Golden State Warriors’ interim head coach Mike Brown recently offered an interesting historical comparison for his team: the mid-2000’s Detroit Pistons. That team was considered one of the most physically dominant of its era.
The Pistons thrived on hard-nosed defense — finishing second in the league in defensive rating when they won the title in 2004 — and played the type of inefficient, isolation and post-up heavy offense that defined the era. They famously won the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers in six games with neither team scoring 90 points in a game throughout the series. Here are the similarities Brown found between them and the Warriors of today.
“I’ll never forget, back when I was the head coach of the Cavaliers, we were playing the old Pistons teams with Larry Brown coaching the team – they had a veteran team, you talk about Rasheed Wallace, Ben Wallace, Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, and those guys”, said Brown, per Basketball Insiders.
From a purely defensive perspective the comparison makes sense in that both teams are dominant, but it’s tough to look at them similarly from a strategic perspective. The Warriors are obviously a much smaller team that has to defend more pick and rolls than the Pistons did. There’s no real point of comparison throughout basketball history for a team that can play someone like Draymond Green at center and thrive defensively.
“One time down the floor, in a pick-and-roll situation, [the Pistons would] switch it. Then the next time down the floor, they may blitz it. Next time down the floor, they may push it to the baseline. The following time, they may show. To be able to mix up your defense throughout the course of the game, whether it’s on ball screens or pindowns, is something that can be to the defense’s advantage – but it’s hard to do, in my opinion, unless you have a veteran team that has a good feel. When you talk about Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green, to start with – David West inside. We have some intelligent veterans that are able to talk our defense through. So we’ll mix up our coverages. You watch us – we’ll switch sometimes, we won’t switch at other times,” Brown elaborated.
The Pistons could switch with success, but teams weren’t necessarily trying to root out weak points in the pick and roll against them as they do against Golden State now. Detroit was defending offenses that were happy to shoot in the mid range or post up whereas Golden State is defending offenses that are trying for threes and layups. That alone makes it tough to compare across eras.
Sure, both teams can mix up coverages, but they also faced radically different offenses and the Warriors have switched with far more success than any team historically. Trying to find comparisons for what Golden State can do defensively is a fools’ errand in that sense. There’s nothing like them.