Looking For Lineups? Here You Go…

Darius Soriano —  April 3, 2012

One the main themes of Mike Brown’s first season roaming the Lakers’ sidelines is his quest for a workable rotation. As recently as last Tuesday he said that he’s still “in search mode” for a rotation; for personnel groupings that fit together and give the team an advantage.

For many of us, this search has been frustrating. Like searching for a lost remote control or your car keys. You know they’re around here somewhere, you just have to find them. But every second that passes without the solution wears on you…

So Mike Brown has searched. He’s changed his starting small forward three times. He’s tugged and plugged players in and out of the rotation with DNP-CD’s one night followed up by 10 minute stretches the following. In the heat of a game he’ll call up a player from the pine and send him to the scorer’s table only to wave him back to his seated position because the action has turned and he feels the substitution no longer needed. What’s resulted is heavy minutes for key players and herky-jerky minutes for his reserves. A few role players see consistent minutes, others go game to game with their status changing more often than a teenager’s Facebook page.

And while there are legitimate reasons for how the rotations have been handled, the time to settle is now. The playoffs are fast approaching and the search must end with some sort of set rotation moving forward.

In researching the lineups that Brown has used all season, both before and after the trade deadline, some trends have popped up that can be used as a guide for success moving forward.

The starters are very good together
Since  the acquisition of Ramon Sessions he’s played 105 minutes with the group that now starts (him, Kobe, Ron, Pau, and Bynum). In those 105 minutes the team is +26 and has posted an offensive efficiency of 105.9 and a defensive efficiency of 95.4. For comparison’s sake, before Sessions was on board and Fisher started the starters played 492 minutes together was +67 and had an OEff of 100.9 and a DEff of 95.1. What this tells me is that the starters now are playing about the same level of defense as before (which is very good – though trending down lately) but have seen a big offensive boost with Sessions playing. This isn’t a surprise, of course, but seeing a 10.5 efficiency differential is evidence that this group needs major minutes together not only because it produces but because these numbers should only improve with better chemistry and understanding of each other’s games.

Some bad lineups have gotten too many minutes
Before the trade deadline, the top two Lakers lineups were the starters: Fisher, Kobe, Ron, Pau, and Bynum (492 minutes) and a lineup that swapped out Ron for Matt Barnes but kept the rest of the starters intact (305 minutes). That second lineup is one that wasn’t nearly as strong on defense (DEff of 101.6) but performed on offense at almost the exact same efficiency level (100.0) as the starters. Without extrapolating too much here, this showed that for whatever reason Barnes’ style simply didn’t mesh as well as Ron’s when mixed in with a lineup where Fisher was the PG and led to a cumulative plus/minus of -9 and a negative efficiency differential of 1.6. In case you were wondering, this is bad.  The third most used lineup (130 minutes) was Blake swapping with Fisher while the rest of the starting group stayed intact. This group posted a negative efficiency differential of 4.4 and is a cumulative -8 for the season.

So, if you’re scoring at home, that’s 435 minutes (or about one-sixth of the season so far) dedicated to lineups that are a combined -17 on the year. Again, not good. And while Fisher is now out of the equation (so, no more worries about mixing him with Barnes), Blake is still here and he could still be plugged in with the starting group. This should be avoided at all costs. Not only has it been proven that this lineup does poorly but when judged against the group that actually starts, the numbers speak for themselves. In other words, if you’re a member of the “Sessions should go back to the bench” group, this is bad news for you.

A lineup that needs more minutes
As I stated above, a lineup that got a lot of minutes was swapping Ron for Barnes with the rest of the starters still in. This lineup was a net negative and that may be influencing Brown’s decision making now because he’s rarely gone to that lineup since Sessions has been the starter (only 19 minutes).

This, however, looks to be bad strategy. While the sample size is incredibly small (again, only 19 minutes), the group of Sessions, Kobe, Barnes, Pau, and Bynum is +15 in those minutes while posting an OEff of 123.0 and a DEff of 80.9. Over a larger sample it’s doubtful this group would perform as well as it has in their limited stints so far but the raw numbers are eye opening.

One thing that should be noted here is that Sessions and Barnes have outstanding chemistry and their games really do compliment each others. Sessions floor vision and ability to occupy multiple defenders when attacking in either the P&R or in isolation and Barnes’ knack for running the floor and making smart cuts into the teeth of the defense or into open space around the perimeter make for excellent passes and good finishes. And when you combine these aspects of their games and put them into a lineup with the Lakers three best players, attention shifts to others and these two can work well without being the focus of a ramped up defense.

The Kobe/Pau and role players group
Another lineup that has worked very well together that’s seen quality minutes is Blake, Kobe, Barnes, Murphy, and Pau. Over their 78 minutes together they’re a +24 and have an OEff of 108.9 and a DEff of 95.3. Just like with Sessions, Barnes has a strong chemistry with Blake and their connection often leads to the same types of baskets where Barnes is rewarded for running the floor and making smart cuts behind a ball watching defender.

The other key to this lineup is Murphy’s ability to space the floor which give both Kobe and (more importantly) Pau more room to roam on the low block without a secondary big man defender around to bother his shot. Previously I was of the mind that McRoberts’ ability to cut off the ball would work best with Pau’s passing acumen but it now seems that was misguided. As was shown against the Warriors, Pau is still quite the skilled low post player but he needs room to operate down there. Murphy’s floor spacing provides that better than McRoberts’ off ball movement in a similar way that Odom’s positioning as an offensive initiator (where he’d often clear to the weak side corner or wing after making the initial pass in the Triangle) freed up Gasol to work in isolation on the low block.

This is a formula (Kobe and Pau, plus role players) that’s been the foundation for the recent championship teams. If you look at Blake playing Fisher’s role, Barnes playing Ariza/Ron’s, and Murphy spacing the floor ala Odom, then the picture becomes clearer as to why this unit is successful. Kobe and Pau still have tremendous chemistry and the ability to read the defense in the same way. It’s not far fetched to think this lineup should also see some minutes moving forward.

————————————-

The point now is to find the groupings that work best and to maximize the minutes of those lineups. Other lineups also show promise and within the context of Brown’s 8 or 9 man rotation (depending on which, or if both, back up bigs play) there are other combinations that can provide the Lakers the boost they need to build and extend leads or cut into deficits. We have evidence that some of these groupings do work already and that some decidedly don’t. Ultimately, though, the time for searching is nearing an end as the playoffs draw near; here’s hoping that Mike Brown agrees.

*Statistical support for this story from NBA.com.

Darius Soriano

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27 responses to Looking For Lineups? Here You Go…

  1. This is where practice time matters. That’s usually where you test these things out, see what’s going on. I’d be interested in knowing if he did this in Cleveland also, over the years.

  2. Darius,
    I have not even read this yet. About to start now. Thank you so much. I read this blog because you and your fellow contributors are the smartest basketball people around. It’s time to start flexing some muscle. And you look great in a sleeveless shirt (basketball wise of course).

  3. A great great write up. This is why I’m on here everyday. Great use of advanced stats. Maybe in a couple days we can get your opinion on things that those stats can’t measure… Like GLock/Morris in at PG instead of Blake and Jordan Hill being the line back up big over the so far awful (Murphy/McBob) tandem? We can’t use those stats to compare since GLock has played like 30 minutes total this season at PG and Hill hasn’t played for the Lakers at all. I would love to get Darius’ opinion on this.

  4. Like everyone else I don’t mind being right. So I’m glad the statistical analysis basically backed my oppinions of the lineups this season. I just wish Brown would play GLock/Morris at back up PG and Hill at back up PF for ling stretches so we can see if I’m right or wrong there.

  5. Is it hopeless to expect any run from Goudelock? The move of Sessions to the starting 5 further highlighted the second unit (any 4 that has Gasol or Bynum but no Kobe) and its inability to score. Goudelock proved he could get some points, and this post didn’t really discuss who should play when Kobe sits, which imo is where the Lakers are getting killed. The idea that Kobe’s just going to ride this 42 min/game train through the rest of this season and through 4 playoff series is patently ridiculous. Why not play Goudelock? I’m assuming he’s still on the roster. I know he was better as a “scoring point guard” vs. a true shooting guard, but I think he’s good enough for 12 minutes a game (first 6 of 2nd + bridge from 3rd to 9 min remaining in game). That’s a somewhat arbitrary number, but the point is the same. Kobe’s gotta come off the floor at some point.

  6. Aaron and RJ,
    I didn’t want to make this post too long but will talk about Goudelock more tomorrow when I discuss resting Kobe.

  7. Man… I’m on my iPhone… Sorry. I can’t edit comments on here as to only have one comment. Im sorry about this. But I needed to add this very important thing. This I think Darous can answer as its not controversial and wont get him in trouble with mike brown. So Darius… Let’s say I told you that Mike Brown had to play Blake at back up PG and Murphy/McBob at back up PF. Do you think as I do that Blake should only be in when Kobe is on the floor so Kobe can be the playmaker and run the point and Blake can be the spot up SG? Also do you feel as I do that under no cercumstances in the playoffs should Blake as Murphy/McBob be on the floor together as you can’t have two d league level players on the floor at the same time? That’s 2/5ths of your team at d league replacement level.

  8. Great analysis. I was definitely in the camp of putting Sessions with 2nd unit on premise of anchoring that unit, and hiding Blake’s deficiencies with a stronger starting core, but happy to be wrong if the data supports it.

    Awesome work!

  9. Seems Mike Brown is content with playing Blake if so make him a spot up shooter in the corner. He shouldn’t handle the ball at all just space the floor.

    I wouldn’t mind Murhy playing some back up C. Defense and rebounding may suffer but he could turn into a Bonner type floor spacer.

    I don’t get why Brown takes Kobe out with less than a minute left in the 1st and 3rd. The 2 minute mark of the 1st seems like the right time. Maybe Goudelock can get those 4 minutes.

  10. It’s too late in season to experiment now, but I’ve wondered all season long why they haven’t tried Ebanks at the SG spot at all. Supposedly they asked him to work on those skills over the summer. He’s athletic enough to defend that spot, can slash and showed a nice jumper.

    He was very productive in his SF stint to open the season. Ron and Matt ahead of him in the SF rotation is understandable, but as desperate as the team was for a back up SG, I’m really surprised Ebanks didn’t get a shot at that spot, Barnes did.

    I think Ebanks has shown a nicer mid range shot than Barnes and he also runs the floor hard and smart. Too bad he didn’t get a chance to show if he could handle that position.

  11. Unfortunately, based off of this recent quote by Brown, it doesn’t look like Goudelock will be getting any minutes for the rest of the season, barring injury or a change of heart on Browns part:

    “For a young guy he was doing a terrific job for where he was, or what we asked of him. But having said that, he did not create a ton of shots for himself nor for his teammates. It wasn’t like he was getting 14 or 15 points or double figure points off the bench, and so I don’t think it’s as big a deal or as big a difference when you’re looking at production, point-wise, that he was giving us on a night in night out basis.”

    If he was doing a terrific job than why isn’t he playing at all Mike?

    “he did not create a ton of shots for himself or his teammates”

    First of all, it certainly seemed like creating a ton of shots for himself was EXACTLY what he did. If I had to describe his role off of the bench I would say “instant offense”. As for creating a ton of shots for others, he’s not a pure point and everyone knows this. He’s an undersized 2 or a scoring point. He may not be a playmaker at this point in his career, but he’s certainly a scorer. And for a bench that ranks last in the league at point production, isn’t that exactly what we need?

    “It wasn’t like he was getting 14 or 15 points or double figure points off the bench”

    Really Mike? Really? I cannot believe he said this with a straight face. How in the world is anyone going to get 14 or 15 points when they only play 10.7mpg? If he scored 14 a game in 10.7 minutes he’d be averaging 46.8 points per 36 minutes, which is an absolutely ridiculous notion. Kobe averages 26.2 points per 36 minutes by the way, which leads the team. Behind him, in order:

    Points per 36 mins
    Bynum 18.3
    Gasol 16.5
    Sessions 16.2
    GOUDELOCK 15.0
    Barnes 12.3
    Morris 9.8
    Peace 8.6
    Blake 7.8
    Ebanks 7.4
    Murphy 6.9
    McRoberts 6.3
    http://www.basketball-reference.com/teams/LAL/2012.html

    So, by the numbers, Goudelock is our best scorer after the Big 3 + Sessions. His three point field goal percentage is better than everyone else on the team aside from Sessions and Murphy, and his teardrop is damn near automatic. Again, for a team hurting for points off of the bench, he seems like the ideal solution. But according to Brown its not “as big a deal or as big a difference when you’re looking at production, point-wise, that he was giving us on a night in night out basis.”

    Brown is generally referred to as a smart basketball mind and as a stats driven coach. I’d be hard pressed to defend that characterization based on instances like these.

  12. kehntangibles April 3, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    I suspect there are damn good reasons why Darius Morris hasn’t seen the floor. Sad to say, I’ve seen little from him during his limited bits of run to challenge that notion. (On a personal note, I’m a Michigan grad so I’m rooting for him more than anyone else here to succeed with the Lakers)

    (In most years, Morris wouldn’t even have come out for the draft. Most Michigan observers feel that the specter of a lockout kept many underclassmen from going pro last year, which gave Morris hope of being a late first-rounder and probably swayed him towards declaring early.)

    All that said, I’d love to try a not-Steve Blake as a backup PG or 2-guard. But not being Steve Blake isn’t itself a sufficient quality. I mean, I’m not Steve Blake. I’m 5′-5″ with limited quicks and even less basketball IQ. There are many players out there who’d be better backup guard options than Blake, but the reality is probably that none of them are Lakers atm.

    Morris has the skillset to eventually be a PG in the Sessions mode – good size, fearless attacker and the ability to finish at the rim – but he’s also a rookie who would still be in college in almost any other NBA season and a guy who’s had almost no time to integrate with the team in this compressed season. So, Blake more than likely is our best option this season.

    No, I’m not crazy about that either. But yes, I understand why he’s on the floor so much.

  13. What I’m interested in are line-ups that allow Kobe to get some well needed time on the pine. Are there any combos that “hold the fort down” so that we don’t lose a 10 point lead while he is resting. Seems like this time of year, the coach should be really trying to max Kobe’s minutes at somewhere around 35 and not the 40 minutes we have gotten used to. I am guessing this line-up would include Sessions/Barnes/Bynum.

  14. Tend to agree about more burn for Ebanks. But I’d be experimenting with him at the starting “3″ even if it was only for 4 or 5 mins at the start of each half then give way to Ron / Ron. I’d probably opt for having Barnes play more of the 2 while Kobe rests

    What I’d be looking for is to give Ramon someone younger with some speed at the wing to accompany him on the occasional run out opportunities besides the two slow centers we insist on playing together all the time and a Kobe who has understandably slowed way down.

    One of the problems with this team is zero opportunities for easy baskets which means every game is closer than it should be even against bad opponents.

    BTW, that problem was beginning to show up with Phil Jackson’s team a year ago. Not exactly a new phenomenon with Mike Brown.

  15. any_one_mouse April 3, 2012 at 1:42 pm

    Oh oh!
    http://tinyurl.com/cyjdmgn

    Only one way to interpret this – TROUBLE

  16. kehntangibles April 3, 2012 at 1:44 pm

    Dave @ 13: A very salient point. In the middle of our collective angst over this season, I think a lot of us have concomitantly forgotten how many times in 2010 and 2011 the Lakers would have to bring in the starters in the 4th to salvage a woulda-been blowout win b/c the bench frittered away an early lead. I’m sure it’s worse this season, but it’s not like this issue sprang up apropos of nothing.

  17. Great analysis, I second to that. I hope they will send this thread to EL Segundo and see what Mike Brown says.

    Also at this stage of the season, Mbrown should let his other players do the workhorse job like Ebanks, G-lock running with Sessions, Barnes and McRob. That will be a fast game. It provides rest on our Big 3 because in two weeks’ time they will be in the forefront of Lakers attack. He has to rest his prized stallion who will be competing in a huge race during the playoffs. It’s a win-win situation if Lakers play Goudelock and Ebanks whether Lakers win or lose against NJ. The standings will not be altered and the loss is essentially a Pyrrhic victory for the Lakers because Big 3 got their rest. My definition of rest is for them playing 5 minutes each per quarter.

  18. @14 Dave, I like that twist. they’ve tried Barnes at SG and know what he can do there and obviously team knows what Ebanks can do at SF. By using your suggestion, it would cut down on unknown variables. Slotting them into those spots for some minutes could increase the team’s bench depth and productivity.

    Agree about giving Ramon more speed options flanking him on the break.

    I also think this would help Blake. Don’t forget earlier in the season when McRoberts was getting a lot of minutes with Blake as the first two guys off the bench, Blake pushed it up the floor more and found McRoberts a few times.

    If Ebanks and Barnes were in there and Blake spells Ramon for a bit, they could still push the break. Mentally it could help Blake be in a more aggressive mindset since he’ll be looking to push a lot more. It could carry over to him looking for his shot more.

    Question now is will we see Ebanks at all rest of the season.

  19. So Bynum blows off a meeting with Mitch what’s wrong with this guy. Drew is like us when we were in middle school didn’t feel like being in class anymore so we did anything and everything to get kicked out. It’s obvious Bynum wants to leave class meaning the Lakers. Oblige him Mitch.

  20. 15,

    Suddenly from Barney, the friendly dino he turned into spit-fire Godzilla. That could be a problem indeed unless Mama Bynum intervenes.

  21. Funky Chicken April 3, 2012 at 2:12 pm

    This is a nice writeup that simply proves the common sense analysis. Your best lineups are those that include your best players.

    In the last few games we have seen zero minutes from Andrew Goudelock, and yet Coach Brown managed to find minutes for BOTH Sessions and Blake together. I get that he’s an NBA coach and I’m not, but that is just downright ridiculous. Also ridiculous is the contention that Goudelock wasn’t “creating his own shots,” “averaging 14 ppg,” or “creating a lot of shots for teammates.” Not one of those things can be said about Steve Blake, but that doesn’t stop Brown from giving Blake 100% of the backup PG minutes.

    Finally, any one mouse’s link is yet the latest installment of the depressing saga of Andrew Bynum’s bad attitude. This turn for the worse by Drew couldn’t really have come at a worse time, and it’s more than a little disappointing….

  22. @15:

    Andrew growing tired of the Laker soap opera.

    The guy has mostly remained in the background like a little brother for seven years and not caused any trouble.

    He was obviously frustrated when the team crashed and burned out of the playoffs last year in four straight and maybe he’s dreading the possibility of that happening again.

    I think he’ll be alright when Pau and Kobe get back to pulling their weight every night along with him.

    Lately all three of them have been coming up short far too often. Then again these are the dog days preceding the playoffs.

  23. Star Wars
    ——————
    The Lakers have two superstars. Kobe and Bynum. They thank goodness are not at war with each other… But I have a feeling Kobe and Bynum might be at war with the FO over the Mike Brown hiring. To make a Star Wars analogy (my favorite franchise) it seems like Kobe Bryant is playing the part of the emperor. He looks to e the good guy but under te surface is pulling all the strings to start a civil war. He has long noticed that Andrew Bynum (A Skywalker) is young and powerful and yearns for more power and responsibility. Kobe has been praising Bynum all year and has taken his side whenever there has been conformation with mike brown. Kobe is an evil genius and is literally using his powerful young Padawan to gain control of the organization and at the same time the league (win a championship) Hey… It worked for many years for the emperor. We only need it to work for a few years here. Here’s to hoping our emperor and young up and coming sith lord are powerful enough to fight a war on both fronts.

  24. Dave: Bynum continues to get passes and everything he has done out of favor for some Lakers fans are brushed off by others. Instead of checking out he should play harder and stop a sweep from happening.

    He gotten speeding tickets days apart from each other recently. Regardless of the numbers his effort has not been there. This guy knocked someone a 1/4 of his size out of mid air with no remorse. Gerald Wallace had to spent a night in the hospital because of a similiar shot.

    Bynum is too full of himself right now after 50 great games. Kobe has been supportive of him no criticism has come his way. Kobe had beef at 24 and it never affected his play. Bynum needs to play hard for his teammates.

  25. Darius: With regard to the Kobe rest: Mike Brown “might” have the added distraction of the scoring title to deal with.
    Bynum: Incredible. The hit parade just keeps coming for this guy. The contract saga is going to be interesting to say the least. On a positive note – he is getting some rest.

  26. Hey Darius, sometime in the near future we just might need a thread on what’s troubling our Young All-Star Center. Something is OBVIOUSLY affecting him, whether it be on or off the court, and unfortunately, if this pattern of behavior continues, it has the potential to derail our season prematurely.