The Warriors Small-Ball Lineup
By Russel Schmidt
There are many reasons the Golden State Warriors are a historically great team; otherwise they wouldn’t be defending champions and coming off the best regular season in NBA history. You could start with the fact that the Warriors have Stephen Curry, the MVP of the past two seasons, or that they employ three of the top 20 players in the league in Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson. But, what sets the Warriors apart from being a good team to being one of the best teams ever is their revolutionary use of small-ball lineups. Teams before this incarnation of the Warriors have tried the small-ball approach, some more successful than others. Perhaps the most famous small-ball teams before Curry’s Warriors were Steve Nash’s Phoenix Suns during the 2000s. These teams were very successful in the regular season, but they never managed to reach the NBA Finals. What sets apart GSW from previous small-ball teams is that they have one of the league’s top defenses as well as an elite offense.
Unless a team has an elite post up threat, most offenses improve with going small. Going small generally means that there are better ball handlers, playmakers, and shooters on the floor, leading to more spacing and ball movement. If the opposing team tries using a more traditional lineup against a small-ball team, big men are often left guarding wings on the perimeter. This is something most post players are uncomfortable doing.
The main reason the small-ball revolution took this long to really take off is because teams have had trouble finding a way to maintain the same defensive level as more traditional lineups. Small-ball teams generally lack rim protectors and have trouble rebounding. And even with the increased use of small-ball lineups, there will always be value in having size. There is a reason that most of the top picks in the draft are still big men.
Stephen Curry has already solidified his place in NBA history as one of the best players ever the past few seasons. Curry is already an NBA Champion, a two-time MVP, the first ever unanimous MVP, a member of the exclusive 50–40–90 club, and holds the record for most three pointers in a season. It is safe to assume that Curry will keep adding to his many accolades in the coming seasons. Despite all of this Curry isn’t the true MVP of the Warriors small-ball lineup. That title belongs to Draymond Green.
Draymond Green is what makes the Warriors so unique. Size wise Green looks like a big small forward or an undersized power forward, yet he has managed to play many meaningful minutes as Golden State’s small-ball center. Green has now finished as the runner up to Kawhi Leonard for Defensive Player of the Year in back to back seasons. Green is one of the few players in the league that can truly guard five positions. Other than a few really quick point guards or really big centers, Green can stay in front of anybody in the league. He brings toughness to the team and matches up well again the majority of centers. Having a player like Green on the floor allows the Warriors to switch all over the place. Green also brings great value to the Warriors offensively. Nobody will confuse Green with elite scorers, but he has proven capable when called upon as a scorer and is a much better three-point shooter than the average center. Green also finished 7th in the NBA in assists per game, which is unheard of from a player that primarily plays power forward and center. In addition Green has proven his worth as one of the best screen-setters in the game.
The Warriors are the poster boys for position-less basketball. This brand allows the Warriors to switch and cross match in unique ways and have an abundance of playmaking and shooting on the court. In Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, and Shaun Livingston, the Warriors have five players listed between 6–6 and 6–8 that are above average to elite defenders. All of these players also bring value offensively, whether it’s as a playmaker, shooter, scorer, slasher, or some combination of these skills.
With more traditional big men like Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli, Anderson Varejao, and Marreese Speights, the Warriors have the personnel to match up with opposing big men like DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis. Other than when facing these select few dominant post players, the Warriors are at their best when using these small ball units. With Enes Kanter usually playing less than 30 minutes per game, the injury to Jonas Valanciunas, and Kevin Love spending most of his time on the perimeter, the Warriors should be able to utilize these lineups against the Thunder and either Eastern Conference foe if they reach the finals. GSW’s revolutionary style will once again be a huge determinant in whether or not the Warriors repeat as champs.