Take a pass-first point guard with elite floor vision. Give him three potent scorers who can do damage in a multitude of ways. Add an experienced center who rebounds and anchors a defense. Watch it become a cohesive group.
The formula for New Orleans’ planned starting lineup in 2019-20 makes a lot of sense on paper, both skill-wise and chemistry-wise. The problem was, due to injury, the Pelicans needed to wait until the 45th game of the regular season to finally see their projected quintet on the court. It proved to be well worth the wait.
According to NBA.com writer John Schuhmann, the five-man lineup of point guard Lonzo Ball, shooting guard Jrue Holiday, small forward Brandon Ingram, power forward Zion Williamson and center Derrick Favors not only excelled in its 230 on-court minutes, but thoroughly dominated. Of the league’s 34 lineups that have logged 200-plus minutes this season, New Orleans’ group had the No. 1 net rating, outscoring opponents by 26.3 points per 100 possessions. Not bad for a combination that entered Williamson’s Jan. 22 debut vs. San Antonio having only played together briefly in training camp and preseason games.
The gap between New Orleans’ starters and the league’s second-best lineup is massive, with Phoenix’s grouping of Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Kelly Oubre and DeAndre Ayton possessing a net rating of plus-20.2 in 226 minutes. That means statistically the New Orleans fivesome was at least 23 percent better than any other NBA lineup that played a minimum of 200 minutes. Incidentally, the No. 3-ranked lineup should probably come as no surprise – league-best Milwaukee (53-12) trotted out a starting lineup for a total of 408 minutes (Eric Bledsoe, Wesley Matthews, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez) that outscored opponents by 19.1 points per 100 possessions.
Deeper analysis of data from Schuhmann and NBA.com helps to demonstrate how effective emphasis on relying on specific lineups can be in certain situations – of the 25 most commonly-used this season, 19 of them have a positive net rating. What makes New Orleans’ starting lineup stand out most is its stinginess on the defensive end, with a rating of 91.6, second-best among the five-man groups (Milwaukee’s starters were slightly better at 89.8 points allowed per 100 possessions). Meanwhile, Pelicans starters are fourth in offensive rating (117.9), giving them exceptional balance at both ends of the floor.
Looking for unselfishness? New Orleans’ quintet ranks third in assist percentage, with 68.9 percent of its baskets coming from an assist. Rugged rebounding? The Pelicans were No. 1 in rebounding percentage (56.7). A fast pace? Third in possessions per 48 minutes (108.23). It may have taken a few months to materialize, but once Ball, Holiday, Ingram, Williamson and Favors got together, the results were superb across the board.