Stephen Curry's uniqueness has allowed the Warriors to thrive while playing an offense now passé in today’s NBA. Coach Steve Kerr has gotten accustomed to scanning his roster and sending out starting lineups featuring two players opponents need not defend.
Curry’s peripatetic presence creates a sort of optical illusion that greatly benefits the Warriors. His constant movement disrupts defensive floor balance. He’s like two shooters, which, along with Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins, gives the appearance of four. And it worked.
But with Curry turning 36 next season, the Warriors realize this style must bend to the whims of fashion. It’s crucial if Golden State is to rejoin the NBA elite.
Playing “three out,” with Draymond Green and Keven Looney -- neither of whom is a strong finisher in the post -- gives opponents a defensive break that can tilt the game their way.
The new offensive trend is “five out” – five players with the ability to score and maybe even spread the floor – and it puts unrelenting pressure on a defense. The Denver Nuggets and Miami Heat, facing off in the NBA Finals, are optimal examples.
Denver center Nikola Jokić -- a 7-foot, 275-pound cheat code -- not only can carve up defenses with his passing from the top of the arc but also shoots about 36 percent from deep.
Heat center Bam Adebayo isn’t a 3-point threat, but he puts up 12 to 15 shots per game and makes about 55 percent. Call Miami a “4.5-out” team.
Golden State Warriors
Elite teams -- we’ll stretch that definition to include the top four teams in each conference -- have migrated to this form of roster-building.
The Phoenix Suns, whose trade-deadline acquisition of Kevin Durant briefly made them a knee-jerk pick to win it all, are similar to the Heat. Center Deandre Ayton rarely jacks a triple but shoots almost 60 percent on 12.2 attempts inside the arc. Both Adebayo and Ayton function comfortably in pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop. Each commands attention from the defense.
The Milwaukee Bucks, a championship favorite at the start of the playoffs, play mostly 4.5 out, with big Brook Lopez shooting 3s, leaving room for Giannis Antetokounmpo to attack the rim. The Boston Celtics play four out, with Robert Williams as a lob threat. The Philadelphia 76ers play five out, with Joel Embiid a career 33.7-percent shooter from deep. The Memphis Grizzlies play four out with Steven Adams but can shift to five out with Jaren Jackson Jr.
Only the Cleveland Cavaliers roll out a true three-out lineup, but big men Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley are consistent double-digit scorers in the paint.
The Sacramento Kings, who lost to Golden State in the first round of the playoffs, considered themselves a five-out team. The Warriors, by ignoring Domantas Sabonis beyond the arc, made them a four-out team. The series went the full seven games.
Kerr is fond of reminding all that the Warriors’ typical starting lineup has the best metrics of any in the NBA. He’s right. With an offensive rating of 128.0 and a defensive rating of 106.1, the 21.9 net rating was the best posted by any starting lineup in the regular season.
And then, there is this: The Warriors won the NBA Finals last June. How?
They were a No. 3 seed that beat the odds for a variety of reasons. Curry’s excellence. The defense applied to Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Andrew Wiggins generally playing the best two-way basketball of his career.
The hidden edge was Otto Porter Jr. and Jordan Poole, both coming off the bench in the Finals, giving the Warriors legitimate four-out and occasional five-out lineups. Porter put up 49.4/40.4 splits in the postseason, including ridiculous 58.8/56.3 splits in the Finals. Poole put up 50.8/39.1 field-goal splits in the playoffs, including 43.5/38.5 in the Finals.
Porter left Golden State last summer, and Poole was unplayable most of the 2023 postseason. No one filled the void. Not enough shooters. Only Moses Moody, playing scant minutes, provided a blip of what the offense needed.
The top eight offenses during these playoffs have five-out capability or rely largely on four-out starting units, with the big man able to score inside the arc or finish at the rim. Denver (119.5 rating) is No. 1, Miami (115.9) No. 5.
There always will be a place for Draymond and Loon, even together, but the Warriors need options that add dimension. Wiggins can make the occasional slide to the “four.” But among those on the current roster, only Patrick Baldwin Jr. fits the profile. He has the length (6-foot-10) and skills to give the offense a four-out look.
Golden State’s 2023-24 payroll will be off the charts, but CEO Joe Lacob remains thirsty for championships. Bet on the Warriors tweaking their roster to add the level of offensive versatility more in line with today’s NBA.