In many team sports, the question is often posed what is more important, attack or defence? There is no question that a team needs both but it’s about finding the perfect balance, that is how you become Champions.
In the NBA, every great team had it’s attacking focal point, whether it’s the six-time winners Chicago Bulls, who had Michael Jordan and Scotty Pippen running the show in the 90’s, the Boston Celtics team of the late 80’s who had Larry Bird and Kevin McHale and in recent years the Golden State Warriors roster housed the likes of Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson leading them to Championships. But all of those teams have one very important thing in common, a strong defensive backbone.Embed from Getty Images
The Bulls had Dennis Rodman, the Celtics had Robert Parish and the Warriors had Draymond Green. These players may not have received the limelight or attention but without them do you have a Championship winning team?
The research I have complied looks between the 2016/17 and 2019/20 season. In the last four seasons, the Golden State Warriors have won two Championships (2017, 2018), the Toronto Raptors (2019) and Los Angeles Lakers (2020).
Golden State Warriors
Under the tutelage of Steve Kerr, the Golden State Warriors reached five straight NBA finals winning three of them. In the 2016/17 season they allowed 8,549 points (11th lowest), 3,181 field goals (14th lowest), 737 three-pointers (8th lowest), they made 314 blocks (4th lowest), 1,214 turnovers (lowest in the league) and had a defensive rating of 101.1 which had them second.
Green was named the Defensive Player of the Year and in the Defensive Team of the Year, he averaged 10.2 points per game, 7.9 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 1.4 blocks. Green clutched up in massive games throughout the season, he produced steals in two-point games in the last seconds of wins against the Milwaukee Bucks (8.5 seconds remaining) and New Orleans Pelicans (2.3 seconds remaining).Embed from Getty Images
The power forward proved his worth throughout that season with consistent defensive performances, his steals and rebounds allowed the likes of Steph Curry and Kevin Durant to run the attacking end.
The 2017/18 season ended in another Championship win for the Warriors, but it wasn’t without its turbulence. They ended the season with a record of 58-24, losing 10 of their last 17. There was a reason behind their apparent drop-off, all four Warriors all-stars (Curry, Durant, Green and Thompson) suffered injuries, Curry missed six weeks with an MCL sprain and only played 51 games that season.
They allowed 8,814 points (18th lowest), 3,296 field goals (18th lowest), 853 three-pointers (13th lowest), they made 299 blocks (lowest in the league), 1,105 turnovers (10th lowest) and had a defensive rating of 107.6 which ranked them 11th.
It’s clear how the injuries affected the team’s performance, the absence of Curry meant his points needed to be made up from all around the court. Green had been key to their defensive performance in the previous season but in 17/18 was deployed in a more attacking role and the stats prove it. He averaged 11 points per game, 7.6 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.3 blocks.
Without key players, any team will struggle, and the Warriors found that out. Luckily, their players came back just in the knick of time and they were able to see off the Cleveland Cavaliers to win back-to-back Championships.
Coming into 2018/19 season I don’t think anyone would have expected the Raptors to find themselves in the NBA Championship final let alone go on to win it. They took on an injury-stricken Warriors side and came out 4-2 victors to claim their first NBA Championship.
They ended the regular season with a record of 58-24, second in the Eastern conference behind the Bucks, the team they would eventually beat in the Eastern Conference finals.
Before the start of the season, Kawhi Leonard was traded to the Raptors from the San Antonio Spurs, the small forward would be vital in his side’s success this season. Not only did he average the most points per game on his team he also led the defensive statistics for the Raptors. He averaged 26.6 points per game, 6.0 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 0.4 blocks.
Leonard may have been leading the defensive stats, but the rest of his team were putting in a similar shift too. The Raptors allowed 8,885 points (8th lowest), 3,302 field goals (9th lowest), 882 three-pointers (9th lowest), they made 368 blocks (7th lowest), 1,171 turnovers (21st lowest) and had a defensive rating of 107.1 the fifth-best that season.Embed from Getty Images
This Raptors side was never the best defensive team, but it was nowhere near the worst. They are described as more of a complete team, no big players or egos, just a roster fighting for a Championship. They struck the balance between attack and defence to come out on top. Although many people believe the Warriors would have won if Durant were fit for the finals, you can’t take away from the Raptors excellent defensive game.
Los Angeles Lakers
Now onto the most recent winners, the Los Angeles Lakers. The NBA season was halted due to the coronavirus pandemic but was eventually finished in the ‘bubble’ in August with the aforementioned beating the Miami Heat 4-2.
LeBron James is the first name many associate with the Lakers, but Anthony Davis outshone the four-time NBA Champion with scintillating performances at both ends of the court. Davis was acquired during the summer in a trade with the New Orleans Pelicans. The six-time NBA all-star would go on to feature in the defensive team of the season for 2019/20. On a per-game basis, Davis averaged 26.1 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 2.3 blocks.Embed from Getty Images
With the stop-start nature of last season, it’s unclear if another team would have ended as Champions. The Lakers were already on their way to a good season, they finished with a 52-19 record top of the Western Conference. Defensively they looked good allowing 7,643 (8th lowest), 2,773 field goals (9th lowest), 827 three-pointers (10th lowest), the Lakers made 263 blocks (the lowest), 1,130 turnovers (6th lowest) and received a defensive rating of 106.3, 3rd best.
A successful season for the Lakers, their 17th Championship, 10 years after their last.
Statistical analysis as shown above shows no team can win a Championship with just a potent attack, every side needs a good defensive system to see out games. The Raptors proved all you need is a complete team to stop the dynasty the Warriors had built under Kerr. They built from the back and the rest followed. Of course, each team needs its star players who can lead them to glory and Kawhi Leonard had enough firepower to do that.
The Warriors needed the attacking prowess of the likes of Curry and Durant to be successful, they still had a solid defence with Green heading it up but without Curry, the team crumbled and defence wasn’t enough to win games.Embed from Getty Images
Stats are an important part of sport and in Basketball this couldn’t be truer. You can see that the more defensively solid teams the better chance of a title. These teams have ranked in the top 10 for most of the stats in their Championship winning seasons, the only exception would the 17/18 Warriors, this can be put down to their poor end to the season.
Without defence you cannot be successful but is it more important than offence? Well, any player can score points but can the same be said about defence.
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