The playoffs are right around the corner, and we have a pretty good idea of who Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich trusts most at this point in the season. If the Spurs want to make a serious run at the title, they need to figure out which individual players are the most productive, and which five-man lineups play best together.
For the purposes of this analysis, we’ll be looking at five-man lineups that have played at least 80 minutes together over the course of the season. Here are those lineups, listed in order of minutes played.
- Parker, Green, Leonard, Aldridge, Gasol (386)
- Parker, Green, Leonard, Aldridge, Dedmon (241)
- Mills, Ginobili, Leonard, Aldridge, Gasol (106)
- Parker, Green, Leonard, Lee, Aldridge (86)
- Mills, Green, Leonard, Aldridge, Gasol (86)
- Mills, Ginobili, Leonard, Lee, Aldridge (84)
Unsurprisingly, the two that have played together the most are the main starting lineups that the Spurs have gone with this year. Even when Gasol moved to the bench after his hand injury, he became the sixth man, so he has continued to play heavy minutes with the starters.
The main difference between those two lineups is clear: Dedmon anchors the defense while Gasol provides offensive firepower and spaces the floor. The lineups have similar net ratings, but for different reasons. Dedmon helps the starters hold opponents to an elite 93.9 points per 100 possessions, compared to 105.2 with Gasol. However, Gasol helps that unit score 112.5 points per hundred possessions, 10 better than Dedmon.
The current starting lineup with Dedmon is the worst among the six in terms of points per 36 minutes, and it isn’t particularly close. They score just 70.4 per 36, and while Gasol bumps that number up to 80.8, that’s still the third worst mark among these lineups. However, Gasol is a part of the lineup at the top of that list.
The lineup with Gasol, Patty Mills and Manu Ginobili alongside Leonard and Aldridge scores the most points per 36 minutes at 88.4, and the main reason is that they space the floor and move the ball. Mills is much more dangerous from the perimeter than Parker, and Gasol leads the league in 3-point percentage since the All-Star break.
The benefit of improved outside shooting isn’t limited to the increased number of threes made. The floor spacing makes it tougher for teams to double Kawhi and LaMarcus in the post, because if they do, they risk giving up an open three to a skilled shooter. Dedmon isn’t much of a threat to score outside of the restricted area, so centers have been helping off of him more and more and he can’t punish them for it. The same concept applies to Parker, but to a lesser degree.
Danny Green is another above average spot-up shooter, and he combines with Mills and Gasol to form another lineup that spaces the floor exceptionally well around Leonard and Aldridge. This lineup has the highest offensive rating of the bunch at 119.5 points per hundred possessions. For reference, the Warriors lead the league with an offensive rating of 113.2.
Unsurprisingly, Green also helps that spaced-out lineup defend much better than Ginobili does. They hold opponents to just 96.2 points per hundred possessions with Green on the floor, compared to 115.7 with the 39-year-old Ginobili. In fact, Manu’s unit defends so poorly that they actually have a negative net rating despite their offensive production. On the other hand, Green’s unit outscores opponents by 23.3 points per hundred possessions.
If that sounds like a lot, that’s because it is. The second best of these six lineups posts a net rating of +8.4, and the Warriors lead the league at +12.1. Since Gasol became the most accurate 3-point shooter in the league after the All-Star break, this lineup is posting an absurd net rating of +40.4. That’s right, the lineup of Mills, Green, Leonard, Aldridge and Gasol is scoring 130.1 and holding opponents to just 89.7 per hundred possessions, giving them by far the highest efficiency of any five-man lineup in the NBA (minimum 40 minutes) since the All-Star break.
In the same stretch, that same exact lineup with Parker at point guard has posted a net rating of -15.1. In other words, San Antonio can go from an astronomically high efficiency to one twice as bad as the worst team in the league by replacing Mills in this lineup with Parker.
Since the All Star break, the same unit outscores opponents by 55 POINTS PER 100 POSSESSIONS MORE with Patty instead of Tony. Yikes. pic.twitter.com/mI1SgHBxQy
— Tom Petrini (@RealTomPetrini) April 4, 2017
Parker’s play has been a bit of a question mark all year, and it has fallen off since the All-Star break. In that stretch, he’s shooting just 41.6% from the floor, 30% from three and an abysmal 59.4% from the charity stripe. On top of that, his assists are down and his turnovers are up, and he has a difficult time defending starting point guards around the league.
Parker still shows flashes of his former self, like his 21-point performance against the Jazz when he looked confident attacking the paint against one of the NBA’s best rim protectors in Rudy Gobert. However, these outbursts usually come when he has to step up because a key player is out for San Antonio (Aldridge on Sunday).
Earlier in the year I wrote that Parker would benefit by moving to the bench, and I stand by that. He’d show that burst that made him special more consistently with fresher legs, and he wouldn’t get exposed as much defensively against backup guards. Additionally, he would spend less time on the floor with the ball-dominant Kawhi which would give him more of an opportunity to run the offense and look for his own shot.
While Parker has struggled, his minutes have declined a bit, and Mills has picked up the slack. He’s playing three more minutes per game since the All-Star break, and he’s scoring more and assisting more while turning the ball over less. He also plays pesky on-ball defense against some of the best ball handlers in the league.
At this point in the season Mills is the most productive point guard for San Antonio. His skill set and playing style are also an ideal fit with Leonard, and the same cannot be said for Parker. Parker is at his best with the ball in his hands, and Mills is at his best spotting up at the arc and running around screens off the ball working for a catch-and-shoot look. Tony allows defenses to double Kawhi, Patty punishes them for it.
In seven games as a starter this year, Patty has shot at a higher clip from the floor and from three while averaging 6 assists and under a turnover per game. He fits well with that starting unit, and when called upon to join them, he’s been up to the task.
Coach Popovich will probably continue to play Patty more and Tony less in the playoffs. It seems unlikely that Pop will choose to bench Parker in favor of Mills at this point in the season to start games, but a deficit in a tough playoff series might force his hand. Either way, the writing is on the wall.
All statistics from stats.nba.com