HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — We’re 15 days into the 2013-14 season and the standings don’t quite match what we thought they’d look like. The Nets and Knicks are down and the Suns and Sixers are up.
It’s early, but more data is coming in every day, and it’s giving us an early look at some interesting lineup combinations around the league. We were all wondering how the Pistons’ new frontline would work out and whether Rockets coach Kevin McHale could play Omer Asik and Dwight Howard together.
Some results are expected, some are surprising and some are inconclusive. Again, it’s early. So the numbers below aren’t necessarily an endorsement of the combos that are working or an indictment of those that aren’t. Everything must be taken in context, and the most important context right now is that we’re looking at small sample sizes.
Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
How are Smith, Monroe and Drummond faring?
No team put together a more fascinating mix this summer than the Pistons. And the thought was that, due to floor spacing issues, they would struggle offensively with Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond on the floor together. The other thought was that, thanks to their length, they would be strong defensively and on the glass.
They’ve been a good offensive rebounding trio, but not a good defensive rebounding trio. That’s not their biggest problem, though. Opponents have shot 51 percent (effective field goal percentage: 56.0 percent) with the three on the floor together and all together, the Pistons have been absolutely brutal defensively with their big lineups. Of the 205 three-man combinations that have played at least 100 minutes together, the only ones that have been worse defensively are two other Detroit trios that include Monroe and either Drummond or Smith.
The Grizzlies, who rank 19th offensively, scored 68 points in less than 32 minutes against the Smith-Monroe-Drummond frontline. The Pacers, who rank 13th offensively, scored 59 points in less than 21 minutes.
There are a bunch of issues that need to be cleaned up. It starts with transition, where Monroe is particularly slow. He also struggles to contain ball-handlers on pick-and-rolls. Smith and Drummond can be too aggressive, often biting on pump fakes or sacrificing rebounding position by trying for blocks. And sometimes, the problem is with the backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Chauncey Billups, a pair of liabilities in their own right.
After getting trounced by the Warriors on Tuesday, the Pistons rank dead last in defensive efficiency. It’s early and five of their seven games have been against above-average offensive teams, but the numbers are such that coach Mo Cheeks will need to seriously consider staggering the minutes of Smith, Drummond and Monroe more than he already is. More minutes for Kyle Singler and/or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope would have a positive impact on the Pistons’ D.
Within the big-man trio, the only pair that’s logged a decent amount of minutes without the third guy is Monroe and Smith, which has played 70 minutes without Drummond. The Pistons have been even in those minutes, allowing just 96.3 points per 100 possessions.
The Asik-Howard combination
Those numbers — the pace and the offensive efficiency in particular — do not typify Houston’s style. With only one of the two centers on the floor, the Rockets have played at a pace of 102.3 possessions per 48 minutes and have scored 108.1 points per 100 posssessions. That does typify Rockets basketball and those numbers would rank third and fourth in the league, respectively.
|Asik + Howard
|One of the two
With a second center in the game, the Rockets can’t space the floor for their ball-handlers. Here’s James Harden running a side pick-and-roll with Asik and with Howard’s man in position to help in the paint.
If you replace Howard with Francisco Garcia or Omri Casspi and place him on the left wing, Harden has a much clearer path to the basket … or one of the shooters is wide open behind the 3-point line.
Asik is a very good player and deserves to play more than 12 minutes per game, especially considering how much he’s being paid. But Howard is going to play 36 minutes a night and it’s getting harder to justify playing the two together as it’s basically putting the Rockets in a hole every game. Only the Knicks have been worse in the first six minutes of games (minus-35.4 NetRtg) than the Rockets (minus-35.1, scoring a paltry 79.0 points per 100 possessions).
The two-center combo may have already reached the end of the line. On Tuesday against the Raptors, Asik was on the bench to start the third quarter, marking the first time both centers weren’t on the floor to start a half. Going forward, McHale isn’t sure what he’s going to do, as Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle writes.
“That big lineup – I am 50/50 on that,” McHale said. “It takes time, and the chemistry has to get better. Every time I think I am done with it, they do something that makes me want to keep trying it.”
Ultimately, this has to end with a trade. As nice as it is to have Asik as Howard’s back-up, the Rockets would be a better team if they could trade Asik for a 30-minutes-per-game forward who can shoot and defend. Greg Smith isn’t on Asik’s level, but he can hold down the fort for 12 minutes a night. In fact, the Rockets were a plus-5.4 per 100 possessions with Smith on the floor last season.
Anthony and Bargnani struggle to fit together
Oof. The only two-man combinations that have been worse are in Utah, Sacramento, Milwaukee or Detroit.
You expect the offense to come around somewhat as Anthony’s shooting improves, but Bargnani still doesn’t space the floor as well as guys the Knicks lost this summer, or pass the ball very much. In six games, he has five assists and four secondary assists. It’s early, but Anthony has shot better with Bargnani on the bench than with him on the floor.
Of course, the defense is the much bigger concern. Even in 41 minutes with Tyson Chandler on the floor with Anthony and Bargnani, the Knicks’ defense was terrible. Now, Chandler’s out for 4-6 weeks and … yikes.
The Knicks have allowed 114.8 points per 100 possessions with Bargnani on the floor and just 91.1 with him on the bench. We’re at the point where one good or bad half can skew those numbers a bit, but they’re damning just the same.
To be fair, Kevin Garnett has a pretty bad on-off-court DefRtg discrepancy – +11.0 – through his first six games with Brooklyn. It’s not nearly as bad as Bargnani’s +23.7, but still worth noting.
Interestingly, Bargnani has played just 10 minutes with Anthony on the bench. Mike Woodson might experiment with staggering their minutes more, but that would require having another healthy big man he could trust. And right now, the only other bigs on the roster are Cole Aldrich, Kenyon Martin and Amar’e Stoudemire. Two of them have minutes restrictions and the other is Cole Aldrich.
That Chris Smith still has a roster spot at this point is probably twice as amazing as the idea of giving up three Draft picks to take Bargnani’s contract off Masai Ujiri‘s hands.
Three guards in the Big Easy: Holiday, Evans and Gordon
It’s a little surprising that the Pelicans’ three guards — making a combined $36 million this season — haven’t played much together. At this point, Evans is getting paid $12 million to play a little less than half the game. The trio averaged just over five minutes of floor time together in New Orleans’ first four games and have played about 10 minutes together in each of the last three.
Anthony Morrow‘s hot start has probably been a factor. When you have a guy shooting 63 percent from 3-point range and showing signs of an expanded off-the-dribble game, you want to make sure he gets his minutes too.
Either way, it’s hard to make any judgements regarding the Holiday-Evans-Gordon trio. The Pelicans have had good and bad stretches (both offensively and defensively) with the three on the floor together.
Most of these sample sizes are very small, but here are some early numbers from a few two-point-guard combinations worth keeping an eye on…
On-court efficiency, two-PG combos
||Hinrich & Rose
||Irving & Jack
||Lawson & Miller
||Lawson & Robinson
||Miller & Robinson
||Beverley & Lin
||Bayless & Conley
||Felton & Prigioni
||Jackson & Westbrook
||Nelson & Oladipo
||Bledsoe & Dragic
||Lillard & Williams
||Thomas & Vasquez