As part of the TrueHoop Network 2009-10 Season Preview, Henry Abbott published a post about shooting. How does this affect the Bulls? Well, as Henry explains, stat guru Wayne Winston theorizes that “a consistent theme of many bad NBA lineups is that they include two or more players who can’t shoot.”
Can you think of any starting lineups like that?
Winston explains: “Last year’s playoff series between the Bulls and the Celtics. I thought it was maybe the best playoff series ever. But two guys for the Bulls totally sucked. When there was a certain four-man combination on the floor, the Bulls were good. They went from better than good to worse than sucking, depending on the lineups. … When [Joakim] Noah and [Tyrus] Thomas were on the court, they lost by ten points a game. I mean, they sucked.”
Winston continues: “My theory on the lineups that play worse is that they have two guys who can’t hit the broad side of a barn. Like, Noah and Thomas, their effective field goal percentage is like 30 percent. … Thomas and Noah on the court lost by 20 points per game, adjusting for opposition. Miller, [Derrick] Rose, [Ben] Gordon and [Kirk] Hinrich won by 40 points a game. And the reason is, I think, all three of those guards can shoot the 3 and drive. And Brad Miller can shoot. You spread the floor, you’re unguardable if you have three guards who can shoot and drive, and a center who can find them. It’s not a great defensive lineup. But if you spread the floor and go small, we all learned from watching Mike D’Antoni … these big guys are suddenly dinosaurs. It’s like a stroke of genius. They didn’t win a championship, it’s too bad, but that’s the biggest change in the game that I see.”
Chicago’s most-used lineup last season consisted of Rose, Gordon, Deng, Thomas and Noah. That squad finished with the worst net points of any other five-man unit (-49). The second most-used lineup was Rose, Gordon, Salmons, Thomas and Noah. That bunch finished with the third-worst net points (-31). In between those two was a group consisting of Rose, Gordon, Deng, Drew Gooden and Aaron Gray (-47). I think you can see why I’m not going to spend much time analyzing that lineup.
However, there were some Thomas-Noah lineups that worked. A lineup of Rose, Hinrich, Deng, Thomas and Noah finished the season +20. Another lineup of Hinrich, Gordon, Salmons, Thomas and Noah were +12.
So how about Winston’s four-shooter theory? Well, Chicago’s sixth most-used lineup was Rose, Gordon, Salmons, Noah and Miller…and that group was +10. Likewise, a lineup of Rose, Hinrich, Salmons, Thomas and Miller was+13. However, a lineup of Rose, Gordon, Salmons, Thomas and Miller were -18, and a lineup of Rose, Hinrich, Salmons, Noah and Miller were -13.
In other words: it’s not as clear-cut as Winston’s theory suggests.
I understand what Winston is getting at, and it makes sense. But if lineups with Thomas and Noah were as bad as Winston claims, why did some of those lineups end up on the plus-side of the ledger? Conversely, if lineups with four shooters made the Bulls so good, why did some of those lineups yield negative net results?
Clearly, there’s more going on here than meets the eyes, such as when were those lineups used, for what stretches of time and against which teams? Did they occur while some of those players were injured (but playing anyway) or during a blowout? There are too many questions and not enough data to really figure that out.
I will tell you this, though: I’ll be watching Thomas-Noah lineups with a keener eye this season…