The Lab: A Look At Lineup Chemistry (Part 5)

  • By John Comey, Day 107, 2022


Pittsburgh

Mirko Blazevic-Treyvon Miller-Shandon James-Tyler Davis-Kendrick Hill: +10.3 (113.6-103.3) over 208:48

The Vipers have had a pretty rough go of it this season, sitting at 15-37 at the time of this writing. Yet their top two lineups both net a positive result. This lineup, in particular, is a glowing ray of light for the fans to hold onto. James has dealt with three separate injuries this season (he just returned from a sore foot, which kept him out for ten days). While he has not been an efficient player (ORtg: 92.6 with a TS% of 51.6%), the offense has clicked with him chucking it up. This lineup is shooting it 47.1% from the field, which is much higher than any of their top four lineups (the fifth lineup, which will be discussed in a moment, is shooting it 48.9% from the field). James shoots it a team-high 16.3 times a game, at just a 43% clip. Tyler Davis, the team’s second-leading shooter, is putting up 14.4 shots a game, at a 42.7% clip. The bigs shoot at 45%. This should not be an effective offense; there are a lot of balls needed to chuck wildly at the basket.

And yet, they’re doing it.

The key here is that the backcourt can all score around the rim. And they attack. James is shooting 66% at the rim, on 6.6 attempts a game. Davis is 55% on 4.2 attempts. Hill, who doesn’t take it in as much, is 75% on his 1.5 attempts. Blazevic is 61% on 4.4 shots, and Miller is 61% on 6.1 attempts.

This Vipers group is relentless at going to the basket, and they can get to the line. The result is an offense that is grater than the sum of its parts.

One thing that absolutely does not work: Switching the two guards. When Davis is at the point, and Hill at the two, they are roughly -12.8 over 94 minutes. One incarnation, which James in it, has an ORtg of 79.4. This lineup relies more on jump-shooting, as Hill is not a slashing two guard.

Now, their best lineup has Emmanuel Mejia at the 3, and Kwibe Ibekwe at the 4. This lineup, over 46:59, is +22.7. Let us make no mistake here: Not a single player on the Vipers has been a good offensive player this year. This group has managed to shoot 40.8% from three, despite the best shooter on the squad, Ibekwe, shooting 40.5% from three, on just 1.4 attempts per game. Chalk this one up to small sample size, but it was worth noting.

Portland

Derrick Aririguzoh-Cedric Freeman-Jerrell Newman-J.P. Marquardt-Jax LaRose: -22.4 (101.0-123.4) in 54:24

The Lumberjacks are an interesting group. Their top four lineups, which has far and away most of their time, all rate positively. Their sixth lineup is a +21.1. Yet, they are 22-28. What is going on here?

While this column is not here to scapegoat, sometimes identifying a problem and solution means someone may feel that way.

Step up, Jax LaRose.

There are five lineups that feature LaRose. They rate as -22.4, -15.9, -27.8, +29.9, and -27.2. His PER is just 11.9, and he has a -0.2 EWA. Contrast that with Keith Humphries (16.7, 4.3) or Deonte Christian (16.3, 3.3).

Actually, this lineup is doubly worse, because Marquardt is also rating low (13.1, =0.2). Defensively, LaRose is at 114.0, and Marquardt at 117.0. That’s deadly. Sure, Humphries actually rates as worse than LaRose (116.2), and Christian is not much better (113.6). These two are much better offensively, though, than LaRose (102.1). Christian has also been playing out of position, spending just about all of his time at the off-guard spot.

Oh, as this column as being written in real-time (well, analysis while writing), Jerrell Newman is a disaster, especially at the 3. His EWA is a -2.4. His O/D is 88.3/115.8. Sure, he’s a rookie and has to grow. But wow, but the team has felt his growing pains.

Maybe an answer to these issues is to toggle Humphries and Christian at the 1, and play more Luke Williams at the 2. Small sample size, but Williams’ PER is 17.4 in 298 minutes. The Lumberjacks are so very thin on the wings (Williams and McSwine are the only two players who rate a positive in EWA).

It is unlikely that Portland will advance to the postseason, so the goal should be to continue to get Newman time, and figure out who else can play on this team going forward. By the evidence, it is pretty clear that LaRose is who we think he is. His numbers have been very consistent in his two years in the league. Rumors are that he is also pining, loudly, for more time on the court. He might want to look into finishing his education, because while he has a solid work ethic and appears to be intelligent, those two things are not translating to the court. And time could be running out on him.

(Yes, having wings who can produce would also help.)

Seattle

Antoine Hall-Ainsley Tucker-Devan Carroll-Andre Phifer-Zach Lynch: +44.8 (126.2-81.5) in 63:10

This is one of the scarier lineups in the league, and it’s rather interesting when compared to the same lineup with Aaron Rowlnad, the team’s starter at the 3. That lineup is -9.8 in 51:21.

Now, of course, this can be sample size. Carroll hasn’t been great; while he rates as a tick better defensively than Rowland (Carroll has a DRtg of 104.5, Rowload 105.7), he is not the offensive player Rowland is (Rowload is 119.3, Carroll 101.9). Yet, they are similar in PER (Carroll actually rates a tick better, 13.8 to 13.7), and in EWA (Rowland 1.9, Carroll 1.6).

It was thought that maybe usage rate was the key here…but Rowland only has a 14.0% USG, while Carroll has a 19.8% rate. Carroll shoots it more in his 29.9 minutes a game (11.6) at a worse rate (41.5%) than Rowland’s 43.1 on 9.7 attempts in 35.1 minutes.

Those are a lot of numbers.

The reasoning may not be due to Carroll and Rowland, but more the presence of Ainsley Tucker and the solid play of Lynch. Lynch, who plays in place of starting point DeAngelo Tarver, has a 125.8 ORtg, and averages 4.1 assists in just 16 minutes per game. The Thunder have the steadiest guard play in the league, and Lynch is the biggest reason why. He’s the best backup point in the league, paired with the best system for him.

Tucker, meanwhile, is one of the best defensive fours in the league. His defensive rating is 101.6, which is astounding when you look at his 1528 minutes played. When paired with Hall, the two make as impenetrable force around the basket as you can find. Add in Carroll’s ability to protect the rim, and that seems to be the best version of the Thunder defense. That, combined with Lynch’s ability to find the open man, and Phifer’s brilliance on offense, and this lineup now makes a lot of sense.

The Thunder may want to try Dederick Mathias at the four more, too. While he is not a scorer, he has posted 111.6/102.2 in his 77 minutes. The Thunder have put the rookie in a position to succeed. They might want to expand his role as they get ready for the playoffs. He could be valuable.

St. Louis

Mark Hunter-Marcus Wright-Griffin Walls-Donnell Wallace-Chris Jensen: +17.6 (126.7-109.1) in 119:10

Talk about a Jekyll-and-Hyde team: the top four lineups for the Skyhawks all register a net positive (albeit barely), while the next four rate a negative. The negatives outnegativing the positives result in the 20-32 record the Skyhawks currently have.

This lineup, though, has been extremely successful, their best out of any that has seen at least 35 minutes (#piggybackstats). This is also their worst defensive lineup out of their successful groupings. The reason for their solid play is, easily, the diversity that their offense brings, and the efficiency found from it.

This five shoots 46.3% from the floor, which is on par with their top four lineups. But they shoot 48.4% from deep, which is far and away the best figure from the team, and one of the best numbers from any five in the league.

Wallace is one of the deadliest shooters in basketball; while he is having his worst season in five years (just 41.9% from 3), he is still quite capable of getting on runs. But he also spaces the floor for his teammates. Opponents have to key on him from outside (well, they won’t for a couple of weeks, as he’s out with an injury).

The main beneficiary of Wallace is Jensen, who is shooting 40.5% on 4.9 attempts a game. While we don’t have individual lineup shooting numbers, it is likely that Jensen’s efficiency is way up when next to Wallace.

The reason for the defensive deficiencies is that, well, it’s not a good defensive lineup. Jensen is a lost cause on the defensive end (115.1 DRtg), while Wallace isn’t much better (111.6). Walls is okay, at 107.4, though it’s nothing to brag about at a party. Wright is the team’s best defender, at 104.0, and he carries this group. Hunter is passable (107.0). The team rides the efficiency of Jensen and Wallace on offense, and lean on Wright on both sides of the floor.

The question was raised as to whether Trey Astbury, in place of Hunter, would make this lineup even better. Oddly, pairing the two best defensive players on the team down low does not help it. This lineup has played just 22:48, and rates as a 4.8. Asbury-Wright pairings generally rate a negative for the Skyhawks, which is confusing. But in a lot of those, Wright is at the five.

Toronto

Bryant King-Quavius Williamson-Xavier Russell-Vionte Houston-Brandon Terry: +30.2 (134.1-103.9) in 65:51

The Huskies had one of the best turnarounds in league history, when they went from 15 wins to 59 last year. Add in that they were just 5-51 five years ago, and the turnaround is astounding. They have proven it is no fluke, starting out 37-13 this year. The Huskies are pretty well-rounded, though they slant more towards being an offensive team. They rank fourth in PPG (112.2), and third in ORtg (116.0). They do not beat you from outside; they are 20th in 3pA, and 19th in three point rate. Rather, they crush you by finding the best shot, usually up close. They are first (.541) in effective field goal percentage, and just 18th in pace. They play the way the Knights in the West do, it appears…they won’t outrun you, but they will outwork you on the offensive end.

The main lineup, which rates a +10.8, is maybe the most efficient lineup in basketball. It is, arguably, the most efficient offensive lineup in basketball today. The weak point, by the stats, is their best player, Darius Barry. His ORtg is 114.7, which is the lowest of the five here. Bryant King is a whopping 125.4 in 1615 minutes played. Williamson sits at 119.7, while the backcourt of Terry (119.4) and Houston (115.8) is highly efficient, and even more so with Barry being the lead scorer. Together, they shoot 50.4% from the field.

In short, these guys revolve around Barry perfectly, and the result is sublime basketball.

And yet, this team gets better when you take out the star.

Remove Barry, and put in Xavier Russell, and the team flies. The answer to this is simply that you take Barry’s 20.9 attempts a game, replace it with Russell’s 5.1 (in 11.4 minutes, somehow), and give the majority of the shots to the other guys. Can you imagine if the coaching staff limited Russell’s shots with this lineup? It could get even better, which is downright scary. Russell’s ability is purely on the defensive end, as evidenced by the -.7 offensive win shares he has, and the .8 defensive win shares. Limit his touches, and see what this unit does.

Amazingly, this lineup gets even better when Hakim Randolph moves in to the 4, and Williamson goes to the 5. That team nets a 139.3 ORtg, and a 30.5 net. This is better than the King-Randolph pairing, which has rated just a +9.4 in 81:44.

The Huskies are pretty thin. Only one lineup has played more than the 81:44 just mentioned. Getting Randolph more time (he averages 11.8 mpg) might be a way to help extend these guys into the playoffs. Rickey Douglas is another player who could see an uptick in minutes as the season goes on. He has a 20.5 PER in his 348 minutes played, and a TS at 77.9%. Toronto has obviously found ways for him to succeed. If they want to keep their guys fresh, and maybe find another rotation player for the playoffs, they have a solution in house.