SAN FRANCISCO -- It is a wholly unglamorous task, tough on the body, maybe tougher on the mind -- but it is required for any team to be taken seriously, much less become an NBA champion.
The Warriors are searching for theirs. Failures on that end were a significant factor in them going home in mid-May last season. And despite the training-camp emphasis on improving the defense, it hasn’t shown up through the first three preseason games.
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We’ll let coach Steve Kerr explain what he has seen thus far:
“Bad defense,” he said after practice Tuesday. “We’re not there yet.
“We’re fouling jump shooters more than we did a year ago through three games. That’s one of our key points that we’re trying to hit.”
After dreadful defensive performances in the first two preseason games, both against the Lakers, there was considerable improvement Sunday against the Kings in Sacramento. The Warriors committed only 22 fouls while outshooting the Kings 42-17 from the line. Golden State was outshot 57-51 from the line in the two games against Los Angeles.
Golden State Warriors
“That last game (at Sacramento) was better in that regard,” Kerr acknowledged. “We didn’t foul as much. The first two games, we fouled like crazy.”
There will be more such games. There are a variety of reasons why defense is going to be a challenge for these Warriors. They are, among NBA teams, relatively short in stature. They are, among NBA teams, relatively thin in elite athletes. And they don’t have certified rim protector.
Overcoming those mostly physical discrepancies tends to result in a higher rate of desperation fouls.
Then there is, for now, the absence of Draymond Green as well as the unfamiliarity created by roster turnover. Veterans Chris Paul and Dario Sarić are new to the team, as are rookies Brandin Podziemski and Trayce Jackson-Davis.
“It’s definitely a factor,” Stephen Curry said of Green, who will miss the preseason with sprained left ankle. “But it’s also working out the kinks of this particular group, understanding our strengths and weaknesses and the attention to detail on how we’re going to defend. When it comes to technique and how you’re guarding -- on ball, off ball, communication in terms of the calls we’re making -- those things have to be in sync. When they’re not, then you’re out of position and your lack of size shows sometimes and you’re fouling giving up offensive rebounds.”
Kerr accepted the Green’s absence as a valid excuse -- to a point.
“Draymond is, I think, the best defensive player in the league,” he said. “If he’s out, we’re not going to be as good.
“But we still need to be solid. We need to hit on our key points to gain that incremental improvement in multiple areas. That’s what it’s going to take for us to be a lot better.”
The Warriors last season ranked 11th in defensive rating (113.4), a number that dipped to 111.1 in the postseason. Denver, not known for defense, won the NBA Finals with a 110.2 rating that ranked fourth among the 16 playoff teams.
Through three preseason games, the Warriors rank 14th in defensive rating (106.0). The tiny sample size is deceptive -- six of the 30 NBA teams are rated under 100 -- so sheer numbers matter less than scrutiny of habits.
Bad habits surfaced many times last season -- particularly on the road, where the Warriors’ 118.3 defensive rating ranked 28th in the NBA.
“We’ve got to rebound better,” Kerr said. “We’ve got to take better care of the ball, defend without fouling and put more pressure on the ball.
“But that’s what preseason is for. We’re able to see those mistakes and hit on them. Then, it’s up to the guys to take that next step and make the improvement.”
There has been, per Curry, copious video study after every game. Clips of lowlights as well as highlights. The Warriors have one more week to address the priority before the season begins.
The core trio of the team owns a collective 12 championship rings. They know how much defense means. The process is starting slowly, but they’ve been around long enough to know no season ends well without it becoming a strength.