Here’s hoping Gilbert Arenas gets healthy by the time the season opens because I’m curious to see if Wizards coach Flip Saunders is really going to commit to using an Arenas-John Wall-Kirk Hinrich combination for extended minutes. A search through the most frequently used lineup combos on all 30 teams last year yields a few overarching findings:
A) The Wizards’ projected three-guard lineup would be among the most unusual combinations in the NBA, with all three guards listed at 6-foot-3 or shorter.
B) Discussing positionality (not a word, I realize) is an increasingly tricky thing in today’s NBA.
C) Most of the league’s smallest lineups put up surprisingly robust offensive rebounding numbers, but they could not keep pace on the defensive glass.
Here’s a simple question: How many three-guard lineups got significant minutes last season? The question, it turns out, is not so simple, because the distinction between “shooting guard” and “small forward” has vanished on several franchises. What position does New Jersey’s Anthony Morrow play? He would seem to be a shooting guard, but he spent the majority of his minutes last season as the nominal small forward alongside Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis in Golden State. And what about Milwaukee’s John Salmons and Chris Douglas-Roberts? Or Indiana’s Brandon Rush?
Finding a true three-guard lineup is not an easy thing, and finding one equivalent to the Wizards’ trio is nearly impossible. Here are a few ”small-ish” lineups, along with a general description of how they performed relative to their team’s overall numbers. (For the numbers themselves, just click on the links.)
Mike Bibby-Jamal Crawford-Joe Johnson-Josh Smith-Al Horford
(406 minutes, second-most used lineup)
This was often Atlanta’s crunch time lineup, and it qualifies as a three-guard group with Johnson sliding to the small forward slot. The lineup was a killer offensive combination, obliterating the Hawks’ already-strong overall points per possession and offensive rebounding numbers. It struggled on defense and on the defensive glass. The latter is a recurring theme here.
Rajon Rondo-Tony Allen-Ray Allen-Rasheed Wallace-Kendrick Perkins
(118 minutes, fourth-most used lineup)
Another clear three-guard combo, though it’s not precisely “small” with two centers anchoring the back line. This was one of Boston’s stingiest defensive groups — the Rondo/Tony Allen backcourt produced gobs of steals — and it was way, way better crashing the offensive glass than Boston’s more traditional lineups. Still, it scored less efficiently and struggled on the defensive glass.
Derrick Rose-Kirk Hinrich-John Salmons-Luol Deng-Joakim Noah
(160 minutes, fifth-most used lineup)
Is this a three-guard lineup? That’s hard to say, given that Salmons has split time pretty equally between the two and three spots over the last three seasons, according to 82games.com. But with Deng sliding to power forward, it played a bit smaller, stylistically, than Chicago’s “normal” lineups. This lineup outperformed Chicago’s overall numbers across the board and was particularly beastly on the offensive glass.
Will Bynum-Rodney Stuckey-Ben Gordon-Charlie Villanueva-Ben Wallace
(71 minutes, sixth-most used lineup)
Another clear three-guard lineup, and one that approaches the proposed Wiz group in terms of shortness. This group also outperformed Detroit’s overall numbers on both ends and rebounded a monstrous 41 percent of Detroit’s misses on offense.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS:
C.J. Watson-Stephen Curry-Ellis-Corey Maggette-Anthony Randolph
(72 minutes, fourth-most used lineup)
Crazy time in Golden State! With all three guards listed at 6-3 or shorter, this lineup most closely resembles Washington’s three-guard group height-wise. And it got absolutely smoked, allowing a ghastly 119 points per 100 possessions and rebounding a pathetic 58 percent of opponent misses on defense, according to Basketball Value.
Earl Watson-Brandon Rush-Dahntay Jones-Danny Granger-Roy Hibbert
(91 minutes, second-most used lineup)
(89 minutes, third-most used lineup)
It seems questionable to label these as three-guard lineups, since Rush has split time at both wing positions. Also, Rush and Jones are listed as 6-6, giving them three inches on any of the Hinrich-Wall-Arenas trio. But I’ll count them here, since Granger shifted to the power forward spot. Both lineups outperformed Indy’s overall numbers by substantial margins, including on the offensive glass.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS:
Jordan Farmar-Shannon Brown-Kobe Bryant-Lamar Odom-Andrew Bynum
(126 minutes, fifth-most used lineup)
Our second disaster (after the Golden State lunacy), as this group dropped off from L.A.’s overall numbers everywhere but on the defensive glass. Bryant’s height (6-6 or 6-7, depending on where you look) helped in that regard.
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS:
Andre Miller-Brandon Roy-Steve Blake-LaMarcus Aldridge-Greg Oden
(134 minutes, fourth-most used lineup)
Another stout group that recorded a higher offensive rebounding rate than Portland’s already-beefy number. Having one of the league’s four or five best offensive rebounders in the middle obviously helps.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS:
Tony Parker-Manu Ginobili-George Hill-Richard Jefferson-Tim Duncan
(51 minutes, ninth-most used lineup)
This lineup would surely have gotten more regular-season run had its key members been healthy all season. Spurs fans likely hope it won’t see that much time this season; the team’s offense fell apart with this group on the floor, though it held its own on the glass.
You might argue a few more lineups belong on this list. Utah used a Wesley Matthews-Deron Williams-Ronnie Brewer combination for a decent chunk of minutes, and the Hornets used Morris Peterson as a small forward alongside various small guard combinations.
This sort of lineup parsing highlights the evolution of the league away from the traditional five-position orthodoxy — an orthodoxy that might not have been that strong to begin with. Watch tape of the 1998 Finals, for instance, and you’ll see two “power forwards” (Dennis Rodman and Karl Malone) battling it out at the “center” position.
The bigger change has happened on the wing, where players on some teams are increasingly interchangeable. Look at the lineups some of the following teams are going to trot out this season:
• The Knicks will often feature Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari at the forward positions. Which one is the “power forward”? Does it even matter?
• The Sixers will use Thaddeus Young as a power forward alongside various three-man groups including Louis Williams, Andre Iguodala, Jrue Holliday and Evan Turner.
• The Pistons will again use Bynum alongside Stuckey, and those two will surely play heavy minutes with Richard Hamilton, one of the league’s prototypical shooting guards in the way he uses down-screens to spring for open perimeter jumpers, like Reggie Miller and Ray Allen. If Hamilton’s the 2-guard here, what does that make Stuckey?
• And what of the Mavs and their super-big lineup, which includes Caron Butler as the 2-guard and Shawn Marion as the small forward?
• The Suns might not have a reliable power forward on their roster all season.
All of this doesn’t mean orthodoxy is dead. There are still teams that use the five-position model as we all imagine it. The Celtics, in crunch time, use about as traditional a lineup as anyone could create. The Thunder, Rockets and Lakers also lean toward the traditional, though that may change this year in Oklahoma City if Kevin Durant spends more time at power forward.
If the performance of those small lineups above tell us anything — and they might not, given sample size issues — it’s that teams using them must work very hard to make up for a deficit on the defensive glass. Interestingly, though, the numbers show small lineups might actually be better at grabbing offensive boards. That could be a function of increased quickness and the fact that such lineups likely drag one opposing big man out of the lane.
We can only hope Saunders does use the three-guard lineup in Washington, just so we can see how it works.
EIGHT THINGS I LIKE AND DON’T LIKE
This will be a regular feature of the Monday column, with the number of things changing based on my personal whims. With eight days until the season tips off, we’re going with that number today.
1. Curtis Jerrells getting traded to New Orleans
I like Curtis Jerrells getting traded to New Orleans, which happened Sunday. Sure, it has the flavor of an inside job, with San Antonio helping out a former colleague, Dell Demps, now the Hornets’ general manager. But it makes sense for everyone involved. The Spurs get a future second-round pick that may or may not materialize for a player they were going to cut anyway. The Hornets get a true point guard to compete for minutes backing up Chris Paul, minutes previously earmarked for Willie Green. Green is not a point guard. He’s done a nice job protecting the ball in the preseason, but teams need more than turnover avoidance from their point guards, especially those playing alongside second-unit guys who struggle to create their own offense.
Teams need guys with the quickness to penetrate deep into the lane and distribute. Green is not that guy. Jerrells might be, and it’s worth it to New Orleans to find out.
2. John Wall in transition
I like John Wall in transition. Check that: I love John Wall in transition. Wall will immediately rank as perhaps the second-most threatening player in the open floor, behind only LeBron James. He had at least four incredible one-on-one or one-on-two fast-break finishes against the Knicks on Sunday, and he’s fantastic at sprint-dribbling right into the body of the last defender near the rim, stopping and laying the ball in as that defender stumbles out of bounds. His combination of strength and speed is devastating.
3. The rebounding in Phoenix
I don’t like the rebounding in Phoenix. It’s only the preseason, but the Suns are getting slaughtered on the boards, and with no traditional power forward in the rotation, Phoenix is in real danger of eclipsing (sorry) the Warriors as the league’s worst rebounding team. The Raptors, of all teams, outrebounded the Suns 57-38 on Sunday and grabbed 24 offensive boards on 52 missed shots. This has not been an isolated thing.
The Suns’ wing players stepped up on the glass in the postseason against bigger teams, and they’ll have to do that all season for Phoenix to stay in the playoff race.
4. Anthony Randolph’s preseason play
I don’t like Anthony Randolph’s preseason play. Randolph just might not be ready. He looks skittish on offense, where he’s shooting just 39 percent, settling for mid-range jumpers and turning the ball over too often. It will be interesting to see how much Mike D’Antoni plays him to start the season. Randolph needs minutes to get comfortable, but he’s so uncomfortable D’Antoni may not give him minutes.
5. Andrew Bogut’s return to the court
I like Andrew Bogut’s return the court. No injury was more saddening last season than Bogut’s grotesque “arm explosion” (™Bucksketball). Lingering soreness and a migraine delayed Bogut’s preseason return, but it finally happened Sunday, when he scored 11 points in just 14 minutes. Bogut was the second-best true center in the game last season, and, as with Arenas, here’s hoping he can get something close to 100 percent by the time the games really start to count.
6. The DeJuan Blair Revolution in San Antonio
Only two teams — the Raptors and Lakers — are averaging more offensive rebounds per game than the Spurs in the preseason, and the Spurs haven’t even played Phoenix yet. Blair has 18 offensive boards in just 118 minutes, the equivalent of an insane 5.5 offensive boards per 36 minutes. Remember, the Spurs have, largely by choice, been one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the league for most of the last decade. Has the remaking of San Antonio begun?
7. Marcus Thornton’s shooting
I don’t like Marcus Thornton’s shooting. Seriously: What in the world is going on with Thornton, one of the top rookies last season? He’s 9-of-45 from the floor through five preseason games, and Hornets fans are getting worried about a sophomore slump. Are the worries justified? Or can we just toss out the ice-cold shooting as the product of a random preseason statistical blip?
8. Stories using Gilbert Arenas’ facial hair as an indicator of his mood
I don’t like stories using Gilbert Arenas’ facial hair as an indicator of his mood. Enough.