NBA Stats

May 22 2013 6:04PM

Looking at the Lineups

By Jay Cipoletti

Is 3 > 5? That is essentially where the discussion about the Eastern Conference Finals has centered -- can Miami's Big 3 outplay the Indiana's cohesive five-man unit of George Hill, Paul George, Lance Stephenson, David West and Roy Hibbert?

The question only gets it half right.

First, the right part. In the regular season that Pacers lineup played 1,218 minutes and held a 12.1 Net Rating advantage -- no other 5-man unit played more than 170 minutes for the Pacers. That disparity has held true in the playoffs as well, with Indiana's top unit producing a 16.4 Net Rating edge in 236 minutes. The Pacers 2nd-most used lineup, replacing David West with Tyler Hansbrough, has played 26 minutes in the playoffs.

So the Pacers present a pretty straightforward challenge -- a big lineup that plays an overwhelming majority of their minutes and defends exceptionally well, boasting a Defensive Rating of 96.5 in the regular season and 93.1 through the first two rounds of the playoffs. They do so by limiting good looks (43.0% eFG allowed), 2nd chance opportunities (19.1% Offensive Rebound rate allowed) and trips to the foul line (0.222 FTA Rate allowed). When you hear a coach or analyst talk about turning a team's water off, what the Pacers do defensively is exactly what they are talking about.

Pacers Big 5 -- Four FactorsOffenseDefense
eFG%51.9%43.0%
TO%16.9%10.2%
OR%29.2%19.1%
FTA0.3700.222

Now, the wrong part. While true that the perceived Big 3 of the Heat -- LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh -- have played the most minutes of any 3-man lineup during the regular season, that was not the Heat's most productive grouping. In fact, replacing any of the Big 3 with Mario Chalmers netted larger Net Rating margins in the regular season.

Miami 3 Man LineupsMinutesOffense RatingDefensive RatingNet Rating Margin
James/Bosh/Wade1628112.398.813.4
James/Bosh/Chalmers1529113.699.414.2
James/Chalmers/Wade1460113.997.016.9
Chalmers/Bosh/Wade1288112.398.214.1

The discrepancy was even more pronounced in 3 games against the Pacers:

Miami 3 Man Lineups vs IndianaMinutesOffense RatingDefensive RatingNet Rating Margin
James/Bosh/Wade80114.6100.913.6
James/Bosh/Chalmers61119.098.920.1
James/Chalmers/Wade73122.099.922.1
Chalmers/Bosh/Wade62122.8102.620.2

As one would expect, the grouping of James, Bosh, Wade and Chalmers was the Heat's most used 4-man lineup through the regular season and first two rounds of the playoffs.

Miami Big 4MinutesOffense RatingDefensive RatingNet Rating Margin
Regular Season1256112.398.014.3
Playoffs Rds 1 & 2163107.694.712.9

Lastly, comparing the Indiana starters to Miami's Big 4 in the regular season ...

Miami Big 4 vs Pacer 5MinutesOffense RatingDefensive RatingNet Rating Margin
Miami 41256112.398.014.3
Indiana 51218108.696.512.1

... it looks like four on five will be an evenly matched battle.