Inside The Warriors: Transition Defense
When Mark Jackson was named head coach of the Golden State Warriors back in 2011, he emphasized his intentions to change the culture of one of the worst defensive teams in the league. Since then the team has acquired some solid defensive players in an attempt to follow that “defense first” model. One part of the Warriors’ defense that has been particularly impressive this year is their ability to get stops in transition.
If you look across Golden State’s defensive numbers, they are supportive of the eye test. The team gives up a lot of efficient looks in the post and guarding the rolling big men in pick-and-rolls, while being one of the best defensive teams when it comes to isolation plays, cuts and off screen shots. This really isn’t that surprising — Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson are good perimeter defenders who fight well over screens to contest shots and can hang with their guy when they are isolated. But stopping opponents in transition is probably one of the most crucial parts of the Warriors’ defense for a couple of different reasons.
Stephen Curry has increased his assist numbers this season but he is also turning the ball over quite a lot. Here are his numbers over the last two years.
2012-13 Curry assist numbers
2.23 APG/TO Ratio
2013-14 Curry assist numbers
2.34 APG/TO Ratio
While Curry has been a better distributor and a more willing passer this season, his assist to turnover ratio has barely improved. But Steph isn’t the only culprit here — the Warriors collectively commit 16.9 turnovers per game. The only team that is more sloppy with the ball is the Philadelphia 76ers.
Sometimes turnovers are a result of miscommunication and the ball goes flying out of bounds. In other instances opponents cut off lanes on risky passes and create transition opportunities. Ball movement is important but unless you are extremely comfortable as a unit, continuously looking to move the ball can lead to sloppy turnovers. We’ve seen guys pass up open shots without a second thought just to move the ball to another player, who might not even be in a better position to score.
Sometimes the most effective transition opportunities are created off turnovers, but the vast majority come after missed shots. The Warriors rank eighth in the league in field goal attempts and are around middle of the pack when it comes to offensive rebounding, despite being the second-best rebounding team in the league overall. Basically, the Warriors have several great rebounders and rebound the ball well as a team, yet the emphasis after missed shots is not to crash the offensive glass but to get back in transition as soon as possible. Here is a little montage of some possessions which show Golden State defending in transition.
The first clip illustrates just how well the Warriors get back on defense after losing out on the rebound. There is no standing around and everyone sprints back. While four Magic players are still on their own side of the floor, most Warriors have already transitioned when the pass is made:
In the second clip, the Grizzlies could essentially be in a 3v2 situation, but the Warriors are once again quick to get back. Golden State does pretty much everything right here. First of all, they close down the driving lane for Tyshaun Prince, who is then forced to kick the ball to Mike Conley in the corner. A transition three is better than a layup, so the Warriors have already done a good job here. Next, Andrew Bogut rotates to Conley, but doesn’t overcommit, as the Grizzlies’ point guard can easily beat him if he puts the ball on the floor. Conley hesitates for a moment, trying to find Zach Randolph under the basket, but Thompson also made the right decision and picked up Z-Bo when Bogut was forced to rotate. The Grizzlies end up taking and missing the three.
In the third clip, the Warriors once again do a good job of not exposing the paint and track down the Rockets’ players well, eventually blocking the layup after Houston runs a high pick-and-roll on the left wing.
More of the same in the clip that follows. Every single Golden State player is back on defense and three guys completely close down the driving Jerryd Bayless:
To sum it up, transition defense is extremely important for a team like the Warriors. When your offense relies heavily on shooting jumpers, there will generally be quite a lot of rebounds up for grabs for the opposing team, which in turn means more opportunities to run. Add to the mix the fact that the Warriors turn the ball over quite a lot, and the importance of getting back in transition is magnified.
So far the Dubs rank fifth in the league in points per play allowed in transition (via Synergy) and have done a good job covering up for some of their weaknesses. Everyone generally gets back and does a good job tracking the right players, identifying the main threats and making concessions where necessary. The first and foremost priority on the fastbreak is always to avoid allowing a shot close to the basket and the Warriors have done a good job forcing teams into either mid-range jumpers or threes.
To show just how good the Warriors have been in transition, I leave you with the following clip from the Miami Heat – Warriors game, in which Golden State’s suffocating mind manipulation tricks force Dwyane Wade into a miss.