Yes, it's a tool, not the tool
But guess which 5-man unit is leading the league in +/- at the moment?
It's the Pacers' starting lineup, which has put up an impressive +84 in 224 minutes of play so far this season. In comparison, OKC's starting lineup has put up +35 in 258 minutes. Pretty impressive, eh? Unfortunately, our bench units have been putting up awful numbers. Keep in mind though, that sample size is still small this early in the season. But let's go ahead and look at the numbers anyway.
First, the individual +/-. This is going to surprise some people, I think.
The much maligned Messrs. Collison and Granger are leading the Pacers this season in +/- (and I've done my share of maligning on Collison). All the starters look good of course, thanks to that league leading starting lineup, but Collison and Granger are head and shoulders above the other starters. Foster, doing Foster things, also shows very well, albeit in limited minutes.
Player +/- Minutes
D. Collison 104 510:04
D. Granger 95 461:52
R. Hibbert 63 438:16
D. West 61 429:14
P. George 56 466:29
J. Foster 43 72:39
A. Price 9 59:47
J. Pendergraph -14 8:01
G. Hill -18 351:49
T. Hansbrough -24 373:36
L. Stephenson -26 109:05
L. Amundson -35 95:57
D. Jones -54 248:07
The other surprise is that both Hill and Hansbrough (the other members of our core 7) are doing so poorly. This warrants a closer look at the 5-man lineups. Dahntay's poor numbers aren't so surprising, unfortunately.
Next, our most used 5-man lineups according to 82games:
82games is around 2 games behind, but NBA.com doesn't show the worst +/- lineups If anyone knows a better source for +/- data, give a shout.
Rk Lineup Minutes Off Def +/-
1 Collison-George-Granger-West-Hibbert 165.0 1.12 0.92 +64
2 Collison-Hill-Granger-West-Hibbert 36.7 1.16 0.77 +25
3 Collison-Hill-Granger-Hansbrough-Hibbert 34.3 0.75 0.93 -8
4 Collison-Jones-George-West-Hibbert 27.1 0.88 1.10 -9
5 Collison-George-Granger-Hansbrough-Hibbert 26.3 0.85 1.04 -11
6 Hill-Stephenson-Jones-Hansbrough-Amundson 16.3 0.82 1.15 -10
7 Price-Hill-Jones-Hansbrough-Foster 14.1 1.26 0.91 +9
8 Collison-Hill-George-Granger-Hansbrough 11.6 1.10 0.61 +11
9 Hill-Jones-George-Hansbrough-Amundson 10.7 1.00 0.95 -1
10 Hill-Jones-George-West-Hansbrough 10.4 0.67 1.89 -22
"Off" and "Def" are essentially offensive rating and defensive rating; that is, points scored and points given up per possession.
Probably only lineup #1 (the starters) has played enough minutes to draw conclusions from, and really the only conclusion from this is that they are pretty darn good. Scoring 112 pts per 100 possessions while giving up only 92, it's a beastly lineup both offensively and defensively (despite Granger misfiring).
However, it's not even the Pacers' best 5-man unit! I'd say that distinction goes to lineup #2, which is essentially the starters with Hill replacing Paul G. That lineup scores 116 and gives up a ridiculous 77 pts per 100. The caveat is, it's a relatively small sample size. The other nice 5-man groups are #7, which is surprising because it doesn't have a single starter, and #8, which is a small ball lineup. Again, limited minutes.
On the negative side of things, our bench units suck pretty bad, especially on offense. Check out the offensive efficiency of lineups 3-6. That's pretty awful, despite the presence of starters in those units. It seems like we're really struggling to find chemistry past the starting lineup. Why does replacing West and George with Hans and Hill (lineup #3) cause our offensive efficiency to plummet? In particular, all the combinations with Hibbert and Hans playing together don't seem to work well.
By the way, we have the answer to why Hill and Hansbrough have poor individual +/-. They're part of many poor performing 5-man units, even though they're part of some good ones too.
So what do we have from this early season +/- analysis? First, Collison and Granger are absolutely key players for the Pacers, despite their poor individual statistics. Second, our starters are great, but our bench needs work. I guess Vogel has a lot more experimenting to do on the rotations to come up with other lineups that work.
I don't think it would be the worst idea in the world to start Hill at SG and bring Paul G off the bench. Yeah it would hurt to lose George's defense from the starting lineup but Hill is no slouch as a defender himself. It would lead to a shakeup in the rotation, with George possibly becoming more of a scorer with the second unit and more minutes going to the third string PG (either Price or Lance, take your pick). Obviously the big argument against such a move is "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" and our starting lineup sure doesn't look like it needs fixing at the moment. Our bench on the other hand could definitely use some tinkering.