The Golden State Warriors are injured, but you already knew that. And while some players (Steph Curry and Klay Thompson) won’t be back for a long time, and other players (Kevon Looney and Jacob Evans III) have uncertain futures, still others will be back soon.
Those others are D’Angelo Russell and Draymond Green, the two most accomplished Warriors until the Splash Brothers return. Russell and Green have missed the last two games, after both suffering injuries - an ankle sprain for the former, and a torn finger ligament for the latter - during the Warriors loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
And that has forced Warriors coach Steve Kerr to play with his starting lineup - again. In seven games this year, Kerr has brought out six different starting lineups, the result of the aforementioned injuries, plus one to Willie Cauley-Stein, plus the need to mix things up to find a competitive advantage.
Until Russell and Green return, the starting lineup appears set: Ky Bowman, Jordan Poole, Glenn Robinson III, Eric Paschall, and Cauley-Stein. But those injured All-Stars will have to enter the starting rotation, and unless the NBA changes rules in the next few days to allow seven starters, that means two people need to be removed from it.
Russell’s case is easy. He’ll slot into Bowman’s spot, moving the undrafted rookie on a two-way contract into the reserve point guard role.
But Green’s case? That’s less clear. And it’s less clear for one primary reason: Paschall, who has been far better than expected, far sooner than expected.
Paschall - who was drafted 41st overall just a few months ago - has started three games. Once alongside Green, before Cauley-Stein returned to the starting lineup, and twice in Green’s spot.
In those three games, the versatile rookie is averaging 26.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game, while shooting 60.9% from the field, with a 70.9% true-shooting percentage.
If you’re new to basketball, those numbers are good. Very good.
When Curry went down with an injury, it seemed like the Warriors starting lineup was set: Russell, Poole, Robinson, Green, and Cauley-Stein, with Looney potentially taking the center spot when healthy. No one anticipated any changes or challenges.
Paschall created them. And now Kerr has to figure out how to solve a (very good) puzzle that the rookie has spilled onto the table.
Here are the options:
This may only be a temporary solution, but the Warriors rotation will be in flux all year, so why not?
Until Looney returns, the Warriors only have one traditional, trustworthy center in Cauley-Stein. Marquese Chriss has seen only sporadic time, with mostly lackluster results. So the Warriors are likely to go small a fair bit, whether they start that way or not.
Here’s the potential small lineup:
Glenn Robinson III
Cauley-Stein becomes a scoring boost off the bench, while Green and Paschall hold down the interior defensively, and punish opposing bigs by getting out in transition.
The Warriors are 18th in the league in rebounding rate. Removing a center from the lineup is unlikely to help there. So what if they go big?
Here’s what that lineup would look like:
Glenn Robinson III
That team would rebound, and could do some interesting things defensively. But unless there’s real life in Paschall’s jumper - he made four of six three-point attempts on Monday, after missing his first eight tries of the year - the spacing of that lineup is very rough.
Out with GR3
Entering the season, the small forward position was always up for grabs. It was unclear if Robinson, Alec Burks, or Alfonzo McKinnie would start there. Robinson ended up winning the competition fairly easily, but that said more about McKinnie’s contract and Burks’ injury than anything Robinson did.
While Paschall is likely best at power forward, he can slot into the small forward position and be an asset. Such is the case in the above lineup, and in the proposed one here:
That solves some of the spacing issues of the aforementioned big lineup, because Poole is likely a better shooter than Robinson, despite his disastrous early season results. And even if not, he still moves a lot more off ball, which is an important element for a Warriors guard.
But would the Warriors be willing to bench Robinson, the only player on the roster to start all seven games? He hasn’t been inspiring, but he has been steady, and there’s something to be said for that. He also may have trade value that they don’t want to suppress.
Keep the original lineup
All of these starting rotations are based on Paschall needing to be in the starting lineup. But here’s the thing: He doesn’t need to be in the starting lineup.
Plenty of very good players come off the bench, and Paschall, while impressive in his first NBA weeks, is still a somewhat unknown commodity. It may be in the Warriors best interest to return to their initially proposed lineup:
Glenn Robinson III
Paschall becomes the first player off the bench, which certainly isn’t a bad role for him, and the Warriors maintain a relatively traditional lineup, for better or for worse.
In the third game of the season - when Curry, Green, and Russell were still healthy - Kerr mixed up the lineup in an unexpected way. Out went Chriss, and in came Poole. The Warriors swapped a center for a shooting guard, and picked up their first win of the season in the process.
It sent a message: Kerr was willing to move pieces around on a game-to-game basis. That philosophy isn’t changing, and it may prove to come into play a lot in the coming weeks.
You might like the small lineup, with Paschall and Green making up the frontcourt. But how do you feel about it when the Los Angeles Lakers come to town, and suddenly Paschall has to guard one of Anthony Davis or JaVale McGee, while Robinson is left alone on LeBron James island? Chances are they’d fare better with Paschall on James, Green on Davis, and Cauley-Stein on McGee.
But that big lineup is less promising against, say, the Denver Nuggets, where Green and Paschall may be the Warriors best options defensively against Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap, and can make life miserable for their counterparts in transition.
Perhaps Kerr doesn’t value the continuity of finding one starting lineup and sticking with it. If there’s ever been a season to mix and match, it’s this one.