As the regular season begins to wind down for the Oklahoma City Thunder, Scott Brooks should have some time to tinker with the lineups heading into the playoffs.
While I'm not necessarily calling for a change to the starting lineup, there are other combinations that I believe Oklahoma City could be utilizing more often to maximize the talent on the roster.
I've always been a big believer in the current starting five of Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins, even when James Harden continued to improve last season.
However, I do think that there is work to be done by Brooks in terms of which five-man lineup should be seeing more court time. Thanks to some statistics by 82games.com, I've gathered some data on which lineups work more than others and which play together more than others.
Obviously, the starting five gets the most minutes together and has been the most successful in terms of total net points (plus-147).
The unit getting the second-most minutes is the same as the starters, except with Kevin Martin in place of Sefolosha. While this group seems to also work pretty well (plus-34 net points), it still isn't quite as efficient or solid as the lineup that I believe should see the biggest increase in floor time.
The five-man unit I speak of is one featuring Westbrook, Martin, Sefolosha, Durant and Mr. Plus/Minus himself, Nick Collison.
With a net total of plus-40 points, this squad has performed well numbers-wise in the 76.9 minutes they've seen together this season. Additionally, they post an average of 1.4 points per possession, the second-highest of any five-man combination for the Thunder this season.
Outside of just these sample numbers, this lineup functions well for Oklahoma City when dealing with smaller lineups. Pushing Durant, Sefolosha and Collison up one spot from their natural positions isn't too much of a stretch for any of them, since they have enough size and talent to play two in different spots.
One of the best things about this lineup is that it utilizes two of the better team players on Oklahoma City in Sefolosha and Collison.
Both of these guys are known for knowing their roles, hustling and facilitating Durant and Westbrook. Having both of them in this lineup makes it much easier to concentrate the offense on the best players, as well as making Martin a failsafe to kick out to on the perimeter if either Durant or Westbrook begins to struggle.
Simply put, this lineup isn't getting enough burn. However, Brooks' defense does have some holes with both Ibaka and Perkins not being on the floor. Even without the two best defensive bigs, though, this unit is still potent enough on offense to compensate.
Another scenario where this lineup would work well is if the Thunder are pitted against a team with a strong small forward on whom the offense is focused (i.e. LeBron James and the Heat). Having an elite defender like Sefolosha on the wing to shut down that primary offensive option helps the overall team defense and allows more opening for offense.
Statistically, this five-man unit also has a plus-6-percent net turnover average, which shows that the defensive problem may not even be a problem at all.
It's a tough call for any coach to take your two starting big men and bench them in favor of a smaller lineup like this, but there's also plenty of evidence supporting more playing time for this squad. Brooks will have to pick and choose the right time to use this group, otherwise they could sputter against a team that runs a lot of offense through the post players.
If there's a time to tinker with lineups, it's right now, since the Thunder are gearing up to make another run at the NBA Finals and will need to pull out all the stops once the playoffs start.