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Warriors Begin New Era With Emphasis On Defense

Kamille Turnquest |
October 27, 2010 | 4:48 p.m. PDT

Staff Writer

Golden State Warriors: the name on the front of their new royal blue and gold jerseys is about the only thing the team didn’t change this offseason.

The Warriors are back with new owners, new coaches, new players, new uniforms and a new culture.

Their previous owner, Chris Cohan, was often criticized for his perceived apathy toward the team and for tending to do what was best for Don Nelson rather than the Warriors. But the new owners, Peter Guber and Joseph Lacob showed their investment in the team right off the bat by getting rid of "Nellie."  Plus, shelling out $450 million for the team has to be some indication that they’re committed to its well being.

Nelson's departure has players and fans teeming with optimism. He may have been the winningest coach in the NBA, but since getting the Warriors to the playoffs in 2007, the team went 55-109 under Nellie with an average winning percentage of .336.

One thing Warriors’ newly appointed head coach Keith Smart has been emphasizing since taking over for Nellie is his team’s “defensive mindedness.”  Of course, for the past few years, the only D-word on the minds of the Golden State Warriors has been D-league.

Golden State ranked 29th in defense last season, allowing 112.4 points per game. That may have been fine, considering their fast-paced style of play, but the Warriors only averaged 108 points themselves and finished the season 30 games under .500. 

But the Warriors and Smart, who was the team’s assistant coach for seven years before inheriting the top spot, hope that will be a thing of the past.

And the Warriors look like a team ready to play some D.

This year, their roster is composed of eight players who measure taller than 6-foot-8, three of whom are projected to be in the starting five.

David Lee, the $80 million man, was the Warriors’ key acquisition this offseason. Even though Lee allowed his opponent to score on more than half of his shots in post-up situations last season with the Knicks (that’s eighth-worst in the NBA), the Warriors are really depending on him to rebound the ball.

With 11.7 rebounds per game last year, Lee’s ability to grab misses should be enough to lift the Warriors, the team with the worst rebounding rate in the league last season, from the bottom of the rankings. (And if he plays like the Warriors expect him to, by mid-season we should all be done mourning the loss of Kelenna Azubuike).

Dorell Wright, the 6-foot-9 small forward from Miami should give the Warriors another defensive edge. Wright's long arms and ability to defend on the perimeter is something the team lacked last year. Plus, he comes from the Heat - a team that ranked third in the NBA in defensive efficiency, so he ought to know a thing or two about defense. 

And then there’s Andris Biedrins. 

The 7-footer (or 6-foot-11-er depending on who you ask) only played in 33 games last season, but he still managed to block block 43 shots (1.3 shots per game).

Wright’s perimeter defense, Lee’s rebounding and Biedrins’ shot-blocking ability makes for a fairly solid front court.

But what about the back court?

Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis aren’t exactly known for their defense. But with their new coach adamant about moving the team in a defensive direction, there’s a good chance the two will do more to make defense a part of their games.

Then again, with Curry’s shooting percentage at 43.7 and Monta averaging 25.5 points per game, is it really necessary for those two to play defense? The Warriors are, after all, the fastest team in the league, averaging more than 102 possessions per game last season.

Wait…that was D. Nel’s philosophy wasn’t it?

I guess I’m regressing.

But the new culture of the Warriors isn’t just about playing defense in fancy uniforms. It’s about a team with players, coaches, owners and a fan base that believe the team can win and are committed to that goal. That's something the Warriors have not had for a long time.

The team probably won’t adjust immediately to all the changes, and it wouldn’t be surprising if they had another sub 35-win season. But even if it doesn’t happen overnight, the team finally seems to be moving in the right direction.

To reach writer Kamille Turnquest, click here.

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