Warriors need better bench approach

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
5:15
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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On the face of it, the Golden State Warriors got a great deal. They traded the underperforming Toney Douglas for a more offensively talented player in Jordan Crawford and whatever remains of MarShon Brooks’ potential. They’re no longer held back by a bench with zero guys who can dribble at an above-average NBA level.

But the process they used to get here is troubling. The word on Douglas was that he can help a team with defense and 3-point shooting, but not as a primary playmaker. The natural fit was for the 27-year-old to play off the ball alongside Andre Iguodala, who could serve as a bench playmaker in the way Lance Stephenson does for the Indiana Pacers.

Instead, Mark Jackson tapped Douglas to run a bench unit deprived of helpful offensive players. He was set up to fail and did so spectacularly. Those who watched Douglas on the New York Knicks could have confidently predicted this. To summarize, the Warriors used their new acquisition wrong, then traded his diminished value before the All-Star break.

The miserable bench is the flipside of Golden State’s awesome "full squad" starting lineup of Andrew Bogut, David Lee, Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala. Jackson’s use of a full bench all at once has made little sense, given the skill sets of players involved.

Golden State’s fourth most commonly employed lineup is an awful mix of Marreese Speights, Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes, Kent Bazemore and Douglas. This crew didn't have a chance, yet got plenty of chances. Four of these players claim defensive skill, but that matters only so much when Speights is the guy tasked with rim protection. None of these guys could dribble or create for the others. Their offensive possessions really just qualified as pre-defense.

What were the Warriors doing? Why did they use this lineup so often when there was no conceivable way it could succeed? Why did Douglas end up sharing more than twice as much floor time with Bazemore as he did with Iguodala?

To truly contend, the Warriors need to manage this better. While it’s true that starting lineups have an augmented impact on the postseason, it will be difficult for the Warriors to win a title while other elite West teams reap so much more from their reserves.

The Warriors should blend reserves with starting players, mixing and matching according to which starter is in at that moment. That means cutting down on the Speights-Lee combination (82 minutes), a tandem that provides little offensive spacing while turning the defense into “observe layup line.” The Warriors have had some success with Lee at center, surrounded by shooters. Such lineups aren’t defensively ideal, but the D’Antoni Knicks flashback at least brings offensive punch.

The Warriors should also look to their success against the Nuggets last postseason and attack lineups vulnerable to small-ball sniping. They scarcely use the Bogut plus shooters approach that won them a playoff series.

It’s possible Crawford just solves Golden State’s bench woes with his passing and volume shooting, but the Warriors shouldn't rely on Crawford, of all players, to be their savior. To beat the best out West, Golden State must make a “full squad” of their entire rotation.

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