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2016-17 Golden State Warriors: How nervous should we be about the interior defense?

Don't blame it on the sunshine. Don't blame it on the moonlight. Don't blame it on the good times. Don't blame it on Bob Myers. Maybe don't blame at all?

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

I wasn't able to watch the Golden State Warriors' narrow wins vs. the Sacramento Kings and Denver Nuggets — for some reason some smart exec decided to make them the first non-televised Warriors games since the night Wilt scored 100.

Yet according to at least one fan, the degree to which DeMarcus Cousins had his way with Zaza Pachulia and the Warriors' new corps of big men was cause for borderline panic. Looking at the box score: 20 points on 11 fga, six boards (zero offensive) in 21 minutes. Not quite Wilt's triple-double (i.e. triple digit points, double digit boards), but not optimal either. Still, it's tempting to Blame it on the Boogie.

In my part-time role as GSoM Freudian therapist, I made a point in the GameThread of trying to talk concerned Golden State fans off the ledge with some reasons for guarded optimism about the team's defense this season. And now Nate the Great Parham, in his full-time role of GSoM guru, has cajoled me into putting those reasons in diary form. So ... lie down on the couch and bear with me.

  1. It's the preseason. Last preseason the Warriors went 3-4, including blowout losses to Denver, Toronto, the Clips and the LOLakers; and at least one regular poster on this site predicted that with Kerr ailing, the team should be happy to play .500 ball till Kerr returned. Some may recall that they did a bit better than that. In the game before "Boogie Night," the nominally beastly combo of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan had a rough slog against Zaza Pachulia, David West, and co., putting up a combined 10 points in 40 minutes, as the Clippers' offense sputtered their way to 50 points through three quarters. Perhaps not coincidentally, that was the one game this preseason against a team the Warriors actively dislike and want to crush. In Thursday's night's 129-128 win, in which the Nuggets scored with relative ease, one fan noted that DPOY runner-up Draymond Green appeared not to be trying on the defensive end.
  2. DeMarcus Cousins is freaking awesome. Best offensive center in the NBA by a pretty wide margin. We knew going into the Kings game that he was likely to give Zaza Pachulia more problems than he used to give Bogut. That's just what elite NBA players do against less-than-elite defenders. On the other hand: there's only one Boogie Cousins; and even if the Kings consistently win that specific matchup, they're unlikely to give the Warriors real problems — any more than, say, Patrick Ewing's Knicks or Juwan Howard's Bullets gave problems to Luc Longley's Bulls.
  3. Despite the glitzy 73-9 mark, the Warriors actually fell off a bit defensively last season. Went from first in the NBA in defensive efficiency in 2014-15 to tied for 4th (with Boston and the Clippers) last season. Kerr and Adams have sounded serious in camp about trying to get back to the elite level of 2014-15. Yes, they lost a defensive beast in Bogut and a very good defender in Ezeli, but they also lost two fairly big defensive liabilities in Speights and Barbosa, while adding an excellent defender in West, two plus defenders in Durant and Zaza, a shotblocking fool in JaVale McGee, and a ballhawking fiend in rook Patrick McCaw.
  4. Durant is a monumental upgrade on Barnes — not just offensively but also defensively. He's got a Fellini-esque 8-1/2 inches of standing reach on Barnes, is a couple inches taller than Cousins (Team USA eye-test), and has apparently dedicated himself this offseason to improving on D and on the glass. And, he was no slouch in those areas to begin with: he gave the Warriors fits defensively in last year's Western Conference Finals; and so far through five preseason games he's averaging 2.5 blocks per 36 minutes. His towering presence on offense also theoretically allows all the other core guys to focus a bit more on the defensive end, where Draymond is already the best in the business (or 1a/1b with Kawhi Leonard), Iguodala is not far behind, and Curry and Thompson both have excellent defensive fundamentals when rested and focused. Early potential sign of this: Curry averaging 3.6 steals per 36 in preseason. One play from last night's beatdown over the Lakers that stood out for defensive optimists: $16M man Timofey Mozgov, who had problems getting over on Zaza all night, finally managed on one play to slip by him for an easy bunny at the rim ... only to find himself met at the top and rejected by Durant flashing over from the weak side.
  5. David West is a massive upgrade on Marreese Speights, especially defensively. Despite similar head heights (and haircuts), West has five inches of wingspan on Speights and is a big defensive plus (#3 last season among NBA power forwards in defensive RPM, after Draymond and Millsap, and an underplayed reason for the Spurs' historically great D), whereas "Mo Buckets Allowed" was pretty consistently one of the very worst defensive bigs in the league (#55 among 63 qualified centers in DRPM last season, #54 of 57 centers the season before). So far through four preseason games, he's averaging 3.2 blocks per 36 minutes.
  6. Zaza Pachulia is a solid positional defender. He's clearly no Bogut, who was arguably the best defensive center in the league when healthy, but still not remotely a liability. By DRPM he has rated as the #24, #7 and #17 center in the NBA since 2013-14. He was schooled by the incomparable Mr. Cousins, yes, but has more than held his own against against DJ, Jonas Valanciunas and Mozgov.
  7. Overall, the team does not have terrible big man depth. Ranking the roster in rough descending order of likely minutes played at the 4-5: Green, Durant, Pachulia, West, McGee, Looney, McAdoo, Varejao, Jones (all pretty much locks to make the team at this point — sorry Cameron Jones and Phil Pressey). That's significantly deeper and more fearsome defensively than the big man corps of the team's likely finals opponent, who run out 6'-7.5" Tristan Thompson as their starting center, and have very little beyond that except LeBron James, two defensive sieves (Kevin Love and Channing Frye), and the 38 year-old Birdman Andersen.
  8. You can live, nay, thrive in the NBA without a dominant traditional center. The two greatest NBA teams of all time (according to Nate Silver's 538 blog) are: (1) the 1995-97 Bulls, who were defensive juggernauts, despite running out out three mediocre-to-crummy centers in Luc Longley, old man Bill Wennington and hella old man James Edwards; and (2) the 2014-16 Warriors, who for their one championship totally benched Bogut and won the last three games of the finals playing smallball with Draymond at center. Similarly, last year's NBA champion Cavs (off the ledge now, kids) won it all while benching their one true C in Timofey Mozgov and playing Tiny Thompson at full-time center.
  9. Bogut played just 20.7 minutes a game for the Warriors last season. 16.6 in the playoffs. So in terms of overall defensive impact, even if the downgrade from Bogut to Zaza is slightly greater than the upgrade from Barnes to Durant, the net impact could be significantly less pronounced, or even reversed — especially come playoff time, when Durant is likely to play 36-40 minutes a game while Zaza is likely to play more like 10-20. The addition of Durant in the playoffs allows the Ws to play more death lineup (or whatever apocalyptic moniker we are using these days), just as they did when closing out the Cavs, and just as the Cavs did when closing out the Warriors. It should be noted that a great death lineup is not just death offensively; the ability to switch everything and pressure everywhere with a combo of length and quickness can make it an even bigger nightmare defensively. How many easy buckets at the rim did the Warriors score down the stretch in Game 7 against the Cavs' smallball lineup again? Someone remind me so I don't have to watch it and walk out on the ledge with you.
  10. You gotta give to get. Grumblers gonna grumble, but ultimately if you want to complain about something, you should propose something (realistically) better, right? No one in their right mind says no to KD; and once the KD butterfly had flapped its wings, what could Myers and co. have done differently? Lose Finals MVP Iguodala instead of Bogut? Maybe, but Andre is Kerr's right hand man and de facto on-court coach, and was apparently a big selling point for Durant. Lose Livingston instead of Ezeli? Weakens the team's unmatched roster flexibility and makes their inexperienced backcourt depth chart even less experienced (and Ezeli's chronic knee issues remain a concern in Rip City, alas). Use the partial MLE to target a rim protector like DeWayne Dedmon instead of Zaza? Then you're replacing a tough, ultra-high IQ vet in Bogut with with a raw and unproven young'un. Pick Deyonta Davis or Ivica Zubac at #30 instead of Damian Jones? Maybe, but who knows what any of those dudes will become. Magically get Larry Sanders to start liking basketball better than music and twitter? Sure. Etc. etc. Of all the potential post-KD scenarios, I feel like adding Zaza, West, McGee and Jones while keeping Andre and Shaun is about as good as it gets — indeed, better than any of us could have hoped.
  11. Did I mention it's the preseason?

If you're still reading, thanks. Now chill out, watch this sweet video, and give the receptionist your $50 co-pay on the way out.

Who are you blaming it on? The Boogie? Sunshine? Something else? Answer in the poll!

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