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The Thunder's Best Two Lineups Involve Derek Fisher?!?! And Other Lineup Observations....

A defensive disaster waiting to happen?
A defensive disaster waiting to happen?

We're two games into the Thunder-Mavericks series, and so far, we've experienced two totally different games. Game 1 was a bit more fast-paced and involved a whole lot of threes, especially from the Mavs. Most notably, when the Thunder went small, they were far into the negative. In Game 2, there were a ton of free throws, and the Thunder's small lineups seemed to perform better.

So, that got me wondering. On a strictly +/- basis, what lineups are the most (and least) effective for both teams? I went to the Popcorn Machine for my answer, and here's what I came up with....


Westbrook/Sefolosha/Durant/Collison/Perkins -8

It's not surprising this lineup is unsuccessful. Collison, Perkins, and Sefolosha have virtually no offensive playsets called for them, with most of their points coming on the break, a surprise kickout, or via offensive boards. This pretty much puts all of the pressure on Westbrook and Durant to score, and when the Mavs have guys like Kidd forcing turnovers and Marion playing excellent D, the Thunder could quickly find themselves in an offensive conundrum.

Fisher/Harden/Cook/Ibaka/Collison +10

This lineup is a bit more of a surprising find, especially since Ibaka is the only starter of the group. But the lineup does have its advantages. Fisher, Harden, and Cook are probably the three best pure shooters on the Thunder, while Ibaka and Collison are the best defenders in the post. But if you rely too much on three point shooters with virtually no post presence, your offense isn't really sustainable. So this lineup can probably be seen as something like caffeine. It's nice if you need a quick boost, but if you stay on it for too long, you'll crash horribly.

Westbrook/Fisher/Harden/Durant/Ibaka +8

Here you can see that a Fisher/Harden combo seems to be working. They work well together, because they are both okay ball handlers with decent pass senses. Harden is good at bringing the ball up and setting up plays, while Fisher is pretty good as an off-ball handler. That is, he doesn't bring the ball up, but needs to make a decision about where the ball is going to go later in the shot clock.

The rest of the Thunder's lineups were no more than + or - 3.

Below: The Mavs lineups, Other Notes, Conclusions!


Kidd/West/Marion/Nowitzki/Mahinmi +10 (one off)

Kidd/Terry/Carter/Marion/Mahinmi +8

Kidd/Terry/Marion/Nowitzki/Haywood +7

Kidd/Beaubois/Carter/Marion/Nowitzki +6 (one off)

Kidd/Terry/Carter/Nowitzki/Mahinmi +4

Kidd/Terry/Carter/Marion/Nowitzki +4

Every lineup that was more than three in the positive involved Jason Kidd and all but one involved Dirk Nowitzki. This is a tribute to how talented they are, but more important is how unique they are in the context of the Mavs lineups. The guys who play PG other than Kidd are mainly scorers and serve similar roles. None of them can distribute it nearly as well, and they aren't as good at frustrating Westbrook, either. In Nowitzki's case, it's pretty clear that he has no equal. None of the other Mavs bigs can shoot, and the forward closest to him in size (Marion) plays more like a swingman. You might notice that Shawn Marion was in every lineup as well, but I attribute that moreso to his ability guarding and exploiting Kevin Durant than anything else.

Also interesting is the positive effect Beaubois had during his only playing time. Given West's meh performance so far, one might expect Carlisle to throw in Rodrigue for some extended minutes.

West/Terry/Carter/Nowitzki/Wright -11

Kidd/Terry/Marion/Nowitzki/Mahinmi -9

West/Terry/Carter/Marion/Nowitzki -7

Kidd/West/Marion/Nowitzki/Haywood -5

Kidd/Terry/Carter/Marion/Haywood -5

Since Carlisle subs players so rapidly, it's hard to tell if a lineup is inherently disadvantaged or if they just weren't given a chance to work out their kinks. But, there are a few conclusions that one can draw. First, the Mavericks are definitely worse when West is running the point. Secondly, having Wright and Nowitzki together down low is a recipe for defensive disaster. Thirdly, Jason Terry is a very up and down scorer off the bench. He doesn't necessarily hurt you, because he doesn't throw up bricks. But when he's not scoring, he's not necessarily a big help, either. Fourthly and lastly, Dirk Nowitzki has had his moments. He's a great scorer, but because he's relied upon so much to spark the Mavs offense, he can be part of the downfall of it as well. The good has outweighed the bad, though.

The rest of the Maverick's lineups were no more than + or - 3.

Other Notes:

On the whole, Rick Carlisle makes more lineup changes than Scott Brooks. He's more willing to experiment with different types of lineups, and he's much more likely to go back to something that worked in the game. Brooks' strategy seems to rest much more on set rotations, and the only in-game changes he'll make are generally based on individual performance, rather than group effectiveness. They're two different styles of coaching, and since Carlisle is much more hands-on, people tend to think he's the superior tactician. But, there is something to be said for having set roles and knowing what works, as Brooks does.


Obviously, on the Thunder's side of things, Brooks will continue to look to use Harden and Fisher on the floor at the same time. Some may rightfully wonder why Fisher in the game instead of another big or Sefolosha. The reason is that he's great at keeping the offense flowing, even if he bricks a few jumpers. And with no quick guard like JJ Barea on the team, the Mavs can't exploit him defensively. I know I've raved about how terrible of a PG Fisher is, and I still stand by that....when he has to bring the ball up and set up plays, which he thankfully doesn't do very often. Also, having Collison, Perkins, and Sefolosha on the floor at the same time is a gamble, especially in a series with great offense.

For the Mavs, the solutions are less obvious. Obviously, Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki need to see heavy minutes, and Marion will be on KD constantly. Also, Wright and Nowitzki should never be paired. But other than that, it's kind of a crapshoot. Mahinmi and Haywood don't really serve any inherent advantages, and the rest of the team are just swingmen who may or may not have good games. Does success mean getting Terry more opportunities? Putting in Rodrigue Beaubois more? Having Carter focus on hustle plays rather than points? I honestly don't know. But one thing's for sure: Carlisle will keep searching for the hot hand. And if he finds that hot hand, the Thunder could find themselves on the losing end of a contest very soon.

What conclusions do you draw from the effectiveness of the above lineups? What changes should the Thunder and/or Mavericks make? Post a Comment!