Friday, November 20, 2015

Beating The Warriors 2.0

Over at RealGM, I've got a big picture look at the Warriors five-out line-ups and how they represent the end-point of the small-ball revolution. At this point, I'm thinking the only question in the NBA right now is whether there's any line-up out there that can beat Draymond Green at the 5.

There are three possible counters to Golden State’s five-out line-ups.

1) Play two traditional big men and punish them at the 5 and the 4. (3-out basketball)

That's the Grizzlies strategy. It didn't work for a couple of reasons. There were holes in their big men's game - Marc Gasol is more of a facilitator than a scorer and Z-Bo is more of a scorer than a facilitator - and they didn't have enough perimeter shooting to force Golden State out of the paint. The Warriors moved Green from Z-Bo to Gasol and they basically double-teamed Z-Bo with Barnes and Andrew Bogut and dared Tony Allen to beat them from the perimeter. They cracked the code of the Grizzlies in that series and it's hard to see Memphis being able to make a run at them anymore unless they find another wing player they can put next to Courtney Lee and Mike Conley who can defend, shoot and create his own shot off the bounce. They've tried Rudy Gay and Jeff Green in that spot and neither one has been able to make up the difference.

The Clippers are going to try with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan and we saw the downsides of that approach last night. DeAndre can’t score with his back to the basket so the Warriors can hide Barnes on him without any fear. Nor do they have the shooters who can give Blake space to operate while also being able to defend Golden State’s wings. They are either playing perimeter players who kill them on defense (Jamal Crawford + Paul Pierce) or who kill their spacing (Lance Stephenson). My guess is the Clippers are going to need to go to option #2 with Blake at the 5 if they are going to have any chance of beating the Warriors.

If they meet again in the Finals, the Cavaliers are going to try and give the Warriors a different look with Kevin Love at the 4 and Tristan Thompson at the 5. There are two basic problems with this approach - Tristan can't score to save his life and Love can't defend to save his. Maybe he can punish Harry Barnes on the box and he can definitely do some damage on the offensive boards but is it going to be enough to make up for what happens if the Warriors put him in the two-man game? If they run a 1/4 pick-and-roll with Barnes picking for Curry, the only way for Love to defend would be to give him a broom to whack Steph on the head as he goes around him or block his shot as he raises up for an open look off the bounce. That's why I'm not so sure a #fullsquad Cleveland team would be that much better against Golden State.

The Hawks are interesting because they have mobile big men who can defend in space - Paul Millsapp and Al Horford - and who can spread you out, attack you on the box and play high-low. They play five-out basketball with a 6'10 guy and a 6'7 guy upfront so they would have most of the advantages of playing big against Golden State without many of the disadvantages. If they want to really get freaky, they could play Paul Millsapp at the 5, which is apparently a thing that has worked well against the Warriors in the past. Their problem, of course, is that they still have to get through Cleveland and LeBron James.

The Thunder have a lot of different options if they want to stay big against Golden State and they might have to do that considering how much they have invested in the 4 and 5 spots. I just wonder if Adams + Ibaka can punish the Warriors enough on offense and if Kanter + Ibaka can play enough perimeter defense. Adams + Kanter might be their max interior offensive combo but it's hard to see them spreading the floor well enough to counter Golden State packing the paint (especially if Roberson and another iffy shooter are on the perimeter). If they are going to stay big, it's going to come down to Enes Kanter and then it becomes a matter of Kanter post-ups vs. Kanter defending the two-man game and which is going to be more efficient. Mitch McGary is another wild card they could throw out there but he hasn't been able to get consistent playing time under Donovan yet.

The Spurs are probably the team with the best chance of beating the Warriors with a conventional line-up. They have two big men who can shoot, score and pass - Tim Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge - and they can put three perimeter players who can space the floor, defend and control tempo around them. I just wonder if Duncan and Aldridge can score enough points in the box to make up for the points they would give up defending on the perimeter. If they meet Golden State in the playoffs, it will be the last stand of the two-post team. Of course, the Spurs would also have the versatility to try options #2 and 3, which is what would make a chess match between Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich so fascinating.

2) Play one traditional big man who can attack Green at the 5 and surround him with 4 wings. (4-out basketball)

I think this has a much better chance of working than 3-out basketball. You can think of 5-out vs. 4-out vs. 3-out as being on the earthquakes scale. The level of difficulty in running efficient offense increases logarithmically as you move up. It's much easier to space the floor and move the ball with one big man in the paint as opposed to two and it becomes child's play when you have five guys spread out along the three-point line. I think last year's playoffs pretty much proved that 3-out isn't going to work against the Warriors. This year's playoffs is going to be about 4-out.

The Pelicans actually gave the Warriors some trouble in the first-round with Anthony Davis at the 5 because they have enough wing players - Quincy Pondexter, Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon and Norris Cole - to fill out a respectable line-up on both sides of the ball around him. Of course all those guys have to be healthy at the same time and they are going to have to dig out of a massive hole just to make it too the playoffs.

If I was the Clippers, I'd go with this line-up: Paul, Redick, Wesley Johnson, Lance, Blake.

- I don't think DeAndre makes enough of a difference on the boards to make up for the fact that he constantly leaves Steph open on the 1-5 pick and roll and can't do anything to attack a smaller player on defense.

- If they went with this group, they could have Blake switch on Steph (which he did reasonably well in the 4Q last night) and they would give him a lot more space to operate on offense.

- There's just no way they can have Paul Pierce or Jamal Crawford out there against the Warriors. They are too old and too slow to defend in that type of space.

- That would be their best defensive 5 and you would hope Lance could be in the Iguodala role of the iffy shooter whose spacing isn't as big a deal when playing in max space. I still haven't given up on Lance and he's more than big enough to match up with Harry Barnes at the 4.

- I think A) that 5 could give the Warriors a run B) it's the only 5 on the Clippers that could and C) Doc won't use it. He's too committed to DeAndre, Pierce, Jamal and Austin Rivers and those guys aren't going to get it done against Golden State.

The problem with the Cavs going 4-out against the Warriors is the same with them going 3-out - all their bigs are at least somewhat one-dimensional. We already saw that Tristan + LeBron isn't going to work and Blatt went away from Mozgov + LeBron in last year's Finals. Love + LeBron is going to get slaughtered on defense. I think they have to go 5-out to have a chance.

The Thunder can go 4-out with Ibaka at the 5 but he can't punish Draymond on the box which negates a lot of the value of having a big man out there.

- My guess is they would try something like this: Serge + KD + Roberson + Waiters + Russ. The idea being that Roberson's lack of shooting is less of an issue in 4-out and that Waiters is a better two-way player than Morrow or Augustin. I'm not sure why Kyle Singler has been so bad in OKC but they really need to figure out how to get him going because he's (theoretically) their best two-way player on the wing after KD.

The Spurs can go 4-out with LaMarcus at the 5, Kawhi at the 4 and Green, Manu and Parker on the perimeter. My question with that is Manu and Parker and whether they can hold up athletically against the Warriors perimeter on either side of the ball.

- Given how much age they have on the wing, they might be better off going LaMarcus - Diaw - Kawhi - Green - Mills and playing a hybrid 3.5 out style of basketball. I'd really like them to have one more 6'6+ athletic wing next to Green and then initiate the offense with Diaw and Kawhi. I'm thinking the Spurs are one player away from really being able to run with the Warriors.

- The reason I have them going with LaMarcus over Duncan at the 5 in a 4-out offense is the long big man has to be able to defend in space and the younger and more athletic player seems much more suited to do that than the 37-year old. Duncan is still the better interior defender but the thing about the Warriors going 5-out is they are going to spread you out and force everyone to guard 25+ feet from the basket. A prime TD could do that but it seems like an elderly TD has to play back.

3) Try to beat them at their own game and play 5 wings at the same time.

Oklahoma City: KD - Singler - Roberson - Waiters - Russ

- Roberson's shooting shouldn't be a huge issue in 5-out spacing and if you close your eyes you maybe can envision Singler and Waiters as two-way wings who can stay with Barnes and Iguodala. From there, you have Roberson guarding Klay and then Russ vs. Steph and KD vs. Draymond. The reason those two guys are so great in Golden State is because they are playing in maximum space and I'd love to see what KD and Russ can do in a similar scenario. I'm not saying they should go this line-up in Game 1 but I hope they would at least try it at some point in the series.

- You know who they could really use? My man Jeremy Lamb whose currently killing the game in Charlotte. I can defend a lot of the decisions that OKC's front office has made in the last few years but the decision to go with Waiters over Lamb is absolutely indefensible not just from a results standpoint but a process one as well and it makes me question what exactly is going on over there. They obviously have a great drafting department but are the people who are making the draft picks the same as the people who are making the NBA decisions?

-- Waiters per-36 in 2014: 15.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists on 39.2% shooting, 31.2% from 3
-- Lamb per-36 in 2014: 16.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists on 41.6% shooting, 34.2% from 3

-- Waiters per-36 in 2015: 13.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists on 40.7% shooting, 46.4% from 3
-- Lamb per-36 in 2015: 19.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists on 54.7% shooting, 35.7% from 3

-- To top it off, they gave up a first-round pick to get the significantly worse player and gave away the significantly better player for nothing.

View post on

- I spent a lot of time over the last few years defending OKC because I figured they would eventually bust out a line-up of Serge - KD - PJ3 - Lamb - Russ except they never did. Lamb has already proven them wrong and I haven't given up on PJ3 yet either.

San Antonio: Kawhi - Kyle Anderson - Green - Manu - Parker

- You have to stretch a bit to really give the Spurs a 5-out line-up but I could see Anderson being a bigger part in these types of line-ups as the years go by.

Cleveland: LeBron - James Jones - Smith - Shumpert - Kyrie

- I know LeBron doesn't want to play as a 5 but if Draymond can do it he really has no excuse. If he wants to lose to Golden State in the Finals again he can keep on being too cool to bang in the paint.

Here's how I'd handicap how these teams stack up against the Warriors in large part because of the amount of trust I have in their respective coaches to go with the line-ups that would actually have a chance:

1 - Spurs
2 - Cavs
3 - Thunder (Too soon to say with Billy D but I was never too impressed with his tactical flexibility at Florida)
4 - Clips (Doc's a good coach but it feels like he has some blind spots with "his guys" and his son)

The bottom line is that if you don't play your optimal line-ups against the Warriors, you are going to get slaughtered. And if you are going to beat them in a seven-game series you have to be as willing to think outside the box as Kerr was in last year's playoffs.

If none of those work, I'm thinking the best counter to the 5-out offense is the complete 7'0 - a guy who can score, shoot, pass, rebound and defend in space and at the rim. That's the counter-revolution to the small-ball revolution and those guys are just starting to come into their own in this league - Davis, Towns, Porzingis - but that's an article for another day. The possibility definitely exists that the Warriors rampage through the league until the next great generation of 7'0 is ready to play with them and they move the zeitgeist back to the big men.


  1. Glad to see Lamb finally get his shot and put it together. Seems it wasn't ever gonna happen in OKC with the reports about the locker room "cliques", but man Dion is infuriating at this point. Always thought Lamb was better, though I sadly have jumped off the PJ III bandwagon.

  2. Yea. Apparently RJax, Lamb and PJ3 all kind of felt like they were getting shafted. Looks like the first two at least have been proven correct.

    1. I don't know about RJ even. He's a starter yeah, but not on the Thunder, and to me he's at best a starter for a mediocre team (not a title contender). I mean good on him for getting paid, but he's still the same guy he always was in OKC, just higher volume.

    2. He definitely doesn't have the skill-set to be an off-ball player so OKC was never a great fit for him. It will be interesting to see how the season plays out for him in Detroit because he couldn't be in a better position to succeed. The 3P% is nice but you'd like to see him move the FG% up and his assist-to-turnover ratio is way out of line for a primary ball-handler.

    3. Agreed, him and Drummond are made for each other it seems, that may have been his ideal landing spot, and really the same may be said of Lamb. Difference to me is I don't think RJ ever would have had a reason to see his true potential on OKC, Lamb could and possibly should have. I'm waiting to flip out when Presti pays Waiters more than Lamb already got.

    4. What always bothered me about Lamb in OKC is that it never felt like he got a chance to play through with his mistakes. It was as if Brooks had made up his mind about him and he was looking for the first excuse to take him out of the rotation and it's impossible for a young guy to play with any confidence in that situation.

      I don't think anyone can argue that Lamb got the kind of rope that Waiters has received in OKC. And maybe that's because of what the coaching staff and the org sees in practice ... and then there's no way for us to know until he gets a shot somewhere else.

  3. All the non-Warriors seem to be a player away from really challenging Golden State, and that player is Draymond Green. He's good at everything, and he's one of a kind.

    1. The crazy thing is I'm going through the DX Top 25 and there doesn't appear to be anyone quite like him. .He's so unique. The two guys who might be able to play as small ball 5's are Domantas Sabonis (Gonzaga) and Nigel Hays (Wisconsin). Maybe Ben Simmons though I haven't seen him play enough interior defense to really say.

      I keep waiting for Terrence Jones to be that type of player because he can (theoretically) do just about everything that Draymond can at 6'9. He can definitely handle, block shots and rebound but he still needs to improve as a passer, shooter and defender on the block and the perimeter and he can never seem to get healthy enough or stay out on the floor long enough in Houston to put it all together. Also Draymond demolished him in the WCF last season.

    2. And the funny thing is that a big part of what has made Draymond who and what he is, is that he never made any of those Top 25 lists. Maybe there is another diamond in the rough out there. Maybe another playmaking junkyard dog, who plays and learns for four years in college, and can't leave early because of perceived problems in their physical profile.

    3. One thing I've been toying about writing is how Draymond reminds me of Antonio Gates at college. Gates was an absolutely dominant small-ball 4 at Kent State and he took them to the Elite 8 but everyone figured there's no way a 6'4-6'5 guy can play as a 4 in the NBA. There's a whole generation of guys his size who ended up playing as TE's in the NFL and Draymond's emergence maybe mean guys like Gates and Tony Gonzalez could have played basketball in the modern NBA. That's the kind of skill-set you need to pull it off - super-athletic, super-physical, very skilled and very long arms.

  4. Great article.. thoughtful and very relevant. What surprised me though are the on point comments and author follow ups. How refreshing.

  5. The Spurs should sing PJ3 if they want to roll with GSW. That man just needs a chance.

    1. You have come to the right corner of the internet. We will never give up on PJ3 here.

    2. It's absolutely insane that he's in the D-League. If the Spurs don't sign him, the Kings should. He would really help with their spacing and defensive issues.

  6. I'll add one more option: play 4 on 5 defense, with one guy camped under the opponent's basket (the Ranadivé plan). With how good the Warriors are, this may actually be a legitimate strategy. I'd try it for a few minutes.