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A Little More on Lineup Flexibility

I did some more thinking this morning and figured it's worth expanding a bit something I mentioned in the earlier post:

[Larry Brown is] kind of tied to his conception of what the team should be every night instead of thinking creatively about what the different pieces on hand can do in different combinations against different obstacles.

That is to say that while Brown does change his lineups, he seems to think of them as predetermined actions and does not adjust that thinking to the matchups presented. Obviously, this can get out of hand (see: Del Negro, Vinny, and: Playing Nocioni too much), but the guiding principle is what matters. If the guiding principle is to change up players based on their recent performance and stick with that game plan no matter what, then that's a load of crap, because chasing the hot hand never works. The better principle, subtly different in practice, is to change up players based on their true talents and how they are most likely to perform against the given opponent.

Brown goes part way on that. He looks to be choosing his rotation based on which 7 guys are best overall, but he pays no mind to the opponent. Never mind who they're playing against, Matt Carroll should go out there and get torched every game. Never mind who they're playing against, Raymond should go out there and get killed at the two. Never mind who they're playing against, Diaw is the power forward, and power forward he'll stay.

The most successful teams in the league the past few years all have a sound core offensive philosophy and they tend to be flexible within it. The Spurs, Cavs, and, to a certain extent, Celtics and Lakers all embody that. Is Tim Duncan a center? Power forward? Who's really the point guard and off guard between Manu and Parker? Are the Spurs a big team or do they play small ball? The Lakers use Odom, Kobe, Vujacic, and Pau as their flex group. Among those four, I count 1 center, 2 power forwards, 3 small forwards, 3 shooting guards, and 3 point men that can be used in varying combinations with the rest of the roster.

The Celtics like to play their brand of grinding defense because they do it better than anyone else in the league, and the same mentality flows into their offense, where everyone works hard and they methodically expose shortcomings. But again, there's flexibility. Does the offense start with Rondo or Pierce? What position did James Posey play, and what position does Tony Allen play? Did we really see Pierce play some power forward last season? Again, the Celtics play their brand of ball better than anyone else in the league, but the Cavs are right there with them, and Cleveland is also prepared to play any style, any time, at a high level in a way that no other team except maybe, maybe, maybe the Lakers can. LeBron plays every role on the floor except center. Wally S and Sasha Pavlovic go from two to four. Wallace and Varejao slip effortlessly between four and five designations. Delonte West and Boobie Gibson are both ones and twos. Mo Williams is a scoring point guard, the upper middle class man's Raymond Felton. Big Z is the only one on the floor whose position and role will never change based on the matchup.

The Bobcats can do their version this shifting with Diaw, Wallace, and, to a lesser extent, Okafor. However, no one else on the roster is as flexible as the players listed above, e.g., Matt Carroll is a two; he's not a three, and certainly not a one. Same for Raja. And I'd argue neither Raymond nor Augustin is suited to play the two, Raymond because he can't score quite enough and Augustin because his defense is bad enough against points it's silly to play him against bigger scorers. Morrison probably comes closest to the kind of guy who slides between the two and three and has the height to play a small ball four, but his defense has to get a lot better before he'll be trusted with those roles. In a video game, Ajinca could slide from three to five, but in reality, he's a D-League sideshow.

Seriously. Try Diaw guarding Ray Allen. It will work.


(Look who got called up from the D-League to the Warriors! Jermareo!