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John Schuhmann

Doug Collins' decision to insert Jodie Meeks into the starting lineup has worked out well for the Sixers.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images

The Numbers Game: Lineup data explains Sixers' improvement

Posted Dec 16 2010 1:05PM

Having won seven of their last nine games (and coming a couple of seconds from beating the 20-4 Celtics in the same stretch), the Philadelphia 76ers are trending up. Just 2 weeks ago, they sat in last place in the Eastern Conference at 3-13. Now, they're just a half game out of eighth.

One of the keys to the Sixers' turnaround has been a lineup change seven games ago. Doug Collins decided to start second-year shooter Jodie Meeks, who wasn't even active for the first six games of the season, in the backcourt next to Jrue Holiday.

For the last few years, the Sixers have been desperate to find someone who can spread the floor for their playmakers. Right now, Meeks is that guy, and he proved it by shooting 17-for-26 from 3-point range in his first four games as a starter. But just as important as giving the offense a boost is that Meeks hasn't hurt the Sixers defensively. And from looking at the numbers, it's clear that he's actually helped on that end too.

Sixers' improvement, last nine games
Span Pace Off. Eff. Def. Eff.
Games 1-16 96.2 100.5 104.1
Games 17-25 90.3 108.3 96.6
Difference -5.9 +7.8 -7.4
Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes Off. Eff. = Points scored per 100 possessions Def. Eff. = Points allowed per 100 possessions

Comparing the Sixers' numbers from their first 16 games to those of their last nine, we see that they've improved equally on both ends of the floor.

And it's been Philly's new starting lineup that has fueled the improvement. In fact, that lineup of Holiday, Meeks, Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand and Spencer Hawes has been the second best lineup in the league this season, among the 48 five-man units that have played at least 100 minutes together. They've been the sixth best lineup offensively and the fourth best defensively. Only the Celtics' starting lineup has been better (given the 100-minute minimum).

Top lineups, minimum 100 minutes together
Team Unit MIN Off. Eff. Def. Eff. Diff.
BOS Rondo, Allen, Pierce, Garnett, S.O'Neal 191 117.4 95.7 +21.7
PHI Holiday, Meeks, Iguodala, Brand, Hawes 126 116.5 95.0 +21.5
MIA Arroyo, Wade, James, Bosh, Anthony 150 112.5 91.6 +20.9
DAL Kidd, Terry, Butler, Nowitzki, Chandler 177 116.3 97.2 +19.1
DAL Kidd, Stevenson, Butler, Nowitzki, Chandler 203 114.7 96.0 +18.7

Eleven of the 126 minutes that the new Sixers starters have played together came against the Celtics and 17 came against the Hawks, but the rest have come against struggling teams like the Blazers, Bobcats, Cavs, Hornets, Nets and Clippers. And 90 of the 126 have come at home.

Things are going to change. If you thought the Knicks recent success is getting tested this week, check out the Sixers' schedule. They host the Lakers on Friday and then play their next eight games on the road (where they're just 2-10). And the nine opponents in that stretch have a cumulative winning percentage of .632.

Those numbers that Philly's new lineup have produced so far are bound to change in the next 2 weeks, but it's clear they've got a good thing going.

The Sixers aren't the only team that has made a lineup change. Here's what the numbers tell us about some of the others ...


As you see in the table above, the Heat's lineup of Carlos Arroyo, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Joel Anthony has been the third best five-man unit in the league. That might make you question Erik Spoelstra's decision to replace Anthony in the starting lineup with Zydrunas Ilgauskas after nine games.

But the lineup with Ilgauskas instead of Anthony has been pretty good, too. That unit is a plus-14.3 (10th best), scoring 112.7 points per 100 possessions and allowing just 98.4. Since the lineup change, the Heat are 14-4, have won their last 10, and are outscoring their opponents by 2.8 points in the first quarter (as opposed to 0.6 points in the first nine games).

And it's not as if Spoelstra has completely abandoned the lineup with Anthony in it. It's a unit that he continues to use -- just not the one he starts games with.


After 12 games, the Grizzlies were 3-9 and had lost five straight. At that point, Lionel Hollins moved O.J. Mayo to the bench, replacing him with rookie Xavier Henry at the two. And the move immediately paid dividends. On the first night with the new lineup, the Grizz outscored the Heat 26-17 in the first quarter and won the game on Rudy Gay's buzzer-beater.

Memphis is 8-5 since the switch, but the new lineup hasn't really been better than the old one. The other four Grizzlies' starters with Mayo have scored 113.6 points per 100 possessions and allowed 113.7 in 222 minutes together. Replace Mayo with Henry and you've got a lineup that has scored 105.7 points per 100 possessions and allowed 105.8 in 203 minutes. Less offense, more defense, same difference (-0.1).

The Grizzlies have actually had a lot of success with a lineup of Mike Conley, Mayo, Gay, Darrell Arthur (instead of Zach Randolph) and Marc Gasol. Memphis ranks 15th in the league defensively, but that has been the best defensive unit in the league (allowing just 91.5 points per 100 possessions) among those who have played at least 100 minutes. And it's outscoring the other team by 18.0 points per 100 possessions, which ranks sixth overall.

Oklahoma City

No five-man unit played more minutes last season than the Thunder's starting lineup of Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic. But interestingly, that unit wasn't all that strong (relative to those of other playoff teams), outscoring its opponents by just 1.2 points per 100 possessions.

When he's got his full complement of players, Scott Brooks has gone with the same starting unit this season. But injuries to Durant, Green and Krstic have forced him to change things up quite a bit.

The Thunder have had more success with Serge Ibaka replacing either Green (creating a lineup that is plus-14.5 points per 100 possessions in 100 minutes together) or Krstic (plus-13.8 in 148 minutes). Oklahoma City's original starting lineup has actually been outscored by 2.2 points per 100 possessions in 200 minutes together this season.

All numbers are through Wednesday, Dec. 15 and were compiled with the help of the NBA and StatsCube.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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