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Positivity Corner, Week 2: The “Core Four” is playing winning basketball

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We may have 4/5 of a starting lineup

RIP the Positivity Corner, October 2018 - October 2018. With more positivity in the Sacramento air these days than pollen, this column has become somewhat obsolete. Well, at least until the next losing streak, that is. So we press onwards!

This week’s focus has been a lineup that has been outstanding for the Kings early this season. The team overall is playing above expectations, sporting a .500 record despite playing a schedule that hasn’t exactly been light.

But upon closer inspection, the Kings’ success can be zeroed in on four players in particular: De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Nemanja Bjelica, and Willie Cauley-Stein. Those four have powered the Kings early this season, and the numbers back it up:

Four-Man Lineup Data

LINEUPS MIN OFFRTG DEFRTG NETRTG AST% AST/TO AST RATIO OREB% DREB% REB% TO RATIO EFG% TS% PACE
LINEUPS MIN OFFRTG DEFRTG NETRTG AST% AST/TO AST RATIO OREB% DREB% REB% TO RATIO EFG% TS% PACE
.N. Bjelica, .W. Cauley-Stein, .B. Hield, .D. Fox 94 114 93 21.1 54.7 1.73 18.2 21.8 72.4 49.5 0.1 62.1 62.8 108.76

Those are impressive numbers across the board. This includes the defensive end: that 93.0 defensive rating is outstanding, a number worthy of a top-flight NBA defense.

Even when compared to the top four-man lineups across the NBA, this group stands out as elite:

Four-Man Lineups Across the NBA

RANK LINEUPS TEAM MIN OFFRTG DEFRTG NETRTG AST% AST/TO AST RATIO OREB% DREB% REB% TO RATIO EFG% TS% PACE PIE
RANK LINEUPS TEAM MIN OFFRTG DEFRTG NETRTG AST% AST/TO AST RATIO OREB% DREB% REB% TO RATIO EFG% TS% PACE PIE
1 .K. Lowry, .D. Green, .K. Leonard, .P. Siakam TOR 90 122.6 95.8 26.8 62.8 3.28 22.3 20.8 66.1 47.9 0.1 63.6 65.2 100.98 67.6
2 .B. Lopez, .E. Bledsoe, .K. Middleton, .G. Antetokounmpo MIL 85 115.6 89.4 26.3 64.6 1.83 19.7 27.3 83 56.9 0.2 57.9 61.1 107.36 66.1
3 .J. Holiday, .E. Moore, .A. Davis, .E. Payton NOP 93 127.8 103.5 24.3 68.7 3.58 22.1 35.7 71.7 53.8 0.1 58.4 61.7 105.32 66.4
4 .N. Bjelica, .W. Cauley-Stein, .B. Hield, .D. Fox SAC 94 114 93 21.1 54.7 1.73 18.2 21.8 72.4 49.5 0.1 62.1 62.8 108.76 62.2
5 .P. Millsap, .G. Harris, .N. Jokic, .J. Murray DEN 107 109 89.2 19.8 56.5 1.68 16.7 25.5 78 53.1 0.1 52.3 57.5 104.14 63.5
6 .K. Lowry, .S. Ibaka, .D. Green, .K. Leonard TOR 85 120.7 101.6 19 63.5 2.08 21.4 22.1 68.3 49.7 0.1 64.7 66.9 104.38 63
7 .M. Williams, .N. Batum, .K. Walker, .J. Lamb CHA 99 114.6 104.9 9.7 56.3 2.45 16.9 31.6 71.3 50.2 0.1 51.8 55.2 99.34 53.4
8 .K. Durant, .S. Curry, .K. Thompson, .D. Jones GSW 97 110.4 100.9 9.4 71.1 1.73 22.8 26.3 64.9 48.7 0.2 61.8 62.8 105.14 58.6
9 .J. Wall, .M. Morris, .B. Beal, .O. Porter Jr. WAS 99 113 104.4 8.6 56.2 2.17 17.2 16.5 65.8 41.4 0.1 54.2 57.6 109.62 53
10 .M. Williams, .K. Walker, .J. Lamb, .C. Zeller CHA 88 110.3 102.2 8.1 58.7 2.2 17.3 29.2 72.3 50.5 0.1 51.2 55.4 99.85 53.6

The Kings’ group ranks fourth overall in net rating among the NBA’s 35 most used four-man lineups (minimum 80 minutes played). The only lineups better in net rating are the top groups from the undefeated Toronto Raptors, the undefeated Milwaukee Bucks, and the undefeated New Orleans Pelicans. The Kings’ group ranks 8th overall in offensive rating, 3rd (!!!) overall in defensive rating, 7th in TS%, and 2nd in Pace.

The on-court story backs up the numbers. Fox has made an enormous leap in his second year, as elite prospects tend to do. Hield and Cauley-Stein are in the midst of breakout seasons after years of development. Bjelica looks like a free agency steal, showing off his considerable all-around skills.

The fit on paper works well. On offense, Hield and Bjelica space the floor for Fox’s incisive drives and Cauley-Stein’s rampaging rim-runs, while also making plays off the dribble when the need arises. Defensively, Fox has been terrific at the point of attack, Hield and Bjelica have taken on a variety of defensive assignments, and Cauley-Stein has been a menace in the interior.

Its justified to feel strange that this post is heavy with four-man lineup data instead of five-man stats. The reason is because the Kings haven’t found a consistent fifth starter next to the “core four” yet. However, the Kings’ five-man lineups that feature the “core four” all have been excellent in their own right, regardless of who Joerger plugs in as the token fifth guy:

The Token Fifth Guy

"CORE FOUR" PLUS: MIN OFFRTG DEFRTG NETRTG AST% AST/TO AST RATIO OREB% DREB% REB% TO RATIO EFG% TS% PACE PIE
"CORE FOUR" PLUS: MIN OFFRTG DEFRTG NETRTG AST% AST/TO AST RATIO OREB% DREB% REB% TO RATIO EFG% TS% PACE PIE
Yogi Ferrell 22 124 96 28 34.6 1.8 14.5 17.6 71.4 47.4 0.1 68.3 67 108.43 58.3
Justin Jackson 40 105.4 79.6 25.8 61.1 1.83 16.9 32.6 72.7 52.2 0.1 52.6 55.4 112.04 70
Iman Shumpert 31 115.9 101.5 14.5 67.7 1.75 23.1 4.2 71.8 46 0.2 69.8 69.7 106.98 58.8

The hope is that when Bogdan Bogdanovic returns, he can lock down the fifth position in that lineup. Ideally, you want Ferrell, Jackson, and SHumpert as bench pieces, as opposed to regular starters.

Its still very early, so the sample sizes aren’t big enough to make sweeping conclusions, but the Kings have something to build on here. This group is playing great together, and if the Kings can find a consistent fifth starter and shore up the bench, this team can truly shatter expectations for this season.