Best Five Man Lineups in the LeagueI wanted to again look at what have been the best 5 man lineups in the NBA so far this season. In order to do this, I limited the sample size to lineups that had played at least 300 minutes together. It seemed counterproductive to include lineups that had only seen small doses of action. This limit assumes a group has played with each other for 30 games at 10 minutes apiece (or say 20 games at 15 minutes apiece). That seems like a true NBA rotation that has gotten serious run by its respective coach.
There were only 24 5-man lineups that have seen at least 300 minutes so far this season according to NBA.com. As you might expect, only six of them had a negative Net Rating. I mean what coach is going to consistently play a losing squad? Well obviously there are a couple, so let’s examine them.
So you might not be surprised to see Philly’s day 1 starting lineup of MCW, Anderson, Turner, Young, Hawes as the worst lineup in the league so far this year. I’d caveat that the system bread more issues than the talent, but still, a -12 Net Rating over 612 minutes is pretty horrible. The decision to play this lineup so much was likely a directive from the very top of management, as Heinke was doing everything to increase the trade value of ET, Spence, and Young. In the end, was it worth all of the bloody tears shed by die hard 76er fans just to grab a few extra second round picks? Only time will tell.Detroit Pistons (two times)
Unfortunately for the Pistons, who were actually trying to win this year, they’re the only team to have two 5 man lineups with a negative Net Rating. And unfortunately, both include the huge frontline of JSmoove, Moose, and Dre. Throw in Brandon Jennings at PG and pick your poison between Kyle Singler and KCP at the 2, and no matter what, you’ve got a bottom 5 unit. With the Singler unit totaling 320 minutes, boasting a -9.1 Net Rating, and giving up 111.9 points per 100 possessions (which is BAD).
The Not so Bad
Surprisingly on this list is the Utah Jazz’s weird starting five of Burke, Hawyard, Jefferson, Marvin, and Favors. Most thought RJ was being played for tanking reasons and I tend to agree… I mean why not roll out Hayward at his more natural position and let Burkes come in and shoot Js at the two? But it seems to have back fired a little bit as RJ has outperformed his expectations (although not his contract). This unit actually performed at a Net Rating of 0.5. So they basically played their opposition to a draw for 546 total minutes this year. Maybe they are just a piece away from pretty regular contention? And with the ability to reload flexibility by trading Kanter, Burkes, or Hayward.
Also in this list is a group that might be higher if they had stayed healthy… The Hawks squad of Teague, Korver, Caroll, Millsap, and Horford. With Horford likely out for the year, this lineup probably won’t get to play again, but when it was on the court it held up pretty well with a +1.5 Net Rating and holding teams to just 101.7 points per 100 possessions (would be top 3 compared to the league as of today).
Despite this team’s record, they actually have a decent starting lineup. Ty Lawson, Randy Foye, Chandler, Manimal, and JJ Hickson have a +3.7 Net Rating over 486 total minutes. What’s more surprising is the 104.5 defensive rating, which would be top 10 when compared to the rest of the league. Any unit that can start the undersized Faried and Hickson in the front court and play that well defensively is worth notoriety. Not to mention Lawson isn’t exactly Gary Payton at the point of attack.
The Top Four
By far the most unsuspecting group out of the 24 meeting the minutes restriction, and the reason I’m writing this right now, is the Charlotte BobHorncats’ starting five. Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, MKG, Josh McRoberts, and Al Jefferson have performed as the fourth best starting 5 on a Net Rating basis so far this year. That’s incredible. On paper you’d expect that squad to have some huge issues… shooting, defense, rebounding, etc. But they’ve been outscoring opponents by 9.4 points per 100 possessions in their 406 total minutes on the floor together. Their 94.6 Defensive Rating is third best out of the 24 lineups that logged over 300 minutes (behind you guessed it, Indy and Chicago) and would be the best in the NBA by a good margin. Despite Al Jefferson having a career year in usage percentage, the unit shares the ball quite well with a 63.3% Assist%. The balanced play of Henderson and Josh McRoberts goes a long way to inflating that stat, but Kemba and Al Jefferson PhD have made big strides in the distribution department as well.
The third best unit, which also is associated with the "L"eastern Conference, is the Washington Professional Basketball Team. John Wall has lead a quality all around Bullets team to its first winning record in a while. Gortat, Beal, Ariza, and Nene round out the rest of the lineup. Unfortunately for Wall and this Washington squad, Nene is out for at least a few more weeks and Gortat might miss a few games due to back issues. Still when healthy, this unit has been very stingy defensively (95.7 DRTG), shared the ball well (63% AST%), while managing to score at a league average pace (106.4 ORTG). A lot of the offense can be attributed to the leap John Wall’s made this year. His jumper has been on fire since the all-star break and Ariza/Beal provide nice floor spacing for a deadly Gortat/Wall PnR game. Nene is the straw that stirs the drink though and allows them for a really strong second option that can score and create from the mid-range, an area in which teams are normally glad to let Wall/Beal/Ariza play.
This next group coming in at two may shock you, because over the last two years they’ve been the talk of the league. No I’m not talking about the Spurs, OKC, or the Heat… it’s the Indiana Pacers, who have boasted the best 5-man lineup for quite some time. Unfortunately for them this year, they’ve lost the title. But #2 is a quality consolation prize. As you’d expect they have an insanely good Defensive Rating (93.8) and gobble up a ton of rebounds (76% DRB% and 52% Total RB%). They also score pretty effectively too, despite a low Assist% (57.9%). Having watched some Pacers games recently, I can say that the offense has resorted to a lot of ISO… either PG or Lance on the wing, West in the post or at the elbow, or a lot of George Hill dribbling at the top of the key waiting for pin down screens to materialize. Still, this group gets the benefit of the doubt and might still be the best unit in the league, as they’ve logged 1,239 minutes together, which doubles or triples every other group in this 24 unit sample (with the exception of Portland #7 at 1,200 minutes and Minnesota #5 at 1,010 minutes).
The Best 5 Man Unit in the League The winner is the starting 5 for the Golden State Warriors… no wonder they’ve been trying to trade in order to steady that bench all year, they knew they had a contender on the floor at the beginning of the 1st and 3rd each night. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Iggy, David Lee, and Bogut are a very well rounded starting 5. You’ve got elite defense from two positions. Elite offense from Curry. Shooting from Klay. A unique offensive weapon in Lee. Three guys are excellent passers/playmakers and one is above average (sorry Klay, you’re on the floor to shoot, and shoot it well you do). Bogut should be in consideration for DPOY for the simple fact this unit has a 97.1 DRTG. I mean I know Mark Jackson likes to talk up his guys, but Klay Thompson is far from a lock down defender and Curry is an obvious matador. Offensively though, Curry is underrated in what he brings to the team. His shooting is well documented as is the spacing/flexibility his shooting provides. But he’s already a crafty all around scorer and a great play maker that sees all five guys on the floor. His handle is also above average which allows him to make forays into the paint to drop dimes, floaters, or just keep dribbling as the defense scrambles to catch up. All that being said, I wouldn’t be that worried about even a healthy Golden State squad in a playoff series. Chase Thompson off the 3pt line and make him beat you with the dribble. Take away Iggy’s passing lanes and force him to create shots for himself. Attack David Lee in the post and on the perimeter. Get Bogut in foul trouble. Make Curry defend you… If the season ended today their first round matchup would be the Clippers. I could see them being a matchup nightmare. No plays off for Curry because you know CP3 is going to give him all he can handle on both ends (and if Jackson really puts Klay on CP3, he deserves the first round loss). Blake is just a monster mismatch for David Lee (or anyone on that Warriors roster really). And with Granger/Big Baby manning the bench now, I don’t think Golden State has a legit advantage with their Barnes/O’Neal counterparts. Good thing for the Warriors, they’re locked into that starting 5 for at least two more years and can continue to re-tool the bench, or easily make a big move with Thompson or Barnes.
So to me those teams highlighted what was a pretty intriguing list of 24 5-man units. Below is the total list from first to last (all typical starting fives unless otherwise noted). #19 - #24 have negative Net Rating.
8. Chicago (Kirk at PG)
10. OKC (with Reggie)
11. Toronto (obviously post Rudy)
12. Houston (Beverley at PG)
13. Houston (Lin at PG)
16. Phoenix (no Bledsoe)
19. Washington (Booker for Nene)
20. Detroit (KCP)
21. Sacramento (post Rudy)
22. Boston (Crawford at PG)
23. Detroit (Singler)
24. Philly pre trade deadline
All stats from NBA.Com.