MINNEAPOLIS-Golden State has been known for many things over its recent stretch of dominance during the last two seasons.
Steph Curry, Draymond Green, sensational three-point shooting, an NBA-record 73-win regular season and blowing a 3-1 NBA Finals lead to Cleveland all come to mind when the Warriors are discussed.
Also included in that list: The Death Lineup.
Golden State bamboozled NBA teams across the league when it rolled out the lineup of Curry, Green, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala.
Zero of those five players would classify as power forwards or centers, but the lineup still could defend and rebound and, when the Warriors were on offense, presented indefensible mismatches. It also presented headaches for opposing coaches and, to some degree, changed the way NBA rosters are constructed.
Everyone wants to be like the Warriors.
"That's what you're looking for in terms of building your roster," said Tom Thibodeau, the Timberwolves' new coach and president of basketball operations. "That's the way of the league right now, in terms of having guys that can play multiple positions."
Players who are flexible in terms of where they can play on offense and whom they can guard on defense present the type of lineup flexibility coaches desire. So much of creating offense in the NBA is centered on getting one player, who has an advantage over his defender, the ball in a position where he can score.
That's easier to do if someone can play three or four positions.
"I like the versatility of our team," Thibodeau said. "I think the versatility is going to be one of our strengths."
The Wolves have guys like Nemanja Bjelica, a power forward who can hit outside shots and run an offense, and Karl-Anthony Towns, whom many would classify as a center but has convinced himself he can play any of the five positions on the court.
Minnesota also has 6-foot-6 Shabazz Muhammad, 6-6 Brandon Rush and 6-8 Andrew Wiggins. Those three can all play shooting guard, small forward and, if Thibodeau chooses to go with a small lineup, power forward.
Thibodeau said you want as many of those guys on your roster as possible.
"When you have guys that play multiple positions, it allows you to play big; it allows you to play small," Thibodeau said. "I still believe that size is important, but I like to have the ability to go small. I think there's times you can play two point guards together, but having those wings, you can't have enough of the wings."
But not every wing is the same, and developing positional versatility is a challenge for each player. Zach LaVine struggled when he dabbled at point guard early in his career and admittedly took off once he finally was locked in at shooting guard.
Consistency is key in sports, and it can be challenging enough to learn one position. Wiggins said the biggest adjustment for him will be playing power forward, noting that the shooting guard and small forward positions are almost interchangeable.
"Most of the plays we have, it's just like we're playing basketball," he said. "You're playing without thinking and just reacting. So I don't think it will be too difficult, especially with all the time we practice."
Muhammad made a commitment this offseason to preparing for potential minutes at power forward. The small lineup presents another opportunity to get on the floor.
"I've been lifting a lot, making sure my body's strong," said Muhammad, who added he's switched on to big men like Gorgui Dieng on defense in practice. "That's something (Thibodeau's) been talking to me about. That's something that I can play two, three, four. I think that's a pretty good option to have, especially for coach."
Minnesota's suspected starting lineup is fairly typical - Ricky Rubio at the point guard, LaVine at shooting guard, Wiggins at small forward, Towns at power forward and Dieng at center.
But the entire dynamic of the game can change with one substitution. If Muhammad or Rush comes in for Dieng and Towns moves over to center, Minnesota then has a non-traditional lineup that's difficult to combat.
"The key to that, once you go small, is to make sure you're not sacrificing your defense," Thibodeau said. "The teams that do it effectively are the ones which, once they go small, they don't sacrifice that. Golden State goes small with Draymond at the five, their rebounding and defense stays the same. I think you have to have the ability to do both, but it can't be at the expense of what wins."
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