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Opinion: Is the Death Line-up strategy coming to an end

  • The strategy that brought immense success to the Warriors required exceptional skill. Can this be replicated this season by any team?
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Modified 17 Jan 2019, 08:30 IST
The Hamptons Five
The Hamptons Five

Kyle Kuzma’s recent comments on the Lakers featuring a Death Line-up of their own brought back discussions on the infamous winning strategy of the Warriors. But can anyone, including the Warriors, implement a legitimate Death line-up this season? 

Rewind Time

It was the 2015 NBA finals and the Golden State Warriors were down 2-1 against the LeBron James led Cleveland Cavaliers.

Warriors’ Nick U’Ren who was the special assistant to Coach Kerr comes up with an idea after watching footage from the previous finals, where the San Antonio Spurs had defeated the LeBron James led Miami Heat.

The then 28-year-old U’Ren calls the then assistant coach Luke Walton in the middle of the night and convinces him. The idea is then texted to Coach Kerr at 3 a.m.

Just as Spur’s coaching great Gregg Popovich had used Boris Diaw in the earlier finals to increase the tempo of the game, the Warriors were to insert Andre Iguodala into the line-up too and moved Draymond Green to the center to increase the pace.

With this Death Line-up, the Warriors won the championship and Andre Iguodala became the first player in the NBA history, to win the Finals MVP without starting all the games in the series.

The Mechanics

The death line up consists of five players who are fast, cerebral and extremely skilled. This worked perfectly for the Warriors because they had five guys who fit the bill perfectly: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala.

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All the five players could handle the ball, score and shoot three-pointers. By generating more pace and creating more space, the offense became a force to reckon with. On the defensive side, they had a great presence.

Iguodala was given the tough task of guarding LeBron and he stepped up to the challenge. Barnes and Thompson defended the wing.

But the engine of the Death line-up was the versatile Draymond Green who at 6 feet 8 inches played center. He was shorter than the centers he faced but due to his toughness, he could match-up against them.

Unlike other centers, he moved faster and made plays. The Warriors were always good at the fast break and with this line-up, it became easier to turn defense into offence.

The Death line-up became unstoppable at the offensive end and immovable at the defensive end. Once Kevin Durant joined the Warriors and Harrison Barnes left, the line-up which is also called the “Hamptons Five” became much more potent.

Why the strategy extinction?

To Kyle Kuzma’s point of a Laker’s Death Line-up: it is not possible with the current LA squad. Kuzma himself is a big reason for that because he will have to play center and he is not physically strong enough to guard bigger guys.

As for the other teams in the league, it is a challenge to implement and sustain a strategy that requires a versatile Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) center like Draymond Green and multiple Hall-of-Fame type players who can rain down points.

As for the reigning champions themselves, if they were to play more minutes with their five all-stars in the post-season and in the Finals, then they need to develop new strategies.

As good as Demarcus Cousins is, he has never played at the pace the Warriors play. This is assuming he gets in game-form by the postseason. The team will have to slow the game for him and they will feel the pinch on the defensive side as well.

For the Warriors to replicate past success with the strategy, they still need a healthy Andre Iguodala, who is nearing his thirty-fifth birthday. His absence was felt in last year's Western Conference Finals when Houston Rockets dragged them to a seven-game series.

The Death Line-up has been out there for the past few years. It has been broken down, analysed and picked apart.

But the Warriors used it for subsequent years because they had the players to execute it. Can they do it again?

Can we see Draymond Green back in All-Star from? Can we still see the same destructive, small-ball, nuclear line-up? 

Published 17 Jan 2019, 08:30 IST
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