The Lab: A Look At Lineup Chemistry (Part 4)

  • By John Comey, Day 104, 2022


Forget an intro, outside of this one. Let's just jump in.

New Orleans

Ryan Pierce-Leon Bowen-Jarron Gaston-Deron Bentley-Sergio Loyola: +22.8 (121.7-98.8) in 45:36

The Hurricanes rely primarily on three lineups. The main difference between their most common lineup and this one is at the point, where Tyson Kuberka mans the point in the starting slot. And that team is fine enough, playing to a tune of +7.2 over 392:38.

So, what does it for this lineup that makes it its most effective, and one of the most effective in the league?

Kuberka averages 12.5 attempts a game. This is opposed to the 5.4 attempts Loyola averages. Included in Kuberka’s attempts are 4.5 from deep, where he shoots at 29.2% clip. Now, since he is not in the game at this time, teams have to pay attention more to Leon Bowe and Ryan Pierce in the post. The increased attention Bowen (22.9 ppg) and Pierce (18.0) receive, the more open looks for Deron Bentley.

Bentley averages six attempts from three a game, at a 31% clip. That’s…well, terrible. Yet, the Hurricanes shoot a rather astounding 46.7% from three with this lineup. The reasoning? Shots are not being forced up from outside, which is what Kuberka does at times.

Making heads or tails of the defensive improvements is a head scratcher, as Loyola rates just as Kuberka does, and Kuberka has an outstanding PER and EWA rate, compared to Loyola. Maybe that is just an anomaly. Or it is simply a lineup that has fostered a few runs in their time together, and teams have struggled to keep up. The Hurricanes’ defense is definitely a team effort: only one player, reserve PF Xavier Maxwell, rates below a 104.1. Yet, the team yields just 103 points a game, which is fifth in the league. Maybe this is something that comes out in the wash, but it’s doubtful. Forty-seven games is enough of a sample size to project season-long success or failure. It appears the Hurricanes, in the framework of the 2022 season, possess one of the best team defenses in the league. If only someone could figure out how.

New York Renegades

Shakiem Fontaine-Osazee Ikeakor-Jerome Bradley-Marcus Dunn-Kyle Klinewski: -19.1 (100.0-119.1) in 163:25

The Renegades are 19-29 despite four of their top five lineups netting a positive rating. The case, here, is that this is the lineup that prevents them from being a winning side.

The lead lineup, which has Rashaad Haslem at the 5 and Fontaine at the 4, nets a +2.5 rating. They have outscored opponents by exactly one point. So, okay, stalemate. And their other three lineups here have outscored opponents by a combined 46 points. The lineup above is -There are a few other lineups that offer negative +/- in the double-digits. But, realistically, this team has played somewhat even for most of the year.

This lineup, though, is an albatross.

It appears the combination of Fontaine and Ikeakor is toxic; the only other lineup that employs these two is -10.5. Ikeakor manages to commit 2.1 fouls on average; he plays just 13.4 minutes a game. And he shoots just 47% from the field, despite having a high-ish usage rate (18%).

Add in the woeful 24.6% the team shoots from three with this lineup, and one starts to understand why this lineup continues to fail.

The Gades have a better solution in Anthony Egekeze. The 6’10 second-year 4 has played much better than Ikeakor, playing to a 17.4 PER in 778 minutes. He is a defensive-first forward, and the best post defender on the team. Utilizing him more, that very small change, could be the difference in the Gades turning their season around, or fiddling with the league’s bottomfeeders.

Oakland

Marcus Ivory-Zeke Boreczky-Mitchell Epps-Antoine Peeler-Evan Coleman: +22.5 (124.2-101.6) in 92:17

The Tritons are one of the top teams in the West. This lineup, in particular, has been deadly. This is primarily due to brilliance of Ivory and Peeler this year. The dominance of this lineup—they have produced nearly the same +/- as their top lineup in about nearly 37.5% of the time. This seems to be a simple bit of slightly less usage by Epps, and slightly more effectiveness (57.2% TS for Epps; 51.7% for starting 3 Dimitri Karacic).

The slight uptick in Epps has been tremendously beneficial to the overall flow of the offense. Strangely enough, this flies in the face of statistics. This is particularly the case from three, where Epps is just 33.3% from three, as opposed by 36% for Karacic. This is in essentially the same amount of attempts per game. Heck, Epps has even been at a negative EWA, which also fails to make sense.

One guesses this lineup leans more heavily on Ivory and Peeler, as well as Boreczky.

The other confounding part of this team is the failure to integrate Jack Donlon into their team fabric. Donlon appears in seven lineups with the Tritons. The team nets negatively in four of them, including the most important one, where he takes the place of Evan Coleman in the starting lineup. That lineup yields a -1.2 rating in 114:24. Some of it, you can chalk up to getting used to teammates. The majority, however, may be a square peg-round hole situation. Donlon is an attaching guard, a slasher. He is not much of an outside shooter. The Tritons play best with a three-out offense, with Boreczky and Ivory playing a revolving high-low. Each of them are great at finishing at the rim. Peeler is, too, which is why there are pick-and-rolls for him, as well as avenues for him to get to the rim. Donlon’s presence seems to be disrupting that flow, and clogging up the inside. By the same token, he is shooting one more three a game than Coleman, with much worse results.

The Donlon-Peeler lineup does work in stretches with different personnel, in more limited time. Interestingly enough, the Coleman-Donlon pairing is a disaster.

Oklahoma City

Preye Crooks-Tanor Dembele-Marlon Marshall-Idris Berkley-Jamar Strickland: +3.3 (110.7-107.4) in 318:04

When you have the second-worst defense in the league, one is destined to be not good. That said, their top two lineups, this one and one that has James Livingston at the 3, are actually not terrible. It is still below average, but barely so. It is the lineups down the line that give the Barons their losing mark.

This is another lineup that fails to find reasoning for its success. It should be worse than the Livingston lineup because Marshall is, far and away, a worse defender. His DRtg, 114.6, is one of the worst in the league. Pair him with Strickland, who has a 114.8 DRtg, and yow, this should be a really bad defensive lineup. And yet, they are not.

Marshall, by the way, is a -3.0 EWA player, and has just an 8.2 PER.

This is not the only thing that perplexes in the JBL, or in Oklahoma City…but this is one of the biggest mysteries across the league.

Another Strickland-Barkley-Marshall lineup, one with Livingston at the 4 and Dembele at the 5, is an astounding +26.2 in 64:25. They have a defensive rating of 99.3. NINETY-NINE POINT THREE. This does not compute.

Very little does in Oklahoma City.

Philadelphia

Ivan Obradovic-Isaac Foster-Alonzo Weaver-Dominique Respert-Ashanti Brooks: +45.4 (136.2-90.7) in 51:46

The Warriors, long a downtrodden franchise that has failed to achieve postseason greatness, may clear that hurdle this year. This is a deep, talented, versatile group that beats you with with the league’s stingiest defense and an offense that seemingly runs counterculture to today’s space-and-pace game, but is wildly efficient while limiting possessions for the opposition. They are one of the few teams in the league who will force you to play their way, night in and night out.

This lineup in particular illustrates why. This is their primary second team plus lineup, in which Davante Parker, JaDante Hicks, and Rashard Stevens get rest. Weaver and Oboradovic, two of the best defensive players in the league, give the lineup stability. Foster, one of the more underrated players in the league at this point, gives the post a second fantastic defender in place of arguably the league’s best post defender in Stevens.

The backcourt of Brooks and Respert is a step back, defensively, though neither is any slouch there. What this team does, though, is move the ball and find Oboradovic and Weaver. Brooks is shooting 44% from three, and gets most of his looks off passes by Weaver drives, and from double-teams on Oboradovic.

In short, this is their space-and-pace team…still done in their rhythm, at their command. And it’s destroying teams.

A definitive sign of a great team is when their second and third wave can play at a high efficiency. The Warriors have this, and it’s why they are the only East team in the league’s top five. They will be there in the end. Remember these words.

Phoenix

Tahric Kimbrough-Drayton Banks-Aquille Glover-Kendall Nash-Rasheem Fisher: -34.5 (100.6-135.1) in 77:40

The Vultures have been quite solid this year, with their two chief lineups playing a +9.5, on average, in nearly 1100 minutes. The problem the Vultures run into, and the reason the top two lineups get such heavy run, is that three of their next four lineups run a net negative.

Obviously, the issue with this group is defense. The main lineup, which has Sasha Vidmar at the 3, and Tahric Kimbrough at the 5, is average defensive. But this one is an albatross. Aquille Glover, the rookie stud from Michigan, is a rookie defender who has struggled with the speed of the pro game, as well as the strength. He has shown flashes, but overall, he’s been muscled around too often to be a factor.

Kimbrough, meanwhile, has been somewhat ineffective as a player who moves the needle for the Vultures. He has a .7 EWA, and a 16.0 PER.

Interestingly, this same lineup, with Vidmar in place of Glover, nets a +10.9. And this lineup, with Sprinkle in place of Kimbrough, nets a +12.2. So, realistically, these players can be successful. Just not together. This is reflected in another lineup that involves these two, which is -14.1 in 57:10 so far this season. That one, which has Jeremy Wynn and Derrick Posey in the backcourt, shoots just 17.9% from three. That really doesn’t help anything.