clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

What is Illinois Basketball's version of the Golden State Warriors' Death Lineup?

New, comments

Could the Illini take over the Big Ten by going small like the Warriors?

Thomas Joseph-USA TODAY Sports

Despite losing in the Finals, the Golden State Warriors have been the class of the Association, with much of the credit going to its "Lineup of Death" with Draymond Green at center and shooters galore. Which got me thinking: what is the Illinois men's basketball version of the 'Death Lineup'? (along with other loose comparisons to other NBA teams)

Note: This are extremely hypothetical. No, I don't actually think John Groce would run a three-headed monster of three point guards. Don't take it too seriously!

*****

The Golden State Warriors "Death Lineup"

G - Tracy Abrams
G - Jalen Coleman-Lands
G - Aaron Jordan
G - DJ Williams
F - Malcolm Hill

Despite their struggles in the Finals, the Warriors won 73 games and were an unstoppable force with their "Death Lineup" that featured Draymond Green at center and snipers lining the arc. While Illinois doesn't have a Steph Curry, this lineup actually would be pretty potent offensively. One of the underrated tenets of the Warriors Death Lineup was that they lost nothing defensively by being able to switch every screen and rebound just well enough. In this hypothetical, drunk-on-Illini-Kool-Aid world, this lineup could switch 1-5, and Hill is a pretty good rebounder for his size. Hill as a playmaking small-ball 5 would give opposing teams fits with his passing and creativity off the bounce. Coleman-Lands set the Illinois freshman record for 3-pointers in a season, and Jordan, although he was a paltry 34 percent from deep as a freshman, shot 48 percent from three in high school. DJ Williams can serve the Andre Iguodala role of athletic wing that can pass. Abrams is more of a Shaun Livingston than Steph Curry, but he gives valuable defensive IQ and is able to switch onto bigger wings in a pinch.

The Portland Trail Blazers "One Star And...." Lineup AKA "The 2015-16 Illinois Opening Day Lineup"

G - Jaylon Tate
G - Aaron Jordan
G - DJ Williams
F - Malcolm Hill
C - Mike Thorne Jr.

Look familiar? Yep, this was Illinois' starting lineup for its season opener against North Florida last season. Of course, it lasted all of about 10 minutes before Tate suffered a compound fracture in his finger. The comparison is natural to the 2015-16 Blazers, however, as they had bona-fide star Damian Lillard to go with... some other players. Portland lost the other four members of its starting lineup to free agency or trades (Wes Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Robin Lopez) and Lillard was left trying to pick up the pieces. The Trail Blazers had an incredibly successful season -€” despite being projected in Vegas to lose nearly 60 games -€” by making the season round of the playoffs before pushing Golden State to six games in the conference semifinals. Hill is the unquestioned star of this lineup, and he was forced to do damn near everything last season to keep the Illini competitive. He led the team in minutes, points, rebounds, assists, steals and was second in blocks. If Hill starts a quasi-successful rap career, like Dame D.O.L.L.A. then we're really onto something.

The Boston Celtics "No Stars" Lineup

G - Tracy Abrams
G - Jalen Coleman-Lands
G - DJ Williams
F - Michael Finke
C - Maverick Morgan

The next progression down from having one star is having zero stars, and that was the Boston Celtics last season. Despite being armed to the teeth with young players on workable contracts and a warchest of draft picks, the Celtics were unable to swing a trade for a star like Chicago's Jimmy Butler or the Clippers' Blake Griffin. God forbid Hill ever gets in foul trouble (or has to take a breather) because then things get interesting for the Illini. Coleman-Lands is maybe a year away from being able to carry an offense and both Finke and Morgan are nice pieces. Abrams's game lines up well with a Marcus Smart-type player and Finke is basically a shorter version of Kelly Olynyk. This lineup is better than the sum of its parts, which is exactly what you need when you don't have a star on the floor.

The Oklahoma City Thunder "Super-Size Me" Lineup

G - Tracy Abrams
G - Malcolm Hill
F - Michael Finke
F - Maverick Morgan
C - Mike Thorne Jr.

The Thunder went to a huge twin-tower lineup of Enes Kanter and Steven Adams on the floor together to beat the Spurs in the Western conference semifinals -€” so why not go big in Champaign? Sure, the spacing might get a little cramped with Morgan and Thorne on the block together, but with three players 6-foot-10 or taller, along with Hill at 6-foot-6, this lineup should dominate the glass. I'm going to assume that Tracy has adopted the Old Man at the ARC game, so it will at least be entertaining to watch him post up while Thorne is posting up while Morgan is posting up.

The San Antonio Spurs "Old Fogies" Lineup

G - Tracy Abrams
G - Jaylon Tate
G - Alex Austin
F - Maverick Morgan
C - Mike Thorne Jr.

It was the end of an era in San Antonio when all-time great Tim Duncan decided to hang it up after an illustrious career. The Spurs have had unparalleled success with Duncan and head coach Gregg Popovich, leading to five NBA championships and won at least 60 percent of their games in Duncan's 19-year career. Any time you can model after the Spurs, you have to do it, and San Antonio has gotten by with some of the oldest teams in the league in recent years. The Illini will have the oldest, er, *most experienced* lineup in the Big Ten with this group of five. Thorne is 23 and entering his sixth season of college basketball, while Abrams is 24 and will be 25 (!) in February. Austin is a fifth-year senior after sitting out a year due to transfer rules, and throw in a pair of seniors with Tate and Morgan for the finishing touches.

The Philadelphia 76ers "John Groce: Tank Command (Pour One Out for Sam Hinkie) Lineup

G - Jaylon Tate
G - Alex Austin
G - DJ Williams
F - Cameron Liss
C - Maverick Morgan

In order to be great, you must burn to ash like a phoenix.. or something like that. The 76ers, under the direction of former GM Sam Hinkie, are just now pulling out of a three-year tanking plan that saw them cobble together three straight seasons with the intent of losing games in hopes of finding a star at the top of the draft. If Groce didn't land 5-star big man Jeremiah Tilmon on Monday, he might as well have rolled out this lineup because his future was looking bleak in Champaign. With these five guys on the floor, this would be the definition of the "clogged toilet" offense, since this lineup *combined* last season to shoot 10/51 from 3-point range (19.6 percent). (PS - no disrespect to any players on this lineup, I just went with a group of players that have no fit together whatsoever, despite no one playing out of position).

The Memphis Grizzles "We Missed You Because of Injuries" Lineup

G - Tracy Abrams
G - Te'Jon Lucas
G - Jaylon Tate
F - Leron Black
C - Mike Thorne Jr.

The Illini know a thing or two about injuries -€” perhaps Memphis was the only team in the NBA to understand what Illinois went through from a health standpoint. The Grizzles played 28 different players last season -€” the most in NBA history -€” and lost solid contributors Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Mario Chalmers to season-ending injuries. They started Jordan Farmar, Vince Carter, Matt Barnes, Zach Randolph, and Chris Anderson in a playoff game against the Spurs. Read that again. Holy cow. As many Illini faithful already know, there's something in the water in Champaign that makes Illini athletes so brittle. Only three players appeared in all 34 games for the Illini, and most of the guys on this lineup were more known for wearing sweaters on the bench than being on the floor last season. Abrams was lost before the season with a torn Achilles, and Black and Thorne each tore their meniscus in their knee. Tate fractured his finger in the first game of the season, and incoming freshman Te'Jon Lucas wasted no time becoming acclimated to Illinois culture by fracturing his foot in February. Also three point guards on the floor at the same time!

*****

How do I do? Which lineup was your favorite? What other comparisons do you have for the Illini? Let me know on Twitter (@steve_bourbon) or in the comments section!