The Warriors are not better without David Lee, but Lee’s injury may have caused them to stumble upon a way to get better. Confused? Well, allow me to un-bewilder.
As we have discussed in these parts, playing Harrison Barnes at the 4 is the fun future we should all embrace. In this series, such a tactic can pay off wonderfully because Denver lacks large power forwards who’ll kill Barnes’ defense. Against, say, the Clippers, Barnes at power forward might not work so well. When the opponent is trotting Wilson Chandler out there in a big man role? Yep, there’s your small ball opening.
Fresh off the road win, some are already questioning whether the team is better off, sans DL (Doesn’t Twitter make for a convenient straw man, by the way?). The short retort to that opinion is, “Does Lee have a better replacement?” Carl Landry is essentially a more offensively limited David Lee. You could sell me on Lee’s replacement exceeding his output if said replacement is a defensive stalwart. Instead, Lee and Landry are more or less similar in terms of defensive effectiveness, and Lee is certainly a better offensive player.
Back to Barnes, who had the game of his life within a new, ad-hoc, spread-floor GSW approach. Harrison has a loose handle for a perimeter player, so when the space around him shrinks, so does his willingness and ability to attack. Playing him at power forward spreads the opposing defense thinner, allowing more space for Barnes to blast off towards the rim. Note the lack of interior resistance as Barnes blows by Anthony Randolph (Also note how Ezeli wisely walls Faried out of the picture).
It’s not just Barnes who can prosper with more room on the floor. As Darius Soriano pointed out, the Warriors as a team were incredibly offensively efficient in the time they used that Curry-Jack-Klay-Barnes-Bogut lineup. Jarrett Jack found some late success getting to the rim, in part due to the increased scope of space:
The stretched floor also helped the Warriors can 14 three-pointers, with quite a few coming in transition. More options on the perimeter can mean more defensive confusion as the pace quickens. Check how the Denver defense breaks as the Warriors swing the ball.
Barnes-at-the-4 is necessity as-mother-of-invention, and a wholly positive development for Golden State going forward. It bodes well for their chances in this particular long series, and should make them a better team as Harrison develops. What it does not do, is make David Lee expendable. To engage in some cross sports analogy, say a fastball pitcher develops a changeup and the latter pitch is flummoxing a certain kind of hitter. Success against that hitter doesn’t obviate the need for a fastball against others.
Lee is a huge, helpful part of GSW’s base offense. It just so happens that this offense, like many offenses, is well suited to going smaller against certain defenses. And Denver just might be the kind of team that’s ill suited to handling Golden State’s 4-out approach.
- Holy hell, Andrew Bogut’s been incredible. I’m not sure how he’s conjuring this sudden mobility, but Bogut’s stymying many a driving Denver player’s plans. Dude creates more chaos in the paint than Jackson Pollock.
- There’s a lot of “nobody thought we could win this!” talk out and about. A) The series is far from over and B) Plenty of people thought the Warriors could win this series. Just because the ESPN experts panel unanimously picked against GSW doesn’t mean these experts thought a Warriors victory impossible. Stephen Curry’s the best shooter alive but if I guessed “miss” whenever he shot, I’d be right most of the time. Does that mean I’m shocked whenever Steph hits a three-pointer? Far from it. There’s a wide gulf between “Nobody picked us to win” and “Nobody thought we could win.”