The NBA's Best and Worst Five-Man Lineups
Now that we're roughly a quarter through with the 2013-2014 NBA season, trends are becoming easier to find. Early in the season, whether your team was doing better or worse than expected, you could write it off as being too small of a sample size. But now - now we're dangerously close to the truth of how these teams will be this year.
So now that we have more secure trends, who has the best five-man lineup in the league? How about the worst?
For the lineups below, I set a season minute minimum to at least 100, so the data wouldn't be skewed by lineups that had just a couple minutes in a blowout, dominating one game. Most of these lineups are starting lineups for their respective team, and it's really interesting to see how they're actually doing. Some, like the newly designed Rockets lineup, are tearing through the league so far, despite a poor conference ranking. You can see how starting lineups compare to the second unit, and whether the bench is really the issue for a particular team.
For perspective, the league ORtg average this year is currently 104.6, while the DRtg average is 102.0.
Without further ado, here are the best and worst NBA lineups so far this season:
The 5 Best Lineups
Team: Houston Rockets
Total Minutes: 157
ORtg: 116.2, DRtg: 92.9, NetRtg: +23.3
Thoughts: Since head coach Kevin McHale gave up the Twin Towers experiment, playing centers Dwight Howard and Omer Asik together, the Rockets starters have looked really good. Terrence Jones has replaced Asik at the PF spot, giving the Rockets some much needed spacing around their big man. Howard is good enough to command double teams, which leaves dangerous shooters in Harden and Parsons open. Beverley struggled out of the gate, but brings a defensive intensity that was sorely lacking from the Rockets perimeter.
Team: Golden State Warriors
Total Minutes: 192
ORtg: 118.8, DRtg: 100.2, NetRtg: +18.6
Thoughts: The Iggy signing may end up being the most important one of this past offseason (I'm still waiting to see if any Dwight-related drama arises). He has provided them with a defensive identity that they haven't had in many years. As seen by the lineup data, they're defending at an above average rate when he's on the floor. Last year the Dubs posted a team DRtg of 102.6, which you can see, has been significantly improved this year. It also helps when your big rim protector, Andrew Bogut, is able to stay on the floor. Oh yeah, those Steph Curry and Klay Thompson guys are pretty good shooters as well.
Team: Washington Wizards
Total Minutes: 106
ORtg: 107.8, DRtg: 90.0, NetRtg: +17.8
Thoughts: John Wall said before the season that he wanted to be the best point guard in the NBA. While Chris Paul still tightly holds the reigns to that honor, Wall is certainly climbing the ranks quickly. This particular lineup without injured SG Bradley Beal has been very good defensively in their time together, using their length on the perimeter to disrupt opposing offenses. With Beal in, they were playing either Webster or Ariza at the 3, but Webster at 6'7 has moved over to take Beal's spot and has looked great so far doing it.
Team: Indiana Pacers
Total Minutes: 339
ORtg: 105.0, DRtg: 89.7, NetRtg: +15.3
Thoughts: The Pacers starting five is a force. They have logged a ton of minutes already and are in kill mode after a heartbreaking ECF defeat in last years playoffs. Easily the best defensive lineup, they don't really have a weakness, especially as Paul George continues to develop into an elite offensive player. Roy Hibbert should win Defensive Player of the Year by a landslide if he keeps this play up, and he allows everyone else to play with more freedom on the perimeter. We are on a collision course for Pacers/Heat this summer and this lineup is showing that they can get the job done.
Team: Portland Trail Blazers
Total Minutes: 413
ORtg: 113.4, DRtg: 101.1, NetRtg: +12.3
Thoughts: With impressive victories over the Pacers and Thunder last week, the Trail Blazers have proven that they can compete with the elite teams this year. As Bill Simmons mentioned recently, Portland traded Gerald Wallace for a protected lottery pick in 2012 and allowed them to build with young guys on reasonable contracts. That 2012 pick turned into reigning Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard. This past offseason, they solidified the center position and bench, adding Robin Lopez, Mo Williams, Dorell Wright, Thomas Robinson and Earl Watson. The West is loaded though - a top-four seed and home court advantage could be huge for the Blazers.
The 5 Worst Lineups
Team: Utah Jazz
Total Minutes: 105
ORtg: 93.7, DRtg: 107.6, NetRtg: -13.9
Thoughts: To be fair, just about every lineup for the Jazz is pretty awful. Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors have moments of stud-ness, but the rest of the team just isn't very good. The return of Trey Burke has and will help, but the Jazz have no real incentive to get better. With the best draft class in a long time coming in and the loaded Western Conference, the Jazz shouldn't worry about this year. A young quartet of Jabari Parker, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, and Trey Burke sounds pretty good.
Team: Oklahoma City Thunder
Total Minutes: 198
ORtg: 93.1, DRtg: 103.3, NetRtg: -10.2
Thoughts: It's probably very surprising to most NBA fans to see this lineup in this spot with these terrible numbers. What is really interesting is the alternate lineup that I list below, later in the article - if you switch out Perkins for Reggie Jackson, the numbers are off the charts. It is fascinating why head coach Scott Brooks has such blind allegiance to Perk, but it could really hurt them in the long run. Their small-ball lineup with Durant at the power forward spot is destroying everyone, but Brooks has only given them 29 minutes so far. I think that will have to change as the playoffs approach if the Thunder want to make it out of the West.
Team: Orlando Magic
Total Minutes: 138
ORtg: 101.9, DRtg: 111.8, NetRtg: -9.9
Thoughts: Like the Jazz, the Magic have no reason to be any good this year. They're all in on Tankapalooza, as well they should be. They need a definite upgrade at the point guard spot, but Arron Afflalo has been stellar this year and Oladipo is still a project at the guard spot as well. They have a bunch of draft picks upcoming, as well as a lot of cap flexibility and trade assets. They're super young and are perfectly happy developing their talent at their own pace. They're on their way to a top 5 pick and Magic fans should be very happy with their future.
Team: Philadelphia 76ers
Total Minutes: 201
ORtg: 100.7, DRtg: 110.1, NetRtg: -9.4
Thoughts: Sixers fans have to be pretty ecstatic as well. In one of the worst drafts ever this past summer, they managed to get what looks like to be the only potential franchise guy in Carter-Williams, along with Nerlens Noel essentially for free after the Jrue Holiday deal. They got off to a hot start, but most of that was due to how bad the East was. I still project the 76ers as a lottery team this summer. A Carter-Williams, Thad Young, Julius Randle trio sounds pretty juicy to me.
Team: Toronto Raptors
Total Minutes: 244
ORtg: 98.9, DRtg: 107.8, NetRtg: -8.9
Thoughts: RIP to this miserable shooting lineup. With Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan jacking up contested long two-pointers, this unit was just really difficult to watch. It will be interesting to see how the newly arrived Raps will fare and how Lowry will do in a time share with Greivis Vasquez. It seems like the Raps are aligning themselves to join Tankapalooza as well in hopes of landing Canadian Andrew Wiggins to resurrect the franchise.
Fun With Small Samples
Just for kicks, here are the highest-performing lineups this season with no minute restrictions on the data.
Team: Golden State Warriors
ORtg: 162.0, DRtg: 88.6, NetRtg: +73.4
Team: San Antonio Spurs
ORtg: 148.3, DRtg: 79.1, NetRtg: +69.2
3. Reggie Jackson, Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka
Team: Oklahoma City Thunder
ORtg: 123.1, DRtg: 68.8, NetRtg: +54.3
Team: Sacramento Kings
ORtg: 120.9, DRtg: 71.7, NetRtg: +49.2
Team: Memphis Grizzlies
ORtg: 135.3, DRtg: 88.3, NetRtg: +46.9