Defense and rebounding … that’s what it all boils down to. The difference between Warriors teams of the recent past and the 2012-13 squad falls mainly on those two fundamentals. Sure there are other factors – Stephen Curry is healthy, David Lee has improved his shot and the team is overall deeper than it has been in quite some time – but defense and rebounding reign supreme when trying to identify the root cause of the Warriors’ improvement from a season ago.
The statistics back it up. The Warriors rank second in the NBA in opponent shooting percentage (.427), rebounding differential (+4.6) and rebounding percentage (.526). The Warriors aren’t the best offensive rebounding team in the league, but they are especially dangerous on the defensive glass with a .755 defensive rebounding percentage. This means that when Warriors opponents miss a shot, which they do at a high rate compared to the rest of the league, the Dubs come down with the rebound more than 75 percent of the time.
This is a tremendous turnaround for the Warriors. As NBA writer Zach Lowe pointed out in his Grantland column yesterday, “Golden State finished dead stinking last in that category [defensive rebounding percentage] for four straight seasons before the current campaign.” Curry and Lee are by most accounts playing like All-Stars this year (Vote for them now!), but their numbers aren’t that much better than they’ve been in past seasons. Instead, it’s the entire team’s commitment to doing the dirty work on defense and on the glass. It’s making that defensive rotation, putting a hand up when an opponent gets that shot off even though there is no possibility of blocking that shot and blocking out that big man to make sure he doesn’t get an easy putback.
“To me it’s a commitment,” Curry said after the team’s win over the Celtics on Saturday. “We’re even having multiple situations where you might even get beat but you get back there and help out. We care about each other and we want to make sure that no one is left out to dry. We’re just relentless.”
Curry makes a valid point. The Warriors by no means are a team full of lockdown defenders. Their best on-the-ball defender may indeed be Kent Bazemore, a developing player who is shuffling his time between the Warriors and the D-League squad in Santa Cruz, but as a group they are making a dedicated effort to make the opposing offense work for everything it gets.
And best of all for the Warriors, that commitment is resulting in wins. The Warriors are 7-1 when holding their opponents to less than 40 percent shooting. In six of the previous seven seasons, the Warriors didn’t hold opponents under that mark as much as they have in the 2012-13 campaign, and there are still 50 games remaining on the schedule.
The Warriors are riding a four-game winning streak, and the highest shooting percentage they yielded during that stretch is .402 (last Friday vs. Philadelphia). As good as that defense has been, the team’s rebounding also deserves a lion’s share of the credit. The Dubs are doing a good job limiting the oppositions’ offensive looks, and have gone 20-2 when winning the rebounding battle. It doesn’t take a Rhodes Scholar to see that strong correlation. It should also be noted that the Warriors are just 2-8 when they are out-rebounded by the opposition.
"That’s been the biggest thing," David Lee told Bill Simmons on today's BS Report. "(In the past), we can get stops and the other team would just play volleyball at the front of the rim until they made the fifth shot. The addition of the defense and rebounding has been huge."
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While posterizing dunks and behind-the-pack passes are more fun to watch than a team defense forcing a 24-second shotclock violation, it’s the plays the team is making that aren’t on the highlight reels that are most responsible for the team’s best start to a season in 20 years.