Odd Man Out; Looking At the Best 4 Man Lineups in the NBA

We looked at the best 4 man lineups in the league on each team relative to a number of different statistics. What we found were some pretty interesting phenomena if I do say so myself. Check it out: 

Editors Note: A 4 man lineup is defined as any time those 4 players were in the game at the same time, regardless of who the 5th player was.

Picking Up Where They Left Off (Schroder, Bron, KCP, Gasol)

This lineup has the best Net Rating of all 4 man lineups with at least 150 min played together (approx 8-10 MPG) in the entire league. It’s very interesting that AD isn’t in their best 4 man lineup (the Lakers next best lineup, with AD, actually had a lower net rating by over 2 points), but it also makes some sense. When AD is on the floor, they look to him a lot in the post and have him go into isolation, which makes the surrounding players (and shooters) stagnant oftentimes, theoretically limiting them on the offensive end. Obviously Davis is an incredibly talented player, but I think he’s still learning how to facilitate out of double teams and really make his teammates better. That’s definitely the next step in his game, and I love his chances of achieving that development within the next few years considering the fact that he has one of the best and smartest basketball players and passers that this league has ever seen on his team. Without AD on the floor, there is more movement - Even when Lebron goes into isolation, it’s usually just to draw a help defender and kick out to shooters. Defensively, there’s no logical argument to be made that the Lakers are better without AD on the floor. Gasol brings a lot defensively, despite his lack of athleticism, but he objectively brings less than Davis. On the offensive side of the ball, Gasol is an excellent ball mover and plays well with Bron. Schroder’s transition from a bench player in OKC to starting PG for the LAL has been seamless, and he’s been able to showcase his incredible quickness and first step while playing with better surrounding talent. I also think his increased role has gotten him even more excited to be playing every night. He went from playoff contender to championship contender and it’s really motivated him to take his game to new heights. KCP has been shooting like crazy this year - 55% from three. His new contract combined with his increased confidence from the playoffs last season has made him one of the best 3 and D players in the NBA. For lack of better wording, he’s absolutely stroking it.


*View graph in landscape on mobile.

Charlotte, although sitting at 11th place in the East, absolutely moves the rock. Of all the 4 man lineups in the entire NBA (min 50 minutes played together), Charlotte holds all of the top 5 spots for assist percentage. This means that Charlotte scores on assists at a far higher percentage than the rest of the league. I know, I was shocked when I heard it too. But after watching some footage of them this year, it made perfect sense. They have great off-ball player movement, and they make quick decisions with the ball. They always make the extra pass and are often driving to pass rather than to score. It’s really pretty to watch. It seems like they know that no one on the team can win a game by themselves so they’ve all bought into the idea of team basketball. But, this team lacks a star player, and without a star player, it’s tough to win consistently in this league. The truth is that Charlotte plays “better” basketball than a team like the Nets. But just because it’s more fundamentally sound basketball does not mean it’s more effective. Kevin Durant going one on one with his 4 teammates sitting on the bench could realistically be a better option than Charlotte moving the ball really well. Okay, I’m being a little ridiculous there, but you get the point; isolation with your star player (KD, Harden, Lillard, Bron, AD, Kawhi, Etc…) can be a better option than working together as a team, despite what your 5th grade rec league basketball coach told you.

Top Lineups Slow the Pace:

*View graph in landscape on mobile.

We found an extremely interesting trend when looking at a team’s average pace compared to their best 4 man lineup’s pace. There are only 6 teams in the entire NBA who play faster than their team’s average with their best 4 man lineup in the game (ATL, WAS, MIL, SA, MIA and BOS). The rest of the 24 teams all slow it down when their best lineup is in the game. Why is this the case? It could be because those 4 players have a really good handle on the offensive principles that their team is trying to run, and they like to work it through on offense and use a lot of the shot clock because they know they can get a good look. When a lineup that isn’t as effective at scoring in the half court comes in the game, perhaps they try to push the pace to get easy buckets in transition rather than grinding out possessions in the half court. It could also be that the pace of the game slows down in the fourth quarter (for obvious reasons), and that’s likely a time when your best lineup is in the game. Or, perhaps it’s that the best 4 man lineup likely plays more minutes than other players/lineups and therefore are not as able to keep the pace as high for their entire run. Whatever the case, it’s an interesting trend that should be kept up with. I’ll certainly keep my eye out for how the best 4 man lineup differs from the other lineups, because it could potentially be very telling in terms of what kind of offense is most effective. 



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