A coach's lineup decisions can be chaotic and frustrating (Jeff Hornacek) or comfortingly familiar (Stan Van Gundy), and fantasy values often fluctuate as a result. Today's column sums up the number of lineups deployed by each team from Dec. 1, 2015 - Jan. 6, 2016. The table below displays the raw 'lineup total' as well as the number that have appeared more than once, and those lineups averaging at least five minutes per game. The result is an aerial view of the league's rotations.
The Eastern conference has a few pell-mell rotations led by the revolving-door 76ers, who have deployed a minimum of 250 lineups since Dec. 1 (NBA.com limits the results to 250 lineups). That's at least 60 more than the next-closest team, the Suns. We've seen guys like T.J. McConnell, Jerami Grant and Robert Covington rise and fall in a matter of weeks, and fantasy owners have to have a strong stomach to keep most 76ers on their roster. In the case of a guy like Covington, who has huge upside, the ever-changing lineups mean that he could surge back into the middle rounds overnight.
The East is also home to the four teams with the fewest different lineups -- the Hornets, Raptors, Magic and Pistons. Detroit is remarkably stable, ranking lowest in total number of lineups (61), lineups appearing more than once, and lineups averaging 5+ minutes. Players on the good side of that equation are therefore as stable as their play allows them to be -- they won't have a dud for lack of playing time.
The Lakers are a mild surprise as the team with the fifth-fewest unique lineups (107), but Byron Scott has 21 of those lineups averaging at least five minutes. That spreads playing time very thin, and as a result none of L.A.'s players are averaging 32+ minutes per game this season. Jordan Clarkson leads the way at 31.9, Kobe Bryant is next at 30.4, and Lou Williams is third at 28.4. Larry Nance is ascending and D'Angelo Russell could surge if he returns to a starting role and earns Scott's trust to finish games, but so far it's been a wild ride for most Lakers' fantasy value.
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The same principle holds true for the Nuggets -- a league-high 25 of Mike Malone's 127 lineups since Dec. 1 have averaged at least five minutes. It's no surprise, then, that Danilo Gallinari (34.4) is the only player averaging more than 30 minutes per game. Kenneth Faried is playing 26.9 minutes, lowest since his rookie season, both Nikola Jokic and Joffrey Lauvergne are below 20 per game, and the frontcourt will only get tighter with Jusuf Nurkic entering the rotation. It's a recipe for a migraine.
During the five-week span in question (Dec. 1 - Jan. 6) the top two NBA lineups for net +/- rating belong, unsurprisingly, to the Warriors. The third lineup belongs to the Pistons group of Brandon Jennings, KCP, Stanley Johnson, Anthony Tolliver and Aron Baynes, at an average +8.0 points in 10.9 minutes (four appearances). Not a bad start for Jennings.
The fourth-best group has been the Cavaliers' new starting lineup: Kyrie Irving, J.R. Smith, LeBron James, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson. Head coach David Blatt said recently that Thompson's starting center job isn't "etched in stone," adding that he "wouldn't be surprised at all" if Timofey Mozgov eventually retakes the job. It will be hard for him to make that switch with the starting unit playing so well, however, as their impressive +/- rating has coincided with a four game winning streak. Thompson is a much more appealing fantasy option when starting, so owners should be hoping that the five-man unit above becomes the new status quo.
No fourth quarter unit with multiple appearances is averaging more points than the Hawks' group of Dennis Schroder, Kyle Korver, Kent Bazemore, Paul Millsap and Al Horford. They are averaging 20.0 points in just 6.1 minutes (three appearances) with a +/- rating of +7. Why then did Schroder pick up two straight DNP-CDs in favor of Shelvin Mack, before returning to the rotation on Tuesday? Mike Budenholzer denied that Schroder was in his doghouse, saying, "Part of it is Shelvin’s been busting his butt, working hard. I think to give guys opportunities and to develop all 15 guys is important. Dennis will get his opportunities." He's back in the rotation currently and is too talented to fall behind Mack long-term, so deep-league owners can feel confident keeping him on the roster.
While we're discussing fourth quarter lineups, it's worth noting that the best 4Q plus/minus rating belongs to the Raptors with Cory Joseph, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll and Luis Scola. Carroll was a plus-contributor even though he's been ailing all season, and the Raptors will be hard-pressed to fill the void caused by his impending knee surgery. He's expected to miss 6-8 weeks, during which time James Johnson and Terrence Ross will be the primary beneficiaries.
The lineup index above shows that Dwane Casey likes to run a tight ship with a mere 97 lineups since Dec. 1, the third-fewest in the NBA, so keep a close eye on who's winning the race for SF minutes. James Johnson got the start in place of Carroll on Monday but scored only five points with zero rebounds or assists in 23 minutes, while Ross chipped in six points, two rebounds, one assist and three steals in 28 minutes off the bench. Johnson has interesting potential as a guy who can average 1+ steals and 1+ blocks per game, but Ross is the safer overall option -- he's averaging 2.3 triples and 1.0 steals as a starter, and there are no guarantees that Johnson will hold him off for the job. If you have any questions or insights, you can find me on Twitter @Knaus_RW -- Direct Messages are welcome.