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NBA Playoffs: Examining the state of the Warriors with Golden State of Mind

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While the Cavs and Warriors wait for the rest of round one to conclude, GSoM contributer Duby Dub Dubs and I did a Q&A about topics of interest to both teams.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Cleveland Cavaliers Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

While the first round drags out for other teams, the Cavs and Warriors are off after sweeping their first round opponents. With our respective teams out of action for a week, Golden State of Mind contributor Duby Dub Dubs and I asked each other some questions about about our primary rival. His questions (and my answers) can be found at Golden State of Mind, while his answers to my questions are below:

EVR: The Jazz seem likely to be the Golden State’s next opponent. How do you think Warriors would handle the challenge of Rudy Gobert on both ends? What would be the Warriors best approach to attacking a defense with Gobert patrolling the paint? Will the Warriors small-ball defense hold up against a lob-threat like Rudy, or will he force them to stay big while he’s on the court?

Duby: Well, it’s funny that you brought this up, because the Warriors just got a pretty amazing series performance from JaVale McGee. But I think the more germane response is that the Warriors are just a much better team. The only time the Jazz beat the Warriors this year was when the Warriors conceded a game at the end of the season.

So, I think it’s a fair question to ask, and even the most homer of fans (such as myself) can admit that the Jazz present some match-up problems. That said, it becomes a question of scale, and the Gobert question is one that I think the Warriors are well-poised to answer.

The Jazz are an elite defensive team with the third best defensive rating in the NBA. Thankfully, the Warriors and their No. 1 ranked offense should be able to work around that. The in-and-outs, the “why” of it all is exactly the same as it has been for the past few years under Steve Kerr. Move the ball around the perimeter, use off ball screens and cuts to get easy looks once they start hedging too hard on screens and shoot the hell out of the three ball. I wish I had a more analytical answer, but I just don’t see Gobert or the Jazz as a credible threat to the Warriors offense - especially over the course of a seven game series. Gobert is a factor, but he can’t be everywhere.

On the other end, Gobert only averages about 14 points per game, so again I find myself not particularly worried about his impact. Draymond Green is currently leading all players in postseason blocks, so I welcome anyone taking it inside; even a high flyer like Gobert. I mentioned McGee earlier, but I think he will be key in ensuring that Gobert never gets too comfortable feeling like he’s the highest leaper in the gym.

EVR: Good stuff. I agree that defending Gobert isn’t necessarily that difficult in itself, but I do think it might require the Warriors to make certain sacrifices. If Dray defends him in a small-ball unit, then how much help defense can he really provide without opening up easy lobs and offensive rebounds? If Zaza or McGee defends him, then it likely impacts your spacing and offense in general on the other end. Any further thoughts on this?

Duby: Well, we are sort of dancing around the question, but I just want to start by saying that I’d prefer to face the Clippers at this point - and it’s not even close. The Jazz match-up issues go beyond Gobert.

Just to keep my response organized, I’ll keep my two main response points separated:

1. Within the small ball unit, the Warriors have KD as the four and Andre Iguodala as the three - so there’s still PLENTY of help defense available. The Warriors didn’t just luck into the No. 2 ranked defense this year. It’s a very capable group that can defend a variety of play styles and defend them well. Durant (as the guy who would help cover the help defense needs) had a career year in this regard; his 1.6 blocks per game is a career high, and puts him just ahead of Dray on the season (1.4 blocks per game).

The Warriors don’t actually run the small ball unit out there a ton, and one of the things that the Warriors under Kerr have been very good at is not putting players into unfavorable situations. Actually, they seem to like the McGee/Gobert matchup pretty well. Just getting back into your question though, I’d encourage you to read this article I wrote earlier in the season on why Draymond is actually the best option at center in a lot of cases.

2. As far as Gobert’s impact on the Warriors offense, and just spacing in general, I think it’s fair to admit that there will indeed be some impact. On the other hand, if you look at the two games they played this season (that the Warriors cared about), the they absolutely demolished the Jazz. This 104-74 shellacking in particular is something that I use to assuage my nerves.

And Gobert was not particularly damaging in spite of his gaudy line of 17 rebounds and 11 points (on 5-6 shooting). I know single game plus minus is a noisy stat, but just scroll down that column and look at Gobert, Gordon Hayward and Joe Johnson in that game. In general the Warriors offense seems to do relatively well against the Jazz defense, scoring 104 and 106 points in the games we cared about - and even managing to put up 99 in the losing effort in a meaningless (to the Dubs) late season loss. The issue with Gobert is that while elite, he doesn’t possess Draymond’s ability to cover every position which opens him up to exploitation via the pick and roll - something that Cavs did very well against the Warriors in the finals last year :’( [Note: tear added by EVR1022]

EVR: I tend to agree that the Warriors will find ways to score on Jazz, despite the unique challenge that Gobert presents. What are your thoughts on the rest of the Western Conference playoffs? Will the Spurs or Rockets make the Conference Finals? Which team do you think will be the toughest for Golden State to beat?

Duby: I’m really enjoying the Western Conference playoffs so far. Coming in, I didn’t expect the Spurs and Grizzlies series to be as tightly contested as it has been, and I am absolutely loving watching the Clippers and Jazz beat the hell out of each other ahead of their matchup with us in the next round. I was never a big believer in OKC, so them getting knocked out by the Rockets is no surprise.

As far as the toughest? My mind hasn’t changed one bit on this over the past three years: those damn Spurs. And that also answers who I think will advance.

The Rockets are a dangerously variable team due to the amount of threes they jack up, but they are so soft on defense that I just assume we can handle them in a seven game series. The Spurs biggest weakness is lack of athleticism at the point guard position and off the bench, so there are weaknesses that we should be able to exploit. It doesn’t make them any less scary - especially watching Harden and Kawhi do so well in the first round. I’m really glad that both of those teams are on the other side of the bracket though, because it means we only have to face one of them.

EVR: Alright, one last question - LeBron James has been getting to the rim constantly so far this postseason. At one point in the 3rd quarter the other day he had 12 made FGs with an average distance of 1.4 feet from the rim. That’s with Paul George as the primary defender. After losing some rim protection in the offseason with the departure of Andrew Bogut, how do you expect the Warriors to defend LeBron this year?

Duby: Ooohhh boy, this one has layers and layers to it, doesn’t it? Okay, first of all let me pander to your readers with a little bit of honesty. No one is stopping LeBron. He’s an absolute monster in the postseason and is pretty clearly the best player in the NBA for the past 5-10 years. Hell, Andre Iguodala got the Finals MVP for making Lebron just slightly inefficient (while still putting up an historic line). He single-handedly makes the Cavs a threat to win the title (rather than just being a pretty good team) so I think it’s okay to admit that the Warriors may still not have any answer for LeBron.

Now allow me to lose some of those friends that I may have just made… The Warriors defense is better this year compared to last, as is their offense. Oh and that rim defense? The Warriors led the league in blocks per game despite the perceived notion of no rim protection. Just look at the absurd net rating (adjusted for opponent difficulty) the Warriors put up this year.

I actually enlisted some help from fellow GSoMer Mike B. to pull a few random Warriors defensive stats (from stats.nba.com).

  • Best defensive rating in the playoffs (96.3) albeit a small sample size
  • 2nd best defensive rating in the regular season (101.1)
  • The lowest FG% allowed within 5ft of the rim (playoffs) at 48.2 percent
  • Top ten in FG% allowed within 5ft of the rim (reg season)

Back to the specific defense of LeBron, though: in the playoffs the Warriors are holding pick and roll ball handlers to a 39.2 percent eFG%, which is the best in the post season. Same stat during regular season is 44.3 percent (4th in league). Now, I know this was the bane of our series last time, with LeBron and Kyrie hammering away at Steph in the pick and roll so this is doubly important as it relates to an eventual Finals rematch.

Along those same lines, the Dubs are also holding roll men to a 45 percent eFG% (regular season) which is 4th best behind Bucks, Spurs and Grizzlies; and we held players coming off a cut to 58.3 percent eFG% (5th best in regular season) and post-ups to 42.9 percent eFG% (best in regular season).

I talked about it a little bit above, but this improved defense is due in large part to the continued improvement of Draymond Green. He spoke earlier in the year about how not having Bogut behind him forced him to step up his game defensively, and he did exactly that this year. On his way to hopefully becoming the defensive player of the year, Dray has put up a pretty impressive array of defensive statistics.

It’s getting a bit wordy in here, so I’ll just conclude this by saying that we also replaced Harrison Barnes with Kevin Durant, which is a bit of a relevant upgrade and should help with the LeBron problem.

Thanks for having this discussion with me! Best of luck in the East, and if all goes right, I hope to see our teams face off again in June!

EVR: Really appreciate your insights, and I look forward to round three of Cavs-Warriors!