Warriors

Warriors must bring energy, focus on defense to prove naysayers wrong

Warriors must bring energy, focus on defense to prove naysayers wrong

Editor's note: Grant Liffmann (@grantliffmann) is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders, which airs on NBC Sports Bay Area 90 minutes before each home game and 60 minutes after every game. Each week, Grant will drop his Outsider Observation on the state of the Dubs.

The Warriors' roster upheaval has been significant and dramatic. After years of historically great offensive output, the team will try to find a way to make up for nearly 55 points per game lost after the departures of Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala, as well as Klay Thompson, who will be out until at least February as he recovers from a torn ACL.

As debilitating these absences are for the offense, the defense will be equally impacted. Iguodala, Thompson and Durant were three of the top defenders on the team and in the league.

Starting with the arrival of Iguodala in 2013, the Warriors have been one of top defenses in the NBA year after year. In the 2013-14 season, the team ranked third in the league with a defensive rating of 101.4, followed by a No. 1 ranking with a 100.4 rating in coach Steve Kerr's first season in 2014-15. The following season in 2015-16, the Warriors were sixth in the NBA at 102.8, before finishing second in the league with a 103.4 rating in the 2016-17 campaign. The team started to decline defensively in the 2017-18 season when they fell to 11th in the NBA with a 106.8 defensive rating. Finally this past season, the Warriors continued their defensive slide, posting a 108.6 defensive rating which was good for 11th in the NBA yet again.

There are many reasons for the team's defensive rating worsening in each year of the Kerr era, with the most significant being overall regular-season apathy. As the team became more dominant, talented and successful, they also became less inclined to give a full effort on the defensive end of the floor on an every-game basis.

The road to the NBA Finals was too exhausting mentally and physically to be able to be fully engaged against lesser teams throughout the regular season. During the postseason, the team was able to maintain a strong defensive presence with increased focus and energy, except for last season, when some of the team's best defenders were hobbled or out due to injury.

Another major factor in the team's defensive decline has been the overall improvement of the NBA's competitive balance, and the adjustments teams have made to catch up with the Warriors' style and pace of play.

Because of this, coupled with major superstar shifts in the NBA landscape and the Warriors' loss of talent, there are some that do not think the Dubs will be able to make the playoffs this season. If the Warriors are able to prove these naysayers wrong, it will have to start by surprising many on the defensive end.

With the absence of Iguodala, Durant, and for the most part, Thompson, the Warriors will be left with two of their top five defenders from last season, Draymond Green and Kevon Looney. Despite last season being considered one of Green's least effective years, he still was quite good. Out of the Warriors' top eight defensive rated lineups that played 50 or more minutes last regular season, Green was part of seven of them.

Meanwhile, Looney widely is considered a terrific pick-and-roll defender and a player that consistently is in the right position. Steph Curry is a better defender than he has been given credit for in his career, but with the Warriors will be so reliant on his offense, they won't ask him to stop any opposing scoring point guard. D'Angelo Russell hasn't garnered a good defensive reputation so far in his young career, so it will be up to him to improve his effort and seek guidance from elite coaches such as Ron Adams.

The Warriors do have a few wing players that have solid defensive reputations in their careers (both in college and the NBA), including Jacob Evans III, Eric Paschall and Glenn Robinson III. All three will be needed to provide good wing defense if the team is to overcome their roster holes. Alec Burks and Alfonzo McKinnie have not proven to be reliable defenders so far, but have the physical talent to be effective if properly utilized.

When it comes to the frontcourt, Willie Cauley-Stein, while not a rim protector, has the length and athleticism to compete defensively in today's fast-paced game and also will be a pupil of Adams. The jury still is out on what Omari Spellman, Jordan Poole and Alen Smailagic can bring on that end. The defensive question marks are real and rightfully concerning for a team that has become accustomed to being elite.

[RELATED: Warriors must embrace new NBA reality after golden era]

But with more energy and focus in the regular season, the Warriors are hoping that a few of their new additions will emerge and push them to defensive respectability once again.

Warriors vs. Grizzlies watch guide: Lineups, injuries, player usage

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USATSI

Warriors vs. Grizzlies watch guide: Lineups, injuries, player usage

In a battle featuring two teams in different stages of rebuilding, the foundering Warriors face the suddenly resurgent Grizzlies on Tuesday at FedEx Forum in Memphis.

Pregame coverage on NBC Sports Bay Area begins at 4 o’clock, with tipoff scheduled for 5:10.

The Warriors (2-12) own the longest losing streak in the NBA this season, seven games, dating back to Nov. 6. It’s their longest string of defeats since April 2012, when they lost eight in a row.

Though the Warriors have not lost a season series to Memphis since 2012-13 (0-3), they have lost at least once at FedEx Forum in 11 consecutive seasons, including each of the last three.

The Grizzlies (5-8), early in a full rebuild, opened the season losing five of their first six games under first-year coach Taylor Jenkins. They are showing signs of improvement, though, going 4-3 since then. They have won three of their last four.

 

PROJECTED LINEUPS

Warriors

F  Eric Paschall
F  Draymond Green
C  Willie Cauley-Stein
G  Glenn Robinson III
G  Ky Bowman

Grizzlies

F  Jae Crowder
F  Jaren Jackson Jr.
C  Jonas Valanciunas
G  Dillon Brooks
G  Ja Morant

 

INJURY REPORT

Warriors: G Stephen Curry (left hand fracture), G Jacob Evans III (left adductor strain), G Damion Lee (right hand non-displaced fracture), F Kevon Looney (neuropathy), F Alen Smailagic and G Klay Thompson (right ACL rehab) are listed as out.

Grizzlies: G Grayson Allen (left ankle soreness) is listed as out. F Andre Iguodala is not with the team.

 

ROTATION OUTLOOK

Warriors: Whether Warriors coach Steve Kerr stays with the unusual lineup that started Sunday in New Orleans (with Green starting at PG) remains to be seen. The slow start in that game (down 10-2 after three minutes, trailing by as much as 14 in the first half) could force a more conventional approach ... Undrafted rookie PG, who had 19 points and four assists in 28 minutes off the bench, made a strong case for starting, particularly with fellow rookie Morant at the point for Memphis ... Though rookie SG Jordan Poole remains mired in a shooting slump, the Warriors are encouraged that it has not affected his defense. The effort is there on that end, and the belief is his shots could start falling any day now ... Today’s player availability count: Nine.

Grizzlies: Though the team is built around Morant, the overall No. 2 pick in the June draft, rookie SF Brandon Clarke (No. 21 overall) has been terrific off the bench, averaging 12.3 ppg and 21.9 mpg ... The Grizzlies lead the league in paint points, averaging 55.0 per game, and Valanciunas is a big reason for that. He has scored in double figures in 12 consecutive games. Only two teams are more forgiving in the paint than the Warriors, whose opponents average 51.9 per game .. Picking up on the ball movement trend, the Grizzlies averaged 29.4 assists over their last seven games ... They also have made at least 10 triples in each of those seven consecutive games, matching a franchise record.

Officials: Kevin Scott (crew chief), Marat Kogut, Natalie Sago.

How young Warriors are making incremental improvements on defense

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USATSI

How young Warriors are making incremental improvements on defense

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- For much of the season, Warriors coach Steve Kerr has tried to find the anecdote to his struggling defense. 

The problem has been exasperated in the last month, as seven players have gone done with injuries, eliminating any hope of continuity. However, the undermanned unit has shown improvement over its last two games, giving Kerr hope going forward. 

"As a group, team and coaches have started to figure out what works well for this team and what we need to stay away from," Kerr said Tuesday afternoon. 

Seeds of optimism started in Friday's loss to the Celtics, when the Warriors held the Eastern Conference leaders to just 40 percent from the field, with Boston guard Kemba Walker making just 6 of his 19 shots. Two days later, the Warriors held the battered Pelicans to 41 percent from the field. More importantly, the league's worst interior defense has outscored their opponents 88-80 in the paint over the last two outings. 

For the last five years, the Warriors have used a switch-heavy defense, helping the unit become one of the best in the league. Over the stretch, Golden State finished in the top 10 in defensive rating in four of the five seasons. Now, with Andre Iguodala and Kevin Durant gone -- and both Klay Thompson and Kevon Looney out of the lineup -- the Warriors are giving up nearly 120 points per game. 

"We were just giving up too many easy baskets early in the season," Kerr said. 

The Warriors defensive woes have coincided with its uncommon rash of injuries. The trend started on the eve of training camp, when general manager Bob Myers announced that center Willie Cauley-Stein would miss most of October with a foot strain. Two days later, rookie Alen Smailagic rolled his ankle and Looney strained his hamstring in the same controlled scrimmage. 

In the last month, Curry broke his hand, sidelining the guard until at least February. Two nights later, forward Draymond Green tore a ligament in his left index finger. Last week, two-way guard Damion Lee fractured his hand. All the while, one of the league's most vaunted defense has plummeted to last in the league. 

[RELATED: Bowman must adapt when Warriors are healthy]

However, the team still has shown moments of potential. A few weeks ago, the Warriors held the Charlotte Hornets -- one of the league's best 3-point shooting teams -- to just 17 percent from beyond the arc, taking a brief lead with just over a minute left in regulation. Two nights later, the Warriors beat the Portland Trail Blazers, limiting guard CJ McCollum to just 37 percent from the field. 

Now, as they embark on their latest road trip, Kerr would like to see an improvement in the Warriors' perimeter defense. In Sunday's loss to the Pelicans, his team gave up 18 3-pointers, including six from sharpshooter JJ Redick. Still, for a team prioritizing development over wins at the moment, the defensive improvement is noteworthy.