Mike Brown only really started getting wide appreciation by the Golden State Warriors’ fanbase once it was made known that he handled their defense last season.
Brown famously became a sort of a hybrid taskmaster/hype man once he was given the defensive reins. He made sure the team worked hard on defense by making them accountable for their shortcomings and mistakes.
No one was spared from his culture of accountability. Even superstars were called out if they weren’t defending well enough, which worked brilliantly and was highly appreciated by the Warriors players.
But Brown made sure to balance that kind of coaching with a reward system, which gave the Warriors incentives to play hard defense. This one-man good-cop-bad-cop routine worked wonders — the Warriors finished the season second in defensive rating and put the clamps on the Boston Celtics to win their fourth NBA title in eight years.
It was only a matter of time until Brown was whisked away by another team. That moment came when the Sacramento Kings tasked him with what seemed like a near-impossible task: take the Kings to the playoffs, a feat that hasn’t been achieved in 16 years.
Until now, that is.
Brown took his good-cop-bad-cop approach to the Kings and brought them to heights they haven’t reached in a decade and a half. Not only did he bring them a playoff berth — he is making sure his team isn’t just happy to be there.
They’re actually trying to win games against a team that’s been there plenty of times and has reached the top more than any other team in the past decade. And won games, they have.
The Warriors are in an 0-2 hole, the first time it has happened not only in the Steve Kerr era, but also in the Steph Curry era. The last time the Warriors were in such a hole was back in 2007 — 16 years ago.
The poetic nature of the Kings’ first playoff berth in 16 years coinciding with the Warriors’ first 0-2 hole in 16 years isn’t lost on me. It also seems highly apropos that the one man that has made what was once thought to be impossible possible is the man who knows everything about how the Warriors tick.
Brown’s intimate knowledge of the Warriors’ offense — where it starts, the middlemen, and where it ends — is putting a wrench in Kerr and his squad. Brown knows all too well that the Warriors’ hubs are where the offense starts.
His offense itself counts on a fulcrum such as Domantas Sabonis to initiate action and fuel the offense to its highest gear. The Warriors do the same with someone like Draymond Green, who typically has all the vision he needs to whip passes to shooters and cutters off the ball because of his nature as a non-shooting threat.
What Brown knows, however, is that the best way to defend Green, Kevon Looney, and any hub stationed in the low post, high post, or at the top of the arc is to crowd their space. Putting ball pressure on a passing hub not only limits their vision — it bleeds the clock, forces a hub to become a shot creator, and increases the chances of forcing a mistake.
Case in point:
The Warriors try to run cross-screen action between Curry and Looney underneath the paint with Green handling the ball near the low-post. Instead of merely putting one hand on Green like most defenders do, Harrison Barnes — himself familiar with the Warriors’ offense — keeps his other arm up to disrupt Green’s vision.
Green tries to force a pass to Curry on the weak side, but Barnes tracks the pass with his hand and gets a deflection, forcing the turnover.
Another example of the Kings not letting Green have any room whatsoever as a passer in the low post:
Watch Trey Lyles stick close to Green while the Warriors run split action for Curry. The other defenders do an excellent job sticking to their assignments to deny Green a target, all while Lyles is doing what Barnes did in the clip above: crowd Green’s space, have active hands, and discourage a pass.
The possession ends in a turnaround fade by Andrew Wiggins — a shot the Kings are living with.
(Also take note of how the possession started: the Kings with full-court pressure on the inbound to give the Warriors something to think about — perhaps force a turnover. They didn’t, but it’s an added annoyance.)
Brown’s intimate knowledge of the Warriors’ offense isn’t limited to just mucking up the motion offense built on passing hubs and middlemen — he also knows the intricacies of the feared Curry-Green pick-and-roll.
It requires that very knowledge of how to blow it up — and also the appropriate personnel — to put a wrench into an action that is nigh impossible to stop in its tracks:
Two things to point out in the possession above that the Kings did to force the turnover:
- Brown put Barnes on Green, making the ballscreen action switchable.
- Davion Mitchell made sure to stay attached to Green and anticipate the pocket pass, which blows up the short-roll action.
The Kings then run on the break, ending on a Barnes dunk that was two of the Kings’ 25 points off of the Warriors’ 20 turnovers. Their 21.8% turnover rate was exceedingly high — higher than that of the Houston Rockets’ league-worst 16.3% turnover rate during the regular season.
Such turnovers, coupled with the Warriors’ misses, allowed the Kings to have a transition rate of 21.6% — 94th percentile. They scored 138.1 points per 100 transition possessions — higher than the Philadelphia 76ers’ league-leading transition offense, per Cleaning The Glass.
Based off of previous meetings in the regular season and how Brown operates, I mentioned in my series preview that Brown would have no qualms throwing out multiple bodies against Curry — especially whenever ballscreens are set for him — in an effort to get the ball out of his hands and let the other Warriors players beat them.
Brown did indeed throw multiple bodies at Curry, especially during the third quarter, where Curry would not get a shot off until the 3:28 mark:
Risking multiple bodies against Curry entails that the backline defense properly rotates to shore up potential numbers disadvantages. The Kings did an excellent job of doing so — and is a sign that Brown has his squad prepared for such eventualities.
Brown’s knowledge of the Warriors isn’t just limited to how they run their offense. Having handled their defense last season, he’s aware of their mantra on defense: prevention is better than the cure.
Over the last two seasons, the Warriors have led the league in opponent rim rate (i.e., keeping opponents from getting to the rim) and have done so by preventing or dulling penetration at the point of attack. By doing so, they also prevent having to be put in rotation, which opens up multiple avenues of attack by opposing teams.
However, if the Warriors allow penetration and paint touches, their rim protection hasn’t been adequate enough to prevent layups; they’ve been at the bottom half of the league in terms of opponent rim accuracy over the last two seasons. Brown has been picking on that fact by having his explosive ballhandlers create paint touches, which puts a ton of pressure on the Warriors’ backline defense.
The Warriors have been outscored in the paint by a total of 34 points (118-84 paint-point advantage by the Kings) over the first two games. That’s a mixture of coughing up offensive boards (they’ve been outrebounded by a total of 11 on the offensive boards) and letting the Kings stroll their way toward layups and floater-range jumpers.
The Kings shot 16-of-20 on rim attempts (87th percentile) in Game 2, while also attempting 29% of their shot attempts in the “short” mid-range area (floater range) — 85th percentile. They’ve been a combined 25-of-56 (44.6%) on floater-range jumpers during this series.
While a far cry from their league-leading accuracy from floater range during the regular season, the sheer volume of the Kings’ attempts from that area speaks to just how much the Warriors are willing to live with that shot diet from the Kings — something that Brown knows all too well.
As such, De’Aaron Fox — one of the league’s premier mid-range operators — has been taking full advantage:
De'Aaron Fox attempted 36% of his RS shots in the midrange (87th percentile) and made 53% of them (98th percentile).— Joe Viray (@JoeVirayNBA) April 17, 2023
By design, Dubs allow the most midrange shots in the league (39% of opponents shot attempts came in that area). Can't just allow Fox to get to his spots. pic.twitter.com/Oq1ynjAccr
The Warriors also aren’t helping themselves with the coverages they’ve been playing against Fox. A deep drop — especially whenever a high screen is set for Fox to get him all the space he needs to get downhill and toward his spots — hasn’t been doing them any favors:
In two games in Sacramento, Brown’s gameplan was revealed for everyone to see — and to be quite honest, it hasn’t been all too complex or convoluted. All he has done so far is take all the old files he has on the team he coached for half a decade and — just like what Batman did to every one of his Justice League teammates — created a contingency plan.
So far, he’s been executing that plan to near perfection.