The Best Lineup We’ve Never Seen
Our own Jordan Ramirez posted an article yesterday profiling “The New Guys,” those six players in Mark Jackson’s emerging rotation that weren’t with the team last season. The piece makes apt and astute observations on the early play of Andrew Bogut, Carl Landry, and Jarrett Jack especially, three seasoned veterans that give Golden State some much-needed experience, direction, and leadership.
Whether it’s Bogut taking charges and erasing mistakes with genius defensive rotations, Landry providing major scoring punch in the post, or Jack beautifully orchestrating the second unit’s offense, this trio of new additions has already made an indelible mark on this season. And as Fall turns to Winter and Winter turns to spring, it’s easy to imagine their influence growing to even greater heights.
Interestingly, though, this trio has yet to take the floor together in 2012. Much of that has to do with Bogut’s early season limitations in coming back from an ankle injury, but some of it’s no doubt due to the preference of Jackson and his staff. For reasons unknown, Golden State’s coaches evidently don’t see the benefits a lineup featuring their three biggest veteran acquisitions. Instead, Jack and Landry headline the Warriors main bench constituency and are mixed and matched with, mostly, David Lee and Stephen Curry.
Back to Jordan’s Tuesday post, he writes, “Offensive sets consisting of Jack-Curry-[Klay] Thompson are especially intriguing to me, even if the offensive potential there has yet to be reached.” That’s an important idea to Golden State, one made especially so when Brandon Rush was lost for the year in the team’s second game of the season. Add to that Harrison Barnes’ early offensive struggles and Curry’s obvious inclination to play off-the-ball – contract be damned! – and it’s a rotational wrinkle the Warriors are poised to feature even more now than before the season began.
This perimeter triumvirate – despite Jordan’s assertion that it’s potential has yet to be reached, one I share – has been extremely effective nonetheless, too. According to NBA.com’s Media Stats tool, their offensive rating on the floor together is 107.5, 8.3 points better than the team’s overall mark. Maybe more encouraging considering the deficiencies their lack of size and chops present on paper are the defensive numbers; Jack-Curry-Thompson register a 90.6 defensive rating compared to Golden State’s team-wide mark of 100.6.
Of all three-man units that have played at least 20 minutes for the Warriors (there are 30, by the way), this all-guard look ranks 10th in offensive rating and second (!) in defensive rating. Their net overall rating? Eighth at +16.9. The early season caveat of small-sample size applies here, but the initial returns of this lineup are overwhelmingly positive through measures both objective and otherwise. An offense where Thompson and especially Curry are free to mine for jumpers via off-ball screens and wing pick-and-roll opportunities is one whose benefits outweigh that of any other, and it only works when there’s another ballhandler to initiate things. That’s Jack, and it’s a role he’s ably suited for as more of a combo guard himself.
So that’s Golden State’s best perimeter trio in these Rush-less, young-Barnes days. But what of the bigs? What combination has not only been best thus far, but potentially meshes best with their teammates on the outside? That’s a more difficult and certainly more loaded question, but one whose ultimate answer supports the theory that the Warriors’ three veteran newbies deserve time on the floor simultaneously.
With Bogut limited, Jackson has relied more heavily on a Lee-Landry frontcourt than most ever thought he would. Two undersized, shoot-first, defense-averse power forwards don’t a good post tandem make on paper, but as the saying goes, “That’s why we play the games.” The Lee-Landry duo boasts a team-leading (of pairs that have played at least 20 minutes) offensive rating of 120.0 and reassuring defensive mark of 100.0, one just below the team’s average. So their numbers are even better than those of Jack-Curry-Thompson, lending credence to the times Jackson has played that quintet so far this season.
But that’s not a realistic oft-used lineup given this organization’s new, longterm commitment to Bogut and the sense that they’d inevitably regress to the mean defensively. A frontcourt of Lee-Landry could only survive for the long haul on defense if they were supported by an elite trio on the perimeter, and Kyle Lowry, Andre Iguodala, and LeBron James Jack, Curry, and Thompson certainly aren’t.
Combine that with the redundancy that Lee and Landry present offensively and the only option is obvious – replacing one of them with Bogut. And fortunately for Golden State, the Aussie’s genius team-first defensive approach is mirrored by a similar one on the other end, a smart, nuanced game that should work wonders with the Warriors’ all-guard backcourt. Lee or Landry then? The fan base has grown tired with the former’s black-hole offensive tendencies and his truly awful efforts on the other end, but Jackson remains committed to the $80-millon man. Contract not withstanding, though, he’s been outplayed by Landry on both ends this season, a fact obvious to even Lee’s most ardent backers.
Finally to the point: Jack-Curry-Thompson-Landry-Bogut. This is Golden State’s best quintet going forward based on this season’s early results and some basic assumptions. When and whether or not we see it remains to be seen, but doing so will take some unenviable concessions from Jackson and the front office. One, that Curry is most comfortable when relieved of fulltime point guard duties, and two, that Landry is the team’s best option at power forward. That will sting when looking at the organization’s new financial commitment to Curry and its old one to Lee, but winning cures all. And “The New Guys” and Golden State’s two young backcourt stars give the Warriors the best chance to do as much of that as possible.
*Statistical support provided by NBA.com.
Follow Jack Winter on Twitter @armstrongwinter.