While the 25-1 Golden State Warriors have the talent and depth to beat teams in any way they prefer, they do possess perhaps the deadliest weapon in the NBA: their small-ball lineup.
The Warriors small-ball lineup only rears its head occasionally, often in close games when the Warriors need some separation.
In this lineup, they keep their starting back-court in Curry and Klay Thompson, move the 6-foot-6 Draymond Green to center, and have Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala man the forward spots. This lineup is versatile on defence and near impossible to guard on offence because of their spacing and shooting.
This season, this lineup has an offensive rating of 154.7 and a defensive rating of 84.8, meaning they’re outscoring opponents by 70 points per 100 possessions when they’re on the floor.
And yet, they have only played 64 minutes together this season — it’s only the Warriors’ fifth-most-played lineup this season.
In a phone interview with Business Insider, Harrison Barnes, who was promoting his Christmas shopping event “Sports Matter” with Dick’s Sporting Goods, explained why the Warriors don’t use the small-ball lineup more often.
“Most teams usually have a big lineup, so we start big,” Barnes explained.
“We don’t like to give anyone a steady dose of anything,” he continued. “You know, we like to keep our rotations the way they are. If we need more speed or we need to kinda mix things up, we can go to the small lineup. Late in games, we need to switch everything, we can go to that small lineup. But mostly, we have great passing bigs. Although it’s not playing traditionally small, they can get out on the perimeter, they can make those plays, and that’s what allows our team to run.”
This is often the concern with small-ball, the NBA’s hottest trend. Despite the advantage it gives team on offence, coaches often worry that an opponent with a dominant big man will have too big of an advantage on offence, bullying smaller players for easy shots and rebounds. While small-ball can be effective in doses, using it for a whole game could potentially give the other team a beneficial mismatch.
Draymond Green is actually the key for the Warriors’ small-ball unit. Despite his average size, he has the strength to defend traditional centres, and his ability to shoot three-pointers, handle the ball, and make great passes makes him a matchup nightmare for other teams. Centres are too slow for him, and the Warriors can run other small-ball units off the floor.
Here’s an example of the pick-your-poison scenario the Warriors’ small-ball lineup presents. Teams have to double Curry to get the ball out of his hands. Green then rolls free to the basket, and when defenders have to stop Green from an open layup, he finds Iguodala for a wide open three:
As Barnes mentions, the Warriors want to use this lineup to blitz opponents — not let them game-plan for it for 48 minutes, despite its potency. With talented big men in Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli also on the roster, the Warriors can still play a similar style.
But could the Warriors still win if they used the small-ball lineup all game, we asked Barnes?
“We played that way in the Finals the last three games,” Barnes said. “and based on the results, we could be alright.”
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