The Union Democrat

Keys to the Warriors’ Nba-leading defense, including Curry’s evolution

- By EVAN WEBECK Mercury News

PHOENIX — About 20 games into a season is when a team starts to establish an identity, according to Golden State coach Steve Kerr, and this year’s Warriors are no different.

“We’re obviously a defensivem­inded team. Everything comes off of our defense,” Kerr said. “The team has definitely taken on a really good identity and has a good sense of itself.”

The Warriors’ showdown Tuesday in Phoenix doesn’t only pit the teams with the NBA’S two best records against each other; it also features two of its top three defenses. Golden State’s tour de défense hits its second city after toppling the Clippers, No. 2 in defensive rating, on Sunday.

Their defensive success is what has fueled the league’s top-scoring offense. The combinatio­n of the two has allowed them to run out to the NBA’S best record and one of the best starts in franchise history, at 18-2, entering Tuesday.

But, as Draymond Green said recently, “half the people don’t know what the hell they’re looking at,” when they talk about defense. So let’s dissect it.

The evolution of Steph Curry Effort has never been the problem for Curry defensivel­y, if there ever was one.

If anything, he used to be too overzealou­s on defense. Such a frequent violator of the reach-in,

he used to draw the ire of Green and the coaching staff so often that he eventually knew it was coming.

“We'd used to harp on him, like, `Yo, stop reaching, stop reaching,'” Green recalled. “It got to the point where he would reach and be like, `Ah' as soon as he'd do it.”

Curry has become a master of the passing lane, exhibited most recently with eight deflection­s, resulting in six steals, against the Clippers. The Warriors are tops in the league in takeaways and, likewise, Curry's 1.8 per game are his most since 2017 (and rank ninth in the NBA this season). He's also proven more capable this season than ever of defending opposing point guards in the absence of Klay Thompson, who would normally be tasked with that assignment. And remember that early pair of double-digit rebound games? Well, Curry hasn't quite repeated those efforts but his 5.8 per game are the most of his career.

All that — in addition to a stronger frame, according to everyone, and the benefit of 12 seasons of experience — has produced the best individual defensive rating of his career, 96.0 points per 100 possession­s entering Tuesday, bested only by three other qualifying players (one of whom is Otto Porter Jr.).

“He's been great defensivel­y all year. I hope people are recognizin­g it,” Kerr said. “Everyone obviously locks in on his offensive brilliance, as they should ... For whatever reason, he has the reputation of being a poor defender. I don't see that at all. I think he's a really good defender.”

Green has been championin­g Curry's defense since last season, when he saw him take the leap that more observers are noticing this year. His defense is smarter than ever with no sacrifice in effort, even while shining one of the brightest stars in the game.

“When he gives the type of effort that he's been giving on that side of the floor, everyone else has to follow. It makes our defense that much better,” Green said. “You should see him in the weight room. He's pretty strong. But you also see him putting the work in every day, twice a day, in the weight room.”

Green joked that Curry's weightroom routine can be a bit excessive. But he is no slouch in those regards, either.

Draymond Green's intense offseason

None of Green's offseason drills are going viral.

They are, however, what he credits for playing his best basketball in at least three seasons.

“I feel way better than I have,” Green said. “I feel lighter, I feel faster, I feel quicker, I feel more explosive.”

Any conversati­on about the Warriors defense starts with the man in the middle of it. Golden State is the only team in the NBA allowing less than a point per possession and is surrenderi­ng the fewest per game while forcing opponents to shoot a league-worst 41.9% from the field (and 32.1% from 3, lower than all but three other teams).

Sipping a postgame smoothie recently, Green professed his rekindled passion for the game and discussed an improved diet, including cutting back on the booze. His newfound focus on weight training has even put him in the gym after games.

This offseason, he focused on the footwork that allows the puppet master to pull his string.

“We do a lot of work on defensive sliding: the crossover step, the drop step, just different things,” Green said. “We'd be in the gym doing defensive slides and crossover steps, which helps you with recovery. You get beat and your crossover step is important. You can't keep sliding. You've got to make up that ground. So we do a ton of that. A ton of explosive stuff. A ton of things working on my lateral quickness. How fast can you jump after the first jump, different things like that.”

The big surprise

The Warriors have likely suspected all along that their defense would be a calling card; they were fifth in the NBA last season, and tenacious defense is one a few staples of a successful Kerr squad.

What has surprising­ly also been entrenched in that identity is cleaning up on the glass. Twenty games into the season, the small-ball Warriors rank among the league's best rebounding teams, fifth in the NBA entering Tuesday, with 47.1 per game. On the defensive glass, they're grabbing almost four in every five available rebounds, the second-best rate in the NBA.

“We've never been a great rebounding team since I've been here, and I didn't foresee it,” Kerr said. “We are doing it as a team. We don't have one guy who's Dennis Rodman out there. We've got five guys who are boxing out and taking on the rebounding lanes.”

At the heart of it is Kevon Looney, who has been a magnet ever since he snagged 17 boards against Minnesota. All four of his doubledigi­t performanc­es on the boards have come in the past 10 games, a stretch in which he's averaging a rebound every two to three minutes.

“It kind of gets like a hot streak. The ball seems to start flying to you,” Looney said. “It's something that I focus on, creating extra possession­s for our team. It's something that's big for me.”

He's got Kerr's endorsemen­t. “Looney's playing fantastic basketball. He's totally underrated,” Kerr said. “He'll never get the credit he deserves. Boxes out every time.”

Juan Toscano-anderson recently relayed the same sentiment to his teammate.

“I actually told Loon the other day, man, I don't think he gets the credit he deserves,” Toscano-anderson said. “I just don't think it's as pretty and sexy as everybody wants it to be. ... Defensivel­y, he's not getting all the stats, he's not getting steals and blocks and all that stuff, but he's definitely holding us down. He knows the system inside and out. ... I mean he's consistent, he's reliable and what more can you ask for in a guy on your team?”

 ?? Thearon W. Henderson
/ Getty Images /TNS ?? The Philadelph­ia 76ers'tyrese Maxey (right) puts up a shot against the Golden State Warriors' Draymond Green (23) during the second quarter at Che Center on Nov. 24 in San Francisco.
Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images /TNS The Philadelph­ia 76ers'tyrese Maxey (right) puts up a shot against the Golden State Warriors' Draymond Green (23) during the second quarter at Che Center on Nov. 24 in San Francisco.

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