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Comparing the most used 5-man units

One of the areas where we think 82games can be extremely useful is in understanding how specific 5-man player units work together. Unlike baseball where a lot of the activity can be isolated to individual players, basketball is truly a team game and the conventional player stats don't really tell you much about how effective a player is within a certain group.

Our 5-man unit stats are available for all teams (where we list the top 20 most used units) and players (where we show up to ten different units a player was part of). Now to be sure these numbers taken raw are subject to some criticism since we are listing them without adjusting for the caliber of the opposing five players on the floor. We have the same stats adjusted, but for ease of first exposure we have elected to present the default stats -- we'll get to the adjusted numbers in a little while for "advanced students" of the game.

A first study is simply looking at the most used lineup (not necessarily the most successful) for each team and seeing how the "first unit" performed for the various NBA sides.

Most Used Five-Man Floor Units
#
Team
Unit
Min
Off
Def
Net
W
L
W%
1
SA
 Parker-Jackson-Bowen-Duncan-Robinson 16.40%  97.7  83.8  +13.9   35 15
70.0
2
DAL
 Nash-Finley-Griffin-Nowitzki-Bradley 6.39%  100.2  88.3  +11.9   16 14
53.3
3
MIN
 Hudson-Peeler-Szczerbiak-Garnett-Nesterovic 14.24%  105.5  94.7  +10.8   23 14
62.1
4
UTA
 Stockton-Cheaney-Harpring-Malone-Ostertag 21.92%  95.5  85.2  +10.3   41 23
64.0
5
SAC
 Bibby-Christie-Stojakovic-Webber-Divac 21.20%  108.1  98.0  +10.1   26 11
70.2
6
TOR
 Williams-Carter-Peterson-WilliamsJ-Davis 7.68%  99.1  89.2  +10.0   14 6
70.0
7
POR
 Anderson-Wells-Pippen-Wallace-Davis 17.15%  98.8  88.9  +9.8   23 12
65.7
8
LAL
 Fisher-Bryant-Fox-Horry-O'Neal 13.57%  105.6  97.1  +8.6   34 16
68.0
9
NO
 Davis-Wesley-Mashburn-Brown-Magloire 18.17%  97.9  89.3  +8.6   24 12
66.6
10
BOS
 Delk-Pierce-Williams-Walker-Battie 12.97%  95.8  89.4  +6.4   23 16
58.9
11
HOU
 Francis-Mobley-Posey-Griffin-Ming 18.03%  95.9  89.7  +6.2   22 17
56.4
12
IND
 Tinsley-MillerR-Artest-O'Neal-Miller 13.77%  100.2  95.6  +4.6   22 14
61.1
13
NJ
 Kidd-Kittles-Jefferson-Martin-Collins 16.17%  93.1  88.6  +4.6   29 15
65.9
14
WAS
 Hughes-Stackhouse-Jordan-Laettner-Haywood 14.98%  94.6  89.9  +4.6   20 17
54.0
15
ATL
 Terry-Glover-Robinson-Abdur-Rahim-Ratliff 16.82%  97.7  93.3  +4.3   27 16
62.7
16
DET
 Billups-Hamilton-Curry-Robinson-Wallace 24.65%  87.2  86.8  +0.4   28 36
43.7
17
PHO
 Marbury-Johnson-Marion-Stoudemire-Outlaw 8.44%  97.2  96.9  +0.3   22 27
44.8
18
PHI
 Snow-Iverson-McKie-Van Horn-MacCulloch 11.73%  91.1  91.1  +0.0   13 14
48.1
19
NY
 Eisley-Houston-Sprewell-Harrington-Thomas 25.37%  93.6  94.9  -1.3   28 31
47.4
20
DEN
 Harrington-Yarbrough-Harvey-Howard-Hilario 5.77%  88.5  90.4  -1.9   12 11
52.1
21
MIA
 Best-Jones-Butler-Allen-Grant 14.19%  89.3  92.2  -2.9   13 24
35.1
22
MEM
 Williams-Giricek-Battier-Gasol-Wright 8.70%  99.5  102.7  -3.2   5 18
21.7
23
MIL
 Cassell-Allen-Thomas-Mason-Gadzuric 5.63%  97.0  100.3  -3.2   8 12
40.0
24
GS
 Arenas-Richardson-Jamison-Murphy-Dampier 30.43%  100.6  104.0  -3.3   32 41
43.8
25
SEA
 Barry-Allen-Lewis-Evans-Drobnjak 10.25%  93.4  97.7  -4.3   12 14
46.1
26
CHI
 Williams-Hassell-Rose-Marshall-Chandler 8.72%  88.8  95.4  -6.6   16 24
40.0
27
ORL
 Armstrong-McGrady-Miller-Garrity-Kemp 5.20%  97.0  103.6  -6.6   14 12
53.8
28
LAC
 Miller-Maggette-Odom-Brand-Rooks 7.51%  93.7  108.5  -14.8   7 13
35.0
29
CLE
 Palacio-Davis-Miles-Boozer-Ilgauskas 10.72%  86.6  102.7  -16.1   8 28
22.2

A quick explanation for some of the above: Min represents the percentage of a team's total minutes that the specific unit was on the floor, Off/Def represent the points scored and allowed on a 48 minute basis (a game with no overtime), the all important Net is the plus/minus score for the unit on a 48 minute average, and W/L represent wins and losses -- for every game where a unit outscored its opponents while on the floor it gets a win, when it gives up more points than it scores it's a loss, and ties are ignored.

Okay then, the San Antonio Spurs who wound up winning the NBA Championship in 2002-03 had the top lineup among the "most used" on a plus/minus basis, and the Cleveland Cavaliers who we all know ended up with the worst record has the worst "most used" lineup.

One thing to note in the above is the discrepancy between teams in how much playing time they give to a top unit. Some of this has to do with injuries and trades (e.g. Seattle and Milwaukee have lowish Min% for their most used lineups as they shuffled up the roster mid-season), but a lot has to do with coaching philosophy and perhaps depth on the roster. Don Nelson of the Dallas Mavericks has a reputation for loving the "matchup game" of switching out his 5-man unit based on who the oppposing team puts on the floor. This tendency is clearly shown in that no single 5-man unit played more 6.39% of the total minutes for Dallas -- compare that to Golden State, where coach Musselman went with the same five man group over 30% of total minutes!

The Warriors were indeed the team with the highest single unit figure, and by a huge margin: New York was second at 25.37% with one set of players on the floor, and Detroit was third at 24.65% with their most used unit. Perhaps informatively, the heavy use lineups didn't actually perform all that well, especially in light of the respective team overall numbers:

Golden State was 32-41 with the most used crew, but 38-44 overall, Detroit was just 28-36 with the top unit when they were 50-32 on the full games!

In contrast, teams like Orlando and Denver struggled to find a lineup that worked, and ended up with no 5-man unit that played 6% of the total minutes.

In many instances the most used lineup was not the one that produced the best results on a floor time basis, of course some of that may have to do with the above lineups went out at the start of games frequently and faced a tougher opposition lineup.

Some other teams of note include:

  • Toronto: with Vince Carter on the floor the Raptors were a solid squad
  • Indiana: Artest was the key guy for the Pacers, but he may be moving on from all accounts
  • Atlanta: the most used lineup was +4.3 point per 48min, with a 63% W-L record! Glover vs Newble was huge, and maybe the Hawks gave up too soon on the "big three" experiment
  • New York: the main five were too small, getting crushed on rebounds and inside shots (19% of attempts on offense from close range, to 32% of opponent shots)
  • Denver: main unit actually decent, and Nene (Hilario) is a bonafide NBA star in the makings
  • Memphis: Giricek played well in Orlando, but did not fit in with the Grizzlies
  • Milwaukee: why was the most used unit this one? Karl and Bucks needed to split
  • Seattle: top used unit post trade was not a success, but other five-man groups worked well in the Ray Allen era
  • Chicago: Crawford at point over William made a big difference
  • LA Clippers: coaching change makes sense, no way that the most used unit was the best one to go with
Watch for more 5-man units analysis soon!

To see detailed stats for the top 20 units for each team, visit the Teams page.


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