We are two weeks into the season and some teams still haven’t even figured out their rotations yet. Some of them have had a sense of entropy in which the way their coaches use players and it’s almost unpredictable at this point. There were some that completely threw conventional wisdom out the window like Cavaliers coach Mike Brown using a whopping 11 different players in the first quarter of one game. Just for the fun of it, with 13 players, there are 154,440 possible combinations to put in a lineup, or what some call: The D’Antoni Rotation.
Some of the time a coach will use a particular combination that can pique the interest of fantasy owners. A lot of teams have been utilizing the stretch four/five strategy to open things up and those coaches come up with some unusual players to complement the extra void left in the paint. This style generally creates more fantasy value as a whole with faster tempo as well as more 3-pointers. Plus, it indirectly affects their defenses at the rim to help the other team.
This seemed worthy of investigating how players are put together in a five-man lineup. Hopefully, this info can help indicate what could be in store over the course of the season. This column will more or less discuss some rotation issues while adding an intriguing lineup that has been used over the past week. Some of the lineups are just for fun and serve as some amusement while others show which players might be in a position battle.
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Nate Wolters, O.J. Mayo, Caron Butler, John Henson, Zaza Pachulia
They’re in bad shape right now and this group saw the most time together over the past week. Larry Sanders is going to miss the next six weeks and just when you thought Zaza Pachulia couldn’t play more minutes, coach Larry Drew puts more on his plate. Zaza Platechulia? Nevermind. Anyway, over those two games sans Sanders, Zaza played a whopping 39.5 minutes per game. He’s played entirely all of his minutes at center and he looks to be safe as a guy to start. Although, his Achilles issues from last month do cast some doubt that he’ll be able sustain that workload.
Interestingly, Larry Drew has barely used John Henson at center. In fact, only five of his 66 minutes in the last two games have come at center. That will likely change upon Ersan Ilyasova’s return and perhaps sooner. They can’t be naïve enough to not know that a 280-pound Zaza with a sore Achilles could deteriorate. They’ve also been playing Khris Middleton at power forward, who's not exactly the prototype at 6'8", 217 pounds. As mentioned in Pickups of the Day on Season Pass this morning, I'd much rather own Henson over Zaza.
Their backcourt is just as messy. Brandon Knight made his return from a hamstring pull on Saturday and played 15 minutes. One of the weirdest lineups I saw this weekend was used on Saturday: Nate Wolters, Gary Neal, Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton and Ekpe Udoh. The most telling bit is that Drew is willing to use a miniature lineup. However, he didn’t use a lineup that included Mayo, Knight and Wolters yet. Wolters did play some shooting guard on Saturday, so that could help his value once the team is back to full strength.
I still wouldn’t be surprised to see Wolters take on most of the minutes at point guard. Larry Drew doesn’t like his team turning the ball over and Wolters has just three turnovers compared to 29 dimes in his last four games. Knight had the highest assist:turnover ratio as a starting PG last year before losing his job to Jose Calderon. Gary Neal did play 20 minutes, so Knight could get more minutes at his expense. Basically, all bets are off. There is a lot of upside to be had here, though.
Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Taj Gibson, Nazr Mohamed
This lineup wasn’t used much, but it’s nice to know that coach Tom Thibodeau will use Butler and Dunleavy together in some capacity. Butler is a nice buy-low guy. The Bulls have very little questions in their rotation.
Kyrie Irving, Jarrett Jack, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao
Coach Mike Brown said he liked the way his three-guard lineup performed and they’ve been effective for the most part. It’s a little counterintuitive, but when the three are on the court together, their running a pace that’s eight possessions per game less than their average as an entire team. Jack was horrible on Monday with two points, but was outstanding on Saturday with 20 points. His owners should probably split the difference. Although, chances are Brown won’t be able to get away with this lineup all the time.
The much-anticipated lineup swap came on Monday with Andrew Bynum becoming the starter and Varejao moving to the bench. Bynum played 21 minutes and 18 of those came with the starting unit of Irving, Waiters, Tristan Thompson and Alonzo Gee. Before Monday, he and Varejao did not play together at all, but last night they saw one minute together. Personally, I’d steer clear of Bynum and I’m worried about AV. On the other hand, Tristan looks like a reliable guy with room to grow.
Jordan Crawford, Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk
Only one team in the Eastern Conference has more wins than the Celtics. They finally came to their senses last week and moved Avery Bradley over to shooting guard, which looks to be a brilliant move. Bradley has never been able to facilitate an offense, but that hasn’t been Jordan Crawford's forte either. Then, last night came. Steez had 10 assists and was the first Celtic to hit double-digits in that department since Rajon Rondo. Crawford looks like a must-own player while Bradley is worth a look in deeper leagues. That said, he doesn't do much outside of scoring.
Now let’s get to the fun part. Boston’s frontcourt has been one of the most topsy-turvy rotations in the NBA. Brad Stevens gave some hints that Vitor Faverani was on the decline by not playing him down the stretch in the first few games, and he finally pulled the trigger and moved Olynyk with the starters. Consequently, Faverani has almost evaporated from the rotation.
After missing shots left and right, Olynyk finally found his groove on Monday with 16 points, seven boards, five assists, one steal, one block and two 3-pointers. He’s the second best big man to own in Boston. Who’s No. 1? That would be Jared Sullinger, in my opinion. He seems to be getting better in every game. In his last five, he’s averaged 13.0 points, 5.8 boards, 1.6 assists, 1.0 blocks and 0.4 triples on 56.3 percent from the field and 81.8 percent from the line. It won’t be long before he’s getting major headlines. Brandon Bass is a low-ceiling guy and has the least risk over the next month or two.
Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford, J.J. Redick, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan
This is arguably the Clippers’ best lineup. Jared Dudley still hasn’t come around yet and J.J. Redick on offense has added another new weapon for Chris Paul. Redick should be able to sustain his value given how much Doc Rivers uses this lineup. It’s also worth noting that DeAndre and Blake’s minutes are way up from last year.
Jeff Teague, Cartier Martin, DeMarre Carroll, Al Horford, Pero Antic
The Hawks have actually run some fairly tight rotations, but this is probably the strangest of all. There’s really no fantasy impact, but it’s fun to see the teams using a stretch five more these days. One thing worth noting is that DeMarre Carroll is over his struggles and seems like a safe bet for 30 minutes for the foreseeable future. He does need his usage rate to go up to emerge as a standard-league asset, though. As for Cartier Martin, owners will have to watch (pun intended) for some consistency before adding him in most situations.
Ian Clark, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Mike Harris, Enes Kanter
How bad are the Jazz? This has been the most commonly used lineup that had Burks and Hayward in it over the past week. Ty Corbin has been all over the place with his rotation and these two players have been on the court in 25 different five-man lineup combinations in the aforementioned span.
They look like the worst team in the league, but at least three players seem to have their value locked in: Hayward, Kanter and Derrick Favors. Burks could still get it going and this team really needs Trey Burke to come back strong. There’s little reason to pay attention to how John Lucas III does in most leagues, even with Jamaal Tinsley being waived. It’s also fun to watch Rudy Gobert. He’d be an interesting pickup should Favors or Kanter miss time.
Isaiah Thomas, Ben McLemore, Travis Outlaw, Jason Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins
This was the second most used line over the past week. For whatever reason, Mike Malone seems to want to get Outlaw in there and he plays McLemore with Outlaw with some frequency. As for stuff that isn’t unexpected, B-Mac has been paired with Isaiah Thomas more than Greivis Vasquez. McLemore has looked a lot better lately and has been in the rookie spotlight. He’s been able to knock down pullup jumpers, which was a staple of his offensive game at Kansas.
He and Marcus Thornton are stuck in a position battle. The two haven’t been on the court together at all in the past 10 days, so Malone would have to change his ways for the two to co-exist. The Kings haven’t been as effective on offense with McLemore, but they’ve been better on defense (based on field goal percentage). The rookie is still one of the better ahead-of-the-curve adds, just as long as you’re fine being a riverboat gambler.
Patrick Patterson’s minutes are up and Jason Thompson’s have dropped severely. JT played just 12.5 minutes per game in his last two. As mentioned above, the stretch four/five is a bit en vogue this year, and the Kings appear to be no different. That makes sense too with DMC controlling the paint.
Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, Pau Gasol, Chris Kaman
Oh boy. This was last week’s most commonly used lineup and it doesn’t really look too out of the ordinary. However, Mike D’Antoni said he’s going to change his lineup again and it's not really Earth-shattering news that Jordan Hill will start. Steve Nash is going to miss “at least” two weeks and the Lakers are likely going to come up with some interesting combos along the way while he’s on the shelf. Mike D even used a lineup of Jordan Farmar, Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, Wesley Johnson and Chris Kaman, so that’s cool. That’s a lineup that basically makes any research into D’Antoni’s thoughts futile.
The move to Hill means Chris Kaman figures to lose some value. He’s hurt a lot, so if you own him and things go south, it probably won’t be too tough cut him. We’ll know a little more Tuesday night. Rather than transcribing my thoughts any further, I’ll just rank the guys that I like to have the most value until Kobe comes back: Gasol (duh), Meeks, Blake, Farmar, Kaman, Hill, Johnson, Young, Henry, Williams.
Victor Oladipo, Arron Afflalo, Moe Harkless, Jason Maxiell, Nikola Vucevic
The Magic didn’t play Oladipo at point guard earlier in the year, but now they’ve finally had enough faith in him in at the one. Although, Afflalo did bring the ball up a little with this group. After slumping for a few games, VO turned it around on Monday with 17 points, two assists, two steals and one 3-pointer in 27 minutes. His owners should have confidence he’ll be a second-half stud.
Afflalo has been great to start the year and it has a lot to do with his 36.5 minutes per game. On top of the responsibilities at the point, he’s played at small forward and shooting guard. Of course, there are going to be a lot of trade rumors around him, but until then he appears to be a safe bet for production.
Andrew Nicholson played just 13 minute due to foul trouble on Monday, but before that he was getting some regular playing time. He should carry some low-level value until Tobias Harris makes it back.
Ty Lawson, Evan Fournier, Darrell Arthur, Anthony Randolph, Timofey Mozgov
This lineup is a doozy and was on the court for three minutes on Monday night. It wasn’t the only one. They used 19 different lineups last night with JaVale McGee (foot) out indefinitely. It probably would have been more had Anthony Randolph not been in foul trouble, too. Here’s a look at how the minutes broke down for the frontcourt: Hickson 29, Faried 28, Mozgov 19, Arthur 19, Randolph 12.
As mentioned, Randolph was in foul trouble – for a change – so he might have more playing time on the horizon. Obviously, Hickson and Faried are going to be somewhat consistent and are worth owning in all standard leagues. Mozgov just doesn’t do enough in getting his own shot, so I’d steer clear. After J.J. and Kenneth, Ant-Rand is probably the most intriguing pickup. Make sure you set your expectations low and I’d cut him if you see anyone that’s picking up steam.
Jrue Holiday, Brian Roberts, Eric Gordon, Anthony Morrow, Anthony Davis
This lineup was only used for six minutes last week, but it is really a clear indication of how murky the Pelicans’ rotation is. Tyreke Evans has been a no-show for much of the season and his owners have every right to be concerned. Plus, Ryan Anderson hasn’t even made his season debut.
This is only going to get worse once Anderson gets back. If you’re an Evans owner, you’re probably going to want to sell high at the first chance he turns in a useful line. Also, I’m not too sure about Jrue Holiday’s value with Brian Roberts playing well. Anthony Davis is a fantasy superstar and he has a chance to keep up this pace.
Patrick Beverley, Jeremy Lin, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Dwight Howard
This was the Rockets No. 2 lineup as far as usage goes last week and it makes sense since it’s the most talented lineup they have. The Rockets led the NBA in pace last season and they’re ranked at six so far this season. The morale of the story is that coach Kevin McHale is playing Lin and Beverley together, which is something they did a lot of in the preseason. To be clear, Beverley owners should be giving him plenty of leash.
Another interesting development was the use of Terrence Jones on Monday. Before yesterday, the Rockets toyed with both ends of the spectrum for a power forward with big-man Omer Asik and a stretch four in Omri Casspi. Jones makes a lot of sense on defense, but his offense has a long way to go. Last year, he shot just 22.8 percent on his jumpers, so he definitely wouldn’t serve as a stretch four. Still, it’s worth keeping an eye on this situation.
Michael Carter-Williams, James Anderson, Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes
This lineup isn’t suspect at all. Perhaps no team uses their starting five together more than Philly. That lineup was used nine times more than any other this past week. Obviously, this means owners of MCW, Turner, Thaddeus and Hawes should be very comfortable and there is little reason to think they’re not going to be reliable all year.
James Anderson is not included in that group, but it’s mostly good news for him. His only competition for minutes would probably be Tony Wroten. However, Wroten has been used almost exclusively as the backup point guard over the past week. In fact, Wroten and Carter-Williams were on the floor for just two minutes together, and Anderson was in that lineup at small forward. Although, it’s a little interesting that with Anderson off the floor, their opponents shot 38.3 percent. When he’s on the court? It’s up to 45.4 percent.
Thanks for reading and I’m sure most of this will change by the weekend. Lastly, a huge hat tip for NBAwowy.com for some of these stats. It’s one of the first sites to update following the night’s action and is worth checking out for any die-hard stats head.