NBA Lineups of the Week - 2/3/19
Indiana Pacers’ Best Chance at Surviving Without Victor Oladipo
It has been ugly for the Indiana Pacers since star shooting guard Victor Oladipo went down with a season-ending knee injury. Predictably, the energy has been zapped from their team now that any real chance of competing for a title this season is gone. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t go down swinging, though -- the team’s best chance of saving their season is in the following lineup: Domantas Sabonis, Thaddeus Young, Doug McDermott, Tyreke Evans, and Cory Joseph have a net rating of +26.9 in 125 minutes together, with a 121.9 offensive rating and a 95 defensive rating.
Sabonis can carry the offense creatively with some nifty passing and also be a brute in the post, while Thaddeus Young, the ultimate professional, brings his own versatility and finesse. McDermott brings elite shooting that opens up lanes for everyone else, especially Evans, who replaces Oladipo as the primary pick-and-roll ball-handler, and has formed excellent chemistry with Sabonis. Joseph’s primary value is on defense as a bulldog that hounds opposing guards, but he has improved his marksmanship from the early part of his career in San Antonio to where he can be counted on to hit on 34-35% from downtown.
Young gets the steal, and has the handle and floor-vision to push the ball and find Evans for an easy layup. This play showcases Young’s dynamism and how the Pacers can generate easy points during a time of crisis. This lineup is effective on both ends of the floor and needs more minutes going forward if the Pacers want to stay relevant.
Another Killer Two-Way Denver Lineup
The Denver Nuggets keep rolling and are now just half a game back of the Warriors for the top seed in the Western Conference, despite countless injuries threatening to derail their season. Denver has been featured a lot in this column, and for good reason: in order to survive injuries to every member of their starting five except Nikola Jokic, they’ve given a lot of young players a lot of great time on the court. Now that their bench has had valuable in-game experience, they can shift on the fly to form nasty two-way lineups.
This lineup features first-time all-star Nikola Jokic, Paul Millsap, Torrey Craig, Malik Beasley, and Jamal Murray. In 139 minutes of play, it has a net rating of +23.8, with a 125.9 offensive rating and a 102.1 defensive rating. Jokic runs the show with historically strong passing for a big man. Like a quarterback who throws his receivers open, Jokic finds his teammates even when they’re blanketed in coverage - it’s incredible! As he rises to superduper-stardom, Jokic has made massive strides on the defensive end, but benefits in this lineup from the presence of Millsap, who has struggled offensively, but is the lynchpin on defense. A true swiss army knife, Millsap rebounds, guards multiple positions, and gathers steals and blocks at a high rate.
On the perimeter, Craig wreaks havoc: he is insanely strong, very quick, and another great rebounder with the ability to guard multiple positions. On offense, he can crash the glass and is a good cutter, which is perfect next to Jokic. Beasley has really come on this year with his spike in playing time, showing himself to be a good shooter and stout wing defender, and Jamal Murray runs the best two-man game in the league with Jokic. Their handoff game is top-notch, mixing give-and-gos with inverse screens and the standard pick and roll. It’s beautiful.
Denver is deep and can play multiple styles. It will serve them well for the playoffs, and after not just treading water but excelling during their injuries, the Nuggets are virtually guaranteed a trip to the postseason now that they are healthy. Watch out!
Miami’s Polar Vortex
The Miami Heat are seventh in the East and an extremely average team. The same issues plague Miami as always: a lack of shooting and a lack of firepower. That they are even in the playoff hunt is due to depth and nastiness, but there is one group that is killing them.
The lineup of Hassan Whiteside, James Johnson, Rodney McGruder, Wayne Ellington, and Josh Richardson has a -22.4 net rating in 69 minutes with a 100 offensive rating and a 122.4 defensive rating. They stink on both ends.
James Johnson has not been the same this season since returning from injury: all of his numbers are down, and you can forget he’s on the floor some nights. Pairing Whiteside with Johnson has never been ideal anyway. Whiteside is the most inconsistent player in the league, and with Johnson slipping, Whiteside is getting exposed more and more on the perimeter. Like this!
Rodney McGruder has fallen off a cliff since a hot start to the season; if he’s made a single shot in the last two months, I haven’t seen it. Ellington is a lights-out shooter, but even he can run cold when he’ll take a DNP-CD as often as he’ll play 20 minutes. Richardson is enjoying a career year and leads the team in scoring, but that’s by default; he is not good enough to lift this group on offense.
It is hard to watch this group try to score, and defensively it is not good enough to justify getting any minutes. Erik Spoelstra has a lot on his plate every night with this roster. He has to feel hot hands, play the matchup game, and experiment constantly to win: whatever the hypothesis on this experiment was, it is a resounding failure.