The Golden State Warriors are in need of a solid playoff rotation, and we are going to give it to them…for free.
Head coach Mark Jackson has done a wonderful job instilling confidence in his players by making grand statements with respect to their talent, but his lineups leave much to be desired.
For instance, in mid-March, when speaking with Diamond Leung of Inside Bay Area, Jackson put Draymond Green in the same class as LeBron James because they can both defend all five positions: “Those two guys have the size, the strength, the knowledge, the competitive spirit in my opinion to do that."
Green is nowhere near the same caliber of defender as James, but this speaks to the coach’s view of his players. He encourages and trusts them almost to a fault.
Jackson gives far too much trust to his second-unit players, and it can be quite maddening for fans. The coaching staff often trots out a lineup composed entirely of backups and watches whatever lead the Warriors built up dissipate.
Per NBA.com, the second most-used five-man unit in March is composed of Steve Blake, Jordan Crawford, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green and Jermaine O’Neal. That’s practically unforgivable considering the amount of talent at Jackson’s disposal.
If anything, it feels like the coaches are posting a huge “help wanted” sign for all. Fear not, we got this.
The Warriors have perhaps the best starting unit in the league.
Golden State’s starters outscore opponents by 15.2 points per 100 possessions. That is the fourth-best differential in the league of any five-man combo that’s played at least 200 minutes according to NBA.com.
Naturally, one would be inclined to ride these guys out and play them until their wheels fall off, but that’s essentially the problem. Between injury concerns and foul trouble, the opening quintet fails to play half of the game (they share the floor for 18.5 minutes per game).
Jackson is quite prudent with Andrew Bogut because the center missed 50 games last season due to a bum ankle, and he is also reluctant to play him in fourth quarters given his poor free-throw shooting.
On some level, this can be forgiven during the regular season because the strategy will more than likely keep Bogut fresh for the playoffs. However, Jackson must get over his fears and play his best interior defender late in games.
The Warriors’ starters have developed great chemistry, and they have a knack for both shutting down opponents and outscoring them.
Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News said it best: “Iguodala and Bogut in large part cover for Curry and Lee on defense, and Curry and Lee usually make it all worthwhile on offense.”
An argument could be made the Curry has been the best point guard in the league, and he will likely continue to excel in this role in the postseason.
Curry’s backcourt partner, Thompson, is a great shooting guard, who also happens to perform admirably on both ends of the floor. Golden State uses him as a floor spacer and occasional scorer, which suits his talents.
In the frontcourt, the trio of Iguodala, Lee and Bogut complement each other masterfully. Iguodala is a capable ball-handler that creates plays for teammates, while Lee and Bogut are strong finishers around the basket area.
Lee and Bogut are also good passers at their respective positions from the high post, which opens up the floor for the Warriors, particularly when defenses trap Curry.
Given the synergy of the starting lineup, here is how the minutes should be administered in the playoffs:
- Curry: 40 minutes per game
- Thompson: 40 minutes per game
- Iguodala: 38 minutes per game
- Lee: 35 minutes per game
- Bogut: 31 minutes per game
All five players have played these amounts of minutes on average within the last two seasons with the exception of Bogut, that has been protected by his coaching staff.
Still, a five-minute uptick seems fairly reasonable for a player that’s averaged 26 minutes per contest in his two seasons with the Warriors per Basketball Reference.
Interestingly enough, some might be tempted to alter the starting lineup by inserting Harrison Barnes. Whether he replaces Thompson or Iguodala, the results simply have not been enough to warrant a promotion into the top five.
Barnes has been rushing shots all season and has not figured out where he fits into the offense. As a result, the Warriors score at a rate similar to the Utah Jazz (bottom third of the league) whenever Barnes plays alongside four starters.
What’s more, Barnes has been particularly worse in March, which could result in his minutes getting trimmed when the playoffs start.
Rotations often tighten up in the postseason, and we won’t be making an exception with Golden State’s reserves.
The hockey substitutions are out. Instead, the idea is to blend in some of the second-unit players with the starters. By operating in this manner, the Warriors can avoid lineups that are limited either on offense or defense.
Instead, Jackson will continuously have some of his best players on the floor alongside a few reserves. The relief guys that will more than likely earn Jackson’s trust are Steve Blake, Draymond Green, Jermaine O’Neal and Barnes.
Blake has proven he can run the team and make long-range shots while Curry is resting, and that will make him the backup point guard.
Green’s ability to defend multiple positions, coupled with his competitive spirit and improving jumper, will probably earn him minutes at power forward and center for short stints. Jackson counts on Green for toughness, and that’s exactly what he will provide in addition to a bit of rebounding.
Barnes is the designated sixth man, and the coaching staff can only hope he will step his game up and give the Warriors some scoring punch. In the event Barnes struggles, his three-point shooting (35.6 percent from downtown) is still a weapon that demands some level of attention.
Also, Jackson still has an ace up his sleeve with Barnes: Golden State can deploy him as a small-ball forward next to Curry, Thompson, Iguodala and Bogut. Barnes will get more driving space as well as a few chances to make shots rain from deep.
That lineup has only been on the floor together for 44 minutes per NBA.com, and it’s scored better than the starting lineup. The big concern is the inability to get stops.
The Warriors have issues protecting the interior with this group, which forces Bogut to commit fouls. Indeed, when he is late reacting to a play, Bogut is more than happy to take a hard shot at an opponent in the basket area regardless of his amount of fouls.
As a result, the small unit can only see a limited amount of action. Here is how the minutes shake out for the backups:
- Barnes: 20 minutes per game
- Green: 15 minutes per game
- O’Neal: 13 minutes per game
- Blake: Eight minutes per game
It’s worth noting, in the event that Barnes becomes too much of a hindrance because of poor play, Jackson might remove him from the rotation entirely, or cut down his minutes further and allocate them to Jordan Crawford and Marreese Speights.
Crawford is a trigger-happy guard that can get hot in a hurry. However, his small frame makes him a target opponents will attack defensively. Also, his poor shot selection can take away field-goal attempts from stars.
As it pertains to Speights, even though he is a big man, it’s not entirely ludicrous to have him replace Barnes. Speights can play power forward or center, and Green will simply slide to the small forward spot.
Speights has range on his jumper, but that’s not exactly his bread and butter. Instead, Speights is good as a pick-and-pop player, where he can make mid-range shots.
Speights has been terrific at connecting from mid-range since entering the league, but his jumper has betrayed him this season. If Speights were to get inserted during the playoffs and make shots, he might stay in the lineup.
The Warriors should have one of the top late-game lineups in the league, and yet it’s not the case.
Because of Bogut’s free-throw shooting, Jackson prefers to go with Green in his place alongside the four other starters. At any other point in games, the five-man crew with Green is simply sensational.
This unit scores 124 points per 100 possessions and only yields 88.6 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com. In other words, with these players on the floor, the Warriors become the Miami Heat offensively and the Indiana Pacers on defense.
It’s easy to see why Jackson goes to this lineup. The spacing is often perfect, and all five players are willing passers. However, this group can only be strategically utilized. Green and Lee are undersized frontcourt players, which means they are at the mercy of the opposing front line.
Hence, the pair must be used mostly against small units to ensure they do not get bludgeoned in the paint and on the boards. Also, they offer very little rim protection.
Therefore, whenever players get beat off the bounce, opponents score directly at the rim. These defensive issues veer their ugly heads late in games when Jackson uses this lineup.
Granted, if the offense overwhelmed opponents in the clutch, one could easily forgive Jackson for sticking with this unit. However, Jackson gives his players a lot of freedom, which in turn produces a lot of isolations in late-game situations.
Grantland’s Zach Lowe offered his observations on the matter in mid-January:
The Warriors have a lot of solid post players, including Thompson and Barnes, who often have exploitable size advantages. But they fall too much in love with attacking matchups that appear favorable, taking the offense out of rhythm, and forcing plays that often lead to contested midrange jumpers.
Lowe’s findings weren’t specific to clutch situations, but they might as well have been. The team’s general attitude toward scoring tends to manifest itself in fourth quarters.
Instead of simply running their offense and creating high-percentage looks, the Warriors rely on one-on-one moves and hope to bail the team out. Curry, Thompson and Iguodala have had their moments where they’ve rescued the Dubs, but failures have occurred in this setting as well.
His crunch time group needs to play better, and it might be in the team’s best interests to emphasize the defensive end in the final minutes of games. Jackson should allow his starters to close out games.
The offense will have its ups and downs because of the philosophy, but with the Warriors getting stops (the starting five’s defensive efficiency numbers mirror the Chicago Bulls’), Golden State will have its best chance to win playoff games.
Stats accurate as of March 28, 2014.