Head coach Steve Clifford announced Monday that both Lance Stephenson and Marvin Williams would be starting. We can also assume that Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson will be starting, so the question becomes — will Stephenson be paired on the wing with Gerald Henderson or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist?
Henderson and MKG definitely bring different strengths to this Hornets squad and both will get extended minutes, regardless of who actually starts. But deeper in this question of starters is this: Which lineup is actually better for the team? In order to answer this, let’s look at some advanced statistics.
This past season, ESPN introduced a new advanced statistic called Real Plus-Minus. It is similar to basic plus-minus that you see in the box score, except that it attempts to factor in opponent and teammates. The example they have used is Reggie Jackson — he had a very high regular plus-minus last year, but who wouldn’t when playing with Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Serge Ibaka? RPM tries to adjust for that fact.
The reason I am using RPM here is that it is additive. What I mean by that is that we can take each player’s individual RPM (and ORPM/DRPM) and add them up with four other players to estimate how that lineup would perform on the court. It’s a decent way to try to figure out which lineup would have been better last year if, hypothetically, these seven players – Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, Lance Stephenson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams, and Al Jefferson – all played together.
Here's how the first lineup would have (theoretically) performed:
K. Walker - G. Henderson - L. Stephenson - M. Williams - A. Jefferson
ORPM: 0.83, DRPM: 1.24, RPM: 2.07
These numbers mean that we would expect this lineup to have been 2.07 points per 100 possessions better than their opponents while on the court together. Having a positive number in all three categories -- offense, defense, and thus total -- is impressive, as none of these players, minus Stephenson, are really considered good individual defenders. Good coaching schemes work wonders.
And here's the second lineup, in theory:
K. Walker - L. Stephenson - M. Kidd-Gilchrist - M. Williams - A. Jefferson
ORPM: 1.71, DRPM: 4.27, RPM: 5.98
It comes as no surprise that a lineup with Stephenson and MKG at the wings projects to be defensively formidable. However, the big surprise comes in the offensive projection. Per RPM, switching out Henderson for MKG (who is usually criticized for his offensive game) actually increases the Hornets 0.88 points per 100 possessions. That is over double the expected offensive output as the first lineup.
If MKG's new jumpshot results in increased confidence in said jumpshot, this lineup will not only be the starting one, but the ending one as well. Outscoring lineups by almost 6 points per 100 possessions is impressive enough; getting above that bodes well for an even better Charlotte season.