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Three Takeaways from the Spurs’ Lineup Data

What the Spurs 5-man lineups can tell us about the team moving forward

NBA: Houston Rockets at San Antonio Spurs Aaron Meullion-USA TODAY Sports

With just under 20 games left in the season, the Spurs find themselves in a race to the bottom, as they battle with the Hornets, Rockets and Pistons for the best odds of the top pick in the draft.

While there isn’t much to play for in terms of accolades in the final stretch, this is a chance to experiment with lineups and see what combinations of the young core works best together. Can all three 19-year-olds play together at once? Can Tre Jones and Malaki Branham coexist in the back court? What players keep the team in the game defensively? Is there a lineup that can adequately spaces the floor around drivers?

All of these questions give the rest of the season intrigue. which is why we did an exercise in small sample size theater, and dove into the 5-man lineup data to see what versions of the Spurs have been the most effective since the trade deadline.

Most Used Lineup: Z. Collins - K. Bates-Diop - K. Johnson - M. Branham - J. Sochan

The Spurs have gone to this lineup the most since trading two of their usual starters in Jakob Poeltl and Josh Richardson. This lineup has appeared for 41 minutes (22 minutes more than the second most used) since the deadline and has been one of their most effective ones. The fivesome is posting a net rating of 10.1, with an offensive and defensive rating of 105.7 and 95.6 respectively.

The defense jumps out immediately as a factor for this lineup’s success and longevity. This group includes arguably the Spurs’ two best wing defenders in KBD and Sochan, alongside the majorly improved defense of Collins. They’ve seen success despite Johnson and Branham’s shortcomings on that end. This group also provides a bit of length that other lineups may lack, especially in the frontcourt.

Most importantly, this is a group that is taking care of the basketball, and spreading the wealth. They have a 2.4 assist to turnover ratio and have good playmakers like Branham, Collins and Sochan leading the way. With Devin Vassell and Tre Jones coming back from injury, it’s unlikely we see much more of this as a starting unit, but it does show that when the Spurs run with their better wing defenders, they can compete on the defensive end.

Best Offensive Lineup: D. McDermott - K. Bates-Diop - D. Graham - C. Bassey - B. Wesley

This was quite surprising, especially since this lineup lacks most of the Silver and Black’s go-to scorers. In a very small sample (11 minutes), this lineup is posting an eye-popping 146 offensive rating... but its defensive rating is 132 (not good.) They are doing this on extremely efficient scoring, with a true-shooting percentage of 84.9%.

Sure, this is likely due to a crazy run here or there inflating these numbers, but one thing to notice is the amount of shooters on the floor. Outside of KBD and Bassey, all of the other three are each shooting over 37% from three on multiple attempts a game. Wesley can’t be considered a lights out shooter, but he has flashed the capability to knock down open threes when uncontested. This is an intriguing lineup to watch, as it may be an often used bench lineup due to injuries.

Bassey has been uber efficient around the basket, shooting 67% from two this season. Again, small sample size, but this lineup shows that with a good interior presence and some shooting, you can put up points in bunches. I would not be surprised to see a combination of these players together more often down the stretch.

Worst Net Rating: Z. Collins - K. Bates-Diop - D. Graham - K. Johnson - M. Branham

Wanna lose more games? Maybe go with this lineup. The group has posted a -25.1 net rating in 18 minutes. Offensively they’ve been middle of the pack, with a 107.3 offensive rating, but they’ve really struggled on defense, with a 132.4 defensive rating.

That’s not all that surprising, as Graham, Branham and Johnson all struggle on that end. Branham and Graham as your backcourt isn’t exactly going to scare opposing offenses, as both of them struggle to stay in front of their man. KBD clearly is much more suited to defend on the wing rather than inside at the 4 position. With the way the roster is shaping up going forward, its hard to imagine they will want to play this small and sacrifice so much defense for a slight offensive bump.

But this is also their second most used lineup since the trade deadline, so maybe they will keep riding it. It will likely be uncertain who suits up every night for the rest of the season, with players resting and rehabbing injuries. These lineups may be heavily featured out of necessity to end the season. But while the Spurs are racing to the bottom, it may behoove them to tinker with these lineups to see what works.