Are Stable Starting Lineups Pivotal to NBA Regular-Season Success?

Stability is a commodity in the NBA.

From the front office to the bench, from the starting lineup to the 12th man, certainty is invaluable; and it’s invaluable because of how uncertain the NBA is. 

Starting lineups are no exception.

Only twice in the last 10 years has a team enjoyed fielding no more than two different starting lineups throughout an entire regular season. Think about this for a second: Of 300 possible squads, 99.3 percent of them (298) used more than two starting lineups.

Those basking in such predictability should more often than not be reaping major benefits. But is that actually true? Are stable starting lineups a foundation for regular-season success, or are they an irrelevant luxury having little to no impact on the standings? 

 

Elements of Change

Predicting where teams will be from one day to the next is difficult. Things happen. 

Adjustments to starting fives take place for all sorts of reasons. Trades can have an impact. So can a team’s desire to experiment with different combinations. Player illnesses and scheduled rest days factor in as well.

Then there’s health.

Fans, players and coaches are very much aware of injuries. There is no predicting them, not even if rest is offered or minutes caps are instituted. Coaches can only manage players and bodies how they see it and hope that’s enough.

Rarely is it enough, of course. There’s no such thing as infallible prevention.

A study led by a group of doctors—medical and otherwise—back in 2010 for the National Center for Biotechnology Information examined 17 years of NBA injury data. None of the findings suggested there was a way to accurately forecast forthcoming health bills: 

Professional basketball today has become a highly physical, high-contact sport. All reportable injuries were collected directly from NBA trainers and team physicians over a 17-year period, and injuries rates were determined by demographics, body area, structure, pathology, and injury type.

Player demographics revealed no correlation between injury rate and age, height, weight, or years of NBA experience. This is an essential finding, given that agents and organizations constantly attempt to stratify and predict the injury risk for each player. If there were a correlation between injury rate and player demographics, players at higher risk could be cut from their team.

In layman’s terms: Injury bugs are incalculable, fickle, heartless, equal-opportunity jerks.

Every year it’s something and someone different. It’s been Kobe Bryant. It’s been Derrick Rose. Right now it’s Paul George

Losses of this stature affect starting lineups. You can bet your best friend’s secret iCarly DVD collection the Indiana Pacers will spend most of next season tinkering with the starting lineup as they try to discover what works.

“It’s a major part of the pursuit of a championship,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said last season, per NBA.com’s Mark Montieth. “You have to have a lot of things fall into place. Staying healthy is definitely one of them.”

Preemptive panning does very little to combat health and the remaining factors that influence starting fives. There’s no formula that reveals how many starting lineups a team must use, nor is there some existing trend in starting-five volume that sets a universally acceptable number of changes: 

As shown above, there’s no concrete pattern. Perhaps the last 10 years can be used to find range guidelines—the average fell between 14 and 18 for the last decade—but it’s not foolproof.

Largely unpredictable change—the degrees of which will vary by team and year—is the only reliable constant.

 

What the Numbers Say

Finding the number of starting fives a team uses is easy—Basketball-Reference.com has the information readily available—but how do we measure success?

“Wins and losses, idiot.” 

That’s what you might say, and you wouldn’t be totally wrong. But winning percentages are flawed and don’t account for strength of schedule, so we’re first going to look at Basketball-Reference’s Simple Rating System (SRS). 

A team’s SRS is, as Doug Drinen of Pro-Football-Reference wrote in 2006, its “average point margin, adjusted up or down depending on the strength of their opponents.”

Average teams have a rating of zero. The higher the number, the better the rating, the better the team.

For example, the San Antonio Spurs’ average point margin for 2013-14 was 7.72, and the strength of their schedule was 0.28 points above average, giving them an SRS of eight. And those worried about the exclusion of trusty winning percentage can find comfort in the strong correlation that exists between it and SRS

With that out of the way and your trust in SRS established, it’s time to gas up the time machine.

Charted below is the relationship between the number of starting lineups a team used and its SRS for the last 10 years:

This time a trend emerges.

Teams with a poor—in this case negative—SRS score tended to use more starting lineups than their counterparts. And that link is highlighted further when splitting the data into two groups.

Of the 300 squads being looked at here, 146 fielded between one and 15 starting lineups during their respective seasons. The other 154 used between 16 and 49.

Here’s how those groups fared against SRS:

The relationship becomes clearer still.

More than 69 percent (101) of teams that threw out between one and 15 different starting fives registered an above-average SRS. Only 30.5 percent (47) of those that used 16 or more starting lineups can say the same. Nearly 70 percent (107) of them finished with a below-average SRS.

But while the relationship seems clear at this point, it isn’t perfect.

Lineup distribution matters. Looking solely at the number of starting lineups doesn’t account for it.

Take the 2013-14 Phoenix Suns and Portland Trail Blazers. The Suns only used six different starting fives, but their most frequently used lineup played in 37 games. The Blazers, by comparison, ran with two different starting bills, and their most-used one appeared in 69 contests.

Division can help limit this impact.

If the number of starting fives a team uses is divided by its most recycled lineup, we should get an even more accurate look at how often teams experimented. The lower the number, the more stable a team’s starting lineup usage is.

Phoenix’s six different starting lineups would be divided by 37. That gives it a variation rating of 0.16. Portland’s two would be divided by 69, giving it a rating of 0.03, noticeably lower—and therefore better—than Phoenix’s. 

Last year’s league average variation was 0.79. Below you’ll see how resulting above- and below-average numbers look when weighed against SRS for 2013-14:

Some of the same is seen again here. Although there are plenty of outliers, only two teams with below-average lineup variations—numbers greater than 0.79—finished with above-average SRS scores.

Getting a bigger picture demands a larger sample size. For that, we turn to the last 10 years, during which time the average variation was 0.89:

Acceptable responses to this scrunched-up scatter plot include: Holy 2008-09 Golden State Warriors.

And that’s it.

No other team’s starting lineup variation exceeded 4.9. Those Warriors—who fielded 47 different starting fives—skew the look because their most-used lineup started only five games. 

Even so, many of the original findings are confirmed.

Almost 65 percent (127) of the teams with above-average lineup variations—distributions below 0.89—also finished with above-average SRS scores. A mere 20 percent (21) of clubs with below-average variations did the same.

Not much has changed from before. The teams with higher SRS marks are generally the ones who have used fewer starting lineups and experimented less.

 

Impact of Stability

Consistency helps.

It is not the be-all and end-all of NBA success, during the regular season or otherwise.

Teams that use more lineups and experiment more often than most can do great things. This year’s Spurs are a perfect example. They used the second-most starting fives in the league (30) and still finished first in SRS (eight) and wins (62). 

Oh, and they also won a championship.

Methods vary by situation. Transitioning and rebuilding teams are going to futz around with starting lineups as the search for answers and direction plows on. Injuries can occur within preferred starting fives that force teams into trial-and-error mode.

Sometimes, like in San Antonio’s case, it’s simply part of the plan. That’s why teams have and will continue to buck this trend. 

Much like there’s no predicting how injuries will impact the number of lineups teams use, writing obituaries for those with impermanent starting lineups is premature. But educated guesses can be made based off what we found.

Just look at how NBA champions have fared against the league’s average starting-five volume since 2004: 

Now look at how they stand out when plotted against our distribution scores:

Good teams, great teams, are consistent in what they do. They’re consistent in how they win, score and defend. 

They’re consistent in how they play.

Most of the time this continuity, this stability, is reflected in the state—lasting or makeshift—of their starting lineups.

 

*Stats and starting lineup information courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise cited.


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Lionel Hollins: Kevin Garnett to Be Brooklyn Nets’ Starting Power Forward

Brooklyn Nets head coach Lionel Hollins informed reporters that Kevin Garnett will indeed be starting for the team at the start of the 2014-15 NBA season. Nets coach Lionel Hollins says Kevin Garnett will start this season and if healthy he will play more than 15-16 mins a game — Ohm Youngmisuk (@NotoriousOHM) September 15, 2014 After a second-round playoff loss to the Miami Heat last postseason, Garnett’s NBA future was in question. He struggled in the close-out game of the series, scoring just two points to go with two turnovers. Still, it appears the future Hall of Famer still has a bit left in the tank—or so his new coach thinks. The post Lionel Hollins: Kevin Garnett to Be Brooklyn Nets’ Starting Power Forward appeared first on Basketball Bicker.

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Beck/Bucher Debate: Who Has the Best Starting 5 in the NBA?

The NBA season is almost here, as teams will open training camps later this month.

Though there will undoubtedly be more reshuffling of lineups in the lead-up to opening night, it’s never too early to ask who has the best starting five in the league. 

Howard Beck and Ric Bucher debate that topic in the video above.

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Early Predictions for Sacramento Kings’ Starting Lineup Next Season

As things currently stand with the Sacramento Kings, much is still up in the air with the team’s starting lineup. 

We know DeMarcus Cousins will be the starting center. Darren Collison is the only real option to be the starting point guard to open the season. It’s also clear Rudy Gay will be a starter, but where he plays is still up in the air. 

The good thing is Sacramento has some depth on the team and a few players with the versatility to play multiple positions. That’ll give head coach Michael Malone the flexibility to tinker with things during training camp and preseason until he finds what fits best. 

The downside, at least for our purposes, is that it makes predicting the starting lineup a difficult task. Still, using the knowledge at hand and some educated guessing, here’s an early prediction for the Sacramento Kings’ starting lineup next season.

 

The Prediction

Point guard: Darren Collison

Shooting guard: Ben McLemore

Small forward: Rudy Gay

Power Forward: Reggie Evans

Center: DeMarcus Cousins

 

The Reasoning

Point Guard

There are only two realistic options to start at point guard for the Kings: Collison and Ray McCallum. In actuality, though, Collison is the only one who has a shot to start the season as the starter. 

The Kings didn’t sign him to a three-year deal and let Isaiah Thomas walk only to have the point guard come off the bench. Plus, Sacramento pretty much told Collison he’d be the starter when it signed him back in July.

Not to mention Collison is the more experienced player at this stage of the game. 

McCallum showed some nice things as a rookie—especially at the end of the season, when he averaged 13.5 points and 6.8 assists over the final 12 games—and during summer league, but he needs more experience before he can be counted on as a long-term starter at point guard. 

Other than those two, there’s nobody else on the team who could fill in on an extended basis. Shooting guard Nik Stauskas can play some point guard, but it will only be for short stretches of time. Ben McLemore isn’t suited to be a point guard, either.

That leaves only Collison and McCallum, and we already know who’s going to start between the two. 

 

Shooting Guard

As with point guard, the two options are pretty clear. There’s the second-year player in McLemore and the rookie, Stauskas. Unlike point guard, however, this position could go either way as far as the starer is concerned. 

At the current time, all we have to go on in comparing the two is summer league stats, as both players were on Sacramento’s Las Vegas Summer League team. 

Interestingly enough, both McLemore and Stauskas played more minutes than any other players on the team, and they were both pretty close in playing time and production. 

Stauskas played 28.9 minutes and averaged 9.9 points, 2.0 assists, 2.3 rebounds and 1.9 turnovers. He also shot 43.4 percent from the field and 47.8 percent from downtown. 

McLemore, on the other hand, averaged 29.1 minutes and scored 12.6 points, grabbed 4.1 rebounds, dished out 1.3 assists and committed 3.9 turnovers per contest. The second-year player also shot 44.8 percent from the field and 30.4 percent from three-point range.

As you can see, each player had his strengths. Stauskas was the better shooter and distributor while McLemore was the better scorer and rebounder. However, the reason McLemore gets the nod is because of his experience.

It showed after the first couple games of summer league, when the shooting guard started to slow things down and let the game come to him.

“He stopped trying to do too much, too quickly,” Malone said, per Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee. “He slowed down, attacked, shot the ball, he was under control and he played terrific. I was really proud and happy because he’s worked so hard this summer.”

The head coach was only speaking of one game, but those traits held up throughout the summer league. After only making 33 percent of his shots in the first two games, McLemore was much more efficient throughout, leading to the nearly 45 percent field-goal percentage.

Ultimately, though, the reason McLemore gets the nod is because of his NBA experience. He’s got a full season under his belt and was the starter for the second half of last year. 

There will be plenty of opportunites for Stauskas from the get-go. If either McLemore falters or Stauskas plays better than expected, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the rookie supplant him in the starting lineup.

 

Small Forward

Rudy Gay is penciled in as the starting small forward mainly out of necessity. You may wonder why it’s a necessity since Gay is one of the team’s best players and logged 78 percent of his minutes at the 3 last year. 

The reason is a lack of depth at the position. Omri Casspi, who has yet to sign but is reportedly still in the plans, is probably the best option other than Gay. 

Granted, Derrick Williams can play some small forward, but he only made 28.6 percent of his shots from 17 feet or further from the basket. 

With Cousins manning the post, the Kings need someone who can stretch the floor with his shooting, and Williams’ jump shot won’t do the trick. 

There is another option, which we’ll get to momentarily, of where Gay could play. Yet the most important thing is getting their best players on the floor to start the game, and having a frontcourt of Gay and Reggie Evans is better than having one of Gay and Casspi

Plus, Casspi‘s three-point shooting (career 35.2 percent) would be a nice addition to stretch the floor with the second unit—especially with players like Carl Landry, Jason Thompson and Williams on the floor, who do most of their work near the hoop. 

 

Power Forward

Between Evans, Thompson, Landry and Williams, the Kings have four options to start at power forward. 

Despite four possibilities, the Kings really only have one. What’s meant by that is they all play similar close-to-the-basket games. With that being the case, Sacramento should go with the one who does it best. 

While Evans isn’t much of a scorer, perhaps he’s the Kings’ best rebounder. The power forward averaged a team-high 13.3 rebounds per 36 minutes last year. Of those options, Thompson is next with 9.5, followed by Landry (8.8) and Williams (6.4).

Another option, which was alluded to previously, was the idea of playing Gay at power forward. It’s something he’s done with Team USA at the FIBA Basketball World Cup, and it would help spread the floor more than having any of the other players in there.

But starting Gay at power forward would require either Casspi or Williams starting at the 3. Since there are more viable alternatives at power forward, the Kings would be better off with Gay playing on the wing. 

 

Center

This is the one position that’s undoubtedly set in stone. Barring some sort of injury, Cousins will be the Kings’ starting center in 2014-15. Hell, DMC will be the team’s starting center for the three years following that, too. 

Simply put, there aren’t many centers better than Cousins in the league. He was first in scoring, second in free-throw attempts per game, fourth in rebounds, third in assists, first in steals and second in double-doubles. 

If there’s maybe one or two centers better than Cousins in the league, none of them play for the Kings. That makes him a no-brainer as the starter. 

As things currently stand, the most likely backup is Thompson. Nearly one-third of his minutes came at center last year, and that was with Aaron Gray also on the roster. With Gray now gone, that only leaves Thompson as the backup.

Of course, JT will also get playing time at power forward as well. But given so many options at that position, playing center will allow him a way to get on the court. 

There’s a chance my long lost—and much bigger—brother, Sim Bhullar, could make the team and get some time at the 5.

However, despite his immense size (7’5″), Sim went undrafted (I get to speak in the third person), so it’s hard to imagine him making the roster out of training camp. He seems more like a project player. 

If the Kings are going to take on a project, it might as well be someone like Bhullar, who could be a handful if he ever figures it out. 

 

Final Thoughts

This is just one prediction. The Kings could go in any number of directions. And with training camp and preseason still left to play out, there’s plenty of time for one or more players to distinguish themselves. 

In a way, that’s a nice position to be in. It means there are a few players who are capable of contributing. Yet it also means there aren’t many players, with the exception of Cousins and Gay, who truly stand out. So while Malone has flexibility on the roster, the coach may prefer less options if it meant more players were head and shoulders above their teammates. 

 

Unless noted otherwise, all stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.

Who do you think should be in Sacramento’s starting lineup? Let me know on Twitter @SimRisso

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Who Should Be Milwaukee Bucks’ Starting Point Guard Next Season?

With a summer of activity behind them, the Milwaukee Bucks now find themselves with a surplus at the point guard position, which poses a legitimate question: Who should the starter be?

And when one looks at it, that’s not the easiest question to answer.

Brandon Knight and Kendall Marshall are the clear front runners, but Nate Wolters put together a solid rookie season, and head coach Jason Kidd experimented with Giannis Antetokounmpo at point during the Las Vegas Summer League.

But with all that said, Knight should hold onto the starting gig for the time being.

Here’s why.

 

Scoring

Despite drafting Jabari Parker, the Bucks will still have a lot of trouble scoring in 2014-15.

Outside of the rookie, Knight is the only consistent scoring option the team has on the roster. 

While some might suggest moving Knight to shooting guard, it’s not fair to him. At least not to begin the season, that is.

The 22-year-old improved across the board a season ago and showed signs of becoming a respectable distributor. 

On a team that had tremendous woes offensively—the Bucks scored just 95.5 points per game and shot 43.8 percent from the floor—Knight still managed to average 4.9 assists. And while that isn’t remarkable, it showed his willingness to distribute, even when much of the burden to score was placed on his shoulders.

In his increased role, Knight showed a much more aggressive nature and didn’t think twice about attacking the rim. In turn, he was able to get to the foul line 4.5 times per game.

There’s no doubt the Bucks need someone to efficiently run their offense, but scoring is more important at this juncture.

Depending on how O.J. Mayo bounces back from his lackluster 2013-14 season, Knight may very well end up playing the 2 at some point, but he has earned every opportunity to prove he is the team’s point guard moving forward.

That, along with Knight’s scoring prowess, is one big reason he is the best option.

 

Leadership

The youngster may still be developing as a point guard, but his leadership skills span well beyond his age.

In fact, as Andrew Gruman of FOX Sports Wisconsin pointed out, Knight is well aware of the improvements he needs to make as both a player and a teammate.

Still, reading quotes like the following one proves that his line of thinking is right where it should be:

‘Going through what we went through this year, as far as lack of respect from officials, teams — who wants to go through that?’ Knight said. ‘I take it as kind of a slap in the face. I think we can use it as motivation. I’ll constantly remind guys of what happened this year. We’re going to get better.’

That’s the kind of attitude the team and organization must have.

There’s no time to sulk in the misery of a dreadful 2014-15 season.

Instead, everyone must come together and realize that what the Bucks are building is a work in progress and won’t change overnight.

It seems as though Knight understands that and has been conveying that attitude to his teammates.

And this isn’t the first time his leadership qualities are emerging.

A few years ago, when both were with the Detroit Pistons, veteran Corey Maggette spoke highly of Knight (per David Mayo of MLive.com):

I consider him the leader…He’s the point guard. He’s the leader of our team. He’s the one who’s going to have the ball in his hands, making the calls, reading defenses, reading offensive plays. He can do that. He has the ability to be the leader on this team.

Clearly those people making the decisions for the Pistons didn’t feel the same way, but after a 2013-14 season that marked Knight’s first major stride, we’re one step closer to saying they were wrong.

Whether or not he continues making progress has yet to be seen. 

However, with his scoring, leadership and respectable defense—not to mention a very good 2013-14—Knight has earned every right to be the starting point guard for the Bucks this coming season.

He’s not the distributor Marshall is and won’t attract the attention Antetokounmpo would playing point, but he is a former top-10 pick who is beginning to come into his own.

And the Bucks must allow him to continue doing that, at least for now.

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Who Should Be Oklahoma City Thunder’s Starting Shooting Guard Next Season?

The Oklahoma City Thunder‘s most important position battle next season will be at shooting guard, where Jeremy Lamb, Anthony Morrow and Reggie Jackson will compete for the chance to play alongside Russell Westbrook

Lamb, the 12th overall pick of the 2012 draft and one of the key pieces of the James Harden trade, is still itching to break out as he enters his third season. The 22-year-old played in 78 games last season for the Thunder, averaging 8.5 points in 19.7 minutes and shooting 35.6 percent from behind the arc. 

Like Lamb, Jackson is also a former first-round pick (No. 24 overall, 2011). He played in 80 games, including 36 starts for the injured Westbrook. In the playoffs, Jackson eventually replaced defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha in the starting lineup. He contributed 11.1 points per game in the postseason, which was down slightly from the 13.1 points he put up during the regular season. 

Lastly, there’s Morrow, who signed a three-year, $10 million contract with OKC this summer after spending last season with the New Orleans Pelicans. Morrow is a lethal shooter from the outside. He shot 45.1 percent from three with the Pels, which was good for fourth best in the NBA

Each candidate makes sense in their own separate way, but who is the best option of the three? To help answer that question, we will take a deeper look at all three players and break down what they would bring to the table as a starter. 

Afterward, we’ll pick the best man for the job. 

 

Jeremy Lamb

Jeremy Lamb has the potential to be a solid starter in the NBA. He’s quick and athletic. He has good range on his jumper, and he has great measurables (6’5″ with a 6’11″ wingspan and 8’6″ standing reach, per Lamb’s DraftExpress.com profile).

However, two seasons into his pro career, Lamb has yet to put it all together. Lamb’s inability to live up to the hype so far isn’t completely on him. The UConn product was starting to come along last season, averaging 10.6 points per game for the month of December and 10.7 points in January. 

By February, his minutes started to dwindle and he was starting to become an afterthought in the rotation once Caron Butler came aboard in March. As with any young player, confidence is key. Lamb can’t show the coaching staff what he can do if he’s unsure about his role. 

Joe Atmonavage of HoopsHabit.com shared the same sentiments in a recent article about Lamb:  

I think the Thunder can expect Lamb to average around 10-12 points per game while knocking down 38-40 percent of his 3-pointers…A big part of putting it altogether and having that type of season for Lamb is his confidence. I think Brooks needs to let Lamb play through his mistakes and regain his confidence through his play. It is hard to gain confidence when you are not on the floor.

The flip side to Atmonavage‘s point is that Lamb has to give the franchise a reason to put its faith in him. He has to make the most of the opportunities he gets and prove himself worthy of more playing time. Inconsistency, at both ends of the court, has been one of Lamb’s biggest obstacles. 

Lamb’s consistency woes could be attributed to a lack of confidence, but it’s on him to motivate himself to play up to the high standards. When you look at the best players in the league, they don’t rely on others to instill the competitive drive to be great. It comes from within. 

Now let’s take a look at some of the things Lamb can do and what he can offer the Thunder when he starts feeling confident in himself. This video is from Lamb’s career night against the Houston Rockets on Dec. 29 of last year. 

Throughout the highlight reel, you’ll see Lamb’s outside jumper on display. His ability to catch and shoot will come in handy for a Thunder team that finished 14th in both three-point percentage (36 percent) and three-pointers made per game (8.1 per contest). 

That’s not the only thing Lamb showcases here though. At the 34-second mark, Lamb shows off his wheels as he races down the court in transition to get the easy bucket. Two minutes in, Lamb brings the ball up and lobs a perfect mid-court pass for the alley-oop. 

Games like this have been infrequent throughout Lamb’s short career, which is a large part of the frustration for the organization and its fans alike. The talent is definitely there, but it’s up to Lamb to provide the spark that will lead to a bright career. 

 

Anthony Morrow

Like Lamb, Morrow’s best attribute is his ability to light it up from the outside. Morrow was silent for the first half of last season as minutes became scarce playing behind Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon in New Orleans. It wasn’t until injuries forced him into a bigger role late in the season that the 28-year-old really came to life. 

Morrow came alive in March and April, averaging 11.1 and 15.1 points, respectively, in the final two months of the season. He became a go-to offensively for a Pelicans team that wasn’t left with much beyond Anthony Davis down the stretch. 

The key was his shooting. He converted 42 percent of his three-point attempts in March. Then, he followed that up by nailing 44.8 percent of his treys in April. Was this scoring outburst a sign of future things to come, or was the Georgia Tech product motivated by his impending free agency?

Prior to his explosion with the Pelicans, Morrow flew under the radar as he bounced around with several different teams. He hasn’t averaged double-digits in scoring since the 2011-12 season with the then-New Jersey Nets, and he’s never started more than 47 games in a single season throughout his six-year career. 

Despite the lack of starting experience, Morrow clearly did enough to convince the Thunder to sign him during the offseason. Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti spoke highly of his prized acquisition when asked why the shooter is such a good fit for the Thunder (h/t to Susan Bible of Basketball Insiders).

Anthony Morrow has demonstrated that he is amongst the most consistent and efficient three point shooters in the NBA over his career. With his body of work, we feel Anthony is a unique addition to a diverse roster, while also possessing the toughness and selflessness that we are consistently seeking in Thunder players.

In this video of Morrow’s 27-point performance against the Los Angeles Clippers, the veteran shows he’s more than just a long-range specialist. While he shows off his ability to knock down open threes, Morrow does a nice job of mixing in some post moves as well as creating his shot off the dribble. 

If Morrow can prove to be more than a niche player, he could be a nice fourth option on what is already a devastating starting rotation. Even if Morrow doesn’t get the starting job, he provides depth for a team that needs scoring off the bench as well as a solid mentor for the prospects on the rise. 

 

Reggie Jackson

There are a number of reasons why Reggie Jackson would like to start this season. Jackson has played well enough, both as a reserve and as an occasional starter, to earn an increased role. Last season, he scored a career-high 13.1 points per game and raised his three-point percentage from 23.1 percent in 2012-13 to 33.9 percent. 

A spot in the starting lineup would also increase Jackson’s chances of securing a nice payday down the road. Jackson will be a restricted free agent next summer, which puts the Thunder in an awkward position since they don’t have the money to lock up their super-sub this year. 

The more Jackson plays, in theory, the higher his value becomes. As his value rises, so does his price tag. Teams with cap space and a need for a scoring point guard could make a run at Jackson knowing Oklahoma City’s budget will be thin with Kevin Durant‘s contract expiring a year later. 

As we’ve seen this summer with guys like Chandler Parsons, teams are willing to overpay for rising stars if it will also hurt a fierce rival as well. We’ve also seen how relationships between restricted free agents and their respective franchises can become strained when pennies start getting pinched (as in the case of Eric Bledsoe and the Phoenix Suns, per Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com). 

Business aside, there are pros and cons to putting Jackson in the starting lineup. On the one hand, playing Jackson and Westbrook together gives the Thunder an interchangeable backcourt. Both men are capable of bringing the ball up the court or playing off the ball and creating offense for themselves. 

On the flip side, playing two point guards together as opposed to the traditional guard pairing creates a size disadvantage (though Westbrook’s insane athleticism would allow him to hold his own defensively).

There would also be a downgrade at the backup point guard spot going from Jackson to Sebastian Telfair. Quality depth was one of the Thunder’s biggest issues last season and, while Telfair could be serviceable, he doesn’t offer the same spark that Jackson does. 

Speaking of the spark Jackson provides, watch how he torched the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals. While Lamb and Morrow use their jumper as their bread and butter, Jackson’s calling card is the ability to get to the hoop at will. 

Time and time again, he penetrates the Grizzlies defense and attacks the basket. That’s not to say that Jackson can’t knock it down from deep. At the 1:04 mark, you’ll see him dribble out of trouble, step back and nail a trifecta.

Jackson would finish with 32 points as he helped bring the Thunder back to earn the win and even the series up. 

With Jackson getting better every year, the Thunder have an interesting decision ahead. The Boston College product will be motivated to play well. That could work to Oklahoma City’s benefit or its detriment. 

 

And The Winner Is…

In truth, having three starter-quality candidates at one position is a good problem to have. Regardless of what direction head coach Scott Brooks goes in, he’s likely to make a good decision. Based on how he’s performed the past two seasons (especially in the playoffs), the popular choice would be to go with Jackson. 

However, I think Lamb should get the nod. The time has come for the team to get a good look at one of its prized prospects, and it will be a boost to Lamb’s confidence if he can finally have a defined role. If the only thing holding Lamb back has been what’s between his ears, a little support could go a long way. 

Furthermore, by relegating Jackson and Morrow to the second unit, Oklahoma City’s bench becomes deeper and stronger. While both have shined as starters before, Jackson could excel as a sixth man and Morrow could thrive as a three-point specialist. 

Meanwhile, this becomes a make-or-break season for Lamb. With the team trusting him with starter minutes, there’s no more excuses for his failures. Either he puts all of his physical tools together and lives up to his potential or the team must move on. 

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Early Predictions for Minnesota Timberwolves’ Starting Lineup Next Season

With Kevin Love officially traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers (according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports), the Minnesota Timberwolves will have a very different starting five than in years past.  

Many new faces will be donning the blue and green this upcoming fall.  Most of these new additions are unproven players with very high ceilings, such as Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and Anthony Bennett.

However, the Timberwolves also have solid veterans such as Kevin Martin, Nikola Pekovic and the recently added Thaddeus Young.   

Coach Flip Saunders will have to choose between playing veterans to win now or prepare for the future by playing the youngsters.  

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Can Cleveland Cavaliers Really Trust Anderson Varejao as Their Starting Center?

Despite an offseason of changes, trades, signings and a plethora of new faces for the Cleveland Cavaliers, one curly-topped veteran remains.

Anderson Varejao will be entering into his 11th season with the Cavs, a journey that began following a 2004 trade to Cleveland as a throw-in with Drew Gooden.

Varejao has witnessed the Cavaliers’ rise to power, played in the NBA Finals, been part of a complete rebuild and now faces serious championship pressure once again.

Now approaching age 32 with a checkered injury past, is Varejao ready for the challenge? Better yet, can the Cavs still rely on him as their starting center, especially with such lofty goals?

As skilled and beloved as Varejao is, unfortunately not.

The Cavs should definitely begin the season with Varejao as their starter, but they better have a solid backup plan for their Brazilian big man, just in case.

 

The Good Andy

The great part about Varejao is he should fit perfectly with the Cavs‘ current group.

With LeBron James, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and company, shots may be hard to come by. That should be just fine for Varejao, who’s never really cared about his own offensive production.

Varejao‘s game has always been built on rebounding, hustle and defense (with some flops thrown in for good measure). The past four seasons, Varejao has averaged at least 9.7 rebounds per game, and was the ninth-best per-minute rebounder in the NBA this year (via ESPN.com).

Although he won’t be relied upon to score, it’s worth noting that Varejao has made nice strides in both his range and efficiency on offense. Last season, he knocked down 47.2 percent of his mid-range jumpers, via NBA.com/Stats. This followed seasons of 41.7 percent in 2012-13 and 35.9 percent in 2011-12.

If the Cavs need him to score 10-15 points on a given night, Varejao is certainly capable. With this roster he shouldn’t have to, and instead he can relax while sticking to his strengths.

Whether it was with James competing for titles or next to Irving simply trying to make the playoffs, Varejao has been just fine doing the dirty work and little things that all add up to wins. His role with the 2014-15 squad will be no different, as Varejao should blend in beautifully with the Cavs‘ core.

 

The Bad Andy

Not to mean he’s a bad guy or anything, but Varejao can’t be trusted anymore to play a complete, healthy season.

The last time Varejao even sniffed 70 games was in 2009-10, before James had even taken off a Cavaliers jersey.

The past four years, Varejao has totaled 146 games, or not even two full NBA seasons. His on-court time has been great, but it’s only lasted an average of 36.5 games since 2010.

As previously mentioned, Varejao will turn 32 next month and can’t handle heavy minutes anymore. Former coach Byron Scott made the foolish decision to run Varejao out for 36 minutes a night in 2012-13. The result: Varejao split a muscle in his leg and Scott was fired the following offseason.

Mike Brown did a better job last year of keeping Varejao‘s minutes at around 27 a night. If the Cavs want to preserve him for a potential long playoff run, new head coach David Blatt may be forced to decrease that total even more.

 

Backup Plan

Right now, it’s unclear if there even is one.

The Cavs traded for Brendan Haywood this summer, a 12-year veteran and former champion with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011. Unfortunately, Haywood is coming off foot surgery that caused him to miss the entire 2013-14 season. His availability for this season is unclear.

After that, Tristan Thompson appears to be next in line. Although a natural power forward at 6’9″, Thompson played a significant amount of center during his rookie year. Love can also play the 5 in smaller lineups when Blatt wants to put James or Shawn Marion at power forward.

This means the Cavs are one injury away from putting Thompson into the starting unit with no reliable reserve whatsoever.

This just can’t be an option.

While there’s no center savior on the free-agent wire, the Cavs can find some decent help if they look hard enough.

Cleveland is reportedly interested in Emeka Okafor, according to ESPN’s Marc Stein. Okafor, like Haywood, also missed last season while recovering from injury. Stein reports that Okafor may not even be ready until around midseason, at which point he’ll be “in high demand.”

Players like Kenyon Martin, Elton Brand and Andray Blatche are still available, and they could possibly sign for the veteran’s minimum for a chance at a ring.

The other option for Cleveland is a trade.

Their current target? Denver Nuggets big man Timofey Mozgov. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said on ESPN Cleveland 850′s The Really Big Show that the Cavs have “been trying to trade for him for the last six to eight weeks and they just haven’t been able to get it done.”

Nicki Jhabvala of The Denver Post gives us more insight on Mozgov:

The Nuggets’ 7-foot-1 center, who was acquired from New York in the Carmelo Anthony trade in 2011, had a bit of a breakout season last year with starter JaVale McGee out all year because of a leg injury. Mozgov, 28, had never played more than 45 games in a season his previous three years in the league but played in all 82 last season while starting 30 of them. With the added playing time, he posted career-highs of 9.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game.

Mozgov would be a solid backup who can do something no other Cavs player can: protect the rim. His 1.2 blocks would have been enough to lead Cleveland last season, and they extrapolate to 2.0 per 36 minutes of play.

 

Conclusion

Should the Cavs use Varejao as their starting center? Absolutely.

Should they blindly trust him there without a Plan B? Nada.

Varejao‘s skill set, experience and fit make him an ideal starter for the Cavs at center. Unfortunately, his age, injury history and preferably low minute total also say that Cleveland’s going to need a nice backup behind him.

With so much that’s gone right for the Cavaliers this offseason, failing to provide insurance at one of the game’s most crucial positions would be unacceptable.

Varejao should be the Cavs‘ starting center, but he can no longer be completely trusted.

 

-GS

All stats provided by Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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Los Angeles Lakers Should Give Steve Nash’s Starting Job to Jeremy Lin

Back in 2012 when Jeremy Lin was blazing his path to notoriety, another point guard—arguably our generation’s most iconic—took notice.

“It’s amazing. He’s a great story,” said Steve Nash at the time, per Jared Zwerling (then writing for ESPNNewYork.com). “It’s a great story for the league. I think it’s phenomenal that it happened in the media capital of the world in a desperate team with a desperate fanbase. It’s just a beautiful thing to see somebody come out of nowhere to most people and shine the way he has.”

With Lin readying to debut his talents in another media mecca, it’s worth recalling Nash also mused that, “I think every team can use a point guard like him.”

Apparently the Los Angeles Lakers agreed.

Now Lin joins Nash in what should be a formidable floor-general platoon, at least if it remains at full health.

Now here comes the hard part.

While new Lakers head coach Byron Scott may be reluctant to separate the legendary Nash from his starting job, there’s a strong case that Lin deserves the nod this season. This isn’t about who deserves to start. Nor is it about managing egos. 

It’s about what’s best for the team.

Nash remains a one-of-a-kind leader regardless of where he’s situated in the rotation. Indeed, his presence could have a transformative effect on Lin himself—and Lin knows it, telling reporters, “I can’t wait. I remember when he was in Phoenix and was 20 and 10 every night. I can’t wait to learn from him.”

But wisdom and know-how aren’t reasons Nash should start.

Lakers Nation’s Ryan Ward wrote in July, “Moving forward, the consensus appears to be that Lin will be the starter with Nash likely set to come off the bench and rookie Jordan Clarkson being third on the depth chart.”

The reasons for such an approach are many.

At minimum, Los Angeles should keep a close watch on Nash’s minutes—perhaps even occasionally sitting the 40-year-old in back-to-back situations. Though that’s conceivably doable in the event Nash starts, there’s a risk Nash’s uneven availability could impact the starting lineup’s chemistry.

In the interest of building and sustaining rhythm, you’d like to see the Lakers deploy a consistent starting lineup as much as possible. With Nash’s playing time (and health) jeopardizing that, Lin becomes a more reliable starting option.

After a season in which he played just 15 games, it’s probably unwise to rest too many hopes on Nash.

There’s also a chance Lin could blossom in a way we haven’t seen since his New York days.

This is a fresh start for him, potentially a departure from a Houston Rockets experiment in which he started just 33 games during his second season with the team. While making the most of his new opportunity ultimately depends on Lin, the Lakers would do well to increase his confidence.

Lin is still young in basketball years.

Lin told Basketball Insider’s Alex Kennedy in July:

I definitely don’t think I’m close to my prime yet. I’m 25 years old and I think because of the way things have happened, people always think I’m older or I’ve been around longer than I really have. I’ve played two full seasons in the NBA – two full seasons and those 25 games in New York. I guess people have been very quick to write me off just because they saw how it started and then they saw what I was like in Houston, but I have to just keep reminding myself it’s a marathon.

Kennedy added, “As he continues to expand his game, he’ll have two Hall of Fame guards alongside him in the backcourt, which should do wonders for his development. Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant have been injured in recent years, but Lin is hoping to pick their brains and learn as much as he can from his legendary teammates.”

In short, there’s reason to believe that Lin can rise to the challenge a starting role presents.

After starting 82 games for the Rockets in 2012-13, Lin averaged a respectable 13.4 points and 6.1 assists per contest. It may not have lived up to the 20.9 points and 8.4 assists he tallied with New York in February 2012, but it demonstrated that Lin can produce on a full-time basis.

Under the right tutelage—something he lacked in Houston—that full-time production could improve.

There’s also something to be said for what Nash could do with the second unit.

The Lakers already have one ball-dominating playmaker in the starting lineup. Rather than asking Nash to compete with Bryant for touches, why not make him orchestrator-in-chief of the bench? It would ensure the veteran more touches, and it just might translate into better performances from other reserves.

Nash has a way of bringing out the best in his teammates. Perhaps he’d have a force-multiplying effect on L.A.’s depth, making the most of guys like rookie Julius Randle and potential sixth man Nick Young.

Moving Nash to the bench could very well be a win-win scenario for him and Lin alike.

Some aren’t especially high on Los Angeles’ resources at the point guard spot. 

CBSSports.com’s Matt Moore recently wrote, “At point guard you’ve got an inconsistent player who’s had minor but considerable injury issues the past two seasons in Lin, Nash who is barely able to get on the floor, and a second-round pick [Jordan Clarkson] who’s probably more of a shooting guard.”

After a 27-55 2013-14 campaign in which all that could go wrong did, the pessimism is understandable. General manager Mitch Kupchak improved the roster to the best of his ability, and recovery from injuries will make a significant difference.

But things could go south. Fast.

Lin registers as one of the principal reasons to hope otherwise. His pedigree doesn’t rival Nash or Bryant’s but the Lakers’ fortunes are no less dependent on his contributions this season.

Contributions he could very well make as a starter.

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Sacramento Kings: Projecting The Starting Five

As the clock continues to tick down until the Sacramento Kings’ season opener against the Golden State Warriors, it seems about time to make an early projection of how their starting lineup will look on opening night. With a roster consisting of returning veterans, talented rookies and sophomores, and a free agent acquisition, Sacramento have […]
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