Looking At Lineups

Darius Soriano —  February 9, 2011

When looking at a team’s overall success, I’ve always tried to take the big picture approach. After all, many factors contribute to why a team wins or loses games and on any given night it’s easy to look at box score statistics, a specific play or plays that went for or against a team, or even how the refs were calling the game and how the teams on the floor adjusted to what was being called or what they could get away with on either side of the ball.

But one of the most basic things to look at is who is on the floor and for how much time and then looking at whether or not that was the right group of players. Often times when we discuss a game after the fact we’ll all wonder why player X played so many minutes or why player Y was on the bench for a crucial part of the game. I think it’s fair to say that every Laker fan at some point or another has questioned Phil Jackson’s rotation in this manner.

So, yesterday, I decided I’d venture over to 82games.com and take a look at the Lakers most frequently used lineups and try to determine if the Lakers are playing the right combination of players by looking at what groups of players were most and least successful together and then combine that with what we know of Phil Jackson’s substitution patterns.

First, I offer this quick explanation of what we see from Phil Jackson as a lineup manager: Phil often has set patterns for his substitutions. For as long as I can remember he’s used certain points of a quarter (i.e. with 4 minutes left in the 1st quarter) as a marker for when he’d make a substitution. There’s no better example of this than how he’s often subbed out Kobe with about 2 minutes left in the 1st quarter so he can get 4-6 minute rest wrapped around the 1st quarter break and come in fresh to play the rest of the half. I’ve always appreciated this about Phil as he consistently duplicates roles and sets expectations for his players in order to try and create a comfort level. This comfort level then, hopefully, leads to greater success from those players. 

To preface the results I found, I only counted lineups that have played more than 40 minutes together this year. I found that to be a low enough threshold to give us a sample size that’s valid. The Lakers have had 9 such line ups play at least that much time together. What I’ve used as an indicator for a successful line up is the measurement of offensive and defensive efficiency for the lineup. This is pretty self explanatory but the Lakers best offensive lineup will have the highest offensive efficiency, the best defensive lineup will have the lowest defensive efficiency, and the best overall lineup will have the best differential. Efficiency is measured in points scored and allowed per 100 possessions. Now, on to my findings.

The Lakers best offensive unit is a shared honor between the Lakers current starting group of Fisher, Kobe, Artest, Gasol, Bynum and the mixed group where Blake, Brown and Odom replace Fisher, Artest and Bynum respectively. Both of these groups show an offensive rating of 121. As a whole, this makes perfect sense as both these lineups possess both Kobe and Gasol, the two players that are easily the Lakers best offensive players. Both Kobe and Gasol can create shots for themselves or others, consistently draw double teams, and are options at the end of the shot clock in isolation situations.

The Lakers best defensive unit is the group of Blake, Brown, Barnes, Odom, and Gasol. At first glance this doesn’t quite add up. Artest and Bynum are typically considered the anchors of the Lakers wing and paint defense. Kobe is still a very good defensive player – though it’s fair to say his commitment on that side of the ball seems completely tied to the quality of player he’s facing. It would seem counter-intuitive that a lineup missing these three guys would be the Lakers best defensive lineup with their defensive efficiency of 93. However, when digging deeper, this actually does make a lot of sense. You see, this group really is the Lakers “bench” group. Gasol is a starter but in this lineup he slides over to Center and is flanked by the remaining four players in the Lakers’ nine man rotation. This group faces off against other team’s benches and with Barnes, Odom, and Gasol all playing above average defense you have a unit that has the ability to shut down other teams’ reserves.

The Lakers’ best defensive unit also doubles as their best lineup in terms of differential. I mentioned that they hold opponents to an offensive rating of 93 but themselves score at an efficiency of 116. Again, this makes complete sense as this Lakers group has 2 players that should be considered starters (Odom and Gasol), another player that could easily start (Barnes), and the Blake/Brown duo that while not the most consistent players have had some big games (Brown) and are steadying influences on how the offense is run (Blake). Obviously I’m not clamoring for this group to get more burn just because they’re showing the best efficiency differential of the Lakers’ lineups I’ve examined. But I think it’s important to note that this group has played well together and should be able to hold/extend leads while also cutting into deficits (something that we’ve actually seen a fair amount of this season).

A couple of other trends to note from looking at lineups:

  • The current Lakers starting group where Bynum replaces Odom scores and defends better from an efficiency standpoint. Offensively the group with Bynum has an efficiency of 121 and a defensive efficiency of 99. With Odom starting those numbers are 116 and 103. Not a huge difference, but worth pointing out.
  • There are two lineups that only differ by one player that have played a very similar number of minutes together (84 minutes to 72 minutes) yet yield wildly different results. The group with 84 minutes played has efficiency ratings of 105 (offense) and 127 (defense), performing rather poorly. The other unit has efficiency ratings of 116 (offense) and 106 (defense) performing well together but still not playing particularly good defense. The first unit has Fisher at PG and the second unit has Blake in that role. The other 4 players are Kobe, Barnes, Odom, and Gasol. Make of this what you will but based off these numbers I’d rather see Blake with this group than Fisher.
  • The worst lineup of the entire bunch is when both Barnes and Artest man the Forward slots. They perform okay on defense with a rating of 104, but are terrible on offense with a rating of 88. Goes to show how much the Lakers missed having that third big man they trusted to play meaningful minutes. Luckily the Lakers have only used this lineup for 53 minutes all year but in those stretches this group was outperformed badly.

Make what you will of all this information but what I’ve found is that when the Lakers aren’t limited by injuries they’ll typically throw out a successful lineup that is good for very good offense and reasonable defense. The only red-flag group (that isn’t related to injury issues) that I found is the aforementioned lineup that had Fisher as the PG with Kobe, Barnes, LO, and Pau. When the playoffs come, I think it’s fair to assume that the Lakers – if healthy – will have a 9 man rotation that they can use in a variety of formations and trust to be better than the group that they’re facing. And in the end, that’s all I can hope for.

Darius Soriano

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to Looking At Lineups

  1. “The current Lakers starting group where Bynum replaces Odom scores and defends better from an efficiency standpoint. Offensively the group with Bynum has an efficiency of 121 and a defensive efficiency of 99. With Odom starting those numbers are 116 and 103. Not a huge difference, but worth pointing out.”

    say what?! this looks like a pretty substantial difference – a differential of +22 v. +13!


  2. OT: but a cool article about Kobe and his “clutchness”


  3. Reign on Parades February 9, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    “Fisher as the PG with Kobe, Barnes, LO, and Pau”

    Makes sense that’d be our worse line up as it has our best defenders off the floor. Artest and Bynum are needed for the half court size/bulk grindfest that Fish needs to thrive. With a smaller, more skilled and athletic line up you want to go with Blake who is more suited for up tempo play


  4. All it shows is that Barnes is an integral part of this team. His defense is passable but his hustle and rebounding are invaluable to what we do. He is what Artest was. Hopefully Artest can regain that and we can use them EFFECTIVELY together since Barnes will be coming back to play the two.

    Imagine that: an effective Ron Ron straight up against PP (Pierce), Barnes smothering and muscling up against Ray Ray, Kobe daring Rondo to shoot, Pau manning up against KG, and Bynum towering over Perkins. In the Finals of course. I’ll take that ride.


  5. I hate to say it but we miss Farmar. Too bad he didn’t want to stay.


  6. Reign on Parades February 9, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    I don’t really miss Farmar at all, Steve Blake is a breath of fresh air. I really enjoy having a PG who shoots the 3 ball, looks to make entry passes whenever possible, and doesn’t dribble the ball off every part of his body.

    Although with age and contract considerations, this opinion may change down the road.

    But rather than pine for Farmar who I’ve seen play since his days at Taft, I’ll just regret about guys we might’ve gotten Darren Collison or Toney Douglas are highly competitive PGs who provide enough defense and 3pt shooting at the position to give a Lakers fan wet dreams.

    I don’t think its a big reach to say either guy might be wearing the purple and gold if things had broken slightly differently. Collison played in our back yard and should’ve been on our scout radars, and he was in a trade involving another Bruin we had- Trevor Ariza.

    And we straight up sold Toney Douglas’ rights to the Knicks


  7. Since our best lineup has both Bynum and Gasol on the floor… When are we going to have contemplate our end game small lineup of Gasol and Lamar? This is over two years now where that has been our best lineup, but we watched Gasol get pushed around. Why is KG considered to be tougher than Pau? They both are thin 7 foot PF’s but only one of them is tough enough to attempt to play at Center.


  8. @Reign Farmar as a change of pace guy only. The guy who comes in hits a key three or gets a steal and bangs on Garnett. No other point other than Shannon has the ability and nuts to do that on the current team.

    Very nice piece on Lamar.


  9. Bring on the Cs. We owe them some payback. Let’s put the league on notice that we are still the team to beat.


  10. Farmar was a great change of pace player. But he was best when he had other change of pace players on the floor with him. When was able to take the floor with Sasha, Trevor, and Lamar he looked very good. It was when he was on the floor with Kobe, Pau, and Bynum that his limitations became more apparent. He just didn’t thrive in a slow, deliberate, half court offense.


  11. Aaron: Because he yells a lot.

    But you’re right, KG sure did push Pau around in that game 7 on his way to 3 total boards (while Pau, embarrassingly enough, only had 18 of them with 9 offensive).


  12. Barnes was our Ariza; we just need somebody that cuts consistently and hustles and shows a semblance of athleticism at the 3.

    Kobe at the 3 would work if he isn’t spent playing 2, and we all know where Artest and Walton rank in terms of athleticism. And Ebanks isn’t near that level yet.


  13. Reign on Parades February 9, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    Despite all the Ebanks/Ariza comparisons in the past (they even look alike so I see where that comes from) I gotta say I imagine Ebanks being more of a Luol Deng type player.

    A guy who is more of a man defender than someone who plays the passing lanes, knocks down mid-range jumpers and sneaks in for shots at the rim, and a general glue guy on offense.

    Of course I’m way way way ahead of myself talking about Ebanks who won’t be relevant player for some time. Although I kind of wish he’d get Luke’s minutes, but that’s out of the question until Phil retires


  14. Nice post Darius before THE GAME, I will keep an eye out for these lineups you described, and see what is playing out on the court. Yes, Bynum does make a slight difference, towards the positive side of everything for the Lakers.


  15. Just as an aside, Sasha had a pretty stout game tonight. 25 points on only 14 atempts. (Farmar with 11 assists too).

    I still cheer for these guys, at least for 80 of 82 regular season games.


  16. Great analysis, when playoff comes Phil very well knows what lineups and how long these combinations would stay on the floor. We will see a steady diet of the first five with LO and the three B’s coming from the bench.


  17. I’m looking for Bynum and Shannon to have big games on Thursday evening. Last year both these guys played well against the C-words in the regular season. When Shannon goes for 12-15 it really helps – especially on nights when they get limited offensive production from Ron and Fish.


  18. I think looking at the deffensive efficiencey, you must consider that when Barnes, Blake, and Brown come in, so does the bench of the competing team, leaving their offense to lesser scorers, which makes defending more efficient.


  19. #18. I tried to make that same point but may not have spelled it out very clearly. I think that analysis is spot on.

    One of the reasons I wanted to look at lineups is because I think it actually shows that the Lakers are a better team than their record indicates. Most of their key lineups out perform the opposition but what’s really hurt the Lakers are the runs they allow to their opponents at the end of quarters/halves. These runs allow the opposition to cut into Laker leads or for them to get leads of their own and often make games close, games that become coin flips at the end.

    Last year the Lakers won an inordinate amount of their close games (they won 6 alone on Kobe game winners), but that tends to even out over time. If you look this year, the Lakers have lost a handful of games in the closing minutes that we’d typically expect them to win. I don’t know if this signals that the Lakers can’t win close games or if it’s just statistical noise that won’t matter come playoff time but I think it explains some of what we see in terms of the Lakers’ overall record.


  20. Andreas, when Aaron says “only one of them is tough enough to attempt to play at Center”, he is talking about Pau. KG avoids playing center. Still he is considered tough, and Pau is not, even when Pau does not mind playing center when needed (and pushing guys 30lb heavier).
    So we all agree here.


  21. Can you please tell me if this –>


    is bill simmons….if so I love this video because it is so true and I think they should play this at halftime of the celtics lakers game to show people how cheap that team is and how much protection they get from the refs.


  22. 21, loving that vid. Just goes to show that the 2008 NBA Finals was a terribly officiated series.


  23. The Celtics O has the Lakers checkmated…..I just don’t see what changes that…. Celtics core just got a year better somehow and the Lakers core just looks a year older….


  24. More bad news…..Lakers getting solid efforts from Pau and Bynum…..Pierce doing nothing……if the only way we can win is for Kobe, Bynum, and Pau to all be clicking, that’s asking quite a bit. The Lakers have to find a way to integrate all three guys…that’s what I notice about San Antonio and Boston, you just never know who’s gonna get the shot possession by possession. With the Lakers, it seems that there are readily identifiable “Kobe” possessions, and then “Post” possessions. Lakers need to veil their offensive intentions better.


  25. Pathetic officiating sequence
    Perkins in the lane for a month and double dribbles, they get an and one

    Kobe then called for travelling and a ridiculous technical


  26. I was taking a look at posts with the tag: pau gasol.
    And one that has a comparation to Makelele ends with a simonoid message:
    “36 – LOL. You and the rest of Spain.”

    Maybe I just missundertood it but it sounded like quite disrespectful .That a Spanish has an opinion you don’t agree with shoudn’t give you free way to disregard the rest of Spanish (either if they share or not the point).
    Maybe I missunderstood it because my English isn’t perfect? If it was in fact disrespectful please delete it. Thanks.