But the heart of those NBA championship teams was their defense. At their peak, Steve Kerr’s squad was one of the best defensive teams in the league.
Dating back to Mark Jackson’s time as coach, the Warriors built a foundation on defense. Kerr took that to the next level when he took over in 2014, and in his first season, Golden State had the best defensive rating in the NBA (101.4).
The Warriors had at least a top 15 defensive rating in each of their five NBA Finals seasons. But last season, the defense took a major step back with Thompson missing the season, Durant, Andre Iguodala and other veterans gone, and Draymond Green left to teach a bunch of inexperienced players.
Now, as the Warriors look to get back to the top of the NBA mountain, Kerr knows they can’t succeed in that quest without re-establishing their defensive identity.
“I think we’re going to be different, just because of the nature of our roster,” Kerr said on NBA TV on Friday. “And so a lot of that will have to happen organically. Guys have to play together to feel comfortable with one another, figure out where each one is on the floor. We have to figure out as a coaching staff the best rotations, the best combinations.
“The biggest thing from my standpoint, my staff’s standpoint is, we have to become a top-10 defensive team again. That really was the underrated aspect of the Warriors teams the last seven, eight years. It’s always been one of the best defensive teams in the league, and in order to really compete at the highest level, you’ve got to be excellent defensively. So that’s the focus going into training camp. We’re going to try to rebuild our defense. We’ve got the length and the athleticism to be very good, but it’s going to require a lot of work and we know that.”
With Thompson expected to miss a second straight season after he tore his right Achilles two weeks ago, the Warriors acquired in Kelly Oubre Jr. in a trade with Oklahoma City. The former first-round pick is a good defender, and likely will be tasked with guarding opposing teams’ best wing, much like Thompson had done during the five-year run.
Green now has a new frontcourt running mate with the addition of No. 2 overall draft pick James Wiseman. Once the former Memphis product becomes comfortable with the NBA game, he should be a difference-maker on defense.
It’s going to take time for Kerr and the Warriors coach staff to build up the defense. But the pieces are there for the team to shut opponents down. If the defense returns to top 10 as Kerr desires, they might be able to overcome the loss of Thompson and return to the NBA Finals.