A couple of weeks ago while I was perusing through SB Nations weekly power rankings, I couldn’t help but notice the following graphic.
I wanted to take a closer look at lineup data. The starting lineup of Darren Collison, Ben McLemore, Rudy Gay, Jason Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins makes a lot of basketball sense. You have a solid mixture of passing ability, (Collison, Cousins) scoring, (Cousins, Gay) shooting, (Collison, McLemore, Gay) rebounding, (Cousins, Thompson, Gay) and defense (Collison, Thompson, Cousins).
Additionally, the Kings have three players in that starting unit who rarely, if ever, try to do something beyond their capabilities. Darren Collison, Ben McLemore, and Jason Thompson are perfect definitions of ‘role player’. Cousins and Gay can sort of freelance out there, but they are elite (Cousins) or close to it (Gay) level players. The pieces work. They all seem comfortable with the bulk of the offense running through Cousins and Gay.
Defensively, I wouldn’t call any of the Kings starting five a complete liability. Ben McLemore is still a developing defender, and certain players with certain skill sets (off the ball movement, post up ability, strength advantage) still give him a hard time. Rudy Gay has his deficiencies as well, but he’s not horrible. If he’s one of your worst defenders, you’re probably doing all right. Darren Collison, Jason Thompson, and DeMarcus Cousins are all above average to very-good defenders in my eyes.
And despite the notion that the Kings are a ‘young’ team, this starting lineup includes some ‘in their prime’ veterans. Darren Collison, Rudy Gay, and Jason Thompson are probably playing about as well as they ever will. NBA experience generally produces better defense.
So when I saw that defensive rating graphic, it surprised me but I understood how the Kings got there. My second thought was that these numbers were going to tank as the season wore on and as the pace movement went into full effect.
I gave Michael Malone a lot of credit for those numbers, and I wanted to see how things have changed since Ty Corbin took over.
We are about two weeks removed from that graphic, and I have some new numbers.
First, games played and record with the standard Darren Collison, Ben McLemore, Rudy Gay, Jason Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins starting unit.
And now, a compilation of lineup data taken under Malone, under Corbin, and combined. I should note that this data was compiled using all 5-man lineups that have played more than 100 minutes together. I ran it once for the period of time when Michael Malone was the coach, and again for the period of time Ty Corbin was the coach.
Yes, I was also shocked to find out that the Kings starters have had the best 3P% out of any starting unit since Corbin took over. Weird. I actually found most of these numbers interesting in one way or another, but I'll spare you my commentary on all of them.
This felt like a very natural time to compile these numbers. We are essentially at the halfway point in the season. Malone coached that lineup for 12 games. Corbin has coached it for 11 games. It’s about as accurate of a representation of this unit as you’re going to get.
This starting lineup is quite good across the board. To my surprise, it has very little to do with coaching, or even the change to a fast paced offense. Sure, you’re losing some defense in favor of some offense when you swap out Malone for Corbin, but the defensive drop-off within that starting unit is minor, and the offensive gain is making up for it.
The starters are doing their job, and have been all year. We’ve said this in years past, but it really feels accurate this season. The Kings don’t have a bench.
Jason Thompson probably needs more minutes. The Kings have (statistically speaking) one of the better starting lineups in the NBA. Jason Thompson is averaging about 25 minutes per game while the rest of the unit averages 33 or more. The Kings should be maximizing the amount of minutes this unit plays every single night. Playing Thompson more will get you there.
We can (and will) talk about poor execution down the stretch, poor coaching decisions, bad turnovers, or a bad Rudy Gay isolation possession, but this teams largest weakness is its depth and bench. When a unit is playing as well as the Kings starters are, and the perception of the team is as poor as it is, you have to have a truly horrendous bench unit. I’d like to pull up some bench unit numbers at some point..
I’m not going to try and convince anyone that the playoffs are likely, or even a possibility, but I don’t know if I would consider the season over, either. The Kings are 12-11 on the season with this starting unit. Health will be the most important factor, but a trade or two to improve the bench could be enough to return the Kings to some level of respectability. The season is about wins and losses, after all.
And if it doesn’t happen in season, I’m going to try and remind myself that the sky isn’t falling. The starting unit here is doing something impressive. It’s doing something worth talking about.