have several layers to their game. The closer we get to the Finals, the better the defenses seem to be.

Which begs the question: why aren’t the Golden State Warriors trying to get better on defense? No one is expecting them to turn into the 2007-08 Boston Celtics or the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons; but is it bad to expect a team to compete on the defensive end and at least be decent on that side of the ball? Granted, it is a widely accepted fact that offense sells tickets, but so does making the playoffs and competing for a title.

According to basketball-reference, the Golden State Warriors have the third worst defensive rating (an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions) in the NBA at 108.0 this season. Warrior fans have grown accustomed to this trend given the fact that the team has failed to display any interest in stopping opponents from scoring in the last decade. Have a look at the Dubs defensive rating in the past 10 seasons (data obtained via basketball-reference):

Season Defensive Rating NBA Rank
2009-10 111.7 29
2008-09 113.3 28
2007-08 109.5 23
2006-07 107.4 19
2005-06 106.2 17
2004-05 106.9 16
2003-04 103.8 18
2002-03 109.5 29
2001-02 108.5 28
2000-01 107.4 28

Things got better from 2003-04 to 2006-07 (last time the team made playoffs), however the defense reverted back to normal the following year, and it has been the status quo since. But why does this even matter?

It’s one thing to defend better on average and at times make the games unwatchable for some of the fans, but does a better defensive club necessarily win more games? Well let’s have a quick look at last season’s playoff teams:

Rank Team Defensive rating
1 Charlotte Bobcats 102.8
2 Milwaukee Bucks 103.1
3 Orlando Magic 103.3
4 Los Angeles Lakers 103.7
5 Boston Celtics 103.8
6 Cleveland Cavaliers 104.1
7 Miami Heat 104.1
8 San Antonio Spurs 104.5
9 Oklahoma City Thunder 104.6
10 Utah Jazz 105.0
11 Chicago Bulls 105.3
12 Dallas Mavericks 106.3
13 Atlanta Hawks 106.7
14 Indiana Pacers* 106.8
15 Portland Trail Blazers 107.1
16 Denver Nuggets 107.5
23 Phoenix Suns 110.2

*only non playoff team of the group

From the graphic above, we can see that most of the teams that were in the top 16 of defensive rating last year made the playoffs save for one exception. Last season actually served to illustrate at least the last decade of the National Basketball Association; rarely does a team with a good defense miss the playoffs.

We can clearly see that the Warriors could benefit from an improvement on defense, and that such a strategy might help boost the team’s record and thus land them into the playoffs; but then again, just making the playoffs is not the end game here. Fans want to see a team that can contend for a title while owners and management wish to see a team make a deep playoff run because it boosts revenue (home playoff games tend to do that). So ultimately, we are both talking the same language. Have a look at the teams listed below:

Season Team Record Team star Def Rtg Def Rtg NBA Rank
2000-01 Philadelphia 76ers 56-26 Allen Iverson 98.9 5
2001-02 New Jersey Nets 52-30 Jason Kidd 99.5 1
2002-03 New Jersey Nets 49-33 Jason Kidd 98.1 1
2004-05 Houston Rockets 51-31 Tracy McGrady 101.7 4
2005-06 Miami Heat 52-30 Dwyane Wade 104.5 9
2007-08 Cleveland Cavaliers 45-37 LeBron James 106.4 11
2007-08 New Orleans Hornets 56-26 Chris Paul 105.7 7
2010-11 Chicago Bulls* 43-18 Derrick Rose 100.1 1

*Season not yet concluded

Other than the 2004-05 Houston Rockets and 2010-11 Chicago Bulls, all the other teams made an appearance into the second round of the playoffs (the Bulls obviously have not yet played a postseason game this year but will be favored to advance past the first round). Their recipe for success? Good defense and asking their star player/scorer to take over late in games and lead them to a win. Indeed, teams that have good defenses typically keep games close even against superior opponents whereas units that defend poorly are prone to being blown out on nights that shots are clanking off the rim.

People pay to watch stars play, which is why general managers tend to fork over the big money to them. But let’s not forget, the referees more often than not protect these same stars. Hence, having a potent scorer like Monta Ellis means that a team can put the ball in his hands late and ask him to break down his defender and score or get fouled. Think of teams such as the Spurs with Manu Ginobili, the Bulls with Derrick Rose, the Knicks with Carmelo Anthony and also the Lakers with Kobe Bryant. Those teams have star perimeter players to take on the scoring burden late in games and they have proven to be successful in doing so.

Monta Ellis may not be a younger Tracy McGrady, Chris Paul or Jason Kidd, but for the Warriors, he is that guy. And late in games, he finds ways to deliver (if further evidence is needed, look at what Ellis did in mid January against the Pacers). It’s now up to the team to figure out how to put him in a position where he can win games late for them. We now know how to do so, but the question remains, do the Dubs want to?

Questions or comments? Feel free to leave them in the comments section or you can contact me by email at [email protected]. You can also find me on Twitter with the handle name ShyneIV.