Five games ago Byron Scott made a change to his starting lineup, moving Jeremy Lin and Carlos Boozer to the bench in favor of Ronnie Price and Ed Davis. At the time, the move did not sit well with me as the changes did not seem to be based off any real statistical evidence and I said so going into their first game together. So far, my mind hasn’t really changed about this specific starting lineup being any better suited to compete against other team’s starters.
Per NBA.com/stats, the new starting group of Price, Kobe, Wes Johnson, Davis, and Jordan Hill are still posting a negative net efficiency with an offensive efficiency of 99.2 and a defensive efficiency of 109.0 since that game against the Pelicans. This isn’t quite the minus-15.0 efficiency rating the original starting group posted before the change and nowhere near the minus-23.5 efficiency rating this group was posting together before they became the starters, but it is still bad. They are struggling offensively and still not doing a very good job of stopping teams from scoring efficiently, consistently forcing the other units to make up the gap they create.
Fortunately for the Lakers, the shift in starters has created a bench unit that has shown it is able to make up the difference against other team’s reserve units. With Lin and Boozer anchoring the bench, a new unit of those two flanked by Wayne Ellington, Nick Young, and Robert Sacre has been playing extremely well since the change. That five has posted a net efficiency rating of plus-21.0, boasting a fantastic offensive efficiency of 110.9 with a very stingy defensive efficiency of 89.9.
While sample size and “noise” in the numbers are a real caveat — that defensive efficiency number, for example, will not hold — I am encouraged by what I have seen from this group. They offer a balanced attack offensively and have enough athleticism and size to deal with most opposing units on both ends of the floor.
Jeremy Lin has been especially important to this group ability to get into the paint and be a shot creator for himself and teammates. Beyond Lin, the scoring and shooting ability of Young and Ellington on each wing are stretching defenses out to the three point line and giving Boozer and Sacre more room in the mid and low-post to score. Further, with both Boozer and Sacre showing an ability to hit the mid-range jumper with some consistency, the driving lanes for Lin are more open which only reinforces the strengths of the other players.
The key to this unit, however, may simply be that they are mostly playing against other team’s benches. Lin and Young are typically the first subs into the game, replacing Price and Wes about halfway through the quarter. Boozer will replace Hill or Davis a bit later and then Sacre will replace the other big when Ellington replaces Kobe near the end of the first period. By the time the 2nd quarter starts, this group has had a couple of minutes together to find their stride and then are put up against mostly bench players from the other team. Against these units, the Lakers’ group typically has more talent and it is showing in their production.
It is hard to know if this was what Scott had in mind when he made a change to the starting group. When the change was made he only spoke about it in terms of that group needing what Price and Davis provide (defense) and not some bigger reorganization of his lineups in an attempt to maximize his bench. So far, however, the latter is what is occurring and it is helping the Lakers stay in games for longer and win a few additional contests (they are 3-2 since the change).
So while this change didn’t really fix the starting group, a true bench unit has been established and is flourishing early on. Hopefully it sticks. If it does, Scott’s change may indeed end up paying some dividends.