You thought it was going to be easy?
There won't be any narrative-based recap from me this time. We'll leave that to Tim Kawakami, Ethan Strauss and BASportsGuy. Instead, I think it's time to sit down and diagnose what's good and bad about the Warriors defense at this juncture in the season.
Over ALL team's last 8, @warriors (6-2) rank 2nd in DefRtg (95.7), 1st in Opp. FG% (39.9%), 3rd in Opp. 3FG% (29.9%)— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) April 4, 2013
That was several days ago, before the Phoenix Suns and yesterday's Utah Jazz game. I started combing through the games before that to see what was going on with the defense and whether it was in fact, much improved with Andrew Bogut's presence.
I'm not going to lie. I went into the film assuming that Bogut was covering up all of David Lee's mistakes on the back end and wiping away the deficiencies of the guard defense up top. I didn't think that he was single-handedly lifting the defense back to top-ten status but I thought he was doing enough to match up well against playoff-bound teams.
On first watch, it's easy to see his impact in games. Bogut usually starts out strong—a sign his conditioning is still behind—with hard rotations and blocks to boot.
On second watch, the leaks start to manifest itself, even against lesser teams like the New Orleans Hornets and Suns. The biased homer I am, I went out of my way to look for plays in which Bogut decisively shut down a play. I couldn't find many as games start to stretch deeper in the play clock. The issue, even before this game, is the pick-and-roll defense by any player.
It failed to show itself during the stretch against losing teams because well, Robin Lopez, Jason Maxiell, Pau Gasol and numerous other players either weren't able to shoot or weren't nimble enough to take advantage of the porous defense.
Since Bogut was able to come back from his back issues on 3/4/12, the Warriors defensive numbers has gone up along with his minutes played. He hasn't missed a single game and has played as minutes as possible without any setbacks.
The best five-man lineup without Bogut this season (Lee/Curry/Thompson/Landry/Jack) has played a total of 367 minutes with a 112.1 offensive and 104.6 defensive rating. Offensive and defensive ratings are points scored or allowed per 100 possessions.
The five-man lineup of Bogut/Lee/Thompson/Curry/Barnes since 3/4/12 has played 206 minutes and have posted a 107.9 offensive and 103.6 defensive rating.
Mark Jackson's crunch-time lineup of Bogut/Lee/Thompson/Curry/Jack has played 142 minutes since 3/4/12 with a sparkling 118.1 offensive and stifling 96.0 defensive rating.
To contrast, the Miami Heat have the best offensive rating (110.5) and Indiana Pacers the best defensive rating (95.4) in the league.
In limited minutes, Jackson's go-to lineup has played excellent defense while providing above-average defense. But those are a whole crap-ton of numbers without actually watching the nuances of the game and letting our eyes apply the data.
Let's start with the good; the post-up defense of Bogut. Here we see a straight isolation of Dwight Howard against Bogut. Howard doesn't even look to pass and Bogut stands his ground, forcing Howard into an awkward left-handed finger-roll thing.
These plays are easy to defend for Bogut and plays right into the Warriors' hands. How often do we get to say that when other teams look to exploit the size mismatch of years past?
Pretty standard pick-and-roll defense by two below-average defenders in Curry and Lee. Gordon drives straight by Lee as he lazily reaches in. In any other year, this is a layup or foul but Bogut flies over at the last second to block the shot.
The impressive part is how Bogut waits a split second to come over to help. He doesn't immediately leave his man, Lopez, to get in front of Gordon where the he can potentially drop a pass to Lopez. Instead, he waits until Gordon gets into his shot and in one step and jump, blocks the shot out of bounds.
Not just a tall defender, but an extremely smart one with excellent timing.
Onto the bad.
In a loss against the Sacramento Kings, Isaiah Thomas stole the show with a bunch of long 3s but here we see Bogut lay off the pick man because he isn't comfortable staying out on the perimeter, leaving him unable to recover. Even when he drops back, he isn't able to guard Cousins. In the rare instance he takes a wrong step forward towards his left, he can't contain a drive down the middle.
Transition defense has also been a big issue, especially when Bogut is on the floor. Not only is he unable to cover the floor on pick-and-rolls but it's tough for him to get back on defense after long misses. And for a team that shoots predominantly 3s and long 2s (Jack), there is a lot of transition opportunities for the other team.
The Warriors' offense in the later stages of games rely on the play-making ability of Jack, Curry and Klay. In other words, lots of jump shots are going to go up and when they are cold, tons of transition leakouts. Jackson put in Draymond Green in the place of Bogut at the tail of last night's game to have better foot speed but to probably better defend the whole court as well.
This makes a little sense because Bogut is a non-factor on offense in late-game situations.
Bogut excels when the defense is set. This doesn't mean that he's a bad fit for the team; in fact he's a smart fit for a team without a defensive stopper at the 4 spots. The guards, namely Jack, and the coaches need to recognize what personnel they have on the floor and gear their offense towards that.
The defense has gotten better with the addition of Bogut, there's no doubting that. However, against the 2-3 seed of the Western Conference, the Warriors may be forced to match up with less Bogut and more Landry/Green on defense, which is not a good thing. The Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs would probably make quick work of the Warriors but how about the Denver Nuggets?
The Nuggets don't have scoring big men like the Jazz but they present a similar type of athletic forwards that Bogut may not be able to handle. Kenneth Faried, JaVale McGee and even WIlson Chandler will provide Mark Jackson a dilemma right at the onset: should they matchup to their size or to continue with his traditional lineup?
There are two ways to fix this: one conventional and the other, not so much. The first solution is to have Bogut show some semblance of an offensive game. Sure, he can pass but that's negated when he can't draw double-teams. The Warriors give him a couple post-ups with some action off the ball at the beginning of games but he vanishes later on, presumably because he's using his energy on defense. It's probably coming sooner or later but we may have to wait until next year to see the full arsenal.
The Warriors have spent years matching up against other teams, trying to combat the size deficiencies and lack of athleticism. An offensively-minded Bogut would cause other teams to match up to them, a notion unforeseen sans a fluky 1.5-year run by the Baron Davis-led crew.
The unconventional solution is to bench David Lee. Unconventional in the sense that Mark Jackson would never do this but this strategy isn't unfamiliar to many teams in the league. Sure, you lose the offense but with Jack, Curry and Klay starting the possession, there s enough firepower to counterbalance the loss.
The goal here is to have Bogut set screens and roll straight to the basket after, a la Tyson Chandler. While the Warriors don't have the penetrators the New York Knicks or Houston Rockets have, they have much better shooters. If they can play Green or Barnes instead of Lee, they can run the spread pick-and-roll with 4 shooters around Bogut.
Want to play a match-up defense? Bench your defensively-challenged power forward and run your offense through the best shooters in the NBA while leaving in a guy on defense who has the wits to guard the basket, despite his lack of foot speed.
The Warriors lost a game to the Utah Jazz last night and their flaws showed. But Warriors fans shouldn't panic because these have been underlying issues all year. It's time for Jackson to make another adjustment and add another bulletpoint to his Coach of the Year resume.
Statistical support for this piece provided by NBA.com, unless stated otherwise.