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Keeping Pace with the Warriors

Golden State’s commitment to defense isn’t all good. 

When head coach Mark Jackson took the reins of the Golden State Warriors this June, he was all about defense. “The bottom line is we have to do a better job of defending the basketball,” he said. Well, in their first nine games this season, the Warriors (3–6) are making that bottom line. While still ranking in the latter third of the league, the Golden State defense has improved on that side of the ball.

The bad news is that the emphasis on defense has hurt the Warriors’ offense and slowed down the game, something this team—with shot-happy players like Monta Ellis, Stephen Curry, and David Lee—isn’t built for.

If you’ve been watching the Warriors and can’t pinpoint what’s wrong with them—they’d lost five in a row prior to last night’s overtime thriller against the Miami Heat—here’s a clue: pace. Pace is an advanced basketball metric that measures the average number of possessions per game that a team can expect to have. Since you can’t score when you don’t have the ball, having a lot of possessions gives you the opportunity to score a lot of points.

According to Hoopdata.com, the Warriors ranked 6th in pace last year with 97.3 possessions per game. This year, the team has slowed its roll considerably and ranks 20th with 93.3 possessions per game. That’s four fewer possessions per game. As a result, the Warriors are scoring 92.2 points per game this season (22nd in the NBA), a far cry from the 103.4 points per game (7th place) they were putting up last season.

Last night’s victory over the Heat was a promising sign of things to come, but Golden State can’t count on Dorell Wright to make six three-pointers every night. We’ll see if they can carry that success over to Thursday night’s game against the Orlando Magic (6–3).