The Golden State Warriors popularized a “Lineup of Death” that changed how playoff basketball is played. What is the Phoenix Suns’ version?
Every basketball fan is well aware that the Golden State Warriors are the most dominant team in the NBA right now, and a big part of their historic dominance is their “Lineup of Death.” The original Lineup of Death was Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green.
Then, the Dubs replaced Harrison Barnes with Kevin Durant — a significant upgrade, to say the least — and redubbed the squad the “Hamptons Five.” Who knows what their name will be with DeMarcus Cousins, but it doesn’t really matter. To paraphrase Shakespeare, a Lineup of Death by any other name would smell as sweet.
In any event, their Death Lineups inspired league-wide changes, particularly in the playoffs. These days, every decent team has a small-ball lineup that it can turn to when the times get tough.
The Houston Rockets played three guards (Chris Paul, James Harden, and Eric Gordon) next to two big wings (new Suns signee Trevor Ariza and former Sun P.J. Tucker), and that lineup took them to within a game of a Finals berth and likely, a championship.
Other teams around the league downsized as well. The Miami Heat occasionally played lineups with Justise Winslow at center. The Milwaukee Bucks sometimes used Giannis Antetokounmpo at the 5.
The Phoenix Suns haven’t needed a Lineup of Death over the past few years, as they haven’t exactly been in playoff contention. But if they did have one this year, what would it look like?
To answer that question, we first have to define what exactly a Lineup of Death is.
Defining and answering
Obviously, it’s a small-ball lineup. But a team could throw five point guards on the floor, and that wouldn’t really be a Lineup of Death. So what is it, precisely?
To start, it’s ideally a way to get your best players on the floor, regardless of position. Typically, it involves replacing a center with a wing, so nearly every player can switch defensive assignments at will.
The idea is to have five players good enough at shooting and attacking close-outs so that keeping a traditional center on the floor is a huge defensive liability for the opponent. To make sure your own team doesn’t hemorrhage points though, you do need a player capable of guarding a true center.
For the Warriors right now, that’s unfairly easy between Draymond Green and Kevin Durant, who is nearly seven feet tall, but is also quicker and better at shooting than any center in the league. It’s a matchup nightmare when he’s against a regular center, say a Steven Adams type.
The Rockets didn’t have the luxury of one of the greatest physical anomalies in league history, so they settled for using P.J. Tucker at center. Despite being only 6’6″, Tucker is 245 pounds and strong enough to hold his own against anyone the league has to offer.
Here’s what I think the Suns’ lineup should look like:
It’s tempting to keep Deandre Ayton in the Phoenix Suns’ lineup. He is so talented that it might justify it. But Clint Capela was one of the best players on the Rockets, and they still knew that sometimes the right lineup for the situation didn’t involve one of their best players.
In time, Ayton could theoretically be a good enough shooter and perimeter defender to warrant being in a Lineup of Death, but he’s not there yet.
For this lineup, Devin Booker and Josh Jackson had to make it, obviously. They’re both wing-sized, versatile players. Booker has improved enough as a ball-handler that I think he can handle being the primary creator, and he’ll have a solid secondary scorer and defender next to him in Jackson.
Jackson is a poor shooter, but it’s not like Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala, or Draymond Green are snipers either. If he can up his 3-point shooting percentage to the mid 30s, he should be fine, especially as the worst shooter on the floor.
Trevor Ariza and Mikal Bridges make sense next as two classic 3-and-D players. Ariza has already proven his worth in this type of lineup, and Bridges looks as NBA-ready as any player in this draft class.
Center was tough. I wanted to use Dragan Bender or Marquese Chriss, but neither of them has shown enough defensively for me to trust them on the perimeter. Warren makes this truly an all-wing lineup, helping compensate for his lack of 3-point shooting. At 6’8″ and 230 pounds, hopefully Warren can hold his weight down low (though he’ll still need to become a better shooter).
Every player in this lineup is between 6’6″ and 6’8″, and between 200 and 230 pounds. Booker is the weakest defender in the group, and he’s still much bigger than the 6’3″, 190-pound Steph Curry. In short, he won’t be that hard to hide in a lineup like this. The biggest issue here would be rebounding.
I doubt we’ll see a lineup like this very often, as Ayton, Bender, and Chriss all figure to get a decent amount of minutes this year as bigs. But when the best teams go small, this is the lineup the Phoenix Suns should be using to counter them.