Do the Bulls suffer when Thomas and Noah play together?

Do the Bulls suck when these guys are on the floor together?

Do the Bulls "suck" when these guys are on the floor together?

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.”

Uh oh.

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.”

That got my gears grinding, so I went to to check out the Bulls’ Top Five-Man Floor Units. Specifically, I looked for lineups that included both Thomas and Noah. Here’s what I found:

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…

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8 Responses to Do the Bulls suffer when Thomas and Noah play together?

    Richard October 27, 2009 at 7:37 pm #

    After I read the first piece by Winston I stopped reading anything he wrote. Its very obvious in his explanations that he looks at the numbers works to make them make sense. His comments about plus minus and subsequently defense contradicted each other.

    That said, doesn’t Noah’s jumper look decent this year?

  2. Phil October 28, 2009 at 9:57 am #

    I read his stuff. But I’m not sure his theories hold water either. It doesn’t seem like he takes into account the opposition players on court, or am I just missing something? Plus in one post about the Lakers he said that one lineup, which only played 50 mins together all season, was +50 in that time, so they should have used that all the time. I just lol’d. How can you make a judgement like that from 50 mins game time over a whole season? Ridiculous!

    Lu Galasso October 28, 2009 at 7:47 pm #

    Winston’s right…


    Just like the Durant thing, he’s ignoring the ages of these players. Noah and Tyrus, even with a few years of experience, are YOUNG. Tyrus’s jumper is getting better. So is Noah’s, kinda. They were a bad combo last year, fine, but it might not stay that way.

    Kiki October 28, 2009 at 10:20 pm #

    Thomas jumper is getting better, still he can knock down a 10-15 footer, thats the part of his game he needs to develop. i dont think hell develop it in a Bulls jersey. Noah, works under the basket, he and Thomas have different skills, and i dont think they hurt the Bulls being on the court together.

    Calogero October 29, 2009 at 9:11 pm #

    I think Winston’s approach is wayyyyyyy too simplistic. There’s so much more to basketball than just “can 4 of the 5 guys on the floor shoot.” If you look at that Rose/Hinrich/Deng/Thomas/Noah lineup, that’s a lineup with essentially 4 above average to very good defenders.

    As far as the Celtics series goes, I think there were a couple factors at play as to why the Thomas/Noah lineup iterations didn’t work. One was that the Celtics bench was god awful, and most of the lineups that featured Thomas and Noah together was our starting lineup against theirs. Another is matchups– Kendrick Perkins was a terrible matchup for either Noah or Thomas, and Miller was really the only guy on the roster with the physicality to match up with him.

    So while I agree with Winston that it would be nice to have 4 shooters on the floor, I don’t think it is an absolute must. I think the bigger thing to watch for in Tyrus/Noah lineups is whether Noah has gotten big enough/ good enough defensively to handle the stronger big guys in the league, because I think that is the biggest problem with having the two of them in together.

    grant October 29, 2009 at 10:10 pm #

    Good for you to check 82games, not just simply believe what Winston’s said. Like commenter #1, I stop reading anything from Winston after reading his first piece of writing/stats. Winston stats regarding the basketball is largely misleading and the worst. Winston stats are worse than all the other types of stats about the basketball I have seen; some of those have been done by someone who are probably still college students; so regarding the basketball, Winston’s intelligence is not even as good as a college student.

    Noah/Tyrus playing together does not hurt the Bulls. But you need to have Hinrich in the lineup, instead of B Gordon. It’s the BG/Rose backcourt made them look worse than they are. In the majority of cases, a backcourt of Rose/Gordon + any other 3 players without Hinrich usually results in a negative rating; some of the ratings of these line-up are well-below the L average. It’s Hinrich turns many of the line-up into the positive rating. Let BG go is one of the best decisions that the Bulls FO has made for the past 5 yrs. The Spurs and 2004 Pistons won the Championships with 2 non-shooters in their starting line-up (some of them cannot shoot at all, but are great defenders).

    Crow October 30, 2009 at 7:41 am #

    Winston’s numbers were Adjusted +/-, accounting for opponent quality.

    But even if on average, adjusted Noah and Thomas were a bad combo last season there were some lineups that did in fact work.

    Deng- Hinrich- Noah – Rose – Thomas was in fact the Bulls best lineup on Adjusted +/- used more than 30 minutes last season.

    But Vinny used it a ridiculously low 60 minutes. For an entire season.

    The trick is figure out what is real and consistent and what is random. And only way to know is the play some lineups enough to get a decent sample size.

    A five man lineup’s Adjusted peformance is more relevant than a player pair across many combinations, raw or adjusted.


  1. Hardwood Paroxysm » Blog Archive » Great Exercises in Internet NBA-Related Postings - October 28, 2009

    […] is wondering about Thomas-Noah +/-.  The trick with the lineups data over at is twofold. One, the minutes […]

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