TrueHoop: Marreese Speights

The Warriors are a defensive juggernaut

November, 7, 2013
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss

Go ahead, laugh at the headline. It sounds ridiculous on its face, given that the last time Golden State finished better than 10th in defensive rating was 35 seasons ago. One could argue that Jimmy Carter’s presidency bookmarks the latest instance of a “good” Warriors defense.

Maybe it's not the past that makes you laugh. Maybe it’s that All-Star David Lee and superstar Stephen Curry have suffered noted defensive struggles. Maybe it’s that the Warriors recently played a hyped, nationally televised game wherein the Clippers scored 126 points.

It all hides what’s probably the greatest collection of defensive talent out West. Through five games, the Warriors rank behind only Indiana in defensive efficiency. Their rating would probably be better if not for a slew of comically sloppy turnovers that became Blake Griffin dunks last Thursday. It’s just five games, yes. But don’t be shocked if this trend holds over the entire 82-game slate.

It starts with Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut, both elite defensive players at their respective positions. Building a bad defense that involves Bogut and Iguodala would probably take more effort than building a good one. So long as both are healthy, the Warriors' defense should be healthy.

Iguodala shores up the exterior and Bogut protects the rim. The shooting guard works in the shadows and margins of the Warriors' perimeter D. A fan might not notice how he’s shading an offensive player a certain direction, or how he’s swiveling through a screen. Defense is a percentage battle, and Iguodala is looking to play the probabilities over time. Over the course of 40-plus minutes, process trumps results for him. Such efforts rarely get widespread praise, but they do result in team success. The last time an Iguodala squad performed better on defense with Iguodala off the court was 2006-07.

In contrast to Iguodala’s style, Bogut is a pronounced defensive presence. Your eye is drawn to the rim, where the Golden State center often blows up the play with no regard for human foul trouble. He’s a confrontational defender, occasionally prone to latching one mitt on a driving player as the other hand chops at the ball like an overhead smash. Bogut is healthy again (for now), looking svelte compared to last season and, frankly, appearing to be the dominant defender Milwaukee never would have traded back in 2010.

On the perimeter, Klay Thompson mirrors some of Bogut’s aggression. Though Thompson sometimes suffers lapses in concentration off the ball, he’s a physical, dogged man-to-man defender. Both he and Iguodala can guard anyone from point guards to small forwards. Their skill and versatility spares Curry a lot of tough matchups and a lot of foul trouble.

Marreese Speights aside, the bench is stacked with plus defensive players. It’s nearly the only thing Jermaine O’Neal can do well at this juncture of his career. Defensively, Harrison Barnes looks like the next Iguodala, only taller. Draymond Green is a large and mobile wing. Toney Douglas gave Stephen Curry fits before finally joining the Warriors. Kent Bazemore is an athletic shooting guard whose wingspan stretches wider than Kevin Love’s.

Given the Warriors' embarrassment of defensive riches, defining the team defense by citing the shortcomings of Stephen Curry and David Lee doesn’t make a lot of sense. It’d be analogous to defining their thrilling “Splash Brothers” offensive attack by Bogut’s hopeful hook shots or Iguodala’s midrange misses.

Also, Lee's and Curry’s deficiencies will likely be mitigated by help from their teammates and by time in this particular defensive system. Lee’s inability to hedge high on screens used to kill the Keith Smart Warriors. Mark Jackson’s system eases the pain by calling on Lee to sink back from screens as Curry chases his man around the obstruction. Neither player is anything special at corralling offensive attackers, but the style shift has delivered results.

The change helped vault Golden State from 27th in defensive efficiency in 2011-12 to 13th last season. This happened largely without an injured Bogut’s help and before Iguodala arrived in Oakland.

These are not Don Nelson’s Warriors. It’s comforting to believe that team cultures have continuity across generations, but times do eventually change -- even for a franchise as stubborn as old Nellie was.

It’s a bit confusing because these Warriors are running up and down the court, launching 3s and thrilling fans. You’d assume a devil’s bargain where such an offense can’t come with a strong defensive foundation. You’d be wrong, though. If the Warriors aren’t good defensively this season, it should come as a shock. For once.

Tuesday Bullets

October, 30, 2012
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
  • Tim Frank of the NBA: "Tonight's NBA games will be played. We are still assessing the situation with regards to the rest of the week."
  • Andray Blatche got an assist from some first responders.
  • What's going to replace James Harden's beard as the icon of Thunder fanhood? The Lost Ogle offers up 11 nominations.
  • Matt Yglesias, Slate's business and economics blogger, on the Harden deal: "[M]y real critique is that the Thunder don't seem to be considering the optionality involved in resigning Harden. Having the guy under contract for a multiyear deal doesn't just carry with it the right to employ Harden's basketball services; it carries the right to trade the right to employ him at any time. So if it did come to pass that the Thunder were a championship-caliber team and nonetheless running some kind of intolerable operating loss, they could always trade him then (or, better, they could trade Westbrook). The existence of the luxury tax can lead to a kind of overthinking and irrational sequencing about these things. When considering whether or not to sign a player for $X million, the question to focus on is whether he produces more than $X million worth of basketball services. If he does, then he's a valuable trade asset at any time. And the luxury tax should be understood as being assessed on the entire team payroll rather than having the entire hit arbitrarily assigned to whomever happens to be the last player you signed."
  • Once everyone in the starting lineup is healthy and and the meet-and-greet is over, the Lakers are going to be a bear to defend. Brett Koremenos of Grantland breaks down five devastating sets from five title contenders, including the Lakers' "slot pick-and-roll into high-low" scheme.
  • Something we often forget about rookies playing their first regular season game in the NBA: Many of them are taking the floor against their idols. That has to be a bit of a jolt, as Portland's Damian Lillard tells it toward the end of his most recent installment of "License of Lillard."
  • Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus unveils his final SCHOENE predictions for the season. Denver and Atlanta look strong. Oklahoma City and Indiana fall a few rungs. And who projects to have the No. 2 offense in the NBA? Your Minnesota Timberwolves.
  • The best in Nikola Pekovic propoganda this side of Podgorica.
  • Says here that Eddy Curry will probably start opposite Dwight Howard in the Mavericks' opener in Los Angeles, as Chris Kaman nurses a right calf injury.
  • One NBA scout has some unkind words for the Golden State Warriors. From his perch, Richard Jefferson causes headaches, David Lee was known to some Knicks teammates as FEMA because he was never there when you needed him and Mark Jackson doesn't have a feel from the game.
  • There aren't any industry studies, but I'd guess there are very few 15 year olds in North America whose Moms chaperoned them to the tattoo parlor -- Wizards rookie Bradley Beal is a notable exception. From Michael Lee in the Washington Post: "Besta Beal joined her son at the tattoo parlor when he got his first ink at age 15, and he needed her permission, because otherwise, 'she would’ve killed me,' Bradley said with a laugh. Beal provided all of the artwork on his arms ... "
  • Media outlets across the nation are publishing endorsements for the presidential election. The ClipperBlog editorial board weighs in and endorses ... Eric Bledsoe for Clippers starting shooting guard: "Across the league, NBA head coaches are facing tough choices as they go to fill out their lineup cards for opening night. Candidates have campaigned for spots since the start of training camp, hoping to show they have what it takes to get the job done. Some races were over before they began -- the incumbent's hold on the seat just too strong. But there are those, like the fight for the Clippers' second starting backcourt spot, that keep coaches up at night. Now it's time to make the call ... After thorough review of the candidates, we believe that the player best equipped to fulfill the necessary responsibilities of starting alongside Chris Paul is 22-year old Eric Bledsoe."
  • Can Rajon Rondo make the leap to first-team all-NBA?
  • Don't you just hate it when you realize that a player you can't stand is, in fact, a big-time contributor? Aaron McGuire of Gothic Ginobili on Jason Terry: "At some point, people who dislike Jason Terry -- myself included -- need to step back and simply start appreciating his production. And let's get this straight now -- I am no fan of Terry's. I think he's bombastic, self-obsessed, and preening. He needs to realize, at some point, that he is not an airplane ... But you know what? He probably was underrated in #NBARank, and in a general sense, Terry is of inconceivably low repute to a vast majority of the NBA's fans. And it makes no sense to me. Last season, Terry was the 5th best shooting guard in the NBA. Really. There were the obvious betters -- Kobe, Wade, Harden, Manu -- and you could make a reasonable case that Joe Johnson was better. Beyond those five? Nobody."
  • Our friends at Ball in Europe, without an NBA franchise on the Continent, are considering which NBA team to adopt as their own. You can cast your vote here.
  • Trey Kerby of The Basketball Jones celebrates the release of Stephen Jackson's "Lonely at the Top," featuring Kevin Durant.
  • Did you hear about the time Matt Bonner dragged Jackson to a Coldplay concert?
  • Marreese Speights would like to remind you that there are 13 other teams in the Western Conference besides Oklahoma City and the Lakers.
  • Serge Ibaka tells us how Brooklyn is like Brazzaville.

The Salt Lake Tribune's Ross Siler has this dispatch from the Orlando Pro Summer League, where the Sixers and Nets are strange bedfellows: 

The union became official at halftime of Monday's summer-league opener at the RDV Sportsplex, when 76ers general manager Ed Stefanski pulled up a seat along press row next to Nets president Rod Thorn.

For one week at least, the Atlantic Division rivals have come together, with a joint New Jersey/Philadelphia entry in the Orlando summer league prompted by the worst economy in a generation.

Terrence WilliamsNets rookie Terrence Williams: Would this man steal Eddie Jordan's trade secrets?  (Fernando Medina via Getty Images)

Whatever they lose in individuality, the Sixers and Nets hope to save in costs. They took the court Monday in generic blue NBA jerseys, coached by a staff of two New Jersey and two Philadelphia assistants.

"I'm not a fan of it,” Philadelphia coach Eddie Jordan admitted. "I like working with your own players and teaching your own guys, getting your own guys in your system.”

"I don't want to have to berate their player for not picking up. It just doesn't seem right to get on their players for doing something that you want them to do.”

The marriage has led to some strange scenes, to be sure. Philadelphia's newest first-round pick, Jrue Holiday, warmed up for Monday's game in a Nets shirt, leading one Sixers staffer to observe that a free shirt is a free shirt.

After Monday's game, Jordan was asked about Nets rookie Terrence Williams, prefaced with the qualifier: "You won't have him beyond this week ...”

(Jordan's answer: "He's a very competitive player. He's strong, he's a bull out there. He's got great, quick moves. He can change direction in a heartbeat. He's an aggressive player. I really like him.”)

In addition to their own draft picks and players, the Nets and Sixers each made four selections for the team. The offense can best be described as an overlap of Jordan's and Lawrence Frank's systems.

"It's a combination of what they've done and what we're going to do,” Jordan said. "And that's why we make it work, because we know the Nets.”

Frank called it "a little bit of an introduction” to his offense, adding, "But I think this has to be more about the development of the guys as opposed to putting in your system. Especially when you're
splitting a team, it makes it tougher.”

The biggest benefit, Frank said, comes in having a deeper summer-league team than most. The Nets/Sixers have four recent draft picks in Chris Douglas-Roberts, Holiday, Marreese Speights and Terrence Williams.

Were it not for the history between Jordan and Frank, Thorn and Stefanski, as well as assistants Tom Barrise and Mike O'Koren, the Philadelphia and New Jersey pairing probably would be doomed to

"It's a joint venture, where it only works for us because we know the Nets guys,” said Jordan, who nevertheless described the partnership as being "different” three times in one answer.

Of course, the Nets and Sixers players still have it better than Bobcats second-round draft pick Derrick Brown, who is playing with the Jazz in Orlando with Charlotte not fielding a summer-league team to cut costs.

Brown ended up with the Jazz thanks to a longtime connection between Charlotte coach Larry Brown and Utah general manager Kevin O'Connor. (There's a lengthy explanation as to why the Jazz didn't also end up with Bobcats lottery pick Gerald Henderson.)

Brown had nine points in his NBA debut Monday night, which came in a Jazz jersey, playing for a team coached by Jazz assistants. In fact, Brown wasn't even sure if the Bobcats were sending a representative
to Orlando to watch him.

"It's definitely a good opportunity to be out there and start the ball rolling in the NBA,” he said. "Whatever it takes for me to make a stand in this league, I'm going to do it.”

Frank was asked if the Nets and Sixers were just ahead of the curve, whether next summer will feature other entries based on geography and cost-saving, like the Heat and Magic, the Bulls and Bucks, the
Warriors and Kings or the Jazz and ... nobody.

"In these economic times, look, you've got to be fiscally very responsible and I think you just have to be prudent in the decisions you make,” Frank said. "Every group is different. This worked for us and Philly and it made sense, and who knows what the future holds. Hopefully, things get better.”