Death Row: Kerr in a Corner

Updated: April 21, 2022
Draymond Green

Kevon Looney stands in a long line of unathletic centers to start for the Steve Kerr-era Warriors. It is often referred to as the Zaza Pachulia role, a big who despite being unable to jump over a phone book is able to soak up early minutes in the 1st and 3rd as a placeholder for their actual most lethal 5…aka the death lineup. The presence of this role is the obvious answer to the oblivious question so frequently asked by the Dubs home telecast, of why the Warriors so often spot their opponents early leads. With two non-shooters on the floor in Green + Looney, defenses can sag off the two bigs in a desperate attempt to slow down the splash brothers. With how overwhelming of a task it has been to cover the spiraling vortex of off-ball movement created by Klay and Curry, this deficiency rarely became a problem since Golden State’s 2nd half flurries often buried their opponents young. 

However, in those 7 game matchups where things had gone south and they had trailed in the series, Steve Kerr would remove their slow-footed 7-footer and swapped them out with the two-way wing in Andre Iguodala from the jump. Iggy not only provided an additional shooter on the floor, but he also introduced a sounder and more level-headed facilitator to calm the waves of the frequent erratic waters of the Draymond-Curry turnover experience. 

Although many Warriors fans had desires to implement the death lineup as Golden State’s primary starting 5 for the regular season, Kerr’s Zaza prescription had variables to its logic that often go unspoken. Not only do these 7-footers add obvious elements to the starting lineup such as size, screening, and a presence on the glass, they absorb early minutes that simply are less valuable in the outcome of a ball game. The Steph Curry Warriors have been one of if not the greatest 3rd quarter team in the history of basketball. As impressive as that may sound it has largely come out of necessity. Even when Golden State comes out with a splash in the first 7 minutes of a game, they rarely hold such leads heading into the half. Due to their high turnover rates, leads were rarely safe and often given away, leading to the opportunity for a big 3rd quarter comeback.

This used to be a phenomenon more localized in the Bay, but as the league has adopted many of the tendencies attached to a high volume 3-point attack, leads created in the first half of a first-quarter are rarely indicative of the outcome of a game. The team dominating in the first 6 minutes frequently switch roles with their opponents for the second half of the 1st where if two viewers watched only 1 of the 2 segments, they would be sure that the inferior team from those minutes was simply overmatched. So, to minimize the body blows taken by Draymond early and soak up some of the early fouls in the paint, Kerr has always preferred to start a center that he has no intention of including in his closing lineup. 

And if he had not been put in the recent corner he has now found himself in, this trend probably would’ve sustained itself through the end of his tenure with the Warriors. Fortunately for Kerr, Joe Lacob, and Golden State’s big-3, this predicament has not been created by trailing in a series or any deficiencies in their offensive attack…quite the contrary. This problem has manifested due to despite Klay finally playing himself back into form and the greatest shooting backcourt in history reunited, the pairing does not include arguably their 2nd best backcourt scorer in young Jordan Poole.

Outgrowing the 6th man microwave role that he was being groomed for this season, J-Poole has proven to simply be too potent to come off the bench. Not only has he provided Golden State with an additional scoring weapon, but he is also quickly becoming their best facilitator with his ability to penetrate the paint and break down a defense. With his combination of size and speed, he also has made himself a constant threat to drawing fouls at the basket…and with him leading the league (ahead of Steph) shooting 93% from the free-throw line, the Dubs now sport the only 3-man lineup all over 90% from the charity stripe.

If Poole’s production mirrored itself when starting and coming off the bench there wouldn’t be any problem at hand, however, upon Klay’s return and Poole migrated back into his designed role as a 6th man, his numbers diminished. Now, so did Curry’s in the absence of Draymond Green, yet it is quite clear, that Poole prefers to start. Luckily for Kerr and the Warriors, a blessing in disguise was sent down from the basketball gods in the form of a Steph Curry injury at the hands of recently named Defensive Player of the Year, Marcus Smart.

With Curry’s return only coming on the Eve of the Playoffs, Steph and the coaching staff decided to allow Poole to stay in the starting lineup alongside Klay, Wiggins, Draymond, and Looney, while Curry came off the bench in his 25 minutes restriction. Well…in two games, not only has Poole played out of his mind, the newly formed death lineup 2.0, 3G lineup, or my favorite, Death Row, has been the talk of the town. Instead of the matchup between the Dubs and Nuggets being discussed, the main argument for this series has been instead what to name this small-ball lineup of Poole at the 1, Curry at the 2, Klay and Wiggins on the wings, and Draymond at the 5 locking down the two-time MVP Nikola Jokic.

After their game 2 victory, Draymond was asked tongue and cheek about the ongoing joke of Curry being the greatest 6th man ever and who would start going forward. He quite seriously stated that Steph obviously will be slotted back in the starting lineup once healthy, but also that Jordan Poole should be starting as well. If up to Draymond, he would always be playing the 5. Not only does he live for the matchups where he has the opportunity to shut down giants who look twice his size on screen, but as a power forward Dray is an offensive liability. As a center, Green is one of the most dynamic offensive 5’s in the modern era and is lowkey responsible for the modern era itself in his offensive tandem with the Chef.

The thought has always been that this small-ball lineup works best in spurts and is susceptible of being exploited against the dominated post players in the league. However, if this series has taught us anything thus far, the greatest offensive big in basketball would probably prefer to be covered by anyone else outside of the true defensive player of the league Draymond Green. And since Andrew Wiggins’ most impactful role is as a super-role player rather than a microwave scorer off the bench, with his above-average defense and high-level rim protection for a wing, not only should this Death Row Lineup be their starting 5 for the playoffs moving forward, it should be their starting lineup next season. 

It is either that or moving Wiggins + picks in the offseason for an elite big because one thing is for certain, the Pool Party has arrived, and it is here to stay. The gravitational pull created by what Athletic Alchemy has named the Bermuda Triangle where defenders disappear in the space created by the 3 best off-ball scorers in basketball is simply too lethal not to utilize as the Dubs’ starting lineup. And epic, as the scoring is from this triangle of doom, the cherry that polishes off this poisonous sundae, is Draymond Green at the 5 and the quiet role accepting two-way wing of Andrew Wiggins at the 3/4.

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