Do the Warriors have a new ‘Death Lineup’?
When you think of the words “Golden State Warriors” and “Death Lineup,” what do you think about?
Do you think about the 2014-15 iteration with Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes manning the two wing spots, Draymond Green at center with sharpshooters Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson spearheading the backcourt? The one that outscored playoff opponents by 14.1 points per 100 possessions in the 2014-15 playoffs en-route to their first title in four decades?
Yep, at least I do.
That crazed quintet trounced the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers — albeit without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving for the better part of the series, both out due to injury — in the NBA Finals, outscoring them by 20.3 points per 100 possessions across 70 minutes, including a preposterously-high 25.2 points in their four wins (53 minutes), per PBP Stats.
The lineup definitely took a considerable step back in the year after, posting a minus-3.2 NET rating in the 2015-16 postseason, getting outscored by nearly eight points per 100 in six NBA Finals games (recall Green got suspended for Game 5 after a ball-kicking incident) that I’m sure Warriors fans have washed or burned from their memories by now.
Substitute Kevin Durant for Harrison Barnes in the Curry-Thompson-Iguodala-Green composition and the lineup blitzed opponents by scoring north of 124.7 points per 100 possessions, boasting a 17.7 NET rating in their three seasons together, regular season and postseason included (891 combined minutes).
Since Durant’s departure to Brooklyn, head coach Steve Kerr and Co. have yet to find a so-called “death lineup” with *that* much pop until a recent discovery in their cabinet. Kerr threw together third-year guard Jordan Poole and All-Star forward Andrew Wiggins to the Curry-Thompson-Green trio, and even with a significantly smaller sample valuation period, the immediate results were absurd.
In just 11 minutes throughout the first two games against the Denver Nuggets, the aforementioned grouping has posted a mind-numbing 204.3 offensive rating with a 129.3 NET rating, per NBA.com. No, you didn’t read that incorrectly. You’re not going blind, nor crazy. Those are real numbers — numbers that are the byproduct of a miniscule sample — but numbers, that we should still take into account, nonetheless.
That lineup outscored the Nuggets by 29 points — the most amongst any NBA lineup to begin this 2022 playoff journey — including by 15 over a 6:23 spurt in Game 2 Monday.
All that said, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that those numbers aren’t sustainable and will obviously regress, but it’s the only sample we’ve been able to go off of thus far. Given myriad injuries that drubbed the squad throughout the season, the quintet never appeared together in the regular season, with all five players appeared in the same game just once (Jan. 9 vs. Cleveland).
“It’s huge, and we’ve been hoping to get to this point all year where we can get our whole group together just to see what that would look like,” Kerr said after Game 2. “We’ve played this way for many years with Draymond at 5. We’ve had a few different variations of that [Curry-Klay-Draymond] unit with Kevin Durant, and before that Harrison Barnes. Andre Iguodala was always apart of that group, too. Klay-Steph-Draymond are incredibly comfortable together playing this style; it’s the same style, just different additions with this squad.”
It shouldn’t be a surprised to anyone why Poole, 22, was added to the bunch. The team even saw marvelous results with Curry-Klay-Poole together during the regular season, outscoring foes by 32 points while scoring 125.6 points per 100 possessions with a 62.1 true-shooting percentage in 129 regular season minutes, per PBP stats.
Poole concluded the final 20 games of the regular season (16 starts) averaging 25.4 points, 4.3 rebounds and 5.5 assists, shooting 47.5 percent from the floor, 42.6 percent from distance and 92.4 percent from the charity stripe. The 6-foot-4 guard posted 30 and 29 points in the two Warriors playoff games, respectively, on torrid 65.5/58.8/91.7 (81.6 TS%!!!) shooting splits.
“He’s earned it,” Kerr said. “[Poole]’s puts the work in every single day at the gym and believes in himself and has got a lot of skill.”
The Michigan alum even scored or assisted on half of the 22 points scored during that second quarter stretch, where Golden State outscored Denver by 14 (after trailing by six) to take the six-point halftime lead, never looking back.
The Curry-Thompson-Poole-Wiggins-Green pairing scored 27 points on Monday in total, canning all but one of their 12 attempts and assisting on 10 of them. The question with this robust group is the defense and rebounding.
Barnes and Iguodala, in addition to Green, featured more of both than just Wiggins and Green, the Warriors’ two tallest players at 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-6, respectively. That will be the challenge against this year’s MVP favorite in Nikola Jokic, though Green has done a good job through their first two meetings at making Jokic’s life as miserable as possible in every facet.
But Poole, and even Wiggins, adds a scoring punch that should strike fear in any defense. They already have to take into account defending the two of the best shooters we’ve ever seen. Now insert Poole, who’s becoming more potent offensively by the second, Wiggins, who can go off for 15-plus points on any given night with additional two-way capability, with Green’s intelligence — and you’re cooking with gas.
Again, we’re all working with an incredibly small sample of on-court play here, but it’s an encouraging one that can certainly fashion fruitful results with more evidence.
Though I can’t help but wonder: How different would the on-court process and outcome look if one of Jamal Murray or Michael Porter Jr. were healthy? It sucks we’ll never know, at least for now. The thrill of the unknown: It’s what ultimately sucks the air out of the fun of this series, or really any series that involves injuries.
Curry, who’s getting reacclimated after missing a dozen games from a foot injury, came off the bench off the bench in the first two playoff games. I’m not sure when or how the substitute pattern will change the rotation, but I still recomment keeping an eye out for whenever this newfangled “death lineup” touches the floor. In both games, they finished the first half with a small sliver in the fourth quarter, though both games ended as blowouts so the second half sample could increase in a closer game.
Would Kerr run this out as his closing lineup in a two-point game with five minutes remaining? He could, but there’s more contextual factors to take into account.
Ultimately, only time will tell with all this stuff, but I’m definitely intrigued by what this lineup’s become against a hobbled Denver with such little chemistry — and even more by what it’s ceiling truly is.
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