Eye-test vs data; statistical analysis Lakers vs Clippers (lineups)

Done with another deep-dive into stats, this time focusing on specific lineups, lineup groups, their offense, their defense, their plus minus. Why? In the first place because I agreed with comments that said the defense should have been better but I found myself disagreeing with takes that claimed the game was lost on defense because of going small. The eye-test told me that every time they went with 1 big or small ball, they won those minutes, every time they played two bigs, they lost those minutes. Every time they played guys with a defensive reputation over shooters, they lost. I thought this was a typical game of lineup choices between all-defense or all-offense, without having much of a healthy balance anywhere.

Clarification: 'Small ball' in my definition is LeBron (or Melo) at the 5, 'bigs' are Dwight, DJ and AD, (designated) 'shooters' are Melo, Ellington and Monk - Bradley would be a semi-shooter to me as he doesn't provide the necessary volume to pull gravity on the offensive end.

Points allowed per 48 minutes, best to worst:

1 big (Dwight): 68 points (small sample size of 2:49 minutes)

Small ball lineups: 113 points (8:53 minutes)

1 big lineups cumulative: 114 points (21:01 minutes)

1 big (AD): 121 points (18:12 minutes)

2 bigs lineups cumulative: 128 points (18:02 minutes)

The 4 seconds lacking are scoreless seconds for both teams.

What stands out is that the reputation of those lineups didn't live up to actual outcomes in this game, maybe with the exception of Dwight at the 5. Furthermore - excluding that lineup - the differences in points given up are rather small. How about offense?

Points scored per 48 minutes, best to worst:

1 big (AD): 137 points scored (18:12 minutes)

1 big cumulative: 137 points scored (21:01 minutes)

1 big (Dwight): 136 points scored (2:49 minutes)

Small ball lineups: 119 points scored (8:53 minutes)

2 bigs lineups cumulative: 88 points scored (18:02 minutes)

What stands out here is the significant drop-off from 1 big lineups to small ball and especially the gigantic drop-off when there's 2 bigs on the floor.

Points scored, points allowed, plus minus (all per 48 minutes), which lineups win or lose the game, best to worst:

1 big lineup (Dwight): 136 - 68, +68 (small sample size)

1 big lineups cumulative: 137 - 114, +23

1 big lineups (AD): 137 - 121, +16

Small ball lineups: 119 - 113, +6

2 bigs lineups: 88 - 128, -40

Doesn't get any more obvious than this. Vogel went away from the 2 bigs lineups but the team couldn't outscore the Clippers at the same rate they got outscored. The 2 bigs lineups played too many minutes in order to correct the damage done - or you could argue that the other lineups, in particular small ball, didn't outscore the Clippers by enough. The main defensive issue though were the lineups that were supposed to be played for defensive purposes. The other lineups (apart from Dwight at the 5) weren't good defensively either but at least they were very good to great on offense, in spite of missed free throws and clutch shots. So why was this?

Plus minus totals:

0 shooters (2 bigs) -7

1 shooter (1 big): -1

1 shooter (2 bigs): -8

1 shooter or less total: -16

1 shooter or less (2 bigs): -15

2 shooters (1 big or no bigs): +4

3 shooters (1 big or no bigs): +8

Pretty clear that lack of spacing was once again a major issue even though the team shot 36.4% from 3. The issue hurt the team in the lineups with fewer than 2 shooters on the court and was much, much worse with 2 bigs on the court. Not rocket science to do something about this issue.

Here's some other contributing factors and surprises, best and worst values in selected categories, best first:

Defensive rating: Wayne Ellington 105.0 (second-best: Carmelo Anthony 118.0)

Malik Monk 137.9 (second-worst: Anthony Davis 132.4)

Offensive rating: Wayne Ellington 146.2 (best starter: Russell Westbrook 121.7)

Dwight Howard 102.5

Net rating: Wayne Ellington +41.2 (all starters were negatives)

Dwight Howard -24.3

Playing the shooters to win the game wasn't exclusively about providing space on offense, two of the allegedly poor defenders fit into the defensive scheme really well. The supposed defensive stoppers like AD or THT didn't fit so well next to each other. Dwight also excelled when NOT playing next to AD, AD was more effective on both ends without Dwight.

But here's another thing that's quite concerning: Russ wasn't Russ in this game. Oh, he did his part as a playmaker with 9 assists to just two turnovers. Best net rating among the starters. Once again the guy who showed up in the 3rd quarter, only starter with a positive net rating (+1.5) despite playing heavy minutes with that two big lineup with little to no shooting (all other starters were -16 or worse in the 3rd quarter). Best assist percentage, best assist ratio, best assist-to-turnover ratio, 62.5% effective field goal percentage - but these are the stats that are atypical for Russ:

2 rebounds, 2.8% rebounding percentage - cool, the team won the rebounding battle so let's forget about individual stats.

Where's the volume though? 8 shots? 10 points? As the starter with the best net rating, the best playmaking stats and efficient shooting? The slowest pace on the team? That ain't Russ at all. A look at usage explains a lot here:

Usage rate Westbrook total: 11.8%

3rd quarter: 22.2% Net rating: 1.5

4th quarter: 4.3% Net rating: 2.6

Opinion: Russ deferred to LeBron almost all game when they shared the floor. It can be a good thing to defer or share playmaking duties but there was no sharing: Russ usage rate in the 3rd went up with LeBron on the bench. Deferring is good, not being involved is bad. I'm not blaming this on anyone. E.g. in the 4th quarter, LeBron had a positive net rating and Russ also deferred to Malik Monk which was a good decision.

Tonight was too extreme overall though in that Westbrook's strengths weren't used (pace, playing on-ball, I think the rebounding is a coincidence). He did about as well off-ball as can be expected. However, that relegated him to a role-player who couldn't contribute much scoring and put too much responsibility on LeBron's shoulders. There was no healthy balance tonight and it hurt the efficiency of LeBron as well as the scoring output of Russ.

There were certainly other issues like missed clutch shots and free throws but I've decided to focus on this aspect this time. What do you take away from these numbers? Which lineups do you want to see more or less frequently?