Warriors Defense: A Relentless Refusal to Surrender Control to Adversaries

Ask any basketball enthusiast—from casual players to hardcore junkies—for their shortlist of the best defensive teams in the league, and they’ll give you different answers.

The Boston Celtics“The unholy trinity of height, mobility and edge protection is a combination that arguably no other team in the league can boast of. There are few weaknesses in their armor. One would have to thread a very thin needle in order to topple their foundation (like Stephen curry and Golden State Warriors they managed to do).

The Miami Heat It may not have the same kind of bulletproof depth, but it is backed by an anchor that knows no bounds in versatility, whose partner is almost equal in versatility with the addition of the valuable component of elite wing defense. Combined with a culture and scheme that prides itself on effort and connection, deficiencies beyond employees of the highest caliber are often compensated for by team-wide intelligence and knowledge.

The Toronto Raptors Perhaps the most entertaining defensive unit in the league. A slate drenched with long-ended wings—ranging in height from 6’6″ to 6’9″—is a recipe for defensive chaos, a philosophy espoused by Nick Nurse last season. They’ll turn to stay out of the spin – but other times, they’ll spin anyway. They would level up to the screen, or attack and hunt to an almost reckless extent. Not only would they play zone play, but they used what looked like the full spectrum of zone formations – from aggressive 2-2-1 pressing to classic and conservative 2-3. They jam passing lanes, force swings, protect paint en masse to make up for the lack of a bona fide rim guard, and even break rules from time to time, such as helping one steer clear of a strong side corner.

Even other top-tier defensive teams like Memphis GrizzliesThe Phoenix Sunsand the Cleveland Cavaliers They mention – but the league’s second-most defensive team last season seemed like an afterthought, even after reaching the top.

To be fair, it’s all too easy for a Warriors attack to outpace the blue-collar efforts of its counterpart on the other end of the earth; They have the complex beauty of action crime, and most of all, Carrie and his gigantic exploits during The NBA Finals to thank for that. That’s not to say that this last tournament – and the three that came before it – weren’t acquired by elite defense.

In fact, there is an argument that this breed was, first and foremost, built on a defensive rather than an offensive one. Note the dynasty’s early years—from 2014 to 2016—as the Warriors, in a similar fashion to last year’s Raptors, used their legion of similarly sized wingspans to switch nearly every width movement on and off the ball. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that these warriors invented the concept of prolific transformation—but there’s no denying that they revolutionized it, to the point of inspiring a league-wide tradition.

2022 Warriors don’t have the same type of mobility and personnel. They switch occasionally, but not without purpose, and not without doing some sort of risk assessment. Not having the same kind of flexibility forces them to be smarter in their defensive approach – and in turn, forces them to frequently diversify their coverage.

Much of the Warriors’ decision was made to allow Curry to completely switch to Jayson Tatum during the NBA Finals. In their minds, Tatum—while six inches taller than Curry—often opts for dexterity rather than brute force, something the deceptively strong Curry can handle.

On the other hand, they were more reluctant to switch Curry and Jordan Poole to Luka Dončić, a star who takes full advantage of his physical attributes to bombard his defenders. After facing previous rivals notorious for their mismatched catch, the Curry and the Warriors used their unlimited experience to prevent Dončić from getting the matches he wanted.

Compare and contrast Dončić’s custom-built Warriors charts with those of Suns, who confusingly ditched the easy switch with 37-year-old Chris Paul, miniature and weak-framed Cameron Payne, and peerless Devin Booker. And therein lies the difference between a team that was imagined and a team with an established championship history: the ability to diversify streaks and the humility to see which schemes/matches won’t work.

Despite being relatively well with Carrie handling Tatum one-on-one, the Warriors didn’t always leave their 6’2″ superstar alone on the island. Whenever switches can be prevented, they do so through a combination of clairvoyance and correlation.

Another method used by the Warriors to prevent Curry from being unnecessarily involved in movement on the ball is through “pre-swap”, i.e. clear ball switches where Curry passes his man – intending to set a screen for Tatum or Jaylen Brown to draw out a mismatch – to someone else (often Draymond). Green).

Other times, switching was perfectly fine, as long as there was proper assistance behind these switches (*cough* sun *cough*) and the defender by point of attack oriented his leg appropriately. Curry may not be as physically gifted as a defender, but his positional awareness and confidence in the defensive line helped him survive unfavorable matches.

When he has Brown in possession below, he trusts Greene to “lock the box,” or pre-roll in the paint to oppose the throw attempt:

Being an intelligent positional defender who is aware of the right positions to be in, the right turns to take, and having the split-second decision-making skills to be effective despite his limitations have been the hallmarks of Curry’s defensive renaissance. While Paul has more room to cover in this department, Curry, Greene and an experienced veteran crew have given him an understanding of how to be an acceptable defender for the team.

Being excellent in many aspects – rather than being known to specialize in certain areas – may be what makes the best warriors ever. But in a way, their distinct nature makes them less attractive than other more famous teams that stand out among the general public in the NBA.

However, name any of the above teams and their characteristics, and warriors can definitely match them, or at least approximate their abilities.

Celtics’ ability to insulate paint? Warriors can certainly do that – 27% of their opponents’ shot attempts came at the edge, a Leading mark in the league when eliminating trash timeIt slightly outperforms the Celtics in that category.

At any time in synergistic harmony, warriors can honestly use any type of cover—whether conservative or highly aggressive—with little or no hope of its unraveling. When attacking dangerous players on the ball, no other team in the league can support 4v3 backline flaws better than Warriors can.

Most importantly, when closed and focused, Warriors can stop paint at will – even without well-intentioned shot blockers. They were able to prevent the paint on the estate below through sheer effort, communication, and rotation in time.

What about the Hit’s versatility, interconnectedness, elite anchor and wing defender presence?

Suffice it to say that Pam Adebayo has Draymond Green to give thanks for making anchors so versatile and highly convertible. Greene’s importance to the Warriors’ evergreen defense. It was an unchanged fact during the playoffs, as the Warriors’ defense improved by 9 points per 100 possessions (9.3 points per 100 possessions in the half field) during his minutes on the ground.

There’s not much to be said for the value Andrew Wiggins provided as the Warriors’ first wing defender, who has effectively guarded the likes of Dončić and Tatum. The Warriors’ defense improved by 5.6 points per 100 possessions (7.5 points per 100 possessions in the half field) during Wiggins’ playoff minutes.

How about the Raptors’ mix of funky schemes that seemed to change on a per-possession basis? The Warriors also had this in their repertoire – from 1-2-2/3-2 zone breakouts as a gear shift tool (they had the third highest zone use during qualifying):

Even to take out a single square – something they added to their planning arsenal during the regular season – against the opposing team’s primary choice:

Even while the obvious signs of defensive excellence were largely ignored or ignored, such signs should have been taken as a harbinger of what was to come. From the first day of the regular season through the last day of 2021, the Warriors were, far and away, a dominant defensive team, with a Defensive Rating (DRTG) of 103.3 through January 5, 2022 – the last game before Green missed 31 games through injury.

At one point, they had 8.8 points per 100 miserly possessions than the league average – which was on track for a 2004 game. San Antonio SpursRecord for best relative DRTG since 1977.

Also consider the historical precedent for the championship teams and their defense during the regular season. Since the 1999-2000 season, only two teams have won the title without being considered a top 10 defense in the regular season: 1) 2001 Los Angeles Lakerswhose 104.8 ranked DRTG 21st, is the only title team in the past 22 years to own a DRTG that was worst from the league average. 2) Golden State Warriors 2018, who dropped 107.6 DRTG (11th) just one place off the top ten (which overturned the switch to become the best defensive unit in the playoffs).

Other than these two teams, every team that won titles was considered one of the best defensively. These 2022 Warriors (107.6 DRTG in negligible time, 2 in the league) proved no different. While Carey and the offense were both welcomed and praised, the defense continued to do the much underappreciated work of the handyman.

The overall planning philosophy was to prevent opponents from touching the paint. Ingenuity and IQ fueled the success of their schemes. But in the end, what may be their greatest defensive trait is their resolute refusal to cede control of property to adversaries—a trait that is highly commended.