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What will the Warriors starting lineup be?

Will the addition of Chris Paul alter Golden State’s starting lineup?

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Chris Paul talking to Steph Curry, who is laughing, after a game Photo by Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images

Dub Nation is still in a state of shock. Everyone thought the Golden State Warriors would add a player on Thursday ... they just thought that player would be a 19 or 20-year old taken in the 2023 NBA Draft. Little did we know that the team would also be getting a 38 year old NBA legend in a monster trade.

But that’s exactly what happened. Just three days after being introduced as general manager, Mike Dunleavy Jr. shipped off Jordan Poole, Ryan Rollins, a top-20 protected first-round pick in 2030, and a second-round pick in 2027 for one of the greatest players in NBA history, albeit one on the downslope of his career, Chris Paul.

And while the move certainly has many positive salary cap implications for the Warriors, it’s not a pure salary dump that some people thought it might be. It’s a move that’s also done to add a great player to the team, and increase the Warriors chances of winning a championship in the few years that they still have to capitalize on Steph Curry being a top-10 all-time player and perennial MVP candidate.

We won’t see how Paul looks in a Warriors jersey for another four months. And in all likelihood, the Warriors roster will look quite a bit different then than it does now.

But it’s still not too early to start thinking about how the this will all work. In the coming hours, days, weeks, and months, we’ll have plenty of articles diving deep into that, but let’s start with the surface level question: what will the starting lineup look like?

Before we do that, let’s make an assumption, and let’s clarify a point.

First, the clarification. The single biggest hurdle when it comes to making tough roster decisions is to get people to buy in. Whatever role Paul plays, the Warriors core will need to be on board with it. There is zero chance that Golden State makes this move without Curry signing off on it and, in fact, The Athletic’s Anthony Slater hinted at Curry pushing for it. Where Curry goes, the Warriors core follows. If he’s OK with something, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson are, too. So you can bet that they’re not at all worried right now.

Bonus clarification: we’re past the days of starters all playing 36 minutes and bench players all playing 10-15. Poole and Donte DiVincenzo played more minutes per game last year than Kevon Looney, and Jonathan Kuminga nearly played as many. “Starter” doesn’t mean what it once did.

Second, the assumption. For the purpose of this article, I’m going to assume that Green re-signs with the Warriors. It was already clearly the most likely scenario after he opted out of his contract, and this trade only makes it more likely. The Warriors are in a better financial situation, which makes it easier for them to retain Green. They’re a more competitive team in the immediate future, and no longer have someone who was grating in the locker room, which makes it easier for Green to want to stay. And I doubt the Dubs swap a 24 year old for a 38 year old without feeling confident that they’re keeping their championship core together after Dunleavy and Steve Kerr both said the Warriors can’t contend next year without Green.

So while a world exists where Green plays for a different team next year, I’m not including that as an option in this exercise. This is just to look at the options for the Warriors as constructed, assuming they keep all of their starter-level players, and don’t add any more.

With that said, let’s look at the four clear options for a starting lineup next year.

CP3 to the bench

I think the most likely scenario is that the Warriors keep their five-man starting lineup of Curry, Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Green, and Looney. No team in the NBA last year had a starting lineup (or any five-man lineup that got significant playing time) that had a better net rating. It’s a proven equation that has won a championship quite recently.

Paul may have been traded rather than choosing to sign with the Warriors, but he’s still in glorified ring-chasing mode. I would assume he’ll have no issues conceding a starting spot for a great chance at finally putting a championship ring on his finger.

He also probably will be playing the fewest minutes of his career this season. The Warriors will be trying to preserve him for the postseason, and I’d guess he lives in the 25 minutes per game territory.

There are downsides. As Kerith Burke notes, Paul has started every single regular and postseason game in his 18-year NBA career, totaling more than 1,300 contests. Part of the allure of adding Paul is getting to put the ball in the hands of one of the greatest passers in NBA history while arguably the two greatest shooters in NBA history run around trying to get open, and it would be nice to have that right out of the gates. And Paul, entering his age-38 season with a fairly long history of lower body injuries, might benefit from starting halves while his body is still warm.

Wiggins to the bench

You could make the case that the Warriors best starting lineup would be Paul, Curry, Thompson, Green, and Looney. At this stage in his career, Paul may not be the defender he once was, or anything near the athlete that Wiggins is, but I’d argue that he’s still just about as good of an on-ball defender as Wiggins. The primary reason that Wiggins works with the starting lineup so well is his on-ball perimeter defense and his ability to make open threes, and CP3 does both of those things very well.

Wiggins is also more of a traditional scorer than Paul is, which is usually what you want from your sixth man, so he could play a nice role off the bench, replacing a lot of what Poole did. Like Paul, it would be brand new for him: he’s started all but one game in his career, with that game being the opener of the 2023 playoffs, when he was returning from a lengthy absence.

Would Wiggins respond well to a move to the bench, just two years after being named an All-Star starter and one year after being handed a nine-figure contract? Selflessness has marked his Warriors tenure to this point, and it’s very clear that he feels indebted to the Warriors after they allowed him an unprecedented two-month in-season leave to take care of his ailing father, while keeping that personal news under wraps. I think he’d welcome the role.

Small ball

Whatever the starting lineup is, I’d guess the closing lineup will usually be the new death lineup: Paul, Curry, Thompson, Wiggins, and Green. And I can’t wait to watch that.

This might be the best lineup the Warriors can field on a per-minute basis, but there’s a reason that Kerr has leaned away from starting Green at center during the regular season. It puts a lot of wear and tear on Dray, and there’s an exhausting trickle-down impact: everyone has to rebound a little more, run a little more, and hustle a little harder. It wears you out.

It would be a dynamic lineup, but I think it’s more likely that it gets used for short bursts and closing minutes, rather than being the starting lineup every game.

Baseball style

If you’re a fan of the San Francisco Giants, you probably know what I’m talking about. If you’re a fan of the Oakland A’s, I’m really sorry and I hope you find someone to hug you.

The Giants, like most baseball teams, operate with a rotating cast of players. They’ve played 75 games and no one has played in 70 of them, with only four players appearing in 60 games (and that includes games where players come off the bench). Even the best players get penciled in for a rest day every weak.

The Warriors could do that. Paul is 38 and Curry is 35, and both have had their fair share of injuries. Green’s had plenty of injuries too, and Thompson isn’t far removed from two major lower body surgeries and rehabs. Looney has been in iron man for the last two years, but the Warriors surely want to see a center with a surgically-repaired hip get a few off days going forward.

I’d guess that the Warriors will probably bake in 10 days of load management for Curry, Paul, Green, and Thompson, and another five or so for Looney and Wiggins. When you add in injuries and other absences, the Warriors could reasonably go pretty much the entire season without playing all six in a game.

They won’t go to that extreme, obviously, but they could do something similar, and have a rotating starting lineup with frequent off days for players. One day Paul starts in Curry’s spot. Another day Paul rests. Another day he starts in Green’s spot. Another day they go small. Instead of having a set starting five, they could let injuries, rest, and the matchup on any particular day determine who’s on the court when the ball is thrown in the air.

Other options

Those are the four options that I think could reasonably happen, though there are, of course, other plans if the Warriors want to get unconventional. They could move Green to a sixth man role, but benching your best defensive player and a player who helps unlock much of what Curry does is a horrible idea. You could make a case for benching Thompson, but my aim with this exercise was to be realistic, and I just don’t see the Warriors doing that.

So it’s probably one of these four options, unless the roster changes in the next four months. Which it very well could.


What should the Warriors do with their lineup?

This poll is closed

  • 60%
    Bring Chris Paul off the bench
    (766 votes)
  • 4%
    Bring Andrew Wiggins off the bench
    (55 votes)
  • 4%
    Play small ball
    (51 votes)
  • 28%
    Rotate the lineup based on rest and matchups
    (358 votes)
  • 2%
    Other (specify in the comments)
    (32 votes)
1262 votes total Vote Now

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