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Warriors Defensive Struggles Hurt The Team’s Playoff Chances

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The Golden State Warriors had high hopes after the NBA bubble ended. ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith predicted they would be in the Western Conference Finals and could be dark horse championship contenders. Those predictions went out the window after Klay Thompson tore his Achilles back in November. The Warriors defensive struggles have also played a big part.

The Warriors currently have a 19-18 record at the 9th spot in the West and could be running for one of the last playoff spots in the western conference. Point guard Stephen Curry is currently averaging 29.7 ppg despite missing Thompson. Rookie center James Wiseman has flashed All-Star potential, and Andrew Wiggins is turning in one of the most efficient years of his career.

The offense will not be the Warrior’s problem this season even without Thompson. The problem will be their defense. Outside of Draymond Green, the Warriors don’t have an elite defender at the guard or forward position. In order to even make a run at a playoff spot, the Warrior’s defensive struggles have been a big reason for their up and down season so far.

Wing Defenders contributing to Warriors defensive struggles

Thompson didn’t just provide the Warriors with a sniper on offense, he also was responsible for guarding the opposing team’s best perimeter threat. With Thompson gone, the Warriors are relying on a younger group of wings such as Andrew Wiggins, Kelly Oubre Jr., and Damion Lee to take up the bulk of minutes on the wing, but they have not proven they could be good enough defenders to push the Warriors into a playoff spot.

Wiggins and Oubre Jr. currently have a defensive plus-minus of -1.1. Damion Lee is slightly better at 0.3, but that will not be good enough especially in a western conference where players like Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, and Luka Doncic are the main sources of scoring for their respective teams. 

Lack of Depth at Center

Rookie center James Wiseman is off to a good start. He is putting up 11.8 ppg and 5.9 RPG, but Steve Kerr has shown a willingness to pull Wiseman out of games due to his lack of energy at the defensive end. It looks like Wiseman is still getting used to the physicality of the league as he is often pushed around the paint for rebounds and post-ups. 

The Warriors also lost Marquis Chriss to a leg injury earlier this season which is a huge blow to their frontcourt rotation. Chriss was an athletic, physical big man and wasn’t afraid to step up and block shots. Back up center Kevon Looney will take his place, but he is nowhere near the defensive anchor that the team needs. 

To combat this, the Warriors have rolled out small-ball lineups that feature Green and second-year forward Eric Paschall, but they both have trouble rebounding against taller, more athletic big men. 

Rebounding has been the biggest issue. They rank in the bottom third of the league in all rebounding categories. The lack of size and athleticism at the 4 and 5 hurt the Warriors tremendously late in games when rebounding is crucial.

Familiarity

The Warriors have a completely different squad this year. In past years, they could rely on depth and familiarity between the players to fix some of their defensive holes. Now the team is built on young players, journeymen, and aging vets. 

The discrepancy on defense is seen in both halfcourt and transition defense. Defensive rotations are not as sharp as they used to be, and the Warriors have a hard time getting back in transition. 

Players like Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston brought stability to the Warriors on the defensive front, but with those players gone, the team is looking for guys who can step up and fill those roles. Wiggins and Lee have shown flashes, but nothing indicates they will be defensive stoppers anytime soon.

For the Warriors to be a playoff team, their defense needs to plug the holes it has right now.  Perhaps a move at the deadline for a steady wing or signing a free-agent big man like Dewayne Dedmon or Tyson Chandler might help, but for the Warriors to be in serious playoff contention, they will need to be a better defensive team all around. 

Make sure to follow me on Twitter @nathancanilao for more great basketball coverage

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