The Warriors recently got scraped by the Memphis Grizzlies, and much of the post game talk revolved around how the team failed in the aggregate. It was a lack of effort, a lack of focus. I couldn’t help but wonder: Was it a lacking lineup?

I mean the starting lineup specifically, that clunky Naismith insult in the form of Ellis-McGuire-Wright-Lee-Udoh. This unit was a -25 in a game the Warriors lost by -18. Though GSW certainly got blown out, it’s possible they would have stayed competitive had they simply never played this exact combination.

The problem with a lineup like this is that it only features two three point shooters (And I’m being generous in calling Ellis and 12′ Wright “three point shooters”).  In the modern zone-defense NBA, a dearth of shooters represents a challenge for your offense. So it’s not too surprising that Memphis jumped out to a 21-4 lead against a stilted, sputtering Warriors attack.

I asked the great Brett Koremenos of NBA Playbook for more context and he was kind enough to provide it:

“The basic premise behind the three shooter theory (that we discussed earlier) is that, in today’s NBA, it is difficult to run good to great offense without having three or more players capable of stretching the floor to the 3pt line. Obviously, by capable, I’m referring to players that hover around league average from three at the very least. When defense stops an initial action (from an iso breakdown or a pick and roll) they are most effectively beaten by quick ball reversal that leads to a shot or drive against a scrambling defender on the weakside of the play.The less shooters a team employs, it not only allows the opposing defense to commit more fully to stopping the initial action, but also decreases the risk of them being hurt during as they recover back to their original assignments.

The hidden agenda in most offense is to create closeouts. And the hardest thing to do in basketball is be forced to rush out at a quick release shooter or a player equally effective and shooting or driving to the rim. The easiest type of player to closeout on is one that has to drive close to the rim to get into an effective operating area. After all, if you had to sprint out from the middle of the paint to a player on the wing, would you rather have it be Kyle Korver or Caron Butler?
So the more shooters you have on the floor, the harder closeout situations become. Three shooters is generally the minimum you need to create hard closeout situations out of the majority of actions at any point on the floor. Four is obviously ideal (Think 2010 PHX Suns lineups that featured Nash-Richardson-Dudley-Stoudamire and Frye), but hiding two non-shooters (or involving them in ways to hide their limitations) isn’t the hardest thing to do for an imaginative offensive coach.
Having just two shooters (especially ones that don’t shoot it even around league average from 3) is generally a death sentence for an offense and one hopes that lineup is full of guys that at least can get it done at the other end of the court.

In the Warriors case for last night, their lineup of Ellis-Wright-McGuire-Lee-Udoh really has one player that stretches the floor at an effective rate from 3. With that type of personnel group, space on the offensive end will be hard to find as Memphis players could easily station themselves more liberally in driving gaps (as opposed to hugging their man) and rotate off their mark without fear of reprisal. And when you factor in that only lineup features only two plus defenders (Udoh and McGuire), one adequate one (Wright) and two subpar ones (Lee, Ellis) one has to wonder where it’s strength is supposed to lie as it’s essentially a lineup incapable of producing on either end of the floor. I guess that last sentence sums up Mark Jackson’s tenure thus far as a head coach.”

I just appreciate how Brett managed to email me about Ellis-McGuire-Wright-Lee-Udoh without using curse words. Curry will eventually return to the starting lineup, and we may never (thankfully) see this unit again. Still, it’s concerning that the Warriors made a correct decision in benching Biedrins, only to somehow make the starting lineup worse.

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