Assessing the Warriors’ Defensive Woes
Offense isn’t the problem. The Warriors have averaged 97.8 points per game and shot 43.4% from the field in their last four games, a stretch of consecutive convincing losses that’s reason for concern heading into the All-Star break. Both numbers are below Golden State’s season-long average by a considerable margin, as you’d expect, but the point remains: the team’s 98.3 offensive rating on this awful road trip, while very poor and far below league-average, isn’t a death-knell or sign of more times like this to come.
But defensively? There was a thought at the beginning of the season that this group was playing over its head to begin with on that end, that teams would adjust to the Warriors’ new strategies and schemes or simply start making shots as the year wore on. Then Golden State kept winning and the defense stayed at a near top-10 rate, and the narrative changed. The Warriors could defend well enough now, and once Andrew Bogut returned from injury would likely get even better.
Concerns that the team’s defensive prowess over the season’s first 47 games was a total fluke are ill-founded; the law of averages wins out over a period of that length. Golden State can defend, but after the last week of play it’s no longer smart to assume they will. Not when the Warriors surrendered a defensive rating of 118.8 in their last four games, and not when certain aspects that went into that sky-high mark are so troubling.
Before diving into charts and a bunch of numbers, know that the collective opposition has made shots at an unsustainable rate during this streak. The Warriors three-point defense was well above-average all season long, and the fickle nature of that statistic meant they were ripe to at some point regress to the league mean a bit. Maybe that’s all this is, but there are reasons to worry otherwise.
To the right are Golden State’s opponents’ shot charts (click to enlarge). To the surprise of no one, the above is compiled from the entire season and below the last four games. Colors indicate field goal percentage from those specific areas with respect to league average; from a Warriors standpoint, red is good, green is bad and yellow is somewhere in between.
What immediately jumps out is the contrast from warm to cold looking from top to bottom. In the last week, GS has allowed far better than average shooting from seven(!) different areas of the floor. Given the lack of green in the season-long chart, obviously that’s a stark contrast from the Warriors’ new norm.
Again, this shooting is unsustainable. Teams won’t make 48.5% of their three-point attempts against the Warriors for the rest of the year, and they won’t shoot 52.3% on long two-point jumpers from the right side of the floor, either. There’s variance here, which is why to understand the problem we need more charts. Don’t worry (or maybe do?); we have them!
There isn’t a more efficient shot in basketball than the corner three-pointer. Teams base systems on either end of the floor around producing them and preventing them, and middling players sustain careers out of making them. And the Warriors have allowed 40% of their opponents’ three-point attempts from there over the last four games, a mark dwarfing their season-long slice of 24.4%.
Golden State’s recent defensive woes are far more layered than this, but prohibiting corner three-point tries is no doubt at the top of Jackson’s list of concerns. How to do it? The Warriors have been less than sound in their rotations beginning with the Houston game, and have taken less pride in running teams off the three-point line. That’s elementary analysis and the reason for all these easy three-point attempts is more complicated, but bet Golden State will put extra emphasis on communication and commitment to scheme in their last game before the All-Star break against those same Rockets.
And regardless of Tuesday’s outcome, pay special attention to the relationship between corner three-pointers and the Warriors’ defensive performance as the season continues. If they don’t batten down the hatches below the break like they did before this losing streak, don’t be surprised when their struggles persist.
Statistical support for this article provided by NBA.com
Follow Jack Winter on Twitter @armstrongwinter.