When I saw this post on ClipperBlog last week listing the top five line-ups in the NBA (as determined by points scored and allowed per 100 possessions), I was startled to see the C’s starting five did not make the list.
For the record, here were the top five in plus/minus through the games of Thursday, Dec. 11–minimum 100 minutes played (via Basketball Value)
1) Dallas: Kidd-Marion-Dirk-Dampier-Terry (outscoring opponents by 41.42 points per 100 possessions)
2) Atlanta: Bibby-Josh Smith-Crawford-Johnson-Horford (+36.66 points/100 possessions)
3) Lakers: Fisher-Kobe-Artest-Gasol-Bynum (+24.22)
4) Orlando: Williams-Carter-Howard-Pietrus-Lewis (+20.28)
5) Clippers: Butler-Kaman-Gordon-Davis-Camby (+20.00)
No Celtics. This did not sit well with me. So I checked Basketball Value to see where the C’s starting five ranked, and this is where they were as of Friday morning:
6) Celtics: Garnett-Pierce-Allen-Rondo-Perk (+16.37)
Ok, sixth in the entire NBA is pretty solid. I was satisfied. But I noticed two other interesting things when I checked those stats again this weekend.
Interesting thing #1:
The C’s play their starters together more than any team in the league. After 22 games (so not including the Bulls game on Saturday night), the C’s starters had played 468.48 minutes together. No five-man group in the league has played more. And No. 2 on the list—the Grizzlies starting five (415.65)—is probably the most overworked starting unit in the league. The Grizzlies four core starters (Marc Gasol, Rudy Gay, O.J. Mayo and Zach Randolph) are all playing more minutes per game than any Celtic.
Do the math, and that 468.48 minutes works out to about 21 minutes per game, meaning the C’s starters are on pace to spend about 1,744 minutes together on the floor this season.
And that, my friends, is a ton of minutes for one unit to play together. Last season, the most-used line-up in the NBA played just 981.32 minutes—a bit more than half the minutes the C’s starters are on pace to play together this season.
Oh, you want to know which unit led the league with 981.32 minutes together last season?
That would be: Pierce-Garnett-Perkins-Rondo-Allen.
That’s right: The C’s starters played more minutes together than any other unit in the league even though one of them missed more than 25 percent of the regular season.
What about 2007-08?
The C’s starters ranked 3rd in the NBA with 1073.12 minutes together, trailing only the starting line-ups of the Bobcats and Pistons, according to Basketball Value.
So I think we can say pretty safely that Doc Rivers likes to play his starters together. I have no idea if this is a good thing, a bad thing, or a thing that doesn’t matter at all. I’m leaning toward “doesn’t matter at all.” Because Doc is managing to play his starters together as much as he likes without over-working them. No one is playing more than 35.4 minutes per game, Pierce and Allen are playing 2.5 and 1.1 minutes fewer per game, respectively, than last season, and KG is logging just 30 per contest.
I’ll be honest, though: I was a little surprised to see the C’s starters leading the league again this season. My impression has been that Doc is experimenting with different line-ups more often now than in either ’08 or ’09. I’ve written before that Doc has never—almost literally never—played KG without both Ray and Pierce on the floor alongside him.
That has changed a bit this season; half of the five-man units KG has spent the most time with include just one of the other Big Three members, according to 82games. But about 500 of KG’s 700 minutes played have come as part of the starting line-up, so the more diverse usage of KG is really just picking at the margins.
We’ve also seen Doc play Eddie House more with the starters as the first man off the bench, a move that has allowed Rondo to take a new leadership role with line-ups that usually include three back-ups and one other starter. I suspect we would have seen even more of this sort of experimentation if not for the Marquis Daniels injury.
And yet still: The C’s starters spend a ton of time playing together.
Interesting thing #2:
These plus/minus rankings can change fast.
On Friday night, all five Magic starters took fairly significant minuses in the plus/minus column in a loss to the Suns. After that game, their plus/minus (per 100 possessions) fell all the way from 20.28 to 11.90, dropping them out of the top five.
Ah, but the C’s didn’t take their place in that hallowed group. That honor went to the Spurs starters (Duncan-Parker-McDyess-Jefferson-Bogans), who massacred the Bobcats on Friday (Duncan put up a +28) and leap-frogged the C’s into the top 5 in Basketball Value’s updated rankings.
So where will the C’s rank after goring the Bulls on Saturday? I’m guessing we’ll move into the top five.
Not that it really matters. But it’s still interesting.