For not the first time this season, 2022 All-Star forward Andrew Wiggins was left out of Steve Kerr’s closing lineup in the Golden State Warriors 102-101 win over the Sacramento Kings at Chase Center on Wednesday night.
Despite scoring a season-high 14 points on 6-10 shooting, Wiggins was left out of the game late in favor of Gary Payton II. With the Canadian’s perimeter defense far from its best, Kerr evidently preferred to trust in Payton for the crucial role on dynamic Kings guard Malik Monk.
While it may have proved effective on Wednesday, Steve Kerr’s closing lineup isn’t a recipe for future success for the Golden State Warriors.
Payton joined Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green for the final three minutes — possible the smallest lineup Kerr could realistically play. It ultimately worked, with the Warriors gaining enough stops down the stretch to allow Thompson to make the game-winning jumper with 0.2 seconds remaining.
But although the closing lineup was a +1 in the final minutes, Kerr’s somewhat controversial decision isn’t something he should be persisting with moving forward. For the first time really since the season opener against the Phoenix Suns, the rebounding issues emanating from a lack of size was truly on display.
The Kings finished the game with 14 offensive rebounds, including five in the fourth-quarter. Had the Warriors lost, that and their 17 turnovers would have been viewed as the primary reason.
"“No Wiggs, no Looney the last three minutes. Doesn’t mean it’s going to be like that all the time. It was a matchup thing. They went smaller which is when we went to Gary. They brought Monk in around the three minute mark, and Gary’s our best matchup against him,” Kerr said in the postgame."
Kerr’s propensity to go small does go overboard at times, though it’s also revolutionized the game and led to four NBA championships. This was the first ultra-small closing lineup of the season, and one we shouldn’t be seeing too much of moving forward.
The lack of size will likely leave Kerr with too many rebounding and defensive concerns, even despite Payton’s excellence on that end of the ball. Ideally Wiggins returns to his best, giving Golden State the kind of strong two-way presence witnessed in the 2021-22 season.
On the positive, the decision to close with Payton is a clear showcase of the Warriors depth and the options at Kerr’s disposal. Often times the 30-year-old could be regarded as the 10th player in rotation, and yet he clearly plays above that expected level.