What's Wrong with Golden State Warriors' Once-Invincible Death Lineup?

Will Gottlieb@@wontgottliebFeatured Columnist IJanuary 19, 2018

Rocky Widner via Getty

The "Death Lineup" or the "Hamptons Five"—whatever you want to call it—got its name because it effectively terminated whoever it went against.

Last season, no five-man unit that played at least 200 minutes had a better net rating than the Golden State Warriors' Death Lineup (23.9). The group comprising Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Kevin Durant was nearly unbeatable. An unstoppable force and immovable object. But that hasn't been the case this season.

Monday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers marked the first time the Death Lineup had seen the floor in over a month. Of course against the Cavs, it had one of its better outings: plus-3 in 3.5 minutes, but there were also moments of uncharacteristic mediocrity in its first time on the court since December 4.

This "your turn-my turn" offense and lack of effort on defense may seem shocking, but it's actually become commonplace in the 61 minutes the Death Lineup has played in 2017-18. Once impossible to overcome, it now posts a -6.8 net rating.

Stats via NBA.com

The Warriors are still the best team in basketball. Any path to greatness starts and ends with them. But this lineup is what made them impossible to beat: their automatic game-ender. They may be good enough to win a title without this group firing on all cylinders, but it would definitely make things more interesting for the rest of the league. With half a season left before the playoffs, they have plenty of time to get their house in order, but only if the problems are fixable.

             

Iggy No-Pop

Iguodala has looked a step or three slow at times and is shooting a career-low 22.5 percent on three-pointers. In previous seasons, he was a more featured part of the attack, facilitating the offense as opposed to spectating from the weak-side corner. Opposing defenses are giving him something of a Tony Allen treatment, sagging off him to clog the paint or doubling one of the more potent options.

This, in itself, is a fatal flaw in the Death Lineup. It exists because it is complete. Five players on the floor who can make a shot, who can create off the dribble, who can switch 1 through 5 on defense. If even one of the players isn't living up to that, it's just not the same.

The Warriors have tried figuring out ways to engage Iguodala in the action, putting him in more pick-and-roll situations with Curry. This is fine, but it's not as lethal as the Curry-Durant or Curry-Green pick-and-roll.

If, at best, he's not taking away driving lanes, he's just kind of...there.

This lineup has always been loaded with five playmakers, which is precisely what made it so dangerous. Trap Curry on a pick-and-roll, and the Warriors are playing 4-on-3. Because Iguodala hasn't been a threat at all this year, opponents are hiding one of their point guard or one of their other weakest defenders on him. By sagging off into the paint, the Warriors are now playing down a man, as opposed to up one.

To fix this, the Warriors need to get Iguodala more involved in the pick-and-roll action instead of using him purely as a floor spacer. Putting him at the dunker spot to hawk offensive rebounds or catch alley-oops has been successful:

With Durant and Thompson spacing, LeBron James thought Iguodala would clear out to the corner where he wouldn't be worth defending. But Iguodala still has plenty of bounce to catch lobs around the basket.

At age 33, it's more than possible that Iguodala is saving up for the playoffs. But to this point, he has been the first weak link in what had been the closest thing to a perfect lineup in basketball.

Without all five clicking, the gears can get a little jammed, and it's showed: The group is scoring 14.7 fewer points per 100 possessions. With both Green and Iguodala suffering from three-point land, the floor can get uncharacteristically cramped if Durant or Curry is in isolation. It's no surprise the unit's true shooting percentage took a 9.6-point dip from last year.

Still, Iguodala is a great ball-mover and passer from the wing. He also completes the lineup's ability to switch all five positions, though the defense has not looked itself either.

                

Complacency on Defense

Most known for their scoring output, the Warriors also rely on one of the most stifling defenses in the league. Among units that played at least 200 minutes last season, only four of the five-man units allowed fewer points per 100 possessions than the Death Lineup. And one of them was the Warrior's starting lineup.

Whatever they lacked in height, they more than made up for with length, speed, switching and communication. This year, however, they are in the bottom 15 in the entire NBA among units that have played as many minutes. Allowing 16.1 more points per 100 possessions than they did the previous year has delivered a massive blow to the potential of this unit.

Teams have learned their lesson about trying to post Draymond, but they'll still try to go after Iguodala or Thompson if they get the right switch. The Warriors have taken to trapping the post in those situations, and it's resulted in a few costly bumps.

The lateness on the second and third rotations can be fine-tuned. We've seen the Warriors kick it into high gear when it matters, and it's hard to stay motivated when there's nothing to prove in the regular season. But this year, they've become reachy, and their opponents are shooting the highest ratio of free throws to field goals of any five-man unit in the NBA as a result.

The pace has not yet suffered, but having to take the ball from out of bounds on a make, instead of flying out in transition to rain down hellfire from deep affects their ability to break off an 11-0 run in 75 seconds. 

It's gonna be alright, right?

We all know what the Warriors are capable of doing. According to NBA.com, the Death Lineup still has a clutch net rating of 13.3, best in the league, suggesting it can turn it on if it needs to. But this season, it hasn't come out with the same firepower we've witnessed over the years.

Another reason for optimism is Curry. He started the season well, but since coming back from his ankle injury, he's been extraterrestrial. Combine his unanimous-MVP-type play with some meaningful games, and it would be hard to imagine the Death Lineup not getting right back on track as the most deadly five-man unit in the league.

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