OAKLAND — Warriors coach Steve Kerr had plenty to say about the special election for one of Alabama’s U.S. Senate seats on Wednesday, and so did the statistical website fivethirtyeight.com. And both sources weighed in on another fascinating, but far less emotional, subject: the Warriors’ ability to block shots.
“I love that we’re going back and forth between blocks and politics,” Kerr said after being peppered with the two sets of questions following his team’s practice. “Anyone want to ask about steals?”
Nope. Vote suppression and shot suppression, those were the topics of the day.
The latter is another shocking development to come out of the gym in downtown Oakland over the past few years. The Warriors have shattered the NBA and built it back in their image, and they did it on the strength of outside shooting. They also have been praised for things like their depth and their free-running offensive flow.
But among their season statistics, the number that most defines the 2017-18 Warriors is this one: 8.68.
That’s how many blocked shots they have averaged on defense over their first 28 games, heading into tonight’s contest against the Mavericks. They not only lead the NBA by a wide margin (San Antonio is second at 6.0), they are rising up and contesting the all-time record of 8.73 blocks per game, set by the 1985-86 Washington Bullets.
Golden State’s defense has been an underrated element of their incredible three-plus-year run. But this particular aspect of the effort is new, or at least improved. And it’s safe to say that no one saw it coming.
I mean, Draymond Green has always been a pretty good shot blocker. And last year’s additions of Kevin Durant, a near-7-footer who has tremendous capacity for the job, and JaVale McGee, an energetic 7-foot leaper, certainly made the Warriors more formidable in the paint. But the bump from 6.77 blocks in 2016-17 to 8.68 in 2017-18 demands an explanation.
“Besides brilliant coaching?” Kerr joked. “It’s just great individual play, and guys working together. So when we’re right defensively, we are funneling guys to certain spots, and we happen to have great length as a team, and speed. So even the guys who aren’t maybe traditional shot blockers are getting some blocks.”
Kerr flashed both sides of the coin in that summary. The first is a roster full of tall, long-armed humans — even by NBA standards. The second is a defensive system that increases the likelihood, if not the inevitability, of blocked shots.
The first factor is easier to see. McGee looks like he could touch the top of the backboard. Durant’s arms stretch like Mr. Fantastic’s, and 6-9 rookie Jordan Bell is a gifted athlete who was already an established shot blocker at Oregon. Green and David West, a couple of big-bodied bruisers, are as smart as NBA players come, and youngster Kevon Looney, who is 6-9, is already pretty savvy.
And things don’t get a whole lot easier for opponents when they get to the backcourt. Sure, Stephen Curry’s singular skill set doesn’t include a lot of rejected shots. But Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Klay Thompson and Patrick McCaw are all 6-6 or 6-7 and defensively capable; they can make life difficult for shooters out at the perimeter.
Chris Herring argued as much in his fivethirtyeight.com piece, citing data from NBA Savant in noting that the Warriors have blocked 41 shots from midrange and beyond the 3-point arc, more than twice as many as any other team. Green alone has swatted 10 of those shots, more than six NBA teams.