5 NBA Lineups Struggling Teams Should Use More Often
It feels like it was just yesterday that the NBA season was getting underway -- but we both know that's not true. It's now late January and we're really starting to get into the grind of the regular season.
With the grind comes back-to-backs, road trips and even injuries, the combination of which creates adversity, separating the great teams from the good teams and the good teams from the bad.
All of these teams have a few things in common: all are currently on a losing streak, all have had a losing streak of at least four games this season and -- maybe most importantly -- all are young, rebuilding franchises.
Each team has more than one lineup that could see more floor time but the lineups below were determined by injuries, the franchise's current direction and, of course, the numbers.
One metric you will see below but may not be familiar with is Player Impact Estimate, or PIE. According to NBA.com, this is an estimate of a player or a team's contributions and impact on a game. It shows exactly what percentage of game events that player or team achieved. For the purposes of this article, we are concerned with the team -- or more specifically lineup -- contribution and impact. And, of course, the higher the number the more significant the impact.
Let's see what each of these lineups offer and what it could mean for their respective teams going forward.
|Thomas, Bradley, Turner, Crowder, Olynyk||18||17||109.0||83.9||25.1||65.3|
Initially, this lineup appears to be heavy on the offensive end of the floor -- and that's because it is. With four players 6'7" or smaller, there's a lot of quickness and shooting ability to go around. And as you can see from this lineup's Offensive Rating, they produce 109 points per 100 possessions. That's over four points better than Boston's season-long rating of 104.9.
However, this lineup doesn't just provide a spark on the offensive end. In a small sample size, it possesses a Defensive Rating good enough for best in the league and even manages to produce 10 steals over a span of 100 possessions. Why should we believe that this is sustainable over a longer period of time?
Well, it's all about the personnel. Despite his size, Isaiah Thomas is a tough, strong defender -- and as for Avery Bradley, Evan Turner and Jae Crowder, they're all versatile defenders. Even Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk are more mobile big men who could help to suffocate teams on the perimeter.
If the season ended today, Boston would be the 8 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, so don't get me wrong -- they're a good squad. But, they've now lost two in a row and six out of their last 10. If they want to hang on or even jump a couple teams in the competitive Eastern Conference, they could surely benefit from a lineup that is versatile offensively and defensively.
|Oladipo, Fournier, Harris, Gordon, Vucevic||8||39||124.5||93.1||31.4||71.1|
It's probably surprising to most, but like the Celtics, the Magic are in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt. At 20-21 they are now tied with the Washington Wizards for the 10th best record in the East, and according to our rankings, they're the 16th best team in the league. That would suggest that they're a playoff team, but with the Knicks, Celtics, Hornets and Wizards crowding the bottom half of the conference, we give the Magic a mere 13.9% chance of making the playoffs.
If that wasn't enough, they have lost their last four games, three of which came on their home floor -- topped off by a nine-point loss to the Sixers. Oh, and they're 2-8 in their last 10 games overall. So how can they overcome a deep Eastern Conference to secure a low seed in this year's playoffs? Change things up a little, that's how.
In the last four games, Orlando has averaged just 92.5 points per game (including an overtime game with Toronto) with an even more deflating Offensive Rating of 97.4. They've struggled to get consistent production from their starting lineup. Take their last game for example in which only one starter, Elfrid Payton, had an Offensive Rating higher than 99 points per 100 possessions. If you're wondering that's not good...at all. And I know Payton isn't included in this lineup, but he's been really inconsistent this season, and when given the opportunity, Victor Oladipo has been pretty productive.
Giving Oladipo the role of primary playmaker and surrounding him with three players with the ability to knock down three-point jumpers has proven to be effective in just 39 minutes together. This lineup has produced over 21 more points per 100 possessions than the Magic have as a team on the season. As for their defense, the Magic have been pretty solid all year, ranking 11th in Defensive Rating. However, they're allowing teams to score at a clip of 106.6 points per 100 over the last four games -- nearly three full points higher than their season average. This lineup would bring a lot more production offensively and more stability defensively, not to mention get Aaron Gordon the playing time he needs to develop.
Portland Trail Blazers
|Lillard, McCollum, Crabbe, Aminu, Davis||10||25||127.7||92.7||35.0||72.6|
At this point, you're probably noticing a trend here -- and that trend is smallball. And why wouldn't that be the case? The NBA is full of smallball lineups nowadays, from the Warriors to the Pacers -- I mean, even the Grizzlies are getting in on the transition now. Like the previous two lineups, this one is no different, with a three playing the four spot and what is essentially a guard in Allen Crabbe playing the three.
What would this solve for the Blazers, though? They're not on a losing streak or anything, and they're 5-5 in their last 10. In fact, they're just 12 days removed from an impressive win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. But, they're inconsistent, as was made clear by a 25-point loss to the Sixers last week.
On the season, Portland has a Net Rating south of the zero mark. They has nothing to do with their 8th ranked offense and everything to do with their 24th ranked defense. The biggest problem that this lineup would solve is defensive versatility and rim protection. We all know Damian Lillard isn't a standout defender, and neither are C.J. McCollum or Crabbe for that matter. However, Al-Farouq Aminu is not only a versatile defender but also a decent rim protector, as he's tallied 32 blocks on the season. And giving Ed Davis more playing time, especially at the five, would give this lineup another solid defender (105 rating on the year) with 32 blocks of his own.
This lineup could greatly improve Portland's below average defensive efficiency, but it could also marginally improve their offensive efficiency. As good as their offense has been -- with an Offensive Rating of 106.3 on the season -- with three elite perimeter shooters and Aminu at the four they've blown that out of the water in their 25 minutes together. They've done so by limiting their turnovers (10.8 per 100) and shooting 50% from the field. That could be a deadly combination if head coach Terry Stotts decides to roll this lineup out there more on a nightly basis.
|Rubio, Wiggins, Muhammad, Dieng, Towns||6||19||100.4||75.1||25.3||69.0|
Oh, the Timberwolves. They're the first of these five teams without a chance of making playoffs. And if that was at all in question a few weeks back, it's almost a certainty now, after they've lost two in a row, going 1-9 in their last 10 contests. They've lost eight straight on the road, and as a result, have just a 0.2% chance of making the playoffs. So, since it doesn't look like Kevin Garnett's heading back to the Finals anytime soon, why not focus on the future?
That is the only thing the Timberwolves should be concerned with at this point, but that doesn't seem like the case. Sure, KG and Tayshaun Prince haven't been playing big minutes, and they're doing their part mentoring younger players, but if you ask me, their playing time seems to be interfering with team chemistry. In other words, they're not getting the most out of their lineups. What I (and I'm sure many others) would love to see going forward is a turn toward team development. What better way to start that than by determining what your best -- and possibly starting -- lineup is. This is definitely one of the many interim head coach Sam Mitchell could try out.
With Gorgui Dieng at the four, it's definitely not a smallball lineup, and maybe you think that's reflected in the poor Offensive Rating; the numbers beg to differ. While Dieng is hitting over 40% of his attempts from 16 feet to the three-point line, Karl-Anthony Towns is shooting over 45% from that same area. As for Ricky Rubio and his two wings -- Andrew Wiggins and Shabazz Muhammad, they would make for a really nice combination of playmaking and pure scoring. We know that Rubio doesn't score a whole lot, but he looks to put others in position to do it for him. And he's done just that this year, scoring just 9.6 points per game but dishing out 8.5 helpers to his fellow teammates. Wiggins and Muhammad, while they aren't exactly sharpshooters from deep, hit on nearly 50% of all two-point field goals and are very effective in driving to the bucket. If given more time, this group could excel offensively, as it seems to be a matter of chemistry rather than skills.
On the defensive end, Rubio has proven himself a solid defender with a current and career Defensive Rating of 104. Neither Wiggins nor Muhammad have been any good defensively to begin their young careers, but that same cannot be said for the frontcourt of Dieng and Towns. Both carry a Defensive Rating of 102 and average a combined 3.7 blocks per 36 minutes. In little time together as a unit, this lineup has held their opponents to 37.8% shooting and tallied 4.9 blocks per 100 possessions. Embrace the future, Sam!
|Knight, Booker, Warren, Tucker, Leuer||5||10||122.0||107.1||14.9||58.3|
Obviously, this lineup would be different if not for Eric Bledsoe and his torn meniscus, which has prematurely ended his season. The Suns have gone just 1-9 in their last 10 games, 0-10 in their last 10 on the road and have now lost six in a row overall. They're in an even worse situation than the young and promising Timberwolves with the ongoing Markieff Morris saga and rumored uncertainty with head coach Jeff Hornacek.
Like the Wolves, however, they are a very young team and, when healthy, have a lot of future promise. What we've seen lately though (not including last night's game in which the Suns had nine healthy players) is a tendency to give Tyson Chandler some unnecessary minutes, especially those spent at the side of Morris or Jon Leuer. Chandler is slowly but surely losing what once made him one of the best defensive centers in the NBA so, Hornacek should look to rest Chandler and look toward future lineups like this one.
We've seen firsthand recently that the young Devin Booker can excel with Brandon Knight at the point. Knight's playmaking ability has created some good open looks on the perimeter for him, and the rookie isn't afraid to chuck it up. In his last two games, Booker has averaged 16 attempts, converting on 53.1% of his opportunities and knocking down 8 of 17 from long range. The skillset of a T.J. Warren would be very complementary alongside Knight's playmaking and Booker's shot-taking. Warren is great at attacking the basket and is a pure scorer, averaging 17.5 points per 36 minutes. He shoots over 50% from inside the arc and converts on 67% of his shots from 0 to 3 feet. The combination of P.J. Tucker and Jon Leuer would add two more players with the ability to hit a three from time to time. As evidenced by the above Offensive Rating, this lineup could put up points in a hurry.
Defensively, I wouldn't expect a lot from this bunch -- at least for this season. Booker and Waren are still learning a lot on that end, with Defensive Ratings of 112 and 110, respectively. Knight proved that he could be a solid defender in Milwaukee, but we've yet to see that in Phoenix. Tucker and Leuer are much better defensively. With ratings of 108 and 106, they're two of the best defenders on this season's roster. Shot blocking and rim protection would be lacking, but this group should be geared toward outscoring opponents. If they could sustain what they've done in a minuscule 10 minutes of action, a Net Rating of 14.9 would be good enough to win some games while also giving some much needed experience to the likes of Booker and Warren.