The Golden State Warriors — with a defensive rating of 115.1 — are currently the fourth-worst defensive unit in the league, despite having a defensive shot profile that makes it seem like they’re preventing opponents from getting all the efficient looks.
They’re allowing the least amount of shot attempts at the rim. They’ve been largely successful at running opponents off the line and funneling them toward shots they’re more willing to give up — 35.6% of their opponents’ shots have been in the mid-range, fourth-most in the league, per Cleaning The Glass.
The caveat behind allowing so many shots inside the arc and away from the rim, however, is that opponents have been knocking them down at a high rate: 44.2%, seventh highest in the league, including a 45% success rate in floater range, fifth highest in the league.
Fortune and numbers aren’t favoring the Warriors right now, but the belief is that some sort of correction will be had as long as the Warriors continue to put faith in what their defensive shot profile is giving them. Opponents will eventually start missing those mid-range shots. The law of averages will eventually kick-in.
Their opponent location eFG% — a metric that measures how effective a team is in defending the most efficient spots on the floor — is second best in the entire league, per Cleaning The Glass, which means they’re at least doing something right.
When it comes to opponents’ three-point shot profile, the Warriors stop being elite and are more middle of the pack. They’re 15th in opponent corner-three frequency, 23rd in opponent above-the-break-three frequency, and overall are 17th in opponent three-point frequency, per Cleaning The Glass.
Their propensity for allowing several shots from the perimeter comes as a natural consequence of their efforts to limit rim attempts. When help comes from one part of the floor to deter a paint drive, holes open up elsewhere. The Warriors are then forced to be put in rotation, constantly trying to “X-out” and force a continuous stream of swing-swing passes.
But there is only so much that defenders can do to shore up holes and plug gaps.
With two defenders (Donte DiVincenzo and Jonathan Kuminga) committing to stopping the paint drive, a disadvantage is created somewhere else. With Klay Thompson being forced to “split the difference” between the weak-side corner and wing, the pass to Kevin Huerter triggers a swing-swing when Thompson decides to take Huerter, who makes the extra pass to Malik Monk for the open three.
A failure to pay heed to the smallest of details has also burned the Warriors defense. Some of it has been personnel based; simply put, the Warriors are choosing to hedge their bets on players who have been figurative glass cannons, with the potential for offensive explosion but at the risk of getting exploited on defense.
The Warriors have been third in zone frequency in the league — only the Miami Heat and the Portland Trail Blazers have played more zone possessions than them, per Synergy. Zone is a useful change-of-pace tool to throw opponents off and disrupt their half-court sets.
Last season, the Warriors played zone mostly to do just that: surprise opponents, get them on the backfoot, and make them reset their approach. But this season, the zone has felt less of a sword and more of a shield.
When zones become a reactive measure rather than a proactive one — hiding bad defenders instead of empowering good ones — the flaw becomes palpably inherent.
This 2-3 zone is supposed to “hide” a mediocre defender, but bad habits are hard to break:
Poole inexplicably drifts toward the “nail” area (the middle of the free-throw line) to “help” on the Harrison Barnes paint drive — which wasn’t necessary, considering that Kuminga was well in place to deny Barnes from going any further. That leaves Huerter open on the slot, left wide open due to Poole straying too deep into the paint.
Teams have found pockets to exploit Poole whenever he’s on the floor, testing his ability to be a stopper at the point of attack as well as putting him through a gauntlet of screens to test his screen-navigation chops.
Poole hasn’t shown the requisite knowhow and technical expertise to navigate his way around screens. He’s been having trouble locking and trailing (staying close to his man’s hips):
Off-ball defense has been quite an adventure for the whole team — not just Poole in particular. Targeting the weakest links on the Warriors isn’t just limited to dialing up ball screens and luring them into direct engagements.
In an intriguing twist of events, the Sacramento Kings — coached by former Warriors assistant Mike Brown — did to the Warriors what the Warriors have done to opponents for several years:
Chimezie Metu sets a pin-in screen, otherwise known as an “exit” screen, for Huerter. Not wanting Huerter to get free for a look, Curry chases and decides to stick to him instead of handing him off to DiVincenzo — who, on the other hand, thinks that a switch is being called out.
As a result, Metu is left alone on the slip, receives the pass, and goes up for the open dunk.
If that sequence looks familiar, it’s because the Warriors have used pin-ins and exit screens to punish opponents plenty of times in the past:
This time, the Warriors have been falling prey to off-ball movements and second-side actions. The communication has been lacking. The ball-watching has been at an all-time high.
When Draymond Green switches onto Barnes, he leaves him to roam and help on a potential DeAaron Fox-Domantas Sabonis pick-and-roll action. But the Kings instead go to a pin-in/exit screen for a relocating Barnes, with Curry unable to switch and close out because of Keegan Murray’s excellent screen.
These details are relatively minute — but failing to pay heed to them has burned the Warriors to the utmost degree. Their defensive shot profile may make it seem like they’re doing a good job of preventing efficiency, but those moments where they forget to cross their t’s and dot their i’s has been endlessly torturing them.