Steve Kerr

Dr. Kerr and staff prepping for surgery on Warriors' defense

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In the 36 days since the Warriors were spanked into the offseason, their inner circle has done enough brainstorming and analysis to buckle the walls of Chase Center. Acutely displeased with the 2023-24 NBA season, they have identified several areas to address, with one looming larger than the others.

The Warriors must repair their defense. Unless they do, nothing else will matter.

Not the shooting or the rebounding or Draymond Green’s availability.

Even as the NBA tilts toward offense, it’s Golden State’s defense that needs reconstructive surgery, including new parts, and coach Steve Kerr knows it.

“It's not just about scheme and personnel,” Kerr told NBC Sports Bay Area on Tuesday. “It's also about how much better the rest of the league is. And how much different things are with the shooting and the pace. It’s just much, much harder to guard. There's a reason the offensive ratings have skyrocketed.

“But there's no doubt we've got to be better defensively. We were good at a lot of things. We were. We were, not surprisingly, excellent when Draymond was healthy.”

Golden State posted a 113.5 defensive rating in the 55 games when Green was available. The rating soared to 121.1 in the 27 games when he was suspended or injured.

For context, the Minnesota Timberwolves, the NBA’s best defensive team, posted a 108.6 defensive rating; 113.5 would have put the Warriors at 11th place. A 121.1 rating over a full season would have landed them in last place.

“But we can't just say, ‘Well, as long as Draymond's healthy we will be fine defensively,’ " Kerr said. “We’ve just got to be better. I've got to do a better job. Our staff has got to do a better job. We have to assess everything.”

Made clear by general manager Mike Dunleavy and Kerr at the end of the season was that improving the team’s point-of-attack defense was a priority. Klay Thompson no longer gets the assignment. Gary Payton II is capable but missed 38 games. Kerr experimented with Brandin Podziemski, but the rookie too often was hunted and exploited.

So, the job often fell to Andrew Wiggins. He has done well in the past but rarely succeeded last season. His 116.3 defensive rating was worse than those posted by such poor defenders as Buddy Hield (115.7) and Pat Connaughton (115.9).

To put it bluntly, Golden State’s point-of-attack defense is a personnel issue that must be addressed by the front office.

There is, however, one adjustment made by Kerr that is being considered for, well, a readjustment: The increased emphasis on offensive rebounding.

“We put a premium on crashing the offensive boards this year, and that may have hurt our transition defense,” Kerr said. “We have to study that. We’re a great offensive rebounding team, but our transition defense from last year to this year was much worse.

“We have to examine that. We may have to change that – not necessarily our strategy, but maybe our execution of that. Be more considerate about where we crash from and how often.”

Kerr said he does not anticipate making significant changes within his staff, but acknowledged there could be an addition to replace the late Dejan Milojević. Several league sources, however, believe Kerr’s focus on defense could result in some intra-staff reassigning.

Despite the presence of superstar Stephen Curry, Golden State’s fate always has been pinned as much on its defense as its offense. With the league trending toward high-powered offense, that’s particularly true.

The Boston Celtics, who posted the best record in the league, were the top-rated offense but also No. 2, behind Minnesota, on defense. Three of the four participants in the conference finals played top-10 defenses over the final six weeks of the season. Only the Indiana Pacers are doing it with offense.

Golden State was relegated to watching the NBA playoffs after finishing with the league’s ninth-rated offense mostly because its defense was 15th. They know that’s not playoff-worthy because they know the formula that has worked for them.

The Warriors followed that formula two years ago, when their second-ranked defense more than offset their 16th-ranked offense. Their 4.9 net rating in the postseason was good enough to earn their fourth NBA Finals victory.

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