In professional basketball it has long been assumed that you should start the five best human basketball players on your team. The logic is pretty good; these players will play most of the minutes and need to be the most effective. However, something I saw the other day made me think about whether we must reexamine this long held assumption. My good friend Tom Haberstroh, who covers the Miami Heat extensively for ESPN, tweeted the following:
"LeBron James' PER this season without Wade on the floor: 38.3."
WHOA! Now for anybody unfamiliar with PER, it is a pretty awesome stat that adjusts the box score stats for pace and minutes played. If you actually look at the formula your face melts, but trust me, it is cool. 15 is league average. For context, Jordan's PER in his nutty 87-88 season was 31.7. Right now Wes Johnson has a PER around 3.6, so LeBron without Wade is an order of magnitude better than that.
So what's my point? Well obviously this is probably the result of a small sample. It is unlikely that in any situation, LeBron will play at such a bananas level. But we can take from it that he just might operate better without Wade on the floor. Some pundits crowed that this might be the case when the Heat acquired LeBron, that there might be an offensive problem. Most other people told those people to shut up because trading for the best basketball player on the planet is never really a bad idea. The numbers don't lie and perhaps there was some truth to the concerns. Might it actually serve the Heat better when Wade is healthy again to bring him off the bench? I looked at some pairings to see if it might be better to sit a would-be starter.
In this case, LeBron looks a lot better without Wade, but it may not be all that beneficial to bench him. LeBron of course scores more, but he takes more shots. His shooting percentage dips (especially on mid-range shots) and he loses some efficiency in points per shot. LeBron shoots way better on 3's, but this is perhaps because he feels he needs, or is allowed, to take more because he is the primary option. LeBron's rebounding also takes a huge dip without Wade. I guess he boxes out well.
Further, the 5-man units with Wade and not LeBron do not fare too well. The two line-ups (Wade-Bosh-Haslem-Cole-Battier/Jones) are not very effective. With Jones at the 3 the defense suffers way too much with only 2 units being worse (and those 2 have only seen 17 minutes). So it doesn't seem like Wade trying to carry a 2nd unit would work out too well.
This one baffles me because Chauncey appears to be so thoroughly backup material. However, neither player sees that dramatic of an improvement if the other is on the bench. In fact, Paul's +/- is 14.1 points better with Billups on the court than off of it. I still would like to see less off the dribble 3's from Chauncey and let Paul operate the offense at all times. There also might be a hidden gem of a lineup with Foye at the 2. Hopefully Mo Williams can be flipped for a starting SG at some point to even out the roster.
Pau Gasol's name sometimes get mentioned in the discussion of centers, so I thought I'd look at this one. Conclusion: Pau is a 4, but his flexibility doesn't hurt. Both Pau and Bynum fare a little better with each other. Most notably, each player fouls less with the other. That's probably due to the extra rim protection from another 7-footer on the court. However, some of the Lakers best defensive 5-man units come with Pau at 5. They aren't huge samples and one includes Jason Kapono, which seems impossible, but clearly it isn't hurting them yet.
Nothing on StatsCube really goes either way on this one, but the 5-man unit of Rubio-Ellington-Tolliver-Williams-Love is by far the best option for the Wolves. In this case I'd like to see Ridnour run the 2nd unit as his assists/36 is much better without Rubio. Ellington also benefits in scoring and attempts with Rubio instead of Ridnour. Might be time for a change in Minnesota.
The thought when the Pacers drafted Paul George is that they already had Paul George, except his name was Danny Granger. Well the Pacers start both of them now and it seems to be working fine. Granger's rebounding and assists go up with George on the court. However, George gets more attempts without Granger and has been absolutely on fire with a .609 TS%. There are also some pretty disastrous George/Granger 5-man units, however it is unsurprising that most involve Tyler Hansbrough. The starting line-up seems fine and going small with Granger at the 4 and George at the 3 might be very intriguing if they ever get back to their uptempo ways.
It seems like any overlap in position or style is often outweighed by sheer talent. But it's always worth a look whether it might be beneficial to spread the wealth, especially in the dual point guard situation.