Justin Holiday’s value within the Warriors team defense

Despite Charles Barkley’s repetition that the Warriors are still a big man away from winning a championship and can’t win because they’re a jump-shooting team, Golden State’s defense has performed at an elite level. Currently the Warriors are pacing the entire NBA in multiple defensive stats, including forcing teams to use up a lot of the shot clock (more than any team in the league).

It’s not just the Defensive Player of the Year candidates, Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut, holding it down either. Steve Kerr has instilled a team-oriented style of defense predicated on a lot of switching. This rare flexibility that the Warriors have to switch on virtually all positional players on the floor is thanks to tall and athletic players. One of these players is Justin Holiday.

Holiday did not get significant minutes on the floor until a late December 2014 game against the Sacramento Kings where his defense and scoring (18 points in 20 minutes on 7-of-12 from the field and 3-of-7 from three). The depth of the Warriors bench has prevented him from keeping those minutes, but whenever on the floor, he has played a pivotal role on both sides of the ball. 

The advanced metrics highlight his defensive value (DFG% all well above league average) but sometimes it’s the plays that don’t result in a quantifiable number that show a player’s worth on the less glamorous side of basketball. Watching the Warriors play Portland and one play in particular made me say “whoa, I need to see that again…”

At first glance, there’s nothing particularly exciting about a made bucket by the opponent. But C.J. McCollum had been tearing up the Warriors defense that night—something nobody was particularly expecting. (McCollum finished the night with a career-high 23 points on 9-of-18 from the field.) And out of all the players on the floor at the time, including Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala, Holiday was the one assigned to guard the hot scorer.

After successfully fighting through the pick-and-roll, Holiday perches in the corner guarding the weak-side three, something not to be given up on the night where McCollum was doing his best Kyle Korver impression.

It would be impossible to mention a Warriors defensive play without Draymond Green, and it this defensive possession starts to develop and he drifts toward the paint. Acting as the Warriors center, he prevents an easy basket from Damian Lillard, and then prepares to shoot back up to guard the perimeter. (Yes, Draymond Green went from being a interior defender to a perimeter defender in the same play.)

After recognizing Draymond needs time to recover when the drive leads to a kick-out to McCollum, Holiday effectively forces McCollum to drive baseline once the pass is made to the corner. This is the moment that really caught my attention because he prevented the pass to UC Berkeley alum Allen Crabbe for an open three. 

Effectively at that moment, Holiday guarded two players at once.

McCollum bites, goes baseline, and scores. This is hardly Holiday’s fault because he made the right basketball play. Fetus Ezeli has been slowly earning minutes of his own and in this particular instance was unable to move quickly enough to guard the drive. Insert Andrew Bogut here and there’s a good chance that McCollum doesn’t even take the shot.

This is just a single play but it is one among many that show even the team’s youngest players like Justin Holiday know their role, have confidence in their ability to succeed when called upon, and execute. The scary thing is that this team that is 58-13 in one of the deepest Western Conferences ever might still have areas where they can improve.

As for Justin Holiday, he’s someone that I firmly believe the Warriors should invest in. He’s on track to become a valuable cross between San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and his own teammate, Draymond Green.

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