One of the more impressive and unusual facets of the Warriors’ recent dominance has been the fact that they have done it without a definitive five-man lineup.
While there are a series of different permutations that are arguable as Golden State’s best five, they follow two basic tracks:
- Lineups with a more traditional center
- Lineups with Draymond Green at center
Understandably, the “smallball” groupings look and feel substantially different from the more traditional offerings even if they often only differ in a single player.
Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are in any credible best five, which pretty much means that the traditional lineups boil down to two choices: Harrison Barnes or Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut or Festus Ezeli. It may sound crazy to some people but these two decisions are likely interconnected.
With some help from Evan Zamir’s nbawowy, here are some stats on the different combinations, using games from the entire Kerr tenure:
Note: PPP is points per possession
Some context worth noting on the chart is that since the team played so many more minutes last season than this one, lineups with Bogut had disproportionately more of Stephen Curry, which helps those lineup’s offensive numbers for obvious reasons. Along the same lines, I searched only the Curry/Thompson/Iguodala/Barnes/Green lineup for Draymond at center figures, so they were all in the whole time there.
Figuring out the better SF/C pairings is pretty interesting. Incorporating the eye test having seen so much of this team in person and on film, Andre Iguodala’s passing and defensive intelligence make him a more natural fit for Ezeli because Festus cannot replicate Bogut’s defensive role yet and Andre helps give him a little more leeway out there. At the same point, Bogut’s offensive aptitude can help create more open looks for Harrison Barnes, gives the team an extra passer and Bogut is more capable of cleaning up mistakes Barnes is more likely to make than Iguodala.
That said, many readers will know my passion for the “Torture Chamber” lineup of Curry, Thompson, Igudodala, Green and Bogut, a grouping underutilized by Mark Jackson that worked incredibly well last year too. They have only played 11 minutes so far this year due to Bogut missing time but are at it again, outscoring opponents by 31.6 points per 100 possessions.
Draymond at Center
The Warriors with Draymond playing center are a somewhat different animal. While it would make intuitive sense that a lineup without a conventional big would struggle against post players, both Barnes and Green have done a great job when put in those spots. Coach Kerr credits Barnes being “deceptively strong” and he stood out in the Memphis series handling Gasol and Randolph for stretches. That lack of a defensive tradeoff makes the offense sing without consequence and those groupings absolutely shine there, scoring 119.3 points per 100 possessions over the last two seasons, four points more than the Clippers with Chris Paul on the court last season.
This season, the most common lineup with Draymond at center (Curry/Thompson/Iguodala/Barnes/Green) has been Golden State’s third most frequently used lineup wth 40 minutes together in 2015-16. They are scoring a seemingly impossible 145.5 points per 100 possessions and allowing 96.4, the best grouping in the entire league with that many minutes in terms of both Offensive Rating ant Net Rating.
One wrinkle we have not seen as much in the “smallball” lineups is the addition of Shaun Livingston. Amazingly enough, Golden State’s best five man unit in the 2015 playoffs was Curry, Livingston, Thompson, Iguodala and Green, which outscored opponents by an eye-popping 46.9 points per 100 possessions in 33 minutes of action. While not usable against every opponent, the insane amount of intelligent players and talented passers in that quintet can be too much to handle.
After going through the various combinations, the only truly clear part of this conversation is that the Warriors face an embarrassment of riches with the lineup options the coaching staff can work with. There may not be a single answer to the question since a lineup’s success can be so dependent on their opposition. That said, I have been consistently impressed by how well the Draymond at center lineups have handled bigs that would normally appear to be a challenge for them. Of course, the Warriors cannot sustain prolonged periods with that grouping either in a single game or in the season as a whole so it makes sense as a change of pace they can end games with too if it is thriving.