Sunday Reading: Lineup Optimization

Darius Soriano —  December 4, 2011

If there was one criticism that Phil Jackson consistently received (besides frustration about his usage of time outs)  it was his lineup management. Every game it seemed people wondered why he was closing out games with a particular group (mostly a debate about Bynum vs. Odom) or why he kept a lineup on the floor that was struggling for as long as he would. Whether you were a Jackson acolyte or not, this matter was debated again and again over the course of nearly every game all season.

This year, Mike Brown will step into Jackson’s shoes and he too will have to find a rotation that works and manage his lineups in a way that leads to the wins everyone expects. (And by everyone, I mean everyone: him, the front office, the players, the fans, the media…everyone.)

We’ve already gotten some hints into what his approach will be. In a media session where both he and Mitch Kupchak faced the press, Brown mentioned that it’s not yet clear if Derek Fisher will start. This will be a complex issue to navigate but this admission already shows that he’s thinking about the groups that will share the floor and who may be the most effective at any given time.

It was a second admission, though, that made me perk up and listen. Brown openly stated that he had received a lineup card from Rick Carlisle, presumably to help manage the groups of players that play together in order to maximize production. Carlisle had much success this past post-season leaning heavily on lineup combinations that could outperform the opposition (his most famous one was putting JJ Barrea in the starting lineup against Miami) and the fact that the Mavericks are now the champions speaks to how well Carlisle did in this area.

Understand, though, that Brown is no slouch in this area and while he may get a bit of help from Carlisle’s techniques this season, he’s already proven to have a deft touch in optimizing his lineups. The proof is in the numbers. Ian Levy of the Hickory High (and The Two Man Game and Hardwood Paroxysm) did an analysis of which coaches did best managing their lineups and found that Brown has shown he can perform well:

In many ways the regular season is an experiment. Coaches have a chance to dabble, assemble different rotations and try to identify the ones which work best in different situations. In looking at numeric stories big and small, it’s amazing how often coaches seem unwilling or unable to make drastic changes when the matchups overwhelm the rotations they’ve established. When the matchups align a coach can look like a genius. When they don’t, they can look decidedly Dunleavyish. One of the constants across teams, seasons and techniques was the volatility of the numbers. This was no different when we look at the playoff numbers. By these numbers, Mike Brown had the single best coaching performance over the past five seasons, in 2009 with the Cavs.

Levy goes on to explain that Brown also had a poor mark in 2007, but that is related back to some of the volatility that exists when doing this type of analysis. However, I recommend you read the entire thing to get a better feel for how coaches perform in this area (including Phil Jackson during his time with the Lakers).

Ultimately, Brown will have to learn this new group and find ways to use his players in combinations that promote the most success. But if history tells us anything it’s that he’s more than capable of doing so.

Darius Soriano

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25 responses to Sunday Reading: Lineup Optimization

  1. Out of curiosity, how would one go about finding data on our 5-man lineups from the last season?

  2. It will be interesting to see if the Bynum-Odom-Gasol lineup will get some play time.

  3. Coach Brown emphasizes attacking in the first 5 seconds of the shot clock.

    Is Blake suitable in exploring early opportunities?

    If not what would he need to work on? Just being more aggressive?

    Hopefully the time off has cleared his mind of the triangle and this season he’ll regain some of his confidence.

    I would love to see him be more assertive and score 8 points a game. Last year he was too content in distributing and not looking for his own shot.

  4. It never ceases to amaze me how the most interesting and in-depth analyses come from ‘amateur blogs.’ Also lets me know that I am, despite being only 34, already old, not being able to locate these gems on my own… I guess I should be happy that at least I know sites like FB&G that gathers such for me :)

  5. I was one of the real naysayers in regards to Brown when he was hired – perhaps more out of frustration with ownership/management and how transitions were handled, than anything else. I like the fact that he worked with Pop and Carlisle as an assistant, and that he’s a collaborative type of guy (the coaching staff that he’s assembled tells its own story when it comes to lineup optimization). I won’t lie though – I’m going to miss Jackson, the antithesis of a networking coach. The guy definitely sat above it all.

  6. looking at the rotation of the Twin Tower era Spurs, one thing that jumped out at me right away was the use of shooters to create and maintain proper spacing. on these teams, snipers are 4 deep and log significant minutes at the sg/sf positions.

    so, i expect brown to pair kobe with the best 3pt shooters available. kobe may have to play a lot of minutes at the 3 because our best 3pt shooters are guards. we might see a lot of blake and goudelock at the 2.

    the spurs created and maintained space with non-shooter point guards like avery johnson and tony parker, due to their ability to penetrate/play pick and roll basketball.

    as fish and blake are not known for their penetration(brokeback! *chortle*), i wonder if that drive-and-kick playmaking responsibility shifts to kobe and our pgs are used to space the floor like spurs system 2-guards.

    darius morris ought be encouraged by that precedent, right? he can carve a role out for himself even though he doesn’t have a lot of range or stroke yet, according to scouting reports.

  7. Also a big challenge will be all the 2 and 3 games in a row. How deep to go in the roster and how to divide the minutes to give players enough rest but still give the team a chance to win every game. I`m sure there will be plenty of argument over these decisions during the season.

  8. @7 – very much agree. Given a veteran roster, compressed schedule and Brown’s first year here? HUGE challenge.

  9. It will be curious to see how Mike Brown develops our wing defense and 3 point shooting. If we are looking at the Spurs as an example, they excelled with a lineup that slowed things down and yet had a bunch of wings that shot a lot of corner threes (Sean Elliot, Bowen and Ginobilli) with a weak defensive 1 (Parker and Avery Johnson).

    This was a major weakness in the Spurs system, when matched up with a team like the Lakers. And I am not sure we have the personnel to shoot corner 3’s — certainly over the past few years my own observation is that we are at our worst when we allow the defense to force/bait us into baseline shots and corner shots. Last year’s series against the Mavs was a particularly hairpulling series in this regard.

    Yes the Spurs system have had great success over the years but their system also had major weaknesses, particularly when they played the Lakers.

    I guess the bit of good news is that no good team will be running the triangle against us, but I think we are heading into a minor disaster if Mike Brown tries to implement a system that relies as much as the corner 3 as the Spurs.

  10. Reports are saying that Vince Carter is going to get waived from Phoenix.

    He could possibly take our mini-exception and shoot for a ring.

    He could be the exact type of shooter our team needs.

  11. Old Blake doesn’t have to be a penetrating guard, what is expected of him is to communicate through eye contacts with his tall men in the post, i.e. Pau, Drew and LO. There should be a lot of plays designed for them in various fashion like a watching an Orchestra-maestro Conductor play with the strings section, drums dept. and blow-horn team instruments in unison. When nothing is working there is Kobe on the outside-inside player who will make it happen. However, there has to be surprises for Blake too – a consistent outside 3 pt.- shooting at least 40% accuracy. IMO, this is the first five of the Lakers. On the 2nd pack, make Artest as the leader composed of oldies like Fisher & Luke (for the sake of Luuuuuke fans), Barnes and the young Turks who are eager to show their worth to the team. They should first past the Metta puzzle which is strength in the post rebounds and a man-up defense. The second team has to sustain the initial salvo from the first team.

    When Kobe was in Manila exhibition, he was a playing Coach, I think if Mike B. would give him some responsibilities as player-coach, I think he will deliver. At least, get his opinion on game plans but if you disrespect him then it will be another long 60 games Laker melodrama. One guy could wreck Mike Brown’s dream. At this point, Lakers revolves on Kobe in order to attain success or even hope for another Championship but there has to be a lot of Coaching to be fed, designed set-up plays (easy to comprehend not leading to more confusion) and freedom from new breed of players to exhibit their talents without necessarily hotdogging that could jettison well executed plans, that’s how I deal with Optimization on this bunch.

  12. I think Blake should start.

    Palmer has already Tweeted about Carter and the Lakers. I would rather have McGrady–he can run some 1. Both may cost too much for the Lakers.

    If they want to take a flyer on a shooter who will come cheap, they can look at Michael Redd.

  13. Edwin @ 11 (and everybody else who refers to MWP), Artest should be waived if for no other reason than his idiotic name change.

    Do the Lakers really have bandwidth for the distraction this guy brings?

    Losing him would be addition by subtraction at this point.

  14. @13

    MWP’s contract is too long, and he has lost a couple of steps. In both respects, he is similar to many other players on the Lakers roster.

    OTOH, he still brings value on defense, and as far as I am concerned, he earned his contract with his performance in 2010 playoffs, particularly Game 7 of the Finals.

    There is virtually no chance he will be amnestied. I think they will either use it on Walton or hold on to it.

    And complaining about the name change…well, that is what FBG is about.

  15. that should be

    “That is not what FBG is about.”

  16. nice write-up…thanks!

  17. Carter and McGrady? What is this 2000? However, for the minimum, no question. Questionable however, if the team wants to burn its MLE on these two guys. We need an injection of youth on the perimeter who can hit the 3 pointer and play defense. I can’t believe Carter is 34 years old already. Seemed like yesterday he was having one of the best dunk contests of all time and slamming it over Frederic Weis.

    Sigh. I’m getting old.

  18. I liked the lineup of Fish-Kobe-Ariza-Odom-Gasol best among all of ours… there were also times when it was Shanwow instead of Fish in there. Oh wait, that was 3 years ago…

    On the current team, its best to understand which guys work with what guys best. I guess the only constant there would be KB24 – but I believe the formation of a bench mob is quite helpful esp for older teams. However, memories from the Jordan era made me realize what their bench mob did – what they did was protect leads the starting core built up. Our bench mob is more like to outmatch the opponent and try to get back what our starters relinquished. Different story.

    The problem with the Lakers is we have too many egos. Its to say that Bynum HAS to start, Pau HAS to start and Kobe HAS to start. And why wouldn’t they? They are our 3 best players. Now here’s the issue of Peace HAVING to start… and Fish HAVING to start really breaks my heart. I don’t think its just me that doesn’t think that 5 is good enough to build 15-pt 1st quarter leads anymore.

    My advocacy has been to get rid of 1 HAS TO START guy, perhaps 2. This of course means that we have to trade either 1 of Pau or Drew. Many of you won’t like the outcome of such proposals esp that I advocate bringing in some less-defensive players and more focused on offense ones.

    The point of the matter is we need to function as a team. I think a combination of Odom/Gasol/Kobe needs a fast PG and a shooter at the wing… the other team we have is the Odom/Bynum/Peace lineup which focuses more on a slow, beatdown offense with Bynum at the pinnacle. In the end, I just don’t see us succeeding with such lineup polarities. I hope I’m wrong…

  19. #1. Johnny,
    Basketball Value and 82 games are great places to find the type of data you’re after.

  20. I am interested to see how often Coach Brown will use the Gasol, Odom, Bynum lineup this season.

  21. 18)
    A front court of Gasol and Odom would have worked well five years ago. But now teams are all putting legit Centers on the floor. The Lakers and Gasol really struggle when there is not true Center in the lineup. That’s a big reason the Lakers were poor in the last five minutes of games last season.

  22. Aaron, I think this is the year Fish doesn’t
    start full time. At best a ceremonial starting position. Brown can’t utilize Fish the way he would like to dor obvious and various reasons. This year will definitely look and feel different!

    Bye.

  23. 21- Aaron,

    I agree with this. Both Gasol and Odom are a step slower now. What made them so great together a few years ago was their combination of speed (Odom) and skill (Gasol). But if we have been paying attention we know that Pau is not as comfortable on the block as he used to be. Plus, I don’t see a 33 year old Kobe being up to racing up and down the court all game. The slower, “beat down” approach really is the best card the Lakers can play. Their strength is in power, half court basketball. It would be great to see them put together a lineup of subs who can switch gears every now and then. But the team’s bread and butter will be a slow paced, defensive game.

  24. 22)
    This is probably true… But unfortunately this might be the year we can’t replace Fisher with a legitamit NBA starting PG. If we can’t it will make me all the more angry we didn’t replace him a couple years ago. However, we are the Lakers… So I’m confident we can pull a rabbit out of the hat.

    Bye,