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Where Does the C’s Starting Five Rank?


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.

  • dont_drink_the_koolaid

    would like to see doc experiment more:
    - sheed sharing more time with the starters
    - try starting marquis a couple games
    - ray coming off the bench as a gunslinging 6th man (no team offense, just fill it up)

    but thats why i’m a fan, not the coach. biggest part of coaching a veteran team is managing egos….so i’ll trust doc has his reasons…

  • Idaho

    What kind of impact do you think Glenn Davis is going to have koolaid?

  • dont_drink_the_koolaid

    i think davis can provide only a minor upgrade on sheldon….i really think sheldon has played his role great so far. the biggest thing baby will bring is extra spark, energy and baby swag….but essentially its 1for1. who knows, maybe the competition for playing time will help push them both.

    but of course, the biggest benefit is no more scal minutes….he can really get back to focusing on high-5ing the starters coming in for timeouts. “SCAL!!!!”

  • dont_drink_the_koolaid

    Think Tommy Heihnson is sending Brad Miller a Christmas card this year?

  • John V

    koolaid, you are right about egos. I think Dallas really gets a boost from Terry being willing to be their sixth man, and the stats show they’re really taking advantage of it. It’s not surprising that they’re scoring 116.93 points per 100 possessions with that lineup. What is shocking is that they only allow 76.11. If you look only at groups who’ve played 100 minutes together, second place goes to a Spurs group that gives up 91.51 per 100.

    That’s largely because the Mavs are playing their best lineup against teams using second-unit players, but it’s also because Terry guards the opposing point guard, and Kidd is still very good against 2s. Their starting lineup uses Barrea or Beaubois, which means they’re not only using a poor defender, but they’re making Kidd a much worse defender.

    The same lineup with Quinton Ross instead of Terry still only gives up 83.02 points per 100 possessions, though that’s a pretty small sample.

    Sorry, was I supposed to be talking about the Celtics? : )

  • John V

    OK, here’s a Celtics comment. The unit of Rondo, Daniels, Pierce, KG, and Perk have only played together for 21.2 minutes, which, again, is a small sample. But in those 21.2 minutes, they’ve given up 58 points (on 47 possessions, an abysmal rating of 123.40). Obviously, Rondo, Pierce, KG, and Perk are all great defenders. And Marquis did a great job on Lebron and others. It seems, though, that he can no longer defend 2s. I can’t think of any other explanation.

  • http://CelticsHub.com Zach Lowe

    @John V: That’s one possible explanation. But then how do you account for that fact that the Ray Plus Bench unit does so much better (on both ends of the floor) than the Pierce Plus Bench Unit?

  • Tom


    Scal is not a great player, but his contribution to the team is way more than Tony Allen/JR Giddens/Hudson and on some nights than Shelden Williams. He might not put up numbers, but he doesn’t do anything to hurt the team (anti-Tony Allen). I still think Scal can be useful given the right matchup, I couldn’t believe the Bulls didn’t put Deng on him more when Scal was playing the #3.

  • Vic De Zen

    I’d like to add that, um, the Celtics have a damn good starting 5.

  • http://www.celticshub.com Zach Lowe

    @Vic: Yes. Perhaps I should have stated that more clearly. Occum’s Razor, etc.

  • dont_drink_the_koolaid

    Did you see Scal in the bucks game? :/ Don’t want to see him on the court unless its a last second offensive possession and they need an extra 3bomber, or foul trouble, or mop-up duty. I’ll take baby or sheldon any other situation. Don’t get wrong, love to have him around….good team guy with positive vibes….and what could be more fun than yelling “SCAL!!” when he does something positive in meaningless situations. I even think “scal” should become a verb for all similar situations as its just so fun to say.

    I think the perception of the 6th man role has changed. Manu/Terry/Gordon/Odom/JR proved you can accept that role and still get individual recognition and get paid. I LOVE watching the Nuggs when JR checks-in…his presence instantly creates tension for their opponent and his whole team feeds off that. Part of me just wants to see Jesus Shuttlesworth in a situation where he is that ‘lone-gunslinger’….the garden crowd starts to buzz as he heads to the scorers table late in the first quarter….full freedom to dominate as the pure scorer he still is….bombing away, ripping out hearts and taking no prisoners.

    And yes, dang fine roll the team is on! :)

  • Pingback: Hardwood Paroxysm » Blog Archive » But Seriously, He Handles The Rotation Like An Artist. For Real.

  • John V

    Zach: I think the most likely explanation for why the Cs are so much better when Ray is on the floor is the obvious one: because he is so much better than his backups. It could be that he’s better (particularly defensively) than we think he is, or that his backups are worse, but it’s probably a little of both.

    The numbers say the Cs are a lot better when Rondo, or KG, or Perk are on the floor, just as we’d expect. But they’re still very good without any one of those three. They’ve actually been outscored while Ray has been on the bench, though. Without Ray, they’ve been a mediocre team.

    So I think today’s column, about team MVP so far this season, left someone out.

    I also think you may have to try once again to embrace Tony Allen. The Cs actually have been extremely effective in his 35 minutes so far this year, and watching the games, he is bringing an energy that has been sorely lacking. Of course he and the coaching staff should still work to cut down on the incredibly dumb turnovers, but still, he has been a big boost already.

  • Idaho

    Baby swag should not be underestimated. But even he who coined the term is doing so. Scal also has swag or vibe that is difficult to measure. As good as Boston’s first five are I have fallen in love with Boston’s reserves the last two years. It pained me to see Powe go. If he had been healthy (I know many think I am crazy), I think Boston would have went to the finals without KG. That is without guys quitting on the team versus Orlando.

    I don’t know if it is Rivers, playing with the veterans on Boston or a combination of both, but the 2nd team just gets better and better with Boston. If that pattern continues this year Boston is going to lambaste everyone in the latter half of the season.

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