As Golden State nears a record-breaking 16-0 start to the season, it’s time to ask: Can anyone stop the Warriors?
In last night’s game against the Nuggets, the Warriors went to their super-small lineup. According to NBA.com, in two minutes, that lineup scored fourteen points. So, yeah, that’s pretty unstoppable.
That lineup consists of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala, and Draymond Green and it’s unstoppable. All five players are capable three-point shooters, creating pristine spacing that they then take advantage of thanks to their unselfish passing. That’s what makes the Warriors so impossible to guard, and that’s how they’re able to score fourteen points in a mere two minutes.
However, many other teams could put out these sorts of lineups with five three-point shooters sharing the floor at once. What makes the Warriors unique is that they’re able to play five three-point shooters while surviving on defense.
How are they able to do this? Well, Green is the linchpin of the defense. Despite being only 6’7″, Green is capable of playing center. Without him, the rest of the scheme wouldn’t work at all.
Outside of Green, this lineup’s success stems from its incredible flexibility as all five of its members are between 6’3″ (Curry) and 6’8″ (Barnes). This similarity in size allows the team to switch at will, closing out on three point shooters, rotating around the floor to prevent drives to the basket, and being a whirring machine of defensive mayhem.
So many conversations concerning Golden State are about its offense, so to be contrarian we’ll focus on its defense. Let’s break down one crunch-time possession from Game 1 of last year’s Western Conference Finals that exhibits the system played to perfection, with Shaun Livingston in place of Andre Iguodala.
With twelve seconds left on the shot clock, James Harden drives down the middle of the floor against Thompson. Notice how all possible passing lanes are walled off.
Next, the ball gets poked away and Thompson and Green converge on Harden, trapping him in the corner. Barnes shifts off of Trevor Ariza in the opposite corner to guard Josh Smith next to the basket.
Harden manages to pass it out of the double-team, into the middle of the floor, creating a momentary four-on-three advantage for the Rockets. However, while against a lesser team, Smith would have been left open in the middle, against the Warriors, Barnes is already there, stopping him from getting an easy shot off.
Smith passes it out to Ariza in the corner, but Curry switches onto him, closing off a clear path to the rim. Livingston leaves Jason Terry (#31) alone to cover Curry’s man, Corey Brewer.
Ariza drives to the rim, Curry hot on his tail, but Barnes is at the rim to meet him. The shot clock is down to four seconds, which pressures Ariza to attempt a shot. At this point, Terry is open, but if Ariza managed to somehow thread a pass through across the floor while in mid-air, Thompson would be able to close out on him.
Ariza then fumbles the ball away and the Warriors close in. The ball gets knocked out of bounds and the Warriors get the turnover.
Just in the last twelve seconds of this possession, the Warriors are able to snuff out four threats (plus countless potential ones) by switching seamlessly.
It’s plays like these that great defenses excel at, all five players switching in unison, playing ferocious defense while still remaining under control. There’s nothing the Rockets could do to penetrate the swarming defense of the Warriors.
Even in the team’s starting lineup, with Andrew Bogut at center and Iguodala on the bench, the loss of some flexibility doesn’t prevent Golden State from keeping up the elite defense that was the best in the league last season by points per possession.
So far this year, Golden State has slipped all the way down to fifth in points per possession, and its offense is the best in the league, scoring 111.8 points per 100 possessions.
When a defense like this is paired with the best shooter in NBA history and a roster full of players who complement him perfectly, it’s hard to imagine the Golden State Warriors being beaten any time soon.