After game 1 I spent some time looking at line ups and how they performed against the Lakers in the regular season and after the playoff game in L.A. What I determined was that there three lineups used in game 1 that had success and should be considered for extra minutes in games going forward.
The lineups had some commonality as you would expect: all three of the best lineups featured Kevin Durant. But all three also featured Nick Collison as well. Mr Blood and Guts always brings his lunch pail. Also two of the three best lineups feature Serge Ibaka, and only one of the three best feature Jeff Green, and none feature Krstic. You probably see where I am going with this.
Whether or not Brooks looks at +/- numbers or gets fed info about player pairs is something we may never know but either way Brooks made a huge paradigm shift in game three (which I find very appropriate given it was the day he received the Coach of the Year award) which might have been his Gold Star coaching moment of the season. He changed up the lineups and went with the +/- warriors for a big chunk of the third and all the way down the stretch until the final moment when he substituted offense/defense to close out. He really hasn’t done this before to my knowledge and those of us that are fans of statistics and player pairs probably were overjoyed-doubly overjoyed of course because it worked and was a huge game changer.
- Jeff Green played the entire fourth quarter in game 1. Statistically he did fine with five points and one board. The team was +1 in the fourth but it was a loss and he was a team leading -15 in raw +/-. In all fairness Collison and Ibaka got major minutes as well in the fourth, and Harden got a few minutes as well.
- Green also played the entire fourth quarter in game 2 and he again was decent with 5 points and 2 boards and a +1 for the quarter but -2 for the game. Ibaka played the entire fourth and was a +6 for the game and Collison and Krstic shared the lion’s share of the minutes at the five. Brooks basically kept Ibaka and Green on the floor for the whole fourth and rotated Durant in after a breather and substituted Maynor, Collison, Krstic and Harden in where he saw fit. The game was tight and we actually won the quarter by one point but still lost as you know.
- Jeff Green as you know is a starter and has been all season. The starters usually play some minutes down the stretch. Occasionally Brooks substitutes Collison for Krstic based on match ups or seat of the pants “coaches feel”, as he does with Harden over Thabo from time to time, but Green is always there in the fourth. He was there last year, he was there this year, he is the number two in minutes played for the season behind Kevin Durant and number two in playoff minutes as well.
I’m just laying the ground work here for what a huge departure from the norm the lineup change was in game three. Brooks was getting some great production from James Harden and Green was having a nice first stint in the first quarter with 7 points and a board. He also had 2 points and 2 boards and was in while the team went +3 (it was a series of runs back and forth by both teams). But Brooks then brought in Harden and Ibaka (for Green and Thabo) to pair with Collison, Durant and Westbrook and everything was different.
That lineup of RW, JH, KD, SI and NC has been seldom used. It was used for 2:38 seconds in game one and was a statistical zero-it held it’s own but wasn’t a plus or a minus, and it wasn’t used at all in game 2. That lineup was also used for a whopping (sarcasm) 84 minutes in the regular season and was a decent +4.19 points per 100 possessions (as a comparison our starters are +2.17 on the season). But either Brooks liked the strength of the lineup statistically or he just liked the mojo on the court because that lineup rocked the Ford for almost 15 minutes of game time to bring us to the promised land. Per Basketball Value that lineup in game three used 27 possessions, scored 36 points and allowed only 28. It also has a 16-10 rebounding edge.
The plus/minus data from the season tells the story that Durant, Westbrook and Collison are our warriors-our best bodies on the floor whether it’s adjusted plus/minus or raw plus minus-it makes no difference. And to a lesser degree Harden, Ibaka and Maynor are also valuable players on the floor. The same guys are proving to be the warriors in the playoffs as well statistically. Conversely, and no offense to those players, Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic and to a lesser degree Thabo are players that are lineup and match up boat anchors for the team. It just makes sense to put some combination of our best statistical warriors on the floor together while simultaneously removing the less effective guys. In case you didn’t catch it Wayne Winston (former employee for the Dallas Mavericks as a statistic whiz) made mention of the Thunder lineups here and here which was discussed quite a bit in another article on DT.
Green and Krstic are fine players in their own way and have been key contributors to what the Thunder have going this year, but eventually it had to happen that they would find themselves on the bench in favor of more productive players in crunch time. I tip my hat to Coach Brooks.