Four Reasons Why The Golden State Warriors Are Falling Apart

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Lackluster Defense

One thing that everyone pointed to as a source of Golden State’s early success was their improvement on the defensive end. While no one would call it championship-caliber, an average defense that stems from hustle and effort is miles away from where the Warriors were a few years ago during the height of the run-and-gun mentality that Don Nelson ingrained into the franchise’s collective psyche.

While there were early warning signs of what was to come, for the most part nobody wanted to focus on the negatives and rain on the parade after such a great start. As a result the Warriors became the feel-good story of the early 2012-13 season, and the “Mark Jackson shores up the defense” storyline became a nice talking point when discussing the team’s early success.

So what’s the problem? Why have things shifted so dramatically in the other direction?

Back in November, Grantland’s Zach Lowe wrote a detailed pieceon exactly how the Warriors had changed things in regards to some of their defensive strategies. In regards to pick-and-rolls, he outlined how Golden State’s guards have been instructed to overplay one side of the floor and force the ball handler to go a certain direction, where there should be a big man to meet him and cut off the open lane to the basket.

Mar 9, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) stands on the court after being called for a foul against the Milwaukee Bucks in the fourth quarter at ORACLE arena. The Bucks defeated the Warriors 103-93. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Now watch this highlight of last night’s game against the Bucks. At the 48 second mark, Klay Thompson employs this exact strategy, cutting off the high side of the screen so Monta Ellis can’t go right, expecting that Andrew Bogut will come up to meet him as the help defender in the lane.

That obviously didn’t happen, and Ellis reminded everyone at Oracle Arena how good he is driving to the basket. While I don’t think you can seriously say that the Warriors are a better defensive team without Bogut, this is a clear cut example that the cohesiveness that the rest of the players developed as a defensive unit has so far eluded him in his limited time back from injury, and they don’t have the luxury of time to figure it out.

But Bogut is just one player in all of this. His teammate and frontcourt partner David Lee was the focus of a case study at last week’s Sloan Sports Conference on bad interior defense. The backcourt really doesn’t have the athleticism necessary to contain the elite players they go up against night-in and night-out, and they routinely allow their men to penetrate into the paint for a lay up or a quick dump off to the player left open when the big man has to rotate to help.

Curry and Jack are a severely undersized tandem that are relied upon for longs stretches of games, and teams have adjusted by simply shooting over them, as the Bucks did last night. If you look at the splits by month, opponents’ three-pointers per game have steadily increased as the season has gone on. This can also partially be attributed to Mark Jackson going with a zone defense more than any other team in the league, and that hasn’t proved to be the least bit effective, as late rotations and communication breakdowns result in easy buckets for the other team.

Klay Thompson is often guilty of ball watching, and some of the problems he had defensively coming out of the draft are still evident in his positioning and how it relates to staying in front of his man. And while there are no stats to confirm this, I feel like I’ve been seeing a ton of this lately from several players, and I don’t know what to attribute biting on pump fakes to other than the fact that this is still a young team with a lot of room for improvement.

It seems as if this team has hit a wall in a lot of ways, and there’s no more glaring example of that than their team defense, which is put on display more often when they are guilty of the problem we’ll look at next.