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

Posts Twitter Facebook