Under Utilized Lineups
Periodically, as a writer, I feel like I have no other choice but to blatantly rip off the king of late night, David Letterman (with all due respect to the great Jimmy Kimmel) and express my musings through a Top Ten list or two. The tidiness, degrees of separation, and the readability of listing make it a no brainer. So, here are the top ten effective, yet under utilized 5 man lineups in each conference, courtesy of www.82games.com . Zach Lowe of Grantland did an excellent piece talking about some devastating 5 man units in the league earlier in the month, but I’m going to do the exercise in more detail. His piece is right here (http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/8823509/the-houston-rockets-indiana-pacers-golden-state-warriors-more-nba-best-lineup). Despite the small sample sizes of all of these units, the success of them is clear evidence that they should be used more. Since, I’m doing two lists, it will be a total of 20 lineups, but 10 in each conference.
Top Ten Under Utilized Lineups in the East
10) Miami Chalmers-Wade-Battier-James-Haslem- +34 in 44 minutes. This is obviously Miami’s Bosh-less unit, which is way I ranked it at #10. Obviously, the Heat will limit themselves on how much more time they’ll give a lineup without Bosh in it. However, it does tell us two important things. The first is that they can afford to get Bosh plenty of rest as needed. The second is that if Bosh ever went down again like he did last year in the Indiana series, the Heat can certainly still have plenty of success. It’s also worth noting that the same lineup with Joel Anthony instead of Haslem is a +17 in 28 minutes.
9) Detroit Bynum-Singler-Daye-Villanueva-Drummond +26 in 29 minutes. Although the numbers are interesting and quite compelling, I rank this lineup at #9 because I do think that if Pistons head coach Lawrence Frank uses too much of this lineup, the weak defense of Daye and Villanueva will definitely catch up with them. The important elements of this 5 man unit are more Will Bynum and more Andre Drummond. Bynum has a PER (Performance Efficiency Rating) of 14.9 playing 16 minutes per game. Drummond has a PER of 21.9 averaging 19 minutes per game and looks a lot more like the franchise center people thought could be a top 3 pick as opposed to the fear of him being a bust which pushed him down to Detroit at #8. The Pistons aren’t even a playoff team this year, so getting Drummond a lot more playing time should be priority one. Plus, Kyle Singler has been an absolute revelation. This lineup serves the Pisotns much better for the future than many vetran units head coach Lawrence Frank uses.
8) Orlando Redick-Afflalo-Turkoglu-McRoberts-Vucevic. +11 in 26 minutes. This is not exactly a stellar defensive unit, but it’s a long group that can make shots. Between now and the trade deadline, guys like Redick and Turkoglu have to be showcased for trades, even if they’re not part of the long term plan. This is not a group that Magic head coach Jacque Vaughn can go with for long stretches because he’s relying on Turkoglu as the primary ball handler, but it’s three guys who can shoot, one guy who can box out and one guy who can get a lot of rebounds. This one lands low on the list because Turkoglu has missed most of the season, so it’s not totally fair to call it under utilized. Nonetheless, it’s a fun five that I’d love to see more.
7) Indiana Augustin-Stephenson-George-West-Mahinmi +20 in 19 minutes. George Hill is a serviceable point guard for Indiana and certainly serves their purposes. However, Augustin is more of a playmaker and for a team that suffers from that dreaded affliction known as unimaginative offense, that ability can be a big lift for the Pacers. The other interesting part of this group is Ian Mahinmi. He backs up Roy Hibbert who may be the best defensive center in the NBA, yet he’s still an under utilized asset. He’s active defensively in the pick and roll and finishes around the basket well. Considering that Pacer head coach Frank Vogel likes to watch Hibbert’s minutes closely, this is a lineup he should be using much more often.
6) New York Kidd-Smith-Novak-Anthony-Chandler +33 in 47 minutes. This is a Knicks lineup that I susceptible to being hurt by small quick guards, but its also a good enough lineup defensively to hide a defensive statue like Novak. One of the other benefits of this lineup is that it gets Anthony on the floor at his best position, big forward. It also gives him 3 other guys who are quality 3 point shooters in Novak, Kidd, and Smith. In light of the Knicks injury issues, this isn’t a bad finishing look for the Knicks and it’s the type of unit that could get Novak more open looks because lately, he hasn’t been able to hit the broad side of a barn.
5) Chicago Teague-Butler-Deng-Gibson-Noah +15 in 25 minutes. As long as Derrick Rose is still on the shelf, this is a look that Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau has to use more often. Part of the Bulls’ offseason make over was to sacrifice their whole bench in the name of long term financial flexibility. This is a unit that uses 3 bench players including rookie Marquis Teague. Although Teague is raw and can’t play the kind of defense Thibodeau demands, he’s dynamic offensively and he’s athletic enough to get by while he’s learning ( as opposed to Nate Robinson, who couldn’t guard a locked bird cage.) Butler is a second year player who is starting to show glimpses of a guy who can be a defensive stopper. The beauty of this 5 man unit is that it gets the Bulls’ best athletes at each position on the floor at the same time.
4) Philadelphia N.Young-Turner-Wright-T.Young-Hawes +19 in 35 minutes. The most important thing to note about this group is that it omits Philly’s best player this year in Jrue Holiday. However, I love the match up problems this unit creates. With Turner’s handle, size, and ability to defend point guards, him and Nick Young can give smaller guards hell. Then, with Thaddeus Young and Hawes up front, they have an inside outside presence that isn’t easy to defend. Philly head coach Doug Collins shouldn’t marry himself to this unit because Holiday is important, but he should use it more considering how badly the Sixers have been struggling.
3) Boston Rondo-Lee-Pierce-Sullinger_Garnett +19 in 39 minutes. This is an interesting unit to watch for the playoffs. It’s a little counterintuitive to Celtics Nation because of the Avery Bradley hero worship because he is not on this unit. What appears even more confounding is that the disappointing Courtney Lee is in this five, which could account for the limited minutes it’s been used. Lee has not come as advertised. His three point shooting has been abysmal and he’s turning the ball over at a higher rate. Bradley is a much better player. However, Lee brings a transition element that gives Rondo someone to run with. Lee isn’t the defensive player that Bradley is, but he’s no slouch. If Lee can get some confidence back on the offensive end, you’ll see this group together a lot more. The other interesting piece here is Sullinger, who has alleviated some of Boston’s rebounding and low post shortcomings and with this group, he’s smart enough that they’re learning how to hide him defensively and he’s learning how to help properly.
2) Atlanta Teague-Williams-Korver-Horford-Pachulia +32 in 51 minutes. There is a conspicuous element missing in this Atlanta unit and it actually most likely represents the Hawks’ immediate future. Josh Smith is not in this unit and considering that I believe that Danny Ferry is likely to trade him before the deadline, the effectiveness of this lineup will serve the Hawks well. Teague and Williams are two guards who can both generate their own offense. Korver is your ideal floor spacer and Horford and Pachulia do a nice job doing the inside dirty work on both ends. Granted, this unit is void of real capable wing defender, but it works because they can run past you and pound you into submission. This group is very capable of creating a lot of match up difficulty. The unfortunate part of all this is the fact that Williams is out for the season so we won’t see this lineup anymore this year, but Atlanta head coach Larry Drew didn’t use it enough when he had Williams healthy.
1) Milwaukee Jennings-Ellis-Dunleavy-Ilyasova-Udoh +33 in 35 minutes. This unit is missing the Bucks breakout big man this season, Larry Sanders, but it can be devastating offensively. There are four guys who can knock out down a three point shot. Granted, it’s not a great rebounding or defensive group, but it a group that can fill the basket. And despite the fact that Sanders blocks 3 shots per game to Udoh’s 1, for some reason the defense has been much better with Udoh with this group. Granted, Udoh hurts them on the glass, but what he does defensively is often under appreciated.
Top Ten Under Utilized Lineups in the West
10) Sacramento Thomas-Evans-Salmons-Robinson-Cousins +15 in 17 minutes. The reason I put this unit this low is because it’s not totally fair to be critical because Evans has missed almost half the season, and it’s been recent. However, this unit brings a lot of advantages for present and future. To evaluate Evans in a contract year, playing him at his natural off guard position is the most efficient way. In this unit, he plays between a traditional point guard and a traditional small forward. Most of the time I feel like wings are interchangeable but Evans just doesn’t have the strength to guard a lot of bigger wings. This unit also gets Robinson and Cousins together in the frontcourt, which Sacramento hasn’t done much. I understand that they just signed Jason Thompson to a 5 year contract extension, but Robinson represents upside that Thompson could never achieve. I would think that developing chemistry between Robinson and Cousins would be on the radar screen. Don’t get me wrong, Thompson is a serviceable big man, but the Kings have some premium athletes who can’t help them from the bench. I understand that Robinson is a rookie and is going to make some mistakes, but he’s not exactly undermining the chances of a championship contender. The three best athletes on this team are Cousins, Robinson, and Evans. When Evans comes back, they should get more time together.
9) Golden State Curry-Thompson-Barnes-Green-Lee +15 in 23 minutes. The obvious weakness in this lineup is the lack of size up front. Green is an undersized big forward and Lee will be overmatched inside against many centers. However, this unit has Thompson and Barnes on the floor together as wings, which has been a defensive strength for the Warriors this season. Considering that one is a rookie and the other is a 2nd year player, its even more impressive and quite uncommon. Add Steph Curry to this mix with his upgraded defense and some grit combined with his offensive skills and you have a scrappy defensive unit with 5 guys who can all score. It’s a very good lineup to punish a team playing small ball.
8) L.A. Lakers Nash-Meeks-Bryant-Artest-Howard +19 in 24 minutes. As I researched this piece, this may have been the most surprising thing that I found. This is the most Mike D’Antoni-ish lineup that Mike D’Antoni has. Ron Artest makes an effective small ball four as kind of a poor man’s Shawn Marion. It puts a three point gunner on the court at the expense of defense in Meeks, which is also D’Antoni-esque. Is the unit good defensively? There is absolutely no way, but the Lakers aren’t good defensively. Lately, D’Antoni has been down on Meeks and for good reason. I also give D’Antoni credit for playing some bigger lineups lately recognizing the strength of his roster, especially in light of the development of Earl Clark. However, if the Lakers are going to play up tempo sometimes, which is a given on a D’Antoni team, this is a lineup to roll with more often.
7) Denver Lawson-Igoudala-Brewer-Gallinari-McGee +18 in 28 minutes. My favorite part of this lineup is the presence of Gallinari as a stretch 4. Because of the presence of promising 2nd year power forward Kenneth Faried, Denver head coach George Karl doesn’t put Gallo at stretch 4 as much as I’d like him to, although its been happening a lot more. I think that’s Gallo’s most effective position. I’ve always contended that Denver should use Gallinari more like Dallas uses Dirk Nowitzki and this lineup accomplishes that. Having Gallinari play primarily on the 3 point arc is a waste. He’s good at getting to the free throw line and shoots 90% when he gets there. I also like the speed element of this lineup and the wing defense is great with Igoudala and Brewer. The back line with McGee is less important when you keep in mind that the same lineup with Koufos at center instead of McGee is a +16 in 30 minutes. The bottom line is that this is a very athletic unit that defends and can get a lot of transition baskets. Karl needs to use it more.
6) Houston Lin-Harden-Delfino-Parsons-Smith +19 in 25 minutes. This is the Rockets most offensively potent small ball look. There are some major defensive issues with his unit considering that Parsons is more of a wing and Greg Smith can’t really guard anyone. However, this lineup is brutal to defend and can put up boatloads of points pushing the tempo. This is a weapon that Rocket head coach Kevin McHale should unveil a little more often. It’s an interesting way to put pressure on bigger more conventional lineups for short stretches. A lineup with Harden and Delfino can really stretch a defense and Smith thrives inside offensively with a little space.
5) L.A. Clippers Paul-Crawford-Butler-Odom-Griffin +19 in 25 minutes. This is an interesting lineup for the Clippers in the respect that they only really have to hide one guy on defense, yet there’s plenty of offensive firepower. Crawford is not going to handle a meaningful defensive assignment, but he’ll throw it in the ocean a whole bunch. Butler is having a good year and has done a nice job defensively. However, to me, Odom is the real bonus. Offensively, he can generate some chances through his passing and his offensive rebounding. He’s a good help defender and a capable defensive rebounder. Odom is the type of big guy who can help a team get away with playing a little small. Clipper head coach Vinny Del Negro does a particularly good job of managing matchups. His 5 most used lineups are 5 of his more efficient ones. There’s a lot of creativity in how Del Negro surrounds Paul and Griffin and he shuffles those players skillfully.
4) San Antonio Parker-Neal-Ginobili-Splitter-Duncan +26 in 24 minutes. Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has gone to great lengths the last couple of years to develop a wing rotation with guys with size who can shoot and defend. He finally has it with Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Jackson to go with Ginobili. This lineup has only Ginobili in it and a defensive liability in Neal. However, it has what I think is the single biggest key in the Spurs getting to the finals and that is the chemistry and comfort that’s been developed with Duncan And Splitter playing up front together. It’s no coincide that Duncan is balling like it’s 2005 on both ends of the floor. Splitter is a big guy, who plays a physical game and is a very capable dirty work caddy for Duncan. If the Spurs can be really effective playing big inside, they can slow down the tempo and force a team like Oklahoma City into playing a half court game. This unit will hit threes in the halfcourt between Parker, Neal and Ginobili. It’s a look Popovich should dust off a little more often.
3) Oklahoma City Maynor-Martin-Durant-Ibaka-Collison +18 in 19 minutes. The main reason this unit hasn’t been used all that much is because of the absence of Russell Westbrook. However, I do think the light use of this 5 underscores a larger problem for the Thunder, which hasn’t reared its ugly head yet, but very well could at the wrong time. With James Harden last season, Westbrook had a requisite amount of time playing on a wing while Harden was the primary ball handler. That is something that Kevin Martin does not replace. Eric Maynor is the only guy on the roster who can really replace that. Maynor is coming off knee surgery and didn’t play well early in the year but now he’s been completely dropped from the rotation in favor of Reggie Jackson, who is a dynamic young guard, but not a distributor. Maynor has played primarily with the 2nd unit and probably tried a little too hard to create offense in his limited playing time. However, if Maynor had a shot with this unit where he was able to help set up Durant, he could bring a ton of value. Put Westbrook on the floor in place of Martin and this is a really fascinating unit. Brooks has not played Maynor and Westbrook together at all. Right now, he’s burying Maynor and it’s a mistake.
2) Utah Foye-Burks-Hayward-Milsap-Jefferson +26 in 19 minutes. The obvious rub with this group is the lack of a true point guard. Foye looks like one but doesn’t play like one. I like this look a lot because it contains their two young stud wings in Burks and Hayward, but still has their veteran big man combo of Milsap and Jefferson, who are both in the last year’s of their contracts. There is a significant possibility that one of them is traded at the deadline to open playing time for young big men Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. However, if Utah decides to keep both Milsap and Jefferson, this is a solid unit to use a lot more. Burks is a good enough ball handler to share some of that burden with Foye. Hayward can help in that respect as well and Foye can be a real feisty wing defender. The reason Burks hasn’t been used more is because he hasn’t played well. He’s taken a big step backwards from last year, but he’s got a lot of ability and he’ll fit better playing with starters.
1) Portland Lillard-Matthews-Batum-Babbitt-Aldridge +30 in 25 minutes. This unit is essentially Portland’s starting lineup with Luke Babbitt in for J.J. Hickson. I love this look because I really think that the presence of Babbitt provides more space for Aldridge inside, which is where Aldridge should be getting most of his touches. Aldridge has a bad habit of spending too much time on the perimeter and although Hickson has been great, his inside presence “enables” Aldridge to be a perimeter junkie. Babbitt can hit three point shots, but can’t guard a crosswalk. However, in playing with those other four starters, he’s pretty easy to hide on defense. Aldridge can do ok inside alone for short stretches. He’s a pretty underrated post defender. Of course, using this lineup for too long can expose Aldridge to more foul trouble, but nonetheless, Portland head coach Terry Stotts needs to get this unit together more, especially at times when the Blazers struggle to score.