The most important Warriors news to come out of Golden State in recent weeks has been the injury to star guard Stephen Curry. The two-time NBA MVP injured his foot on March 16 and has yet to return.
But there are multiple silver linings for the Warriors, one of which is the ability for coach Steve Kerr to experiment with different lineups.
As the postseason approaches — and Curry’s return along with it — a fully stocked and comfortable rotation affords Kerr more options than he’s had all season.
So many options, in fact, that the Warriors head man might have a “Death Lineup” 3.0 on his hands.
The Golden State Warriors’ small-ball lineups led to three NBA titles
Kerr and Curry helped revolutionize the league with the smallest small-ball lineup any team had ever rolled out.
Taking big men off the floor wasn’t a brand new idea in the NBA, but the Warriors pushed it to the limit, perfected it, and used it to win a championship.
The skeleton key was Draymond Green. Once Kerr realized the chess piece he had in the versatile forward, he began experimenting.
Eventually, Golden State rolled out a starting five of Steph, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, and Draymond.
At the time, Iguodala and Barnes were considered small forwards and Green a power forward. But Barnes and the 6-foot-6 Green shifted down with Draymond playing as a burly center.
Offensively, the group had shooters to spread the floor and high-IQ players to keep the ball moving and find the right passes.
But the Warriors didn’t lose anything defensively with the versatility of Green and Iguodala, plus the athleticism and switchability of all five players as a unit.
Throw a generational player like Steph at the head of the snake, and Golden State ran, shot, and guarded to the 2015 championship.
Kerr then got to trade in Barnes for Kevin Durant to form the second generation of the “Death Lineup” (which won the team two more titles).
Now, Curry’s injury is proving to be a blessing in disguise as lineup tinkering has given Golden State the idea for the NBA’s most feared lineup’s next iteration.
The Dubs may have stumbled upon “Death Lineup” 3.0
Per Anthony Slater of The Athletic, Kerr just used his 26th different starting lineup of the season. But this tinkering came with a purpose.
Jonathan Kuminga entered the starting five in place of center Kevon Looney. Otto Porter Jr. had played in Green’s spot a few nights prior, teaming with Looney in the frontcourt.
Without Curry, the Warriors’ ability to space the floor becomes a conundrum, Kerr explained. So Golden State got rid of any lineup that featured Green and Looney — two non-shooters — together.
The combination has differed based on matchups, but Porter Jr., Kuminga, or sometimes Nemaja Bejelica next to one of Draymond or Looney has worked.
Theoretically, this could lead to “Death Lineup” 3.0 once Steph returns: Curry, Jordan Poole, Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, and Green.
Curry, Poole, and Thompson can stretch the floor, Wiggins can be a fourth offensive option and a versatile defender when needed, and Draymond is still the anchor as the small-ball center.
That doesn’t include Kuminga, who has the physical abilities, if not the basketball IQ yet, to fill in for Green. He could also step in for Wiggins to give teams a different look as a more physical, athletic slasher rather a shooter.
Without Steph, Kerr has been forced to manufacture floor spacing. He’s accomplished it with the tools currently at his disposal.
When Curry comes back and Draymond rounds back into full basketball shape after an injury layoff of his own, the two most critical pieces of the famous lineup return.
The thought should cause anxiety across the NBA.
The Warriors need a postseason surge, and this could be the catalyst
Golden State started the season with a bang and the league’s best record. Steph was breaking three-point shooting records seemingly every night.
But the Dubs faded. Green got hurt. Thompson came back from a three-year layoff and had to be re-integrated. Now Curry is injured.
The Warriors needed an injection of something — a spark to ignite them heading into the playoffs.
Steph’s injury, Kerr’s tinkering, Draymond’s return, and improvement from young players like Poole and Kuminga have been exactly that.
Because now Golden State can roll into the playoffs with the confidence of having a game-changing lineup in their back pocket.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.