Warriors Must Bring Energy, Focus on Defense to Prove Naysayers Wrong

Editor's note: Grant Liffmann (@grantliffmann) is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders, which airs on NBC Sports Bay Area 90 minutes before each home game and 60 minutes after every game. Each week, Grant will drop his Outsider Observation on the state of the Dubs.

The Warriors' roster upheaval has been significant and dramatic. After years of historically great offensive output, the team will try to find a way to make up for nearly 55 points per game lost after the departures of Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala, as well as Klay Thompson, who will be out until at least February as he recovers from a torn ACL.

As debilitating these absences are for the offense, the defense will be equally impacted. Iguodala, Thompson and Durant were three of the top defenders on the team and in the league.

Starting with the arrival of Iguodala in 2013, the Warriors have been one of top defenses in the NBA year after year. In the 2013-14 season, the team ranked third in the league with a defensive rating of 101.4, followed by a No. 1 ranking with a 100.4 rating in coach Steve Kerr's first season in 2014-15. The following season in 2015-16, the Warriors were sixth in the NBA at 102.8, before finishing second in the league with a 103.4 rating in the 2016-17 campaign. The team started to decline defensively in the 2017-18 season when they fell to 11th in the NBA with a 106.8 defensive rating. Finally this past season, the Warriors continued their defensive slide, posting a 108.6 defensive rating which was good for 11th in the NBA yet again.

There are many reasons for the team's defensive rating worsening in each year of the Kerr era, with the most significant being overall regular-season apathy. As the team became more dominant, talented and successful, they also became less inclined to give a full effort on the defensive end of the floor on an every-game basis.

The road to the NBA Finals was too exhausting mentally and physically to be able to be fully engaged against lesser teams throughout the regular season. During the postseason, the team was able to maintain a strong defensive presence with increased focus and energy, except for last season, when some of the team's best defenders were hobbled or out due to injury.

Another major factor in the team's defensive decline has been the overall improvement of the NBA's competitive balance, and the adjustments teams have made to catch up with the Warriors' style and pace of play.

Because of this, coupled with major superstar shifts in the NBA landscape and the Warriors' loss of talent, there are some that do not think the Dubs will be able to make the playoffs this season. If the Warriors are able to prove these naysayers wrong, it will have to start by surprising many on the defensive end.

With the absence of Iguodala, Durant, and for the most part, Thompson, the Warriors will be left with two of their top five defenders from last season, Draymond Green and Kevon Looney. Despite last season being considered one of Green's least effective years, he still was quite good. Out of the Warriors' top eight defensive rated lineups that played 50 or more minutes last regular season, Green was part of seven of them.

Meanwhile, Looney widely is considered a terrific pick-and-roll defender and a player that consistently is in the right position. Steph Curry is a better defender than he has been given credit for in his career, but with the Warriors will be so reliant on his offense, they won't ask him to stop any opposing scoring point guard. D'Angelo Russell hasn't garnered a good defensive reputation so far in his young career, so it will be up to him to improve his effort and seek guidance from elite coaches such as Ron Adams.

The Warriors do have a few wing players that have solid defensive reputations in their careers (both in college and the NBA), including Jacob Evans III, Eric Paschall and Glenn Robinson III. All three will be needed to provide good wing defense if the team is to overcome their roster holes. Alec Burks and Alfonzo McKinnie have not proven to be reliable defenders so far, but have the physical talent to be effective if properly utilized.

When it comes to the frontcourt, Willie Cauley-Stein, while not a rim protector, has the length and athleticism to compete defensively in today's fast-paced game and also will be a pupil of Adams. The jury still is out on what Omari Spellman, Jordan Poole and Alen Smailagic can bring on that end. The defensive question marks are real and rightfully concerning for a team that has become accustomed to being elite.

[RELATED: Warriors must embrace new NBA reality after golden era]

But with more energy and focus in the regular season, the Warriors are hoping that a few of their new additions will emerge and push them to defensive respectability once again.

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