The reigning champion Warriors have some issues as the Kings visit the Chase Center once again.
Not only has Golden State now lost five games in a row—worse, six out of their last seven—which puts them at 3-7 on the young season, but they have also seen a precipitous drop in defensive production.
Sure, ask a Bay Area basketball fan about this and there’s a good chance they’ll plead how Bob Meyers should have done whatever it took to retain Gary Payton II. Maybe that’d help.
Others will brush it off without an ounce of worry. These are the champs, they’ll say, so just wait for things to come together.
There’s also a good chance they’ll point to the fact two-way talent Donte DiVincenzo’s only played three games due to a hamstring injury he sustained when Sacramento visited a few weeks ago. Or that Andre Iguodala’s creep towards being a coach more so than a player has been a big factor.
However, while those points make some sense, they fail to collectively explain the fact that the Warriors aren’t just playing worse defense this year, but they’ve appeared to have completely fallen off from where they’ve been in recent years.
With this in mind, what instantly becomes something to chew on and consider is the fact Mike Brown, after six years, is no longer around.
Of course, Ron Adams is still there, and he’s always been a revered defensive mind on Steve Kerr’s staff since that regime took over for Mark Jackson—who, himself, instilled a defensive identity there—but it was Mike Brown who was, as a San Francisco Chronicle piece put it, “the Warriors’ unofficial defensive coordinator.”
“Without some key changes Brown implemented, Golden State might not have built off a defense that ranked fifth in the league last season,” the article from February reads. “Brown overhauled how the Warriors handle pick-and-rolls, dribble handoffs and closeouts.”
It goes on to detail many of the principles he’s instilled here with the Kings, such as defending the middle and trusting your teammates. It also makes the point Brown made at his introductory press conference in June, that defensive talent did not make one of the league’s top-two defenses, but it was scheming and coaching that extracted defensive talent from guys. Guys like Nemanja Bjelica, Otto Porter Jr., and Jordan Poole were all of a sudden solid on that end, and a guy like Andrew Wiggins was being thrown around for various defensive accolades.
As is evident, Brown turned a great defense into an outstanding defense, and it appears he’s already turned a putrid defense (that is, Sacramento’s 27th ranked defense last year) into a far more competitive group that one has every reason to believe will only improve.
Last year, Golden State finished with a 106.6 defensive rating, which was bested only by the Celtics by difference of 0.4. They also allowed the third least points per game at 105.5, and opponents shot just 43.8% from the field and 33.9% from three.
In ten games so far, they’re defensive rating is 116.6, which is one of the worst in the league. They allow about 16 points more per game at 121.4, good for dead last in the league. Opponents are now shooting 49.0%from the field against them, and 35.9% from deep
A season ago, the Warriors surrendered 16.9 points to their opponents off of the 14.9 turnovers they committed per game. This year, off of 16.9 turnovers a game, they allow 21.7 points, the most in the league.
That SF Chronicle piece quotes Brown as saying that “a shot-blocker” is “not necessary with the defense that we play.” Well, without Brown’s influence, that might change because their protection of the paint is far less effective. Golden State is still giving up less paint points than the Kings, but after allowing just 43.9 (5th least) last season with no conventional rim protector, they’re now allowing 49.2 paint points a game still without that rim protection.
In the same realm, it does not help that they are far less successful at securing possessions and stops. The Warriors not only grab 4.6 less defensive rebounds per game, they now allow 11.2 offensive rebounds compared to just 9.7 the year prior.
And to make matters worse, while the Kings slowly improve their ability to defend without fouling, Golden State is floundering. Steve Kerr’s team commits the most personal fouls at 24.2 per game, surrendering about 29.5 free throw attempts to their opponents, which is also the most. For reference, they committed 21.0 fouls per game last season with just 22.9 free throw attempts allowed.
More to that point, in the previous two years (i.e. Brown’s last two seasons in Golden State), Draymond Green averaged 3.1 and 3.0 personal fouls per game, and now he commits an average of 3.8. Kevon Looney averaged 2.6 personal fouls a game during their most recent championship run and 2.2 the year before that, but now, he’s at 3.1 a game. And Wiggins, after averaging 2.2 personal fouls per game in each of the last couple seasons, is committing 3.0 a game so far.
Overall, Golden State’s defense has been horrible this season.
It’s early, so there’s a good chance the Warriors can improve their standing, but can they flip it around entirely and get back to some level that resembles this previous season?
Without Brown, they’ve gotten off to the kind of start Kings fans are used to seeing out of their defense. So likewise, without Brown, it’s unlikely they will be able to replicate the defensive success of their championship run.
Who knows for sure, though?
It still could be that missing GPII or having DiVincenzo out could be a considerable factor, but there were never these kinds of struggles for the Warriors (excluding, of course, their throwaway 2019-20 season) since Brown got there.
Sure, Adams is still there, and it was Jarron Collins who handled defensive responsibilities until Brown took over that primary role last year, but the current Kings head coach, again, turned a great defense into a super defense.
There’s no way the Warriors are not missing Mike Brown right now.
Part of the reason this is not obvious to everyone is probably because the Kings defense hasn’t risen directly to the top upon Brown’s arrival. However, that would not have been realistic, for Sacramento ranked 27th defensively the year before. In other words, it’s a process.
But if the Kings can indeed show some defensive bona fides—and if the Warriors continue to struggle like this—there’s a reasonable chance that everyone could come to the same conclusion.
There is little doubt that Mike Brown is sorely missed in Golden State.