What do you think of when you hear the phrase ‘Lineup of Death’?
You probably think of Golden State, who coined the phrase with their hyper-mobile, the super-switchable lineup of players who - with the exception of Steph Curry - could all switch every screen and defend multiple positions.
What else comes to your mind when you hear about that phrase?
Probably smaller players - usually undersized at the power forward and center positions – since they must be quick enough to guard Guards on a switch. Golden State is not the only team with this lineup anymore, with many teams opting to go small in order to stretch the floor on offense and take away the three-point line on defense. Now imagine this small-ball lineup, but no longer small. A lineup of forwards with gargantuan size, but the necessary nimble feet to keep in front of Guards. Lets, for the sake of this article, call this supersized Lineup of Death ‘The Lineup of Doom’.
This is where the New York Knicks come in. One of the most storied franchises in NBA history, the Knicks have struggled since Patrick Ewing departed in 2000. But a new era is upon them, lead by two players who were booed incessantly on their respective draft nights: Kristaps Porzingis and Kevin Knox.
These two combined with Mitchell Robinson - who looks like he might have been the biggest steal of the 2018 draft at pick 36 – have the potential to create the first version of the Lineup of Doom. Let’s put aside their probable starting guards, Frank Ntilikina and Mario Herzonja – who have great size at 6’6 and 6’8 respectively – and focus solely on the forwards.
Porzingis - drafted in 2015 and towering over everyone at 7’3 - is much the same way. Despite always being the biggest player on the floor, he has the footwork of a player a foot shorter, keeping in front of guards while managing 2.4 blocks per game in the 2017-2018 season, and stretching the floor on offense with a deft three-point stroke.
Knox, who is already a lanky 6’9 with plenty of room to grow, impressed at the NBA summer league. In a looser offense than he was used to at Kentucky, he showed an all-around offensive game: drives, posting up smaller players and stretching the floor from 3. Equally important, he showed that he had the length to guard bigs on the block and the footspeed to keep up with guards on the perimeter.
Robinson is the biggest wildcard in this lineup. To call him a freak athlete is doing him a disservice. Falling to the second round in the draft after deciding to forgo college, Robinson quickly started dropping jaws and rim-shaking dunks on a nightly basis in the Las Vegas Summer League. Despite only playing 24.8 minutes per game, Robinson now holds the summer league records for blocks per game and offensive rebounds per game at 6.0 and 6.2 respectively.
He skies through the air like a pterodactyl looking to hammer home lobs and swat opposing shots. He runs the floor like a gazelle at 7’1, with shoulders that make him look like a young Anthony Davis. He moves on defense like a guard who got stretched to the size of Robin Lopez. He could be a more athletic, more talented Clint Capela, or he could be out of the league in 3 years, it’s hard to tell with such a small sample of games.
The Lineup Of Doom
These three together have the potential to make the small ball lineup big. With Porzingis and Knox being able to stretch the floor from 3 and take players off the dribble – leaving the middle open for Robinson to dunk and rebound to his heart's content - it is possible to have three players with an average height of over 7 feet on the floor without it feeling crowded.
On defense is where this lineup could really be terrifying though. With both Robinson and Porzingis patrolling the paint and swallowing up missed shots with their terrific size while being quick enough to not get abused by opposing guards, the Knicks would reap the benefits of a classic, bigger lineup, while also enjoying the versatility and mobility of ‘lineup of death’ style small-ball lineups.
The effect of the Lineup of Doom will require a few years to flourish - as the average age with Ntilikina, Herzonja, Knox, Porzingis, and Robinson on the floor will only be 20.4 years old – but the lights in New York look brighter than they have in a long, long time.