Ranking the 5 Best and Worst Lineups in the NBA This Season – Bleacher Report

It turns out enough basketball has been played during the 2021-22 NBA regular season to chopper in for a look at the most and least effective lineups.
Ranking five-man units is hard no matter the time of year. So many factors can warp the results. Sample size and the quality of opponents are chief among them. Both make comparing different combos across every team difficult and, at times, ineffective.
These rankings will not pretend to solve any issues inherent to the exercise. But they will go beyond the raw data.
Determining a sample-size cutoff is at once arbitrary yet necessary. The average possession this season is 14.4 seconds long, according to Inpredictable. That's the equivalent of 41.7 possessions across 10 minutes of play. We will round down for the sake of maximum inclusion and look at every arrangement that has logged at least 41 possessions outside garbage time.
This leaves us with a sample of 120-plus units with which to work. A Bayesian adjustment will be applied to every quintet that meets this threshold in an attempt to weigh each group's net rating against its court time and the performance of the average lineup within our collection. This gives us an adjusted net rating, which should, in theory, be a friendlier way of pitting combinations against one another.
Plenty of basketball remains on the NBA's schedule. The results here can change and are not meant to be gospel. But so far, at least, these are the lineups that have done the most and least with their time on the floor.
*Possession data comes from Cleaning the Glass and is accurate entering games on Friday, Nov. 12.

Possession Played (as of Nov. 12): 113
Adjusted Net Rating: 13.21
Deandre Ayton's right knee injury has paved the way for (read: forced) the Phoenix Suns to thoroughly test out the Frank Kaminsky-plus-four starters unit. And so far, it's not just working.
It's dominating.
A 135.4 offensive rating fuels this fifth-place finish. Kaminsky, Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder are combining to shoot 48.6 percent on threes and 63.8 percent from mid-range.
That is obviously sustainable and not-at-all noise. I'm only half-kidding. This lineup isn't built to put pressure on the rim, but then again, the same goes for Phoenix's roster at large. Having Kaminsky on the floor is the offense's most effective path to playing five-out, which opens more pockets of in-between space for Paul, Booker and Bridges.
There's no need to use this arrangement as a be-all barometer for Ayton's value. If anything, it reinforces how important he has become to steadying the defense. But it also kind of makes you wonder whether his offensive impact is easier to approximate than it should be.

Possessions Played: 59
Adjusted Net Rating: 13.39
Returning a Miami Heat lineup that includes neither Kyle Lowry nor Bam Adebayo feels fishy. But this quintet does not strictly benefit from sparing run or Lowry's lone absence of the season. It is a semi-staple. Miami has deployed it in 10 games.
This makes sense. Tyler Herro is an extension of the starting five, and there's merit to staggering two of your three stars when Jimmy Butler can play with two other starters, Duncan Robinson and P.J. Tucker, and a pair of more-than-capable backups.
Both the offensive and defensive results are obnoxiously glittery for this unit. It's shooting 50 percent on mid-range jumpers and 41.7 percent on above-the-break threes. Just, wow.
Crappy long-range marksmanship from opponents (22.2 percent) is probably inflating the defense, but the Dewayne Dedmon-in-the-middle setup has effectively limited opportunities around the rim and instead coaxed rival offenses into short mid-rangers they're converting just 27.3 percent of the time. This lineup feels more legitimate than flash in the plan.

Possessions Played: 46
Adjusted Net Rating: 13.87
Jaylen Brown's right hamstring strain has, for the time being, put this lineup on ice, and it was tough to gauge its relevance within the Boston Celtics' rotation before his injury. It has made just three appearances on the year yet checks in as one of the team's three most-used combinations, period.
Essentially, this group boils down to Grant Williams-plus-four starters. That's not so random, especially when it's notched a 145.7 offensive rating and 102.1 defensive rating.
The former mark is truly bonkers, but Marcus Smart takes enough threes. Meanwhile, Grant Williams has drained his triples at a high enough clip (36.7 percent) for this fivesome to open up Robert Williams III dives and for both Brown and Jayson Tatum to put actual pressure on the basket.
This isn't to say we should expect the Celtics' offensive rating during these stretches to hold. This gaggle is splashing in 57.1 percent of its threes and converting 76.5 percent of its looks at the rim. Regression to Planet Earth is unavoidable, but this unit has also played well enough, to put it extremely lightly, to warrant further exploration once Brown returns.

Possessions Played: 117
Adjusted Net Rating: 13.94
Another season, another all-backup-unit straight killing it for the New York Knicks.
Derrick Rose, Immanuel Quickley, Alec Burks, Obi Toppin and Taj Gibson are currently posting offensive and defensive ratings that place no lower than the 97th percentile of all lineups that have tallied at least 15 possessions. Their above-the-break three-point shooting has been divine (43.8 percent), they get to the rim at a neat-o clip, and opponents are converting sub-60 percent of their looks around the hoop and sub-23 percent of their treys.
This arrangement's defense feels most suspect. However, the general premise of its success is not unprecedented. The Knicks torched opponents with this same group last season, and the Rose-Quickley-Burks-Toppin quartet, specifically, has proven to be a godsend versus other backups.
New York needs every ounce of good vibes this lineup can provide. Its starting five ranks among the least effective units to date. (Spoiler: It missed the bottom five by one spot.) Unless that changes or head coach Tom Thibodeau makes material changes to his opening group, the Knicks bench—and this unit in particular—must remain straight fire.

Possessions Played: 42
Adjusted Net Rating: 18.22
Michael Porter Jr.'s back injury is the impetus behind not only this lineup's inclusion but its very existence.
All of the possessions logged together by Monte Morris, Will Barton, Aaron Gordon, Jeff Green and Nikola Jokic have come during MPJ"s absence. Their sample size would be higher if the reigning MVP wasn't suspended for Wednesday's win over the Indiana Pacers, but they didn't need the volume boost, as it turned out.
Denver's offensive vitals are off the chart with these five on the floor. It's scoring 166.7 points per 100 possessions (not a typo) and shooting 92.3 percent at the basket (also not a typo) and 53.3 percent from downtown (yet again, not a typo).
Small-sample theatre at its finest? Maybe.
But still—whoa.

Possessions Played: 257
Adjusted Net Rating: -13.16
Welcome to what's probably the most predictable finish of any lineup, from either end of the spectrum, in this entire exercise. This Houston Rockets fivesome checks nearly every "Yeah, it makes sense that they're bad" box.
The offense is reliant on two young and inexperienced non-floor generals in Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr. The frontcourt is populated by two bigs who, despite their offensive range, aren't a perfect match. Jae'Sean Tate can be a defensive eclipse but shrinks the floor for a group not exactly built to stretch it in the first place.
Bake all this into one of the 11 highest possession totals in the league, plus 23.6 percent shooting from mid-range and a sub-32 percent clip on above-the-break threes, and you've got yourself a recipe for one of the Association's worst lineups of the season.

Possessions Played: 43
Adjusted Net Rating: -13.88
This group began the season as the Brooklyn Nets' starting five and has since faded entirely to the background. They trotted out a different group after Game No. 2, and Nicolas Claxton hasn't played since Oct. 25 due to a non-COVID-19 illness.
Including any lineup that features Kevin Durant, James Harden and Joe Harris misses the mark…in theory. But Harden opened the season struggling to the umpteenth degree, and both Harris and Griffin forgot how to make shots inside the arc for a few beats. Claxton didn't look right, either—at both ends.
When 80 percent of a lineup is playing far from its best basketball, this is what you get. The Nets have an 81.4 offensive rating and 132.6 defensive rating with this group on the hardwood. It's easy to envision an offensive reversal. These five have shot 15.4 percent from deep during their time together. That won't stick. At the most fundamental level, any arrangement with Harden and Durant should figure it out on offense over time.
Defense, meanwhile, is a different story. Claxton and Durant are the only plus-stoppers, and Claxton's switchability and interior disruption remain more of a concept than every-possession actuality.

Possessions Played: 42
Adjusted Net Rating: -16.31
Rebuilding squads are supposed to be bad-lineup catnip. They're usually young and inexperienced and fielding combinations with varying degrees of flaws and completeness. So, basically, kudos to the Detroit Pistons for meeting expectations.
To be fair, the Killian Hayes-Saddiq Bey-Jerami Grant-Josh Jackson-Isaiah Stewart partnership shouldn't be this bad on offense. The makeup overtaxes the on-ball strengths of Bey and Grant, but 50 percent shooting at the rim and a 9.5 percent clip from beyond the arc are just begging for progression to a better mean.
Whether this group gets the chance is a separate matter. It was more of a staple prior to Cade Cunningham making his NBA debut and has seen limited run over the past few games.
Perhaps that's for the best. However, the makeup of this unit doesn't bellow "absolutely hopeless" at the top of its lungs. It's more so one dragged down by the rawness of Hayes and, relatedly, the absence of a top-shelf ball-handler and creator.

Possessions Played: 81
Adjusted Net Rating: -17.29
Yes, it's still early. Really early. The Dallas Mavericks have a new head coach in Jason Kidd. Luka Doncic isn't peak megastar Luka Doncic yet. This lineup doesn't include Kristaps Porzingis. Or Jalen Brunson.
Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
And yet, let's be real: Any lineup with Doncic at the helm that's pumping in fewer than 68 points per 100 possessions should get fired into the sun, never to return.
Bad luck is no doubt playing a role in this finish. Doncic, Tim Hardaway Jr., Reggie Bullock, Dorian Finney-Smith and Dwight Powell have combined to can an unfathomably low 7.7 percent of their above-the-break threes while downing just 53.2 percent of their rim attempts (the league average is 63.9 percent).
Those marks won't hold because they can't hold because that would mean it's the apocalypse, and it can't be the apocalypse. Right?
RIGHT?

Possessions Played: 55
Adjusted Net Rating: -17.39
The Denver Nuggets come in with both the league's best and worst five-man unit to date. How's that for a bookend?
No one should be surprised by the all-bench mob of Facundo Campazzo, Austin Rivers, P.J. Dozier, JaMychal Green and Jeff Green finishing inside the bottom five. Hell, many might've even expected them to land the absolute worst spot.
Much was made of this group's struggles to start the year. So much so, in fact, head coach Michael Malone no longer touches it with a 10-foot pole.
And given that they've registered a 78.2 offensive rating against a 131.6 defensive rating, on the backs of arctic-cold shooting from the perimeter and opponent free-for-alls from pretty much everywhere, that sure seems like the right call.
     
Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.comBasketball ReferenceStathead or Cleaning the Glass and accurate entering Friday's games. Salary information via Basketball Insiders and Spotrac.
Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale), and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by NBA Math's Adam Fromal.
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