The Keys to Beating the Dubs, Part Two: Defense

The Golden State offense is an absolute juggernaut. While it’s true that with a late season run, the Clippers technically jumped them and finished first in the league in offensive rating, many would still say that the Warriors have the best offense in the league. They finished with an offensive rating of 111.6 and their key players sat on the bench in the 4th quarter of numerous games because the game had already been decided. They are first in the league in field goal percentage, first in 3-point percentage, first in assists, and first in points per game. They are average when it comes to turnovers, but that is after starting off the season with problems in that area and rectifying them over the second half. They are quite simply a juggernaut, and if the Pelicans are going to have any chance of slowing them down, they are going to have to do several things well.

Know Thy Opponent

The Warriors have been fortunate enough to have many of their key pieces for the majority of the year and they have put some absolutely devastating lineups on the court. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Curry – Thompson – Barnes – Green – Bogut

This unit has played over 800 minutes together and they are +20 per 100 possessions. Let me repeat that, PLUS TWENTY. They take over 33 three-point attempts per 48 minutes and they hit 43.8% of them. They also post a 31 to 14 assist to turnover ratio per 48 minutes, so they move the ball without turning it over very often. The one thing they fail to do is get to the free throw line, averaging only 14 attempts per 48 minutes, so keep that in mind when it comes down to putting together a strategy that can slow them down.

Curry – Thompson – Iguodala – Green – Bogut

If Barnes is struggling, this is a lineup that Golden State can close a game with instead. This version takes and makes as many three’s, but it also gets to the line way more (56% increase) and that is likely because of how many more steals (45% increase) and transition opportunities they get. As Chris Romageura pointed out in his piece this morning, the Warriors lead the league in points off turnover and this unit is a big reason why. This lineup, and the same lineup with Speights instead of Bogut, are the Warriors two most potent offensive lineups according to the numbers.

Barbosa – Livingston – Iguodala – Lee – Speights

This is the Warriors most dangerous second unit, as they shot 54.5% from the field and 47.1% from deep! Because of their offensive efficiency and their ability to get set up, they outscore opponents by 24.6 points per 100 possessions. This unit gets the ball up and down the court and they get into the paint in a multitude of ways. Barbosa can blow by you, while Lee and Livingston can post you up. The starting lineup stretches you out defensively, and then these guys come in and exploit the middle.

Pelicans Strengths and Weaknesses

Let’s be honest here, there are far more of the latter than the former, but it has been better as of late. Prior to the arrivals of Cunningham, Pondexter, and Cole, the defense was a train wreck, but now that they have those guys and the team as a whole has built some continuity, they are a league average defense. So, for the purpose of this section, I will be looking at their defensive metrics since adding Quincy Pondexter. Let’s take a look at what they have done well and what they have done poorly since then.

The Good

  • Three-Point Defense – Since January 12th, the Pelicans have allowed the fewest number of made 3’s per game and they are 3rd in defensive 3-point percentage.
  • Not Fouling – Only five teams have given up less free throw attempts per 48 minutes since January 12th and opponents are only scoring 15.5 points per game from the charity stripe.

The Bad

  • Interior Defense – The Pelicans have allowed the most field goal attempts inside of 5 feet since adding Q-Pon, and teams shoot 58.4% in that area
  • Failure to Turn Opponents Over – In the last 46 games, the Pelicans rank dead last in the NBA in creating turnovers.

The Neutral

  • Defensive Rebounding – The Pelicans are slightly above average here, giving up 10.6 offensive boards per 48 minutes.
  • Transition Defense – The Pelicans have been up and down here all year. When their guards attack and miss, they can be run on with ease. But if they are more perimeter oriented, their transition D is good.

Possible Solutions

You aren’t stopping this Warriors team, but there are ways to contain them. The first thing you have to do is limit their opportunities by making sure you keep them off the offensive glass. David Lee and Marreese Speights are their two best offensive rebounders by quite a bit, and we saw Lee outwork Ajinca for offensive rebounds when these two teams met ten days ago. Lee used his quickness to get position on Ajinca, but Ryan Anderson surprisingly shut that down in the second half. When the Warriors reserve unit is in, expect to see more Cunningham and Anderson, and maybe even some Asik.

Speaking of Asik, he will be huge in this series and has to clog up passing lanes. Watch the Warriors ‘Elbow’ set that they run below, and look at how close the opposing centers are to Bogut and Speights when they make their passes. Asik has to sag back and make sure none of those passes get through the lane. If he does, he can prevent a lot of easy layups.

The other thing you have to do is entice the Warriors to force the ball inside the arc, and here is where I throw out my ultimate curveball. I start the series with Eric Gordon on Harrison Barnes. The Warriors did this with Tony Parker two years ago, and while Barnes went off on Parker in the post, it somewhat took the rest of the Warriors out of their game. Now, Steve Kerr is the coach so maybe they do something different, but putting size on Thompson and Curry should be the priority. If Barnes wants to shoot over the Pelicans smallest wing player, then you live with that.They run this Horns play a lot with Barnes, and I imagine they would do it more with Gordon on him. If this is how they beat the Pels, I would live with that.

Tyreke Evans is a much better on ball defender than off ball, and Curry loves to have the ball in his hands.The Warriors run this action a lot, and it would be helpful to have as much size in front of Curry as possible.

On top of that, even when Curry has the ball, it’s not like Tyreke is going to forget about him. The Pelicans can give Curry different looks with Evans, Pondexter, and Holiday on him – all three of which have significant length. And they should do the same with Thompson. Gordon should be assigned to Barnes and Iguodala only. Maybe Barbosa if he is on the court with Golden State’s second unit, but that’s it.

The biggest X-Factor in this series for Golden State on the offensive end against New Orleans could be Shaun Livingston due to his ability to get into the paint and hit from mid-range. If you look at the guards that really give the Pelicans trouble, Livingston is a hybrid of all of those guys. He is quick and can shoot off the dribble. He has size to post up and finish at the rim and he can get up and down the court in transition. Jrue Holiday has to be on him every minute he is on the court, and if not Holiday, maybe Dante Cunningham.

Finally, the Pelicans simply must defend the three-point line. Now, that is much easier to say than it is to do, but if they can stay focused this can be a series. Here are a few reasons to be optimistic:

  • Again, the Pelicans have been the best three-point defense in the league since January, all things considered and that was mostly without Jrue Holiday. Now, Holiday is back.
  • Stephen Curry is a career 39% three-point shooter in the playoffs. That’s still good, but it’s a far cry from the 44.3% he is shooting this year. On top of that, Klay Thompson shot just 36% from deep for them in the playoffs last year.
  • Of all the teams Golden State played this season, they made and attempted the second fewest three-pointers against the New Orleans Pelicans.

It is going to be darn near impossible for the Pelicans to slow this juggernaut offensive, but if they want to win this series they will have to contain Golden State, and the recipe for doing so is above.

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