2020-21 NBA Midseason 5-Man Lineup Superlatives


We’re already almost at the halfway point of the NBA season, which means it’s time for some 5-man lineup superlatives! In this article we’ll be looking at the best and worst (highest and lowest) 5 man lineups in the league in various categories: minutes, pace, assist percentage, offensive rating, and defensive rating. Hopefully through this exploration we’ll be able to get an idea of which combinations of 5 players have been the most and least effective in the league thus far. In order to make sure there is a significant enough sample size, we will only be looking at lineups who have played more than 5 games together and more than 70 minutes together; there are 54 lineups in the NBA that meet this criteria. 

Minutes

Most: 391 minutes, 22 games played

NYK - Reggie Bullock, Elfrid Payton, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, Mitchell Robinson

The Knicks starting lineup has logged the most minutes of any lineup in the NBA, and by a pretty sizable margin; the next closest lineup (NOP starting 5) has only 350 minutes under their belt. Thibideau is really riding these guys out, and you have to give him and the organization some credit for that. Playing your starters the most minutes of any starting lineup in the NBA is pretty much the antithesis of a team that’s tanking. Contrary to many people’s predictions pre-season about what stage the New York Knicks organization might be in, the Knicks seem to be confident that they have a team primed to make some noise, and this lineup has been the backbone of that belief. These guys are athletic and full of energy, but I don’t see them making it past the first round of the playoffs. I do think, though, that there’s a certain culture being built over there in New York in terms of how they compete on the defensive end with physicality and toughness, especially considering all of the young talent that’s contributing to their exceeding of expectations as a team. Seemingly good years ahead for the Knicks.


Pace

Fastest: 109.6 pace (18 GP, 72 Minutes)

CHA - Lamelo Ball, Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward, Miles Bridges, Bismack Biyombo 

If you’ve watched Lamelo play at all this year, you know that he likes to push the pace. As soon as he either a) gets the rebound himself or b) gets the outlet pass from a teammate who has secured the rebound, he has his eyes up and is looking for an easy basket. We saw this type of play style and awareness in Lamelo’s game as early as his Chino Hills days; he and his brothers were ALWAYS looking to aggressively push the ball (after both makes and misses) and get easy looks before the defense was set. It’s certainly a fun style to play, and it’s clear that Lamelo’s teammates are enjoying their rookie’s unique passing ability; they are sprinting the floor with a lot more speed, because they know Lamelo has his eyes up and wants to make the baseball pass. And Lamelo is quite good at making that pass, I should mention. Unfortunately for the Hornets, this fast pace hasn’t translated to an effective offense - they have an offensive rating of 96.4 (the average is 112.3). This is to be expected with a rookie point guard-led offense, but once Lamelo learns to hit singles instead of always going for the home run pass, the rest of the league will be  in trouble!

Slowest: 95.51 (16 GP, 250 Minutes) 

DEN - Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton, Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokic 

This is Denver’s preferred starting lineup when everyone is healthy, and I don’t blame them. This lineup is an offensive juggernaut, and I would be lying if I told you that Jokic wasn’t the overwhelming reason why that’s the case. They have so much confidence in their halfcourt offense that they don’t look to push the ball much at all, and it has paid off well for them (#5 offensive rating). The two-man game between Jokic and Murray is notorious, but the other guys have certainly learned to play off the Joker as well. They constantly look to find open cutting lanes when Jokic is operating in the post or at the top of the key, and it makes them very tiring to guard for 24 seconds. This is similar to the effect that Lamelo has on his teammates; when you have an elite passer who is unselfish, it makes you more likely to sprint the floor and cut hard as a teammate because you know you only need a sliver of an opening to get 2 points. Jokic isn’t going to beat you up the floor with his legs, and he doesn’t have to, because he’ll continue to dominate by finding open teammates and picking his spots to take over in a deliberate and methodical fashion. 


Assist Percentage

Highest: 75% (16 GP, 74 Minutes)

UTA - Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Royce O’Neale, Bojan Bogdanovic, Derrick Favors

Weirdly enough, this lineup actually has a below average offensive rating (101.3). I don’t want to harp too much on that, though, because I think this statistic (AST% ) is indicative of something larger. Utah is building a culture of unselfish basketball with lots of ball and player movement, and it’s honestly beautiful to watch. Each player is ready to shoot, pass, or dribble when they catch the ball and you almost never see a Jazz player hold the ball for 5 seconds before making a decision. Their offense is predicated on making quick decisions once the ball is swung to you, and they have done a great job this year at ensuring the ball doesn’t stick. They also do an excellent job of spacing the floor; they play a 4 out 1 in offense with Gobert/Favors as the 1 in, with Ingles, Bojan, and O’Neale holding space as Mitchell operates. From there, they look to get Mitchell downhill using a screen, and once he kicks it to one of his shooters on the perimeter, the drive and kick offense is set in motion. Utah is a rare TEAM in today’s isolation-heavy game, and although this specific lineup hasn’t been that effective on the offensive end, the precedent that they have set in Utah is illustrated by these assist percentage numbers. If you enjoy watching great basketball, tune in to see this team move the rock.

Lowest: 49.5% (12 GP, 103 Minutes)

POR - Damian Lillard, Gary Trent Jr., Derrick Jones Jr., Robert Covington, Enes Kanter

So, this team runs a lot of isolation. Lillard has been on an absolute tear this year, and a lot of his scoring has come from him just breaking his defender down and either getting all the way to the rim or shooting a side-step/step-back three. This lineup will also look to feed Kanter in the post from time to time; Enes has great footwork and hands, and he is extremely strong - almost immovable - once he gets the ball on the block. They also get a good number of their points from second chances. Kanter, Jones Jr., and Covington all look to aggressively crash the boards on the offensive end; the lineup has an OREB% of 33.3% (average is 26.1).

Graph Blog 7

Offensive Rating

Best: 143.5 (12 GP, 103 Minutes)

POR - Damian Lillard, Gary Trent Jr., Derrick Jones Jr., Robert Covington, Enes Kanter

No, you’re not going crazy... the highest offensive rating in the league does indeed belong to the lineup with the lowest assist percentage. And it’s not that close, either; the next closest lineup has an offensive rating of 127.4. How is this possible? Well, this lineup has two very effective ways to score, both of which are not the result of assists.

  1. Damian Lillard Isolation. He’s been the third highest scoring isolation player in the league this year behind James Harden and John Wall, with a larger percentage of those points coming from three than almost any other player. The shooting of Covington and Trent allows Lillard to operate with space; if Dame is doubled, he’s more than capable of finding the open shooter for an easy three. His quickness, ball handling, and shooting ability make him one of the hardest covers in the league (just ask Pat Bev, who said so himself).
  2. O Boards. Kanter has the most putbacks of any player in the entire league, and that’s not remotely surprising - it’s what he’s done his whole career. Derrick Jones has also been quite effective crashing the glass, using his elite length and athleticism to sky over defenders. These guys are both DAWGS, and with Dame shooting a lot of threes, these guys are able to get long rebounds and find easy opportunities to score 2. 

Worst: 86.9 (6 GP, 76 minutes)

CHI - Coby White, Zach LaVine, Patrick Williams, Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr.

This lineup barely eclipses the more than 5 games and 70 minutes requirement, so I don’t want to put too much stalk into their offensive woes. These 5 play at the 4th highest pace of qualifying lineups, but have the third lowest true shooting percentage. In other words, they’re getting lots of shots up, but not hitting many of them. This is typical of a young lineup like this one; these guys are still refining their shot selections and decision making. You’ll often see Coby White or Markkanen take an ill-advised shot in transition or a quick shot without a paint touch or ball reversal. It’s a learning process, though, and this team has a bright future ahead. Both Carter and White have seemed to improve in the offseason, and Pat Williams is looking like an excellent pick at number three, even though they collected some heat for the pick on draft night. LaVine will be an all-star this season and is the future of this team; his combination of explosiveness and finesse is rare, and I love his chances of developing even more in the coming years.

Defensive Rating

Best/Lowest: 80.0 (17 GP, 82 Minutes)

SAS - Patty Mills, Dejounte Murray, Rudy Gay, Devin Vassell, Jakob Poeltl

This lineup has been unbelievable defensively this season. Each defender is individually very talented: Patty Mills is an absolute pest on the ball and has been his whole career, Dejounte Murray is incredibly long and athletic, Devin Vassell was one of the most highly touted defensive rookies and has fantastic length and instincts, Rudy Gay is an athletic and long veteran, and Poeltl is a very high-IQ and disciplined defender. I want to highlight Vassell, though, because I think he is really special on the defensive end. With a 6’10 wingspan and ultra-quick feet, Vassell is a PROTOTYPE defender who has already turned heads. He can literally guard anyone, and I can’t wait to see him match up with a star come playoff time if and when the Spurs make it there. What makes this lineup so impenetrable, though, is their versatility. Murray, Vassell, Gay, and Poeltl are all able to switch with each other and can guard 1-4. I can already hear the haters through the computer screen: “Jakob Poeltl? No way he can guard a point guard.” Well, you would be surprised. He moves his feet very well and stays  completely vertical at the rim. This lineup also has the 3rd highest defensive rebound percentage, which illustrates their discipline when it comes to boxing out. 

(2nd) Worst/Highest: 124.3 (16 GP, 219 Minutes) 

SAS - Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker IV, Keldon Johnson, Demar Derozan, Lamarcus Aldridge

So this lineup is actually the second worst lineup, but I thought it would be interesting to highlight because it comes from the same team (SAS) as the best lineup in defensive rating - the worst lineup is OKC’s lineup of SGA, George Hill, Bazley, Dort, and Roby with a defensive rating of 126. The only guy that’s in both the best and worst defensive lineup for SAS is Dejounte Murray, so it’s clear that there’s other pieces that are leading to this lineup being so much worse. The most glaring difference is Lamarcus Aldridge for Jakob Poeltl. I’m just going to come out and say it: Aldridge is dreadful on the defensive end. He has pretty terrible lateral quickness, and he’s not athletic enough to challenge people at the rim. This lineup only gets 43.9% of rebounds (the worst of any qualifying lineup), and I think Lamarcus is largely to blame for that as well. Besides Lamarcus, I think they get worse by having Derozan in the lineup. He plays the most minutes on the team and is getting up there in age, so it’s not surprising that he struggles defensively at this point in his career. 

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