Tonight the Golden State Warriors host the Atlanta Hawks, the NBA's top-rated defense.
And what are they particularly good at? Forcing turnovers.
The Hawks' biggest strength is their defense, both in limiting opponents' shooting efficiency (ranked second in the NBA) and in forcing turnovers (second in the NBA). This is clearly the biggest concern for a team like the Warriors.
We've gotten past the point of debating whether turnovers are a problem around here (I, for one, am still haunted by Stephen Curry's behind-the-back pass to nobody in the fourth quarter of Game 7 in last season's Finals), so I won't belabor the points about root causes or how to solve them. Nonetheless, it's probably the thing to watch in playing the Hawks.
Andrew Johnson of Nylon Calculus wrote about the players with the most deflections in the NBA and the Hawks are one of just three teams in the league with two players in the top 20 (along with the Warriors and the Sacramento Kings). Leading the way in the league is Thabo Sefolosha with 6.8 deflections per 40 while old friend Kent Bazemore is at 19th with 4.1 deflections per 40. That makes for the most active perimeter duo in the league, which could make getting the offense going against this team tougher than normal. By way of comparison, we know how disruptive Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala are and they've got 4.9 and 4.7 deflections, respectively, according to Johnson's article.
The point here is that the careless errors that sometimes slow the Warriors down could present a problem against the Hawks. While deflections aren't everything, the Hawks are turning those deflections into steals, leading the league in steals with Sefolosha (second) and Bazemore (10th) leading the way.
And all of that is just an excuse for me to talk about how awesome I still think Kent Bazemore is.
We don't often talk about Bazemore as a Warriors' success story because he didn't really experience success until he got to Atlanta. His biggest contributions in Golden State were outstanding enthusiasm on the sidelines and an almost-game-winning shot against the San Antonio Spurs in the second round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs. But Bazemore, in his relatively short time in the NBA, has gone from an afterthought in the draft to summer league surprise ... to top-notch teammate ... to full-time NBA starter for a playoff team, and I just can't help but continue to acknowledge his success.
Reality is that the Warriors are favored to win this game, as they are every game at Oracle Arena. Even without the presence of Draymond Green to facilitate the offense, the one-on-one abilities of Curry and Kevin Durant will likely be enough to short-circuit the Hawks' biggest strength in this new basketball superhero universe we live in where we somehow have Curry and Durant on the same team in real life (sorry ... I still can't believe that's a thing). But if the Hawks do mount a challenge, that perimeter defense will probably be a part of it in addition to Dwight Howard's presence in the paint. The Hawks' big man is currently ranked 10th in block percentage (4.8%), despite showing clear signs of decline.
As the Warriors continue to work on building their chemistry and reaching their maximum potential, they should consider the Hawks an opportunity to prove themselves against a top-tier defense rather than just another easy home win.