Pau Gasol (left), Dwight Howard (center) and Steve Nash (right).
The injuries of Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash ravaged the Los Angeles Lakers and consequently forced them into using some less-than-familiar lineups. Some of them performed well, while others were simply disastrous.
Matters were further exacerbated as Lakers players seemingly fell like flies during the head-to-head playoff matchup with the San Antonio Spurs.
The Purple and Gold lost Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks and Metta World Peace during the postseason run. Essentially, the players tasked with replacing the Lakers’ starting backcourt also went down, thus forcing Mike D’Antoni to go deep into his bench.
We will take an in-depth look at these lineups and figure out the three best ones coupled with the three worst five-man units.
The quintets will require a five-minute minimum threshold of playing time together on the floor to qualify. The rationale behind this rule is simple: The multiple blowouts forced D’Antoni to empty his bench late in a few games and play guys who wouldn’t normally participate in heavily contested playoff battles.
The emphasis should be placed on the lineups that played the majority of the contests and allowed the game to get out of hand, as opposed to the five-man groups that finished games that were all but decided.
The units will be measured based on their productivity vis-a-vis their opponents, their offensive and also defensive efficiency.
Steve Nash (left) and Pau Gasol (right).
These five players would automatically leave you with the impression that their familiarity made them a good unit. But in actuality, they only played three minutes together in the 2012-13 regular season.
It’s surprising that D’Antoni didn’t use this unit more during the year while Kobe Bryant rested, given how it spaced the floor.
The Lakers’ coaching staff probably had some trepidation about his backcourt’s ability to match up defensively against other teams. This quintet was actually impressive on this front in its brief playoff showing in the 2013 playoffs.
In 5.6 minutes of playing time, they only allowed 66.7 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com/stats. That figure would easily be the best defensive figure of all teams in the playoffs if projected over the Lakers’ entire postseason run.
The five-man unit had a scoring differential of plus-four points and was plus-34.5 when projected over 48 minutes. As good as these players were together though, their production was a little average overall.
They benefited from Tony Parker’s slow playoff start, which made their defense look better than it actually was. That being said, they took advantage of the circumstances presented.
Putting these five players together on the court was less than ideal on the floor offensively. This unit lacked good ball-handlers and couldn’t adequately stretch the floor.
And yet, they posted a scoring differential of plus-two in the 8.1 minutes they shared on the court during the 2013 playoffs, according to NBA.com/stats.
This mix of players flashed some good athleticism as well as good collective team speed. Consequently they challenged the Spurs’ perimeter players and stayed with them despite the numerous off-ball screens.
The quintet didn’t cut it offensively, but it hardly mattered. They surrendered a mere 69.3 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com/stats. Over an entire series, those numbers would be historic.
Steve Blake (left) and Steve Nash (right).
In a series where the Lakers were outscored on average by 18.8 points per game, any lineup grouping that kept the scoring margin relatively close was crucial for the team.
This unit was less than average offensively. It converted 43.8 percent of its field goals, per NBA.com/stats, and scored 91.2 points per 100 possessions. That scoring number would be in the bottom five of all playoff teams.
The Spurs successfully stymied this grouping but couldn’t necessarily completely outclass them.
The tandem of Gasol and Howard gave San Antonio fits defensively and challenged shot attempts at the rim. Blake and World Peace did a good job on the perimeter of keeping players in front of them and also funneling them toward their twin towers.
Hence, despite the subpar scoring, they only posted a minus-1.3 scoring differential in 36 minutes, per NBA.com/stats.
This was by far D’Antoni’s worst unit in this year’s postseason. It was athletic and might have had some potential had it formed any type of rhythm during the regular season.
Alas that was not the case. When grouped together, these Lakers simply could not space the floor, and they had little to no synergy whatsoever. They had trouble understanding their responsibilities on both sides of the ball and failed to pick each other up.
Their plus/minus figure was the worst of any lineup the Lakers used, and they couldn’t score or prevent the Spurs from doing so. NBA.com/stats tells us they allowed a staggering 144.1 points per 100 possessions while registering a third of that on the offensive end.
In seven minutes of playing time, they were minus-13.
Only two Lakers units saw the court for 10 minutes or more in the 2013 playoffs. This installment played relatively well on offense on the strength of its interior players.
Morris might have lacked a little familiarity, but Blake and World Peace had become accustomed to playing together. They ended the season by collecting the bulk of the minutes and developed some chemistry with the big men on offense as a result.
The regulars (Blake, World Peace, Gasol and Howard) played through the post and completed each other well.
Morris was placed alongside the foursome, and he was easily incorporated on offense as evidenced by their 101.3 points scored per 100 possessions, courtesy of NBA.com/stats.
But on the other side of the ball, it was a complete disaster. The Spurs simply picked on the Lakers’ perimeter players by running them through screens and then forcing them into making difficult rotations defensively.
Gregg Popovich is one of the best coaches in the league when it comes to taking advantage of defensive weaknesses. Against the Lakers, he did just that.
He routinely put Blake and Morris through pick-and-rolls and also had them defend drive-and-kicks. The Spurs exploited them and scored 144.4 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com.
Ultimately these five Lakers were a minus-10 on the floor and basically just made the Lakers vulnerable to scoring runs.
Mike D’Antoni unleashed this unit for a total of five minutes in the series against the Spurs, and it’s a good thing he didn’t invest more into it. The one area where one would expect these Lakers to struggle would be on defense.
Surprisingly, they fared well on this front. Clark and Howard can occasionally overcome some of the deficiencies of their teammates given their athleticism and long arms.
Indeed, they cover a lot of ground, and as a result, they survived quite well on the floor despite the presence of Antawn Jamison.
For most of the season, opponents have picked on Jamison and forced him to defend a variety of plays. And he failed more often than he succeeded. In this unit though, he mostly defended a perimeter player.
When defending big men, his missed rotations are much more costly because they occur at the rim. When defending guys out on the wing, a failed defensive showing results in either an open jumper or a drive toward the basket with Howard helping out.
Thus, NBA.com/stats tells us this group only yielded 94 points per 100 possessions.
And yet, this five-man unit boasted a minus-eight scoring differential. The problem was the offense. They simply could not score.
The Spurs threw every defender at Howard and dared the Lakers to make shots. Normally, Meeks and Blake are good long-range shooters, but they were snuffed. Instead, the Spurs helped off Clark and Jamison.
They reaped the rewards as the Purple and Gold struggled and scored 20 points per 100 possessions. For the sake of context, the worst offensive team in the league (Washington Wizards) in the 2012-13 regular season produced 97.8 points per 100 possessions.
Ultimately, D’Antoni tried multiple lineups against the Spurs, but very few of them were effective. Between injuries and talent disparity, the Lakers could not compete with the Spurs, and the player groupings exhibit that.