During the beginning of the season and in the midst of one of the greatest Golden State Warriors road trips ever (6-1 with wins over the Miami Heat, Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks), one lineup stood out that completely flummoxed opposing teams.
Without Andrew Bogut and Brandon Rush, Mark Jackson relied on two veterans, one oft-criticized player, Stephen Curry and a sophomore.
The five-man lineup consisted of Jarrett Jack's point guard play, Carl Landry's ability to finish at the rim, Klay Thompson's shooting, David Lee and Stephen Curry. The offense provided so much pressure on the defense because of the fear of the jump shot, thus opening up post-up opportunities for a red-hot Landry and Lee.
And in the first 30 or so games, Lee and Landry played just enough defense to get by.
That lineup has now played 352 minutes on the season (third-most on team) and owns an offensive efficiency rating (points per 100 possessions) of 111.4, which is better than the Miami Heat's overall season rating, according to Hoopdata.
So perhaps some semblance of that lineup should dominate the crunch-time moments in playoff games, especially with Bogut taking someone's spot, right? In a word, yes. But why is a much tougher question to answer.
The matchups and play in the postseason are much different from the regular season—where minutes are spread evenly and intensity in gameplay less static. For example, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin will certainly play more than 33.2 and 32.5 minutes per game, respectively.
First, let's state the irreplaceable players so far. For the purpose of this piece, we define the clutch 5 as any lineup that not only plays the last five minutes of a close game, but also any five that the Dubs will need to stop a run.
With that being said, there is no doubt Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut will have to be on the floor at all times. Curry and Bogut represent the dichotomy of offensive and defensive dominance, one playing off the other to balance this lineup.
The somewhat replaceable players that Jackson could take out in certain situations but probably won't are David Lee, Klay Thompson, Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry and Harrison Barnes. All warrant serious minutes but might be taken out in some circumstances.
However unpopular Jack's shot selection, Thompson's tendency to shoot despite poor results and Lee's defensive habits, they present the Warriors with their most cohesive five at any time on the court.
Some people may want to see a slashing, aggressive Barnes in the place of Jack or Thompson, and even a better finisher in Landry in place of Lee, but the potential of the Jack/Lee/Thompson/Bogut/Curry five is an excellent closing unit.
In light of Danilo Gallinari's injury, the Denver Nuggets are the best matchup for the Warriors and the likeliest seeing that they are third in the Western Conference at this moment. The Warriors match up nicely now that Bogut can compete on the boards against crazy energy players like Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee.
In an extremely small sample size of 182 minutes, this theoretical crunch-time lineup scores an absurd 115.6 points per 100 possessions and only allows 99.4 points per 100 possessions. It's a small look at what might be unsustainable, but keep in mind that Bogut is still slowly coming back from ankle and back setbacks.
The real answer probably lies somewhere in the middle.
On the offensive side of the ball for this five, Jack as the main ball-handler diversifies the offense so Curry doesn't have to play as the only person who can create. Curry shoots 44.8 from combined attempts off screens and spotting up, according to Synergy.
Contrast that to his shooting as the main ball-handler, at 41.5 percent. It isn't always better to play Curry off the ball, but those quick, aggressive double-teams do get Curry in trouble sometimes.
In the video above, Curry is able to initiate a two-man game off the ball on the wings. He can get to spots easier off the ball because Jack takes so much of the defense's focus away.
As for the defensive end, Bogut remains the mainstay but the Warriors have no choice but to play Lee over Landry because of Lee's offensive prowess. The question here becomes the difference between Thompson and Barnes, and Jackson has made it clear he wants Thompson to play as many minutes as possible, perhaps to a fault.
Thompson has slowly evolved as an adequate one-on-one defender, and while Barnes has the potential to outclass him on both sides of the floor, Thompson's shooting and defense are still Jackson's first option.
Despite Barnes' potential power as a offensive catalyst, Landry's ability to draw fouls and finish and even Bazemore's ability to provide a shot in the arm on defense, this five should play as many minutes as possible for a team looking to upset its first-round opponent.
Statistical support for this piece provided by NBA.com, unless stated otherwise.
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