A tale of three Raptors lineups. Let's start with the bad. And it is the same bad as usual.
Specifically, any lineup with Jonas Valanciunas, Luis Scola, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry all playing together. The wing doesn't really matter, as we've seen with the various iterations this year. In any case, over the past 15 games, those four have combined for 234 minutes played, most on the team of any foursome. They also have a -5.8 net rating, which is impressive for a 14-1 stretch. It's also the worst net rating of any of the top 15 four player lineups over that stretch. Nice.
But we already know it isn't working. So why isn't it working? First, let's look at defence. Over the past 15 games, the Raptors have a 99.0 defensive rating, good for third in the league in that time frame. This foursome has a defensive rating of 106.8. That would rank 20th in the same time frame. Not good. Obviously the combined slow-footedness of JV and Scola is a source of those struggles, as is the recent inclusion of a rookie in the lineup.
But defence is not the only issue. The offence has also been a problem. Over the same stretch, the Raptors sit 5th in offensive rating with a 108.3 score. The starters? 101, good for 23rd in that time frame. Now, this seems obvious due to the total lack of fit between the star guards and the lumbering and non-shooting front court. But it is being realized in more ways than one. The lineup's turnover rate is the highest of the top 25 most played four man lineups over that stretch. They have an eFG% below 50%, and a TS% below 54, while their assist rate stays around 50% like the rest of the team. So they aren't passing any more, but are turning it over a LOT, while not scoring efficiently from the floor or the line.
So, bad. Moving on to happier things.
The Lowry Plus Bench Lineup
This one has gotten a lot of press, and for good reason. Over the past 15 games, this lineup has played almost as much as the starting lineups, with 133 minutes played. In that time they have a plus 35.6 net rating, a truly incredible number. That number means that in general, for every 7 points they give up they will score 10. In theory if you played them the whole game and their performance stood up, the average game score would end at 120 to 84. That's the typical performance this lineup is giving the Raptors over the 14-1 stretch they are on.
Again, let's look a little closer. The big strength here is defence. Remember that the Raptors have been posting a team defensive rating of 99.0 over this amazing stretch. This lineup? 83.0. The starters looked really bad for having a defensive rating 8 points above the team's rating. This lineup is twice as far away from the team rating, but in the good direction.
The offence is great too, of course, but a lot of that is fuelled by transition opportunities created by the defence. This lineup is forcing a lot of stagnant offence leading to bad shots and bad turnovers. Their opponents over this stretch have generated 47 turnovers and 37 assists. The team with the worst assist rate averages 18 per game, and the team with the worst turnover rate averages 18 per game. These are two different teams, but if you somehow combined the worst passing team in the league with the most turnover prone team in the league, they would still have an assist to turnover ratio of 1. This lineup is forcing the average opponent they face to post a 0.79. Amazing.
The Closing Lineup
And then here is the lineup that often closes games, and that we often get a small glimpse of before the starters are reinserted into the game and the Raptors slowly hand back any lead they had. But we've seen more of it lately in this 15 game stretch, and it's very good that we have. This lineup consists of Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, DeMar DeRozan, Patrick Patterson and Jonas Valanciunas, and has played 38 minutes over these 15 games (they had played only 9 total minutes together prior to that). They have a very impressive plus 27 net rating, very comparable to the more heavily publicized bench unit.
This unit operates differently though. Instead of a wildly impressive defence to go along with a very good offence, this lineup posts average defence, and completely destroys teams on the other end. With a 132 ORTG in those 38 minutes, this lineup ranks third league wide in the last 15 games among lineups with at least 30 minutes. And there's no little trick here, no suppressed turnovers or increased assist rate. This lineup can just plain put the ball in the basket, with an effective FG% over 60% and a TS% near 70%. The combination of floor spreading shooters, aggressive slashing guards and a dominant post and roll player who also crashes the offensive glass keeps defences guessing constantly and opens up huge amounts of room for the Raptors' star guards to pretty much do whatever they want to.
Sadly this lineup is underused, at about 3 minutes per game. Hopefully we see more of it going forward, as it provides a completely different yet just as effective look after rolling out that impressive bench lineup.
Anybody have any thoughts on these lineups, or other ones that have been effective (or not) over the past while?
All stats from NBA.com.