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Steve Kerr benches Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins in favor of a unique 5-man lineup — was it justified?

Unique lineup decisions were made by Kerr.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Warriors just lost 4 out of their last 5 games. Their latest loss against the Atlanta Hawks — unlike many of their losses this season — wasn’t due to their problems generating any kind of offense in the half court.

Scoring 67 points in the first half will often win you games — unless you let the other team score 69. The Warriors defense looked like a shell of its former elite self: constant breakdowns at the point of attack, helping off shooters from the weak side and the strong side, and losing track of cutters due to constant ball watching.

You’d expect these kinds of mistakes to be made from players who have had a history of defensive troubles. But it’s jarring to see these mistakes be made from those who are typically counted on to be the heavy lifters on defense.

Draymond Green did not have a good game. With his scoring virtually nonexistent, the value he provides on the margins — facilitating, passing, directing half-court offense — was nullified by questionable decision making and committing turnovers that were easily avoidable. Some of Green’s passes were of the swing-for-the-fences variety, but virtually all of them resulted in wild whiffs.

But it was on the defensive end that Green was atypically mediocre. His usual energy and verve weren’t present. He was able to excel in spurts when placed on switches against Trae Young, but was otherwise floating and wandering aimlessly.

This possession stood out:

Green plays Clint Capela high to intercept Young around the ball screen, but Young rejects the screen and plays Andrew Wiggins close to his hip. Wiggins himself isn’t without fault — his trail is lacking, and he fails to make use of his length and laterality to bother Young.

There also seems to be confusion of coverages. Warriors typically “ICE” these kinds of ball screens — that is, force ball handlers sideline and deny them usage of the screen. But that requires the big-man defender to drop back and contain, which Green certainly doesn’t do because he’s playing Capela unusually high.

Green’s reaction speed is slow — he realizes too late that he should’ve rotated in front of Young to cut off his drive, and that he has stuck to Capela for a beat too long. Klay Thompson — the low man guarding the weak-side corner — is forced to rotate.

As the weak-side zoner tasked to “split the difference”, Jordan Poole is placed in a tough spot: either fully commit to the cutting Danilo Gallinari and risk leaving Kevin Huerter wide open on the wing, or stay put and hope Thompson’s help will be sufficient.

It wasn’t sufficient.

Speaking of insufficiency, it was also a common sight to see Wiggins floating and wandering aimlessly on defense. His inconsistency on the offensive end seems like it has translated to lackadaisical play on the other end of the floor — also atypical of someone who has been considered a defensive pillar throughout this season.

Most of Wiggins’ shortcomings on defense have had one thing in common: losing track of his man off the ball and giving up backdoor cuts, due to a particularly glaring ball-watching habit.

Green switches onto Young, keeps him in front, and cuts off every potential driving lane; he does his job. But all of that is nullified when DeAndre Hunter cuts behind Wiggins — intently staring at the on-ball action — and gets deep position underneath the rim. Wiggins compounds it by biting on the fake and fouling Hunter.

(Poole also bears some of the fault — he gets caught up in the Capela pin-in screen and fails to communicate anything to Wiggins.)

Green and Wiggins spent 14 minutes of playing time together against the Hawks, and their presence coincided with both a lack of offensive production (90.0 ORTG) and a difficulty with stringing together stops on the defensive end (143.3 DRTG). It all amounted to the Warriors being outscored by a whopping 53 points per 100 possessions during this duo’s minutes.

They weren’t the only guilty party, but considering their reputation as defensive stalwarts on this team — and the expectations that come along with it — their shortcomings were all the more magnified.

Which is probably why Steve Kerr opted to bench Wiggins in the 4th quarter, and did not bring Green in until the 1:13 mark. Kerr rode a lineup of Poole, Thompson, Damion Lee, Gary Payton II, and Kevon Looney.

How did the lineup fare? In 11 minutes of time on the floor, this 5-man crew outscored the Hawks by 13 points (25-12). Translate that into points per 100 possessions, and there’s a reason why Kerr opted to ride this lineup: the Warriors outscored the Hawks by a whopping 71.6 points per 100 possessions, complete with scoring (131.6 ORTG) and stops (60.0 DRTG) that slowed down a potent offense.

The scoring consisted of both incredible shot-making from Thompson, who exploded for 37 points on 26 shots (5-of-10 on twos, 9-of-16 on threes) and 71.2% True Shooting:

And shots at the rim resulting from rim pressure and the gravity generated by Thompson:

The Hawks offense had trouble generating points without Young on the floor, which forced Nate McMillan to bring Young back at the 9:06 mark. Even with Young on the floor, the Warriors’ 5-man crew sans Green and Wiggins still outscored the Hawks by 5 points (15-10).

Despite the rejuvenation of their defense with such a unit, the lead the Hawks built during the 3rd quarter was simply too much for the Warriors to overcome. Young and company did just enough to weather the storm. The limitations of such a lineup were still there, most notably in terms of backline size.

The Warriors opted to throw doubles and traps toward Young — but having a large roll-man release valve in Capela makes such aggressive coverages moot.

Would inserting Green and Wiggins have made a difference? Perhaps. But Kerr chose to ride the lineup that got them to within 3 points. Despite the decisions made and the question of whether those were the correct decisions or not, the game was largely lost during the first 3 quarters, where the Hawks built enough of a cushion to nullify the Warriors’ comeback attempt.

And Green and Wiggins — whose capabilities as defenders won’t and shouldn’t be defined by a hellish off-night — were a huge part of those 3 quarters.

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