golden state warriors defense (Photo: screenshot of CSN Bay Area broadcast via DimeMag)
WARRIORS PRACTICE FACILITY, OAKLAND, CA — The San Antonio Spurs are a benchmark for other NBA teams to emulate and, while the championships, winning seasons, and Hall-Of-Fame trios are prevalent, a couple of things that often fly under the radar is (1) the established culture, and (2) consistent league-average-beating defense.
According to BKref.com, the Spurs haven’t finished worse than the league average for Team Defensive Rating since the 1989-90 season (Gregg Popovich took over the coaching reins in 1996-97).
By contrast until last year, the Golden State Warriors hadn’t finished better than the league average since, ironically, that same 1989-99 season.
So while it’s clear that the Warriors have begun to change their culture, one thing that remains prevalent for the Spurs and what Golden State hopes to achieve is consistency. And with that comes familiarity.
“The most important thing about having (Andrew) Bogut healthy is that it’s a familiar situation,” Warriors David Lee told LetsGoWarriors a few days ago after practice, “Every game, the most important thing — you see these really good defensive teams like the San Antonio Spurs — it’s because they’ve been playing with one another, their core guys, for like five or six years now.
“With Bogut in there consistently,” Lee added, “he and I are used to covering for one another, getting used to the consistent starting lineup, getting used to getting in the pick-and-roll situations with all of our guards. So with that familiarity comes a kind of rhythm on defense, just like on offense with sharing the ball. It’s the same way defensively and it’s very important that it’s a consistent thing and we’ve had that this year.”
It’s well known that Bogut is a loud communicator on defense, as we reported, but how does that fit into the context of the team defense? What’s it really like in the trenches?
“I think generally we have guys that are loud and talk,” Bogut said, “Draymond, myself, guys that are really loud out there. We have guys that probably could do a better job, but it’s each to their own.”
Draymond Green thinks that the team’s success on defense and the communicative style has been rubbing off.“Everyone’s starting to call it ‘down’ (the positioning on a screen), everybody’s calling the ‘black’ (presumably a code name for some sort of defensive adjustment), everyone’s calling ‘front-the-post’,” Green said, “Whatever it is, you hear more and more guys talking and that’s why we’re getting better and better. They’re a lot more comfortable when you hear people talking behind you. That’s one thing we preach. We gotta continue to communicate better and that’s been helping us out. It’s gonna continue to get better and better.”
Even newcomers like Steve Blake are starting to blend in well.
“Initially it was just understanding concepts and learning to react when calls are made and situational things those first few games,” Blake said,”Then every once in awhile I’ll still revert to my old principles and I’ll catch myself, but as we keep going along, I eventually just am going to continue to react in the right manner and follow with our concepts. We have a great defensive team. Our bigs communicate really, really well. Our game plans are really well informed and it’s impressive that we’re always communicating throughout the game on what’s taking place.”
Green gave us a look inside the Warriors huddle.
“(Timeout huddles when things were going bad) used to be quiet and guys just sat there and waited for Coach to come talk,” Green explained, “Now, you’ve got a whole timeout before Coach gets to the bench and they’re still in their huddle. You’ve had a timeout of talking amongst ourselves and that’s one thing Coach kept preaching to us: if we’re going to be a good team, we’ve got to hold each other more accountable.
If we’re going to be a good team we’ve got to have more guys speaking up. That growth is starting to take place and it’s getting a lot better for us, as opposed to everything’s going wrong and everybody’s sitting there dropping their heads,” Green added, “We go into a timeout now, everything’s going wrong, you see guys communicating. You see guys saying what’s going on, what we should be doing, and it’s easier to correct that way, when you know what’s wrong.
“We’re players, so we’re not going to know everything, but if we can know a few things that are going wrong, that we need to correct, it makes it a lot easier for us and the coach, as opposed to them telling us five things we’re doing wrong and we’ve said nothing,” Green expounded.
Lee gave another example.
“When you’re doing split-second decisions, the last thing you want to be doing is sitting there and thinking about, ‘I wonder what my teammate’s going to react to,” Lee said, “You need to know what your teammates are going to do and have trust in them. That gets better and better as you go along and I think that we’ve gotten better and better at it.”
And while head coach Mark Jackson agreed that the team had reached a certain rhythm, he was quick to remind everyone that the team’s defense has been playing at a higher level all season long.
“With all due respect, we’ve been a very good defensive team all year long. I can remember Bill Simmons saying we weren’t a good defensive team,” Jackson said, “Now, certainly since the All-Star break, we’ve elevated and we’ve been much better. We’ve paid attention to details and we’ve been locked in.”
“Everything’s flowing more perfectly,” Green said.