USA Lineup Data Says To Play Big

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The U.S. Men’s Senior National Team went 5-0 in its pre-Olympic exhibition schedule, winning by an average of 27 points. So, on the surface, head coach Mike Krzyzewski‘s decision to play small at times has seemingly worked out well.

Krzyzewski has only three true big men (NBA power forwards or centers) on the 12-man roster: Tyson Chandler, Kevin Love and Anthony Davis. That’s nothing new, really. At the Olympics in 2008, the only true bigs on the roster were Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh and Carlos Boozer. And at the World Championship in 2010, he had just Chandler, Love and Lamar Odom.

But over the five games leading into London, Chandler, Love and Davis ranked ninth, 10th and 12th in minutes, respectively. And Krzyzewski has gone without a true big man for 74 of the 200 minutes the U.S. has played, much more than he did in ’08 or ’10.

Playing small for so many minutes has seemingly worked out fine. But a look through the U.S. Team’s lineup data reveals that they’ve been much better with at least one of the three big men on the floor. In fact, before Tuesday’s game against Spain, the U.S. had been outscored 116-115 in 58 minutes without a big man on the floor.

USA efficiency with or without bigs

On the floor MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
At least one big 125.7 81.8 128.2 85.1 +43.1 +115
No bigs 74.4 80.4 111.5 97.4 +14.1 +18

Pace = Possessions per 40 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

What’s most interesting is how much better the U.S. is offensively with a big man in the game, even though neither Chandler nor Love has played particularly well on that end of the floor.

Now, we’re looking at some small sample sizes here. But that’s what you get with the Olympics. It’s only eight games, and a couple of them are throwaways against vastly inferior opponents.

Spain is the U.S. Team’s toughest competition, and the small lineups worked fine (plus-19 in 16:32) on Tuesday, mostly because Carmelo Anthony played so well, scoring 27 points on 15 shots. Anthony was just a plus-13 in 70 minutes through the first four games, but was a plus-16 in 24 minutes against Spain.

Of course, Pau Gasol (24), Serge Ibaka (24) and Marc Gasol (zero) combined to play just 48 minutes on Tuesday. And things will be much different if Spain and the U.S. meet in the medal rounds.

The U.S., of course, played Tuesday’s game to win, using only eight guys for more than 10 minutes. The other two opponents who saw a short rotation from Krzyzewski were Brazil and Argentina. And with no bigs on the floor, the U.S. was a minus-4 in 15:29 against Brazil and a minus-25 in 19:45 against Argentina.

Over the five exhibition games, the best plus-minus marks on a per-possessions basis belong to Chandler and Love…

USA efficiency with player on floor

On the floor MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Durant 131.1 79.9 122.0 92.7 +29.3 +81
James 129.5 79.6 120.6 85.3 +35.4 +90
Bryant 103.8 80.9 119.0 79.4 +39.5 +85
Williams 98.6 81.5 123.5 96.5 +27.0 +52
Anthony 94.2 80.7 110.6 94.2 +16.3 +29
Paul 90.6 80.0 116.4 81.0 +35.4 +68
Westbrook 87.7 80.5 124.9 99.4 +25.4 +46
Iguodala 74.1 83.4 122.1 100.6 +21.4 +32
Chandler 66.1 82.3 138.0 79.3 +58.7 +82
Love 59.8 82.6 129.6 85.2 +44.4 +58
Harden 37.8 88.9 121.7 84.7 +37.0 +29
Davis 26.8 84.3 130.9 101.7 +29.2 +13

One problem the U.S. faces if it wants to play big more often is Chandler’s foul trouble. Against Argentina and Spain, the starting center picked up nine fouls in 21 minutes. If he can’t stay on the floor, Krzyzewski will have little choice but to go small at times, because, despite the plus-minus numbers, Love hasn’t exactly played well on either end.


No matter what, Krzyzewski has plenty of flexibility. In five games, he’s used 59 different lineups. And only one of those has played in more than three games or for more than 20 minutes together.

USA most-used lineups

1 2 3 4 5 G MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Anthony Bryant Durant James Paul 5 27.3 79.0 124.5 92.7 +31.8 +15
Bryant Chandler Durant James Paul 3 17.0 78.7 128.6 68.8 +59.8 +23
Bryant Chandler Durant James Williams 2 15.0 80.2 146.7 76.7 +70.0 +21
Anthony Bryant Chandler James Paul 2 12.2 75.2 95.7 108.7 -13.0 -3
Durant Iguodala James Westbrook Williams 3 11.5 81.5 117.4 66.7 +50.7 +11

The top four lineups above are all comprised of Krzyzewski’s seven “starters.” They are Anthony, Kobe Bryant, Chandler, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Chris Paul and Deron Williams.

You seemingly can’t go wrong with that group, but some combinations have been more effective than others. The trio of Bryant, Durant and James, for instance, has been excellent. In 78 minutes with those three on the floor, the U.S. has outscored its opponents 198-117.

That’s certainly a positive, because those three (especially Durant and James) are going to play the most minutes. Interestingly, 101 of Bryant’s 104 minutes have been played with James.

USA most-used 3-man units

1 2 3 MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Bryant Durant James 78.2 80.3 124.5 75.5 +49.0 +81
Bryant James Paul 65.0 77.8 116.5 84.1 +32.4 +42
Anthony Bryant James 54.9 79.8 118.5 84.7 +33.8 +34
Durant James Williams 52.8 80.3 115.9 80.0 +35.9 +40
Durant James Paul 52.5 78.5 123.1 85.3 +37.8 +41
Bryant Chandler James 49.2 80.6 126.3 82.8 +43.4 +43
Bryant Durant Paul 48.4 78.2 125.3 84.0 +41.2 +40
Anthony Durant James 46.2 80.0 116.3 90.3 +26.0 +23
Anthony James Paul 46.2 78.0 111.1 92.2 18.9 17
Anthony Bryant Paul 45.9 78.0 107.9 91.1 +16.8 +14


Paul has been the starting point guard for four of the five exhibition games. And the most recent starting lineup of Bryant, Chandler, Durant, James and Paul (second in the lineup table above) has been ridiculously good defensively. But the same lineup with Williams at point has also been very good.

And in deciding who to start, Krzyzewski and his staff might want to figure which point guard is more effective with Russell Westbrook, the second-unit two guard. Thus far, it’s been Paul.

USA efficiency with Westbrook + Paul or Williams on the floor

Point guard MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Williams 53.8 77.3 121.2 111.5 +9.6 +10
Paul 20.8 83.6 127.3 76.7 +50.5 +23


Again, this is all small sample sizes, but that’s all we’re given in a situation like this. Group play, which begins Sunday in London, will provide more data in anticipation of the medal rounds. And we’ll see what the lineup numbers say then.

Thus far, they say that the U.S. should play big.


  1. David Hilton says:

    Great breakdown of all 5 games John… I pulled the Win Stat on lineups (with over 90 seconds) from the first half of the three games that were within 10 points at the half and found just 5 lineups that outscored the opponent:.

    Bryant, James, Durant, Paul, Chandler 38 to 19 in 14:46 minutes.
    Anthony, Love, Williams, Iguodala, Westbrook 114 to 8 in 5:47 minutes.
    Anthony, Bryant, James, Williams, Durant 11 to 7 in 3:53 minutes.
    Anthony, Bryant, James, Durant, Paul 25 to 17 in 9:53 minutes.
    Love, Williams, Durant, Iguodala, Westbrook 10 to 8 in 4:17 minutes.

  2. Ladyshakalaka says:

    Hello all, the USA national team will sorely miss Dwayne wade, Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh! However, defense is what will have them win the gold medal! They are a small team but there is no other team in Olympics who have 12 all stars with the NBA caliber! They win with defense and as long as Chandler stays out of foul trouble, they rebound, stop traveling and fouling the European floppers like Argentina and Spain they will win the Gold. I do believe they should have added Josh Smith, Lamarcus Al, would have been better than the unibrow and the beard!

  3. JWolf says:

    why is my previous comment not on there, Schulman?

  4. Maxi says:

    it’s so funny – many people here discuss Team USA weeknesses like other international teams have nothing but superstars on their rosters and they can use Team USA small size
    com’on! give me a break!
    Those USA guys are all profecionals and will use every chance to score, rebound, block…
    And no one will disagree with me here – other teams have far way more weaknesses than USA
    Gold granted

  5. Kamal says:


    Who’s side on your on?? Every time you talk about Team USA it’s never positive and you’re always cheering for any team that Team USA plays against. U have no patriotism!!!!!

  6. joe says:

    I think Coach K is saving his best lineup. USA basketball the last 5 years, even with Paul and DWill has always been at its best with Lebron at the point. However, because we lack size, he’s been forced to play the 4 and 5 positions. He’s the best half court facilitator in world and his elite perimeter defensive skills aren’t being used because he has to bang down low all the time. Don’t be surprised to see a supersized perimeter of Lebron, Kobe, Durant, with Melo and Love/Chandler down low if the team really needs a boost offensively and defensively.

  7. Kingdom says:

    LeBron needs even more playing time
    3 time MVP and Finals MVP should get the ball more

  8. Law064 says:

    I feel USA will be fine with the bigs they have. Even though Dwight or Bosh would’ve been a good addition even J Smooth would’ve been good. I think they’ll be fine even with a smaller lineup. K. Love can hold his own but he’s not a great defender however team D is the key. If all were healthy Dwight and D. Rose would’ve been on this roster. USA will win gold with this roster anyway

  9. mascomair says:

    Are you guys crazy? This isn’t the NBA: season’s over. Those rebound numbers are in past. We’re talking about now: today. Davis has played better than Love. Love looks so disjointed and sloppy out there, though he’s shown a few flashes. He hasn’t been the best rebounder in the exhibitions but hope he can clean the boards in Pool Play. Anthony Davis has provided much needed energy as a big. His injury seems non-existent now. Give Davis a chance.

  10. you forgot about lbj says:

    This article is pointless.. What we should address is how much better the U.S. is with Lebron James at point. Paul and Williams are great PG’s, but Lebron is leaps and bounds better.

  11. Joe H says:

    That entire team is almost a joke compared to. The big men are the Biggest joke with Tyson Chandler leading the way. How the hell did he even make the team, why because the undeserved Defensive Player of the Year, Give me a freakin break.

    • MB says:

      Are you serious? Chandler is a huge contributor to any team he has played for and USA is lucky to have a player like him. As far as I am concerned, he is the 4th most important player on the team, behind LBJ/Durant/Paul. The gold medal rests on his shoulders because they will need him against Spain.

      • LakersftwKB says:

        Dude you are delusional. How did you even figure out how to leave a dang comment? You are so dumb. Ican name off 5 players who are waaay better than overrated chandler. He got lucky because Howard is hurt and they are too stupid to take bynum or anybody else. He’s lucky to be on the team…

  12. French Deal says:

    We say numbers don’t lie.
    Well in the games that count the most big have been in foul trouble, I would love to see the same kind of figures for the only three real games Team USA when big where in foul trouble and you will see that Chandler is not that so effective.
    However I think the best lineup for USA is Williams Bryant James Durant and Love
    To be effective on jumpers your attack should start inside to collapse the defense and have Mr Durant have wide open jumpers like against Dom rep or Argentina
    Chandler and Davis have the same profile shot blocking presence with few rebounds and no impact on the offensive end.
    I’m concerned to see Kevin Durant being the best rebounder, this guy should be focus on putting baskets
    Coach K needs to convince each player to have a specific role and team USA will role to Gold!,,

  13. JAy says:

    It doesn’t matter if we have bigs or not, with LBJ and KD on this team the gold is guaranteed.

  14. utku says:

    This has been repeated lots of times since Coach K came into business. I cant remember a US team having enough size in the paint since K ‘s first tournament. I accept that many people including K wants versatility but when it comes to the hard times like the ones in the semis or the finals be sure that pau and marc will play together and will have extra support from ibaka reyes etc.They will get thicker and we will sing again why Coach K didnt bring one more thick guy..This is always the same why on earth someone wants a nightmare? Do you think the spain will play like this in the gold run? these are exhibitions and USA has shown lots of weaknesses until now by means of team defense and center problem..If only carmelo didnt shoot that good I hope K had an explanation to make…Versatility does not mean to be undersized like this..

  15. Rob R says:

    I believe the real question is, US team will be forced to play big when it is crunch time in the finals and the US coach put Anthony Davis on the floor. Great player and no doubt he can handle himself with the more senior pro basketball players but the question is when some of the European players muscle him, will he handle it since this is not NCAA

  16. dalauder says:

    N/m–I was giving Kobe props, but he hasn’t been on the floor without LBJ yet, so I can’t give him too much credit.

  17. dalauder says:

    Anyone else notice that Kobe’s got all the 3 man squads with greater than +40 Net Ratings and pretty much some of the best Net Ratings elsewhere? I wonder if Kobe counts for BIG when he’s sized up against a typical 2 guard.

  18. mvp says:

    how about j-smoove?

  19. Big Joe says:

    Team USA does this every year. They only put a few bigs on the team and then when one gets hurt and drops out or plays bad they complain aboutit. FIBA basketball is like small ball for NBA teams/players. Therefore I am definetly on board with playing Melo, Lebron, and Durant as the 4 man alot, and using Westbrook and Deron Williams alot at the 2. However, Pau Gasol had a good game and got Chandler (our only big guy who is contributing) in foul trouble. Pau is the smallest of the Gasol brothers so if Marc had of been playing we really would have been struggling inside. Kevin Love is not very big and Anthony Davis is not beefy enough yet to be considered a “big”. I think Team USA should have done away with either of those guys and maybe even Iguadala and brought in Amare Stoudemire, Lamarcus Aldrich, Andrew Bynum, Al Jefferson etc. They need to have one big man on the floor at all times and have the option to play two at a time against teams like Spain.

    • dattebayo says:

      If everyone had been healthy we would have seen Howard, Bosh, Aldridge, Love, James, Durant, Anthony, Bryant, Iguodala, Rose, Paul and Williams on that roster. So they would have had enough size, speed, strength and scoring.

      Stoudemire, Wade, Bosh, Griffin, Rose, Aldridge (yeah, thats how you write his name), Odom and Bynum are nursing their bodies/injuries, they cannot play atm. Has Jefferson ever been a part of USA basketball?

      • Big Joe says:

        I would much rather have Al Jefferson than Anthony Davis (who had also never been on Team USA). Was just throwing out some names of big guys who could give them an inside presense.

      • howieb says:

        how could you possibly exclude Russell Westbrook from any USA lineup? in lieu of Igoudala? seriously?

  20. person says:

    Lamar Odom is considered a big man?! well ok he’s around 6’10” but still i never considered him a true big man…

  21. the truth says:

    the truth is david didn’t go to duke and coach K is pissed 😛

  22. me says:

    Chris Bosh is a big now? Lawd…

  23. Davis needs more playing time. Not sure why Coach K refuses to play him but he has looked far better than Love and certainly not worse than Chandler when he has been given an opportunity. Given, he has only played in garbage time, but what’s the reason for not giving him a legit shot in the exhibition games when he’s a possible cure for your main weakness?

    • dattebayo says:

      How delusional can you be? The Rookie, who had no time to practice with the team because he was nursing his ankle sprain, played better than the best Power Forward in the league and and the Defensive Player of the Year? Seriously??

      The Big Men spot is not Team USA’s weakness, it’s them relying too much on jumpers and being inefficient against zone defenses. They also need more defensive rebounds. In those 5 exhibition games, they only gave up 72.8 points per game (87.3 per 48 minutes). That is solid defense which means they don’t need Davis at all. Especially since they also outscored the opponent by an average of 26.8 points per game. The US scored 99.4 points per game, that would be 119.2 points per 48 minutes.

      • Tre says:

        Have You Seen Kevin Love Show Up In These Fiba games And Chandler Can’t stay Out Of Foul Trouble

    • tigsy221 says:

      wat u on about love the best rebounder in the game 2day