What goes into selecting an NBA team’s starting lineup?
That’s a serious question, by the way. I honestly don’t know, probably because every team treats that question differently. Do you play your five best guys regardless of position and hope everything sorts itself out on the court? Do you play five guys who really work well together even though there are individuals who are theoretically “better” who get left on the bench? Does it matter if a particular guy is getting paid big money, and should that lead to him starting over a “better” player who makes less?
I think the answer is both none of those things and all of them, because the specifics of a team’s starting five doesn’t mean much as long as it’s working.
This brings me to the issue of Kendrick Perkins, and to a lesser extent Carlos Boozer. Perkins in particular has long been looked down on by people who feel his supposed value — defense and rebounding — is outweighed by his atrocious offense and the perception that his defense is vastly overrated.* And yet, Scott Brooks continues to throw him out there in OKC’s starting five and the Thunder keep winning games.
*For instance, Perk is slow-footed enough that he struggles to defend the pick and roll insofar as the ballhandler can beat him off the dribble without much difficulty.
There are a couple of ways to look at this, but I’m only interested in one: It seems very much like Brooks is reluctant to fix what he feels isn’t broken. After all, the Thunder won 60 games last year and earned the number one seed in the West. They lost in the second round, but pointing to that as evidence of failure seems unfair, given Russell Westbrook’s knee injury. What’s more, the Westbrook/Thabo Sefolosha/Kevin Durant/Serge Ibaka/Perkins starting lineup, which struggled mightily to score points in 2011-12, posted a mark of 111 points per 100 possessions in 2012-13, per 82games.com. Yet the perception remains — particularly amongst Thunder fans, but also around the NBA — that Perkins needs to be replaced for OKC to win a title.** This has only been made worse of late with rookie Steven Adams looking competent in preseason action.
**The only caveat here is a potential playoff matchup with the Houston Rockets and Dwight Howard. Perkins is known around the league as a guy who can handle Dwight in the post one-on-one and might very well make a difference in such a situation. But that’s about the only situation where that’s the case.
So, again, the issue is that to us, there’s a clear problem and a clear solution. Perkins is the problem and either Adams or erstwhile veteran Nick Collison is the solution. Unfortunately, it’s not nearly that clear to Brooks. Perkins was traded to OKC from Boston rather abruptly, and Perkins was decidedly unhappy with the way that played out, so there’s no guarantee that he would take a demotion very well. And again, the lineup isn’t exactly falling apart at the seams and they did make the NBA Finals just two seasons ago with that starting five. So why panic now?
This can be very frustrating, as Bulls fans have long since learned with Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson in town. Boozer’s offensive reputation is such that his place in the starting five isn’t in any jeopardy, despite Gibson having been better than him overall for most of the last two years — even before he went out and added a reliable jumper this summer. Boozer’s on/off court numbers were terrible last year — when he was supposedly anchoring the Bulls’ Derrick Rose-less offense — per 82games.com. With Boozer on the court, the Bulls scored 103 points per 100 possessions and gave up 105.6. With him off the court, they scored 107.5 per 100 and gave up 101.3. So, essentially, Boozer made the Bulls about 8 points per 100 possessions worse just by stepping onto the court, but hey, the team wins games, so why would Tom Thibodeau change anything?***
***This also applied to Keith Bogans, who started all 98 regular and postseason games for the Bulls in 2010-11 despite being only marginally more useful than a coatrack on the offensive end. But hey, they won games!
I guess the point here is that while it may be incredibly annoying to watch the team when you know they’d be better with a slightly different starting five, you’re just going to have to deal with it. Coaches are conservative by nature and it’s usually going to take either a prolonged losing stretch or an injury — or both — to get them to make changes. And since rooting for either of those things would make you at best a bad fan and at worst an outright terrible person, I guess you should just go ahead and live with the status quo.
Besides, if they made the change you’re calling for, then what would you have to complain about on the internet?