Is Projected Lineup Really The Best Combination?
Monday, Oct. 2, 2006
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Q. Early reports have us starting Jamaal Tinsley, Stephen Jackson, Jermaine O'Neal, Al Harrington and Danny Granger. It's easy to argue that those are our best five players, but starting your best five doesn't always create the best rotation. In a playoff situation where the rotations are shortened, this lineup works. However, look what happens when you try to construct a 10-man rotation.
The second unit-backcourt is easy. Saras Jasikevicius and Marquis Daniels are a nice combination. Saras is the shooter. Daniels is the slasher and the defender and is enough of a ballhandler to save Saras from backcourt pressure. However, unless you go with a rookie small forward, your remaining frontcourt options are all bigs. Surely, you can't play Jeff Foster, David Harrison, and Maceo Baston together. You have no perimeter threat and no one to guard wing players. Compare that second unit to the one you get if Foster starts in place of Granger. Now Granger is the second unit small forward and Baston is the power forward. We even eliminate the first-unit question about Harrington's ability to be a center.
Do you think we can afford to start the reported lineup? (From Frank in Indianapolis)
A. As usual, you make an excellent point. It's not unusual at all for a team's best five players to not necessarily comprise the most effective starting unit. The 76ers of the early 1980s had Marc Iavaroni, who would start but quickly give way to Bobby Jones. The Showtime Lakers had Kurt Rambis. More recently, the Spurs kept Manu Ginobili on the bench for a time with role-players like Malik Rose, Hedo Turkoglu – or Jackson – in the lineup.
It's a formula, depending on a team's construction, that can work quite well.
If I'm reading you right, you're suggesting using Foster in a form of Iavaroni/Rambis role, starting and playing the first rotation. Though Granger would come off the bench in that scenario, he would play starter's minutes and in all likelihood be on the finishing unit.
There is merit in this suggestion and it's possible that's how things will play out. That's going to be one of the many intriguing subplots to the preseason as we all learn about not only the skill sets and personalities of so many new players, but how these various parts weave into the fabric of the team.
The implied concern about the projected starting lineup is the possibility of too many scorers and not enough role-players, as well as the necessary balance between first and second units. Though I understand that concern, I tend to think there's a pretty good chance the projected lineup could work.
Essentially, the only major personality change would be Granger for Foster. Harrington replaces Peja Stojakovic, so that's a scorer-for-scorer trade, with a little more defense and rebounding thrown in for good measure.
Granger is a much bigger offensive threat than Foster but isn't a player that needs to be fed a steady diet of touches to be effective. His presence strengthens the perimeter defense, which relieves pressure from the big men to provide help defense. His mid-to-long-range shooting ability won't necessarily stretch a defense, but does give the Pacers the ability to keep the floor well spaced. It also gives defenses one less player it can leave in order to double-team elsewhere.
The second unit could take shape nicely at the wing positions because there are a number of players that can interchange at shooting guard and small forward depending on matchups and hot hands: Jackson, Daniels and James White are all legitimate options at either spot.
The frontcourt presumably will always feature either O'Neal or Harrington in order to keep a low-post threat on the floor, with Harrison a third possibility in that department. Foster and Baston would fill the other spot with the second unit, providing the necessary energy and rebounding.
Using the San Antonio analogy, the Spurs won a title with Ginobili as the sixth man, and they won a title with him in the starting lineup. Either approach can work, provided all involved accept and fulfill their roles.