What’s Warriors Best Starting Squad?
All this David Lee/Jordan Ramirez #FullSquad talk has me reigniting the “What’s the best Warriors starting five?” discussion from a few weeks back.
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After losing five of eight, the Warriors have won four in a row. David Lee is nearing his All-Star levels from December 2012 and Steph Curry just had a game that brought back memories of Chris Mullin (first Warrior with 14 points, 13 assists and 13 rebounds since Mullin in 1995), Tim Hardaway (most assists by a Warrior since Hardaway dished out 19 in 1990) and … you guessed it, Mookie Blaylock (first Warriors guard to grab 13 rebounds since Blaylock in 2001).
The Warriors are 13-3 with the full starting lineup of Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Lee and Andrew Bogut. Even with this record, in the very recent past both fans and media were debating who the Warriors starting five should be. What if Lee came off the bench so the Warriors could go “four out” with Harrison Barnes at power forward? How about using Thompson as a spark off the bench?
When analyzing the Warriors starting five, three players should start with no questions asked and no explanation needed: Curry, Iguodala and Bogut.
I can’t legitimately create a scenario where Thompson comes off the bench, but since I’ve seen a little talk about that, I’ll give you one below.
Two current bench players could arguably be considered for the starting lineup: Barnes and Draymond Green (and, of course, Wilt Kuzmic when healthy). Those who bring Marreese Speights, Tony Douglas or Kent Bazemore into that discussion must be thinking about the Santa Cruz Warriors starting five.
So that leaves these starting lineups to analyze:
- The Norms: Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Lee, Bogut
- Four Out: Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Barnes, Bogut
- Four Defenders and a Baby (Faced Assassin): Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Green, Bogut
- Klay Says It’s Cool But He’s Really Pissed: Curry, Iguodala, Green, Lee, Bogut
With all five starters playing their natural and best positions, they are the norms for a reason. Only Lee’s defense and inconsistent jumper make this a debatable starting lineup.
But is it all that debatable? Yes, it’s a fact Lee is a bad defender. His inconsistent jumper was solid last season, so I view it more as a mental issue and expect him to get over it once a few shots start falling. It’s been a long slump, but history supports the notion that he will overcome it.
Among power forwards, Lee is an elite passer. His ball movement helps create open looks for Curry and Thompson. Part of this is due to excellent vision and the other is due to a willingness to pass and an enjoyment he seems to receive from it.
Lee battles other power forwards and makes them work on defense. Barnes can’t do that consistently and Green isn’t ready to do it at all. Lee gives you several offensive options. He can drive to the basket and has a quick release. He can post-up and score with a flip shot using either hand. He’s excellent in the pick-and-roll when his jumper is falling.
He has issues when he’s isolated on the block and forces shots; versus taking what the defense gives him. We’ve seen this late in games or when he’s trying to get a key player to pick up a foul. His quick release can also get him in trouble because the defense can time his shot and block it. This happens a lot. Learning a pump fake from Carl Landry was a big missed opportunity for Lee last season.
Switch Barnes for Lee and you have a more perimeter-oriented offense with Bogut setting picks and patrolling the defensive paint. Should this be the Warriors regular starting five? No. Should it get more run? Sure, why not?
The biggest question mark with this lineup is the disappointing season Barnes has had so far. Maybe with more exposure to the “Four Out,” Barnes and this lineup would have success. It’s worth exploring.
While smaller, Barnes for Lee isn’t going to impact the defense much. However, Lee gets the benefit of more calls based on his veteran status. It’s a fact of NBA officiating that you sadly have to take into effect. Both Barnes and Green have been called for many ticky-tack fouls playing post defense.
Barnes isn’t the passer Lee is, and his ball handling and turnovers have been suspect. His issues with focus and confidence can be attributed to a failure to fully grasp or understand his role off the bench. More of this lineup could help define his role.
Coming off the bench, Barnes has had more of a defensive focus on him than he would playing alongside Curry, Klay and Iguodala. Offense would come easier to him as a starter. Also, Bogut could grab defensive rebounds and outlet to a faster, more athletic group for an exciting, run-and-gun style of play. Open threes are often a result when this happens, and Curry and Klay are not bad at hitting open threes.
Another plus of this lineup is there are times you can switch Lee in for Bogut. It keeps Lee’s minutes up and is probably the best option when Bogut needs a rest.
Come on Mark. All we are saying, is give “four out” a chance.
Four Defenders and a Baby
Starting Green next to Bogut means giving opposing defenses two players they don’t need to worry about much. Green is a better defender than both Lee and Barnes, but is far less developed on the offensive end. He is an extremely smart player, who’s also young enough to make his fair share of boneheaded mistakes. Which is like saying Kim Kardashian is an extremely smart businesswomen who is only successful because she’s hot, had a rich dad and shared her sexual exploits with the world. But with Green, it’s true.
You can’t take Bogut out of the starting five and you can’t start Green with Bogut. It puts more defensive pressure on Curry and Klay, which works against the main goal of taking it off them.
Mark Jackson will not take Klay out of the starting five for the same reason he won’t sit Lee. It will mess with their heads and Jackson needs both guys to be successful. Confidence is hugely underrated in sports. For good reason, many of Jackson’s decisions are based on keeping his players focused and confident.
Plus, from a pure basketball standpoint it makes no sense to bring Klay off the bench. While Iguodala is the team’s best perimeter defender, Klay is a great option because he can guard guys like Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker and Chris Paul for the defensively challenged Curry. He’s an excellent face-up defender who uses his feet well and has long arms to bother opposing shooters. Defensively, he’s the perfect 2-guard for Curry.
Offensively, he’s not just a great shooter. Coming off pin-downs in the lane, he’s been excellent dropping a bounce pass to the post player leading to many easy layups. When he has an opening on those plays, he’s getting to the rim and finishing, making “Klay-ups” a thing of the past.
Outside of a recent slump that he’s snapped out of over the last two games, he’s made a huge jump this year. You can’t bring him off the bench.
The norm is the norm because it works. I’m with Mark Jackson on his starting five. David Lee is the Warriors best starting option at power forward, but that doesn’t mean Jackson shouldn’t play more four out with Barnes.
The Warriors should be open to both. But please don’t tell me Green should start or Klay should come off the bench. It just doesn’t make sense.