The Whiteboard: Warriors have a small-ball advantage on the Lakers

Today on The Whiteboard, the Warriors secret weapon against the Lakers, plus NBA Draft season starts now and more.
Golden State Warriors v Los Angeles Lakers
Golden State Warriors v Los Angeles Lakers / Ronald Martinez/GettyImages

The Golden State Warriors took a crucial game from the Los Angeles Lakers Tuesday night, 134-120. The win put them just a half-game behind the Lakers for the No. 9 seed and the right to host a potential winner-take-all matchup in the Play-In Tournament. The win also gave the Warriors the crucial tie-breaker over the Lakers in the case of them finishing with identical records.

The Warriors' shooting was the big story in this win — 26-of-41 (63.4 percent) from beyond the arc, including 16-of-23 (69.6 percent) from Draymond Green, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. but nearly as significant was the Warriors' ability to leverage the absence of Anthony Davis and overwhelm the Lakers with their small-ball lineups.

The Warriors still have a small ball advantage

One of the defining features of the Warriors' dynastic success was their so-called Death Lineup, featuring Curry and Thompson, Green at center and versatile wings like Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant, Harrison Barnes and, eventually, Andrew Wiggins.

Green's unique defensive versatility held things together and whoever surrounded him on the wing usually added a strong defensive presence. On offense, they were overloaded with shooting and playmaking. Things have been a bit different this year with Green in and out of the lineup and Wiggins struggling but, quietly, the small ball lineups have continued to dominate.

Against the Lakers, the Warriors used lineups with Green as the only big for 21 minutes, outscoring Los Angeles by an average of 40.5 points per 100 possessions. Across the entire season, they've used those lineups for 890 minutes, outscoring opponents by an average of 8.0 points per 100 possessions. That's nowhere near the level of effectiveness of those lineups in their prime, but it's still an extremely valuable rotation option for a team that has outscored opponents by just 2.4 points per 100 possessions across the entire season.

What's interesting is that the Warriors have slightly more depth and possible variations of these lineups than they've had in the past. Jonathan Kuminga and Wiggins are the standard wings flanking Green but Chris Paul, Gary Payton II and Brandin Podziemski give the Warriors slightly more backcourt options. Against the Lakers, they used five different variations for four or more minutes and all five had a positive point differential.




Paul, Curry, Payton II, Wiggins, Green



Paul, Curry, Wiggins, Kuminga, Green



Paul, Curry, Thompson, Wiggins, Green



Curry, Payton II, Podziemski, Kuminga, Green



Curry, Payton II, Thompson, Wiggins, Green



The big question is whether they can sustain this same level of small ball success against the Lakers with Davis in that hypothetical Play-In matchup, or in potential matchups against bigs like Rudy Gobert, Nikola Jokic, Domantas Sabonis that might come after.

Although it's a much smaller sample, they've had success in those situations. So far this season they've used small ball lineups for 129 minutes in games where either Davis, Gobert, Jokic, Sabonis or Karl-Anthony Towns were on the floor. They have outscored opponents by 5.9 points per 100 possessions in those minutes. Limit it to just the Lakers with Davis, and they're plus-24.1 points per 100 possessions in 61 minutes.

We're not even guaranteed to get this Warriors vs. Lakers matchup but if it does work out, Golden State has to feel very good about this recipe for success.

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