The death lineup, also sometimes referred to as the "small ball death squad", is the term used for a series of lineups from the Golden State Warriors of the National Basketball Association (NBA).
Developed by head coach Steve Kerr and Warriors special assistant Nick U'Ren, the death lineup is strategically advantageous because it allows the Warriors to create mismatches on offense, spread the floor with shooting and playmaking, and take advantage of the team's defensive versatility in order to defend against larger opponents.
The death lineup features a three-point shooting backcourt in two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson (who are nicknamed the Splash Brothers), versatile defender Andre Iguodala on the wing alongside scoring wings Harrison Barnes and Kevin Durant, and 2016-2017 Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green at center. Draymond Green's defensive versatility has been described as the "key" that allows the lineup to be so effective; although Green's natural position is power forward, he is able to play as an undersized center in lieu of a traditional center who might be slower or lack the playmaking and shooting abilities of Green. Other iterations of the death lineup have included guard Shaun Livingston.
The death lineup has been described as "the most feared five-man lineup in the NBA" and "the most devastating lineup ever designed", and has played a key role in the team's historic success. The death lineup is also considered to be indicative of a larger overall trend in NBA basketball towards "positionless" basketball, where traditional position assignments and roles have less importance.
In 2014–15, Golden State won 67 games in the regular season, led by NBA MVP Stephen Curry. For most of the season, the Warriors' starting lineup featured 7-foot (2.1 m) centerAndrew Bogut; however, after falling behind 2–1 in the 2015 NBA Finals, Warriors coach Steve Kerr inserted Andre Iguodala into the starting unit for Bogut. Although the tallest player was only 6 feet 8 inches (2.03 m), the unit was also strong defensively. They were all able to switch on defense, spearheaded by Green's ability to guard players taller and heavier than him. The Warriors won 103–82 in Game 4, and captured the series 4–2 to win their first championship since 1975. Iguodala was named the Finals MVP, becoming the first player to garner the award without starting every game in the series, as well as the first winner to have not started a game during the regular season.
Despite the unit's success, the 2015–16 Warriors continued to start a traditional lineup with Bogut as their center, reserving the death lineup for the ends of games. Golden State won an NBA-record 73 games behind Curry's league-leading 30.1 points per game and an NBA-record 402 three-pointers made in a season. He was named the MVP for the second straight season, becoming the first unanimous winner in league history. Despite their regular season success, the Warriors lost the 2016 NBA Finals, becoming the first team to lose a Finals series after being ahead 3–1.
During the off-season, Golden State signed former league MVP and four-time scoring champion Kevin Durant to replace Harrison Barnes, who had averaged just five points and made only 5 of 32 shots during the last three losses in the Finals. The move was received negatively by the public and NBA analysts, with many comparing the decision on Durant's part to LeBron James's 2010 off-season departure from the Cleveland Cavaliers to join the Miami Heat. With Durant leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Warriors' opponents in the 2016 Western Conference Finals, the move was seen as a disruption in the competitive balance of the NBA, and the Warriors instantly became title favorites. As many expected, the Warriors won the 2017 NBA Finals, and Durant was named the Finals MVP.