The NBA told the Chicago Bulls in a memo earlier this week
to stop tanking to stop resting healthy players, such as Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, a move that was made public by team President of Basketball Operations John Paxson in late February.
“We’re going to start looking at blocks of games where having a few guys that haven’t been playing much at all, they’ll be having a significant role for us,” Paxson told Madeline Kenney of the Chicago Sun Times at the time. “The hard thing always in this when you’re doing things like this you’re asking certain people to sacrifice roles and minutes from veteran guys, and that’s what we’re asking some of them … never an easy thing.”
The plan was to have Robin Lopez, Justin Holiday and Jerian Grant see their roles decrease as David Nwaba, Cameron Payne and Cristiano Felicio got more court time. Lopez has sat out Chicago’s last five games while Holiday has missed four of the last five. Grant has played a total of 14 minutes over the last five contests, with the team going 1-4 in that span, including a 105-89 defeat at the hands of the Boston Celtics on Monday, who were without star Kyrie Irving.
According to Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports, the Bulls got the message, and plan to play Lopez and Holiday “more extensively” for “the remainder of the season,” though if they simply played them in the first place they could have had a suboptimal five-man lineup on the floor that still managed to lose them games.
The most-frequent lineup used by Coach Fred Hoiberg this season consists of Holiday, Lopez, Kris Dunn, Lauri Markkanen and Denzel Valentine, a squad that gets outscored by six net points per 100 possessions, only slightly better performance than the Bulls had before making the decision to rest players (minus-6.4). If the goal was to be as bad as possible, the lineup of Grant, Holiday, Lopez, Markkanen and Valentine made the most sense and gave the team the best of both worlds: Poor performance with their best players without irking the NBA — that lineup has been outscored by 10.5 net points per 100 possessions in 2017-18, worse than the worst team in the NBA this year, the 19-47 Phoenix Suns (minus-8.9 net rating). Sub in Paul Zipser for Valentine and the Bulls get even worse (minus-17.5 net rating).
Chicago isn’t the only team that can play their “good” players while still getting poor results. Here’s the best tanking lineup for other squads looking to move up in the draft as high as possible while avoiding the league’s wrath.
Bismack Biyombo, D.J. Augustin, Evan Fournier, Mario Hezonja and Jonathon Simmons have played 82 minutes together this season and have been outscored by 12.4 net points per 100 possessions, almost four points worse than their most frequent five-man lineup, which also features Biyombo, Fournier and Simmons.
Playing the former also has the added benefit of keeping Simmons as the ballhandler on the pick-and-roll, where he ranks in the 35th percentile for points scored per possession (0.76) with a robust 18 percent turnover rate.
Since the trade deadline, the Hawks have been going about this all wrong, utilizing a lineup of Kent Bazemore, John Collins, Dewayne Dedmon, Taurean Prince and Dennis Schroder for a team-high 73 minutes, outscoring opponents by almost 18 net points per 100 possessions. If they really want to lose games, they should be swapping out rookie Tyler Dorsey for Bazemore, a five-man unit that has played 24 minutes together and been outscored by 45.3 net points (!) per 100 possessions.
Dorsey’s shortcomings, which can be justified under the auspices of giving the young player more time on the court to develop, include a woeful 46 percent true shooting percentage and a Real Plus-Minus of negative 3.6 according to ESPN, meaning he is almost four points worse than an average player per 100 possessions after factoring in teammates and opponents.
The Nets’ two most-frequently used five-man lineups both outscore opponents by at least five net points per 100 possessions, which would put the team on a better win pace than this year’s 45-20 Boston Celtics (plus-4.3 net rating). They should instead give Quincy Acy, Jarrett Allen, DeMarre Carroll, Allen Crabbe and Spencer Dinwiddie more court time. That five-man unit has a net rating of minus-17.6, and benefits from Carroll’s subpar performance in transition.
Carroll has used a team-high 19 percent of Nets possessions on the break, for which they have been rewarded with just 0.95 points per possession, placing Carroll in the bottom 25 percent of the NBA this season. Crabbe, who uses 11 percent of the Brooklyn’s transition possessions, is just as bad (0.98, 26th percentile).
Acy, meanwhile, struggles to convert his opportunities when asked to roll to the basket on the pick-and-roll, scoring just 36 percent of the time, putting him last out of 49 players with at least 100 possessions of this type this season.
The Kings are already maximizing their potential: Bogdan Bogdanovic, Willie Cauley-Stein, De’Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson and Zach Randolph are being outscored by 3.5 net points per 100 possessions since the trade deadline, which saw point guard George Hill sent to Cleveland as part of a three-team trade. Insert Skal Labissiere, when healthy, for Randolph and the team gets dramatically worse with a minus 34.4 net rating.
An alternative is to funnel the ball into the hands of Cauley-Stein and Fox more often. Cauley-Stein hits less than 40 percent of his spot-up shots from the field and Fox is one of the worst ballhandlers on the pick-and-roll, scoring a league-low 0.67 points per possession among players handling the ball at least 300 times in this scenario.
Team owner Mark Cuban was fined $600,000 for saying “losing is our best option” on a podcast with Hall of Famer Julius Irving, but if he just has Coach Rick Carlisle stick with Dirk Nowitzki, Harrison Barnes, Maxi Kleber, Wesley Matthews and Dennis Smith Jr. as long as possible, the losing will take care of itself. Those five are outscored by almost 15 points per 100 possessions this season, getting beat both in the paint (268 to 220) and on the break (95 to 60). That unit is also outshot by an effective field goal rate of 57 to 50 percent.
|Nowitzki, Barnes, Kleber, Matthews and Smith||eFG%||Free-throw rate||Turnover rate||Offensive rebound rate|
This year’s Suns are 8.4 points per game worse than the average NBA team after adjusting for strength of schedule, making this squad the worst in franchise history, eclipsing the 1968-69 Suns for the dubious honor. But it could be much, much worse.
The most-used lineup keeps pace with opponents and outscores them by 1.1 points per 100 possessions, however, put in Dragan Bender for Marquese Chriss and you have an optimized lineup that gets burned by almost 20 points per 100 possessions.
Both are below-average scorers, but Bender gives the team the added benefit of being in the bottom two percent of NBA players for his performance in transition (0.6 points per possession on 32 percent shooting) and down low in the post (5 for 22). He’s also in the bottom 10 percent on cuts to the basket (7 for 15).
The Grizzlies (18-45) are on a 14-game losing streak heading into Wednesday night and had an 11-game losing skid earlier in the season. Both those stretches featured heavy doses of Marc Gasol, Dillon Brooks and JaMychal Green, so if the Grizzlies want to continue toward a high lottery pick, interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff should just go with more of the same.
With those three on the court, Memphis is outscored by 6.3 net points per 100 possessions largely due to opponents making over 37 percent of their three-point attempts. And over 85 percent of those are assisted, meaning teams are having little trouble moving the ball around to find the open man.
That’s not too surprising. Gasol ranks 88th out of 97 players seeing at least 30 minutes per contest in contested three-point shots (1.8) and 49th among that same group for deflections per game (1.9).