It’s been a funny year for the Golden State Warriors. Among other things, the oddest part of their rollercoaster season has been that their starting lineup — fairly comfortably the best in the NBA the last two years — has struggled mightily. The quintet of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green, and Kevon Looney didn’t get to play together during the 2021-22 regular season, due to injuries. But in the playoffs they played 15 games together, outscoring opponents by 18.7 points per 100 possessions — staggering numbers considering the quality of competition.
Last year the numbers were even wilder: that starting unit outscored opponents by 21.9 points per 100 possessions in the regular season, and even though the Dubs were eliminated in the second round, it was through no fault of the starting lineup: they outscored the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers by 20.9 points per 100 possessions when those five were all on the court.
But this year has been a dramatically different story. At long last, Golden State’s bench, fueled by the additions of Chris Paul and Dario Šarić, the return of Gary Payton II, and the third-year jumps of Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga, has turned into arguably the top bench in the league. If the Dubs could merely come close to replicating the past performance of the starting lineup, they’d likely be the best team in the NBA.
Instead, they’ve gone in the opposite direction. The fivesome of Curry, Thompson, Wiggins, Green, and Looney has shockingly been outscored by 13 points per 100 possessions ... for comparison, the worst team in the NBA, the San Antonio Spurs, has been outscored by 11.9 points per 100 possessions this year. We’ve all been waiting for it to click.
But instead of clicking, we might instead get an alteration. With Wiggins sidelined for two games last week, Moody got a chance to enter the starting lineup, and played quite well. Even with Moody returning to the bench during Wednesday’s win over the Portland Trail Blazers, you could see the impact of Moody’s push towards a larger role: he played 26 minutes; Wiggins and Thompson played 27. Kuminga, temporarily pushed out of the rotation due to a severe case of Too Many Good Players, didn’t enter until there were 17 minutes left in the game. He played all 17 of those minutes, at the expense of both Wiggins and Thompson.
It’s a constant and unenviable struggle for Steve Kerr and his staff to allocate minutes properly. And it seems like he’s willing to try something new: altering the starting lineup game by game.
After Wednesday’s win — which not only saw Moody play essentially the same number of minutes as Wiggins and Thompson, but Šarić play more than Looney — Kerr told reporters that the team will look at a fluid starting lineup, while admitting that he’s given the standard five a fair amount of rope in hopes that they’ll figure things out.
“I’ve really been patient and hoping to get our first unit from the last couple years into a good groove,” Kerr said. “It’s just easier to play, and to coach, when everybody knows exactly where they fit in. And role players — it’s easier to play a role when there’s kind of a set rotation ... to be honest, the puzzle hasn’t fit this year ... we may have to think about moving the starting lineup around game-to-game, depending on who we’re facing.”
Steve Kerr feels he might have to change the "starting lineup around game-to-game" depending on the matchup pic.twitter.com/hnVNCRCoXZ— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) December 7, 2023
The simplest and most likely way to do that is to put Šarić in the lineup over Looney for athletic matchups — Looney’s limitations were on display on Wednesday — and Kerr has already done that three times this year. But might we also see Moody in place of Thompson or Wiggins at some point?
It might be a hard sell to the veterans. But it also might be the right move.