The Kevin Garnett-Avery Bradley combination has worked well for the Boston Celtics.
In the NBA playoffs, every possession matters as teams fight for their postseason lives and the right to advance one step closer to hoisting up the Larry O'Brien Trophy. For that reason, coaches are more focused than ever on playing the right lineups.
The best statistical lineups aren't always the ones that you'd expect. They aren't necessarily the most valuable ones, either, because there's usually a tradeoff between efficiency and volume. A lot of the most valuable lineups fell just short of a featured spot here but have spent far more time on the court.
The ones you'll see have the highest net ratings (NetRtg) for their respective teams, meaning that they outscored their opponents by the most points per 100 possessions.
Due to the relative lack of data, we're going to be working with three-man lineups here, not five-man ones.
As I'll be discussing both regular-season and postseason lineups, the five-man ones haven't played enough minutes to avoid the conundrums of small sample sizes. Sample size still plays a major role here, but by limiting qualified combos to those that have played either 200 minutes in the regular season or 40 in the postseason, I'm taking some of the true outliers out of the equation.
Before you go on, I'd encourage you to try guessing which three-man lineup has served your favorite team best. See if you can get it right, although I bet you'll be surprised when you see the answer.
Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, are current through Wednesday, May 1 and come from the statistical databases of NBA.com. If you're looking for more information on the advanced stats used, check out these primers: comprehensive stats, offensive stats and defensive stats.
Best Regular-Season Lineup: Devin Harris, Kyle Korver, Al Horford
Time Together: 45 games played, 576 minutes
Stats: 109.3 OffRtg, 96.1 DefRtg, 13.2 NetRtg
Believe it or not, Kyle Korver is the only member of the Atlanta Hawks in each of the top three triumvirates during the regular season. You have to go all the way down to No. 4 in order to find Josh Smith, Al Horford was only present in two of the top three (and four of the top five), and Jeff Teague found himself in just two of the five best lineups.
While Devin Harris, Korver and Horford struggle to hang with their opponents on the boards, they all swing the ball around quite well. No three-man lineup produced a higher assist percentage for Atlanta than this one's 22.0.
Best Postseason Lineup: Devin Harris, Kyle Korver, Josh Smith
Time Together: Five games played, 76 minutes
Stats: 113.8 OffRtg, 102.2 DefRtg, 11.6 NetRtg
Somewhat surprisingly, it's Devin Harris emerging at point guard instead of Jeff Teague once more.
Only five three-man lineups had positive NetRtgs for the Hawks through the first five games of the series with the Indiana Pacers, and the stellar offense played by this trio pushed them to the top of the pile. The only lineup that's come close to matching this offensive efficiency was the Korver-Smith-Horford pairing.
Smith in particular has played great basketball during the postseason. He's still jacking up too many long-range two-pointers, but he's also attacking the basket and posting up with much greater frequency.
Best Regular-Season Lineup: Courtney Lee, Jared Sullinger, Kevin Garnett
Time Together: 40 games played, 280 minutes
Stats: 110.1 OffRtg, 90.3 DefRtg, 19.8 NetRtg
This is quite the throwback lineup, since Jared Sullinger had his season-ending surgery a long time ago and Courtney Lee has been so invisible in the postseason that you might confuse him for a titular Ralph Ellison character.
However, with Sullinger healthy and Lee effective, it was nearly impossible to score on this trio. With Kevin Garnett holding down the paint, the Boston Celtics allowed only 90.3 points per 100 possessions.
The rookie from Ohio State showed off his rebounding chops, and the C's played as slowly as possible, forcing opponents to play playoff-style basketball and grind out every possession. This trio used just 88.48 possessions per 48 minutes, which falls in well below Boston's team average of 93.98.
Best Postseason Lineup: Avery Bradley, Jason Terry, Kevin Garnett
Time Together: Five games played, 60 minutes
Stats: 97.6 OffRtg, 87.1 DefRtg, 10.5 NetRtg
The Bradley-Terry-Garnett trio's 10.5 NetRtg is nearly double the second-place mark produced by the Celtics during the postseason. Brandon Bass, Bradley and Terry checked in at 5.3.
Boston has consistently found success while slowing down the pace of the game, and no group has done so better than this one. Keeping the New York Knicks from scoring in transition is vital, as is limiting their number of opportunities.
This group has averaged 83.06 possessions per 48 minutes, and they've created extra ones by attacking the offensive boards with a fury.
Best Regular-Season Lineup: C.J. Watson, Joe Johnson, Reggie Evans
Time Together: 54 games played, 323 minutes
Stats: 114.0 OffRtg, 94.8 DefRtg, 19.2 NetRtg
What do you get when you put together solid point guard play from C.J. Watson, great defense and isolation scoring from Joe Johnson and constant energy on the boards in the form of Reggie Evans?
You get the best statistical lineup from the Brooklyn Nets' regular season.
When these three players were on the court at the same time, they stuck to their roles. And it worked fantastically.
The trio was deadly on both ends of the court, but they truly excelled on the glass. Their offensive rebounding percentage, defensive rebounding percentage and total rebounding percentage—40.4, 75.8 and 58.3, respectively—blew away the team averages.
Best Postseason Lineup: C.J. Watson, Deron Williams, Brook Lopez
Time Together: Five games played, 47 minutes
Stats: 112.2 OffRtg, 95.4 DefRtg, 16.9 NetRtg
Rolling with two point guards has worked quite well for P.J. Carlesimo during the Nets' first-round clash with the Chicago Bulls. Thanks to Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich's injuries, Deron Williams and C.J. Watson have been able to take advantage of the Bulls' weakened backcourt.
Plus, Brook Lopez has been fantastic. It's tough enough for a healthy Joakim Noah to slow down the league's best scoring center, but an injured one hasn't stood much of a chance.
Maximizing the assists and minimizing the turnovers has worked out quite well for these Nets. Everyone tries to apply that strategy, but few are actually able to do it this well.
Best Regular-Season Lineup: Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson
Time Together: 43 games played, 264 minutes
Stats: 113.1 OffRtg, 96.3 DefRtg, 16.8 NetRtg
Somewhat surprisingly, this lineup excelled because it worked so well on offense. Luol Deng and Taj Gibson are great defenders, and Kirk Hinrich is an underrated one, but they've thrived more on the glamorous end of the court.
The Hinrich-Deng-Gibson combo has allowed—on average—four fewer points per 100 possessions than the Chicago Bulls as a whole, but they've also scored an extra 12.7.
How have they done it?
It's all about the passing. Only two trios have a higher percentage of assisted field goals: Hinrich-Rip Hamilton-Carlos Boozer and Hinrich-Hamilton-Deng.
Best Postseason Lineup: Nate Robinson, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer
Time Together: Five games played, 89 minutes
Stats: 116.2 OffRtg, 106.9 DefRtg, 9.2 NetRtg
Something tells me that Nate Robinson's fourth-quarter explosion seriously skewed this trio's numbers in the positive direction.
Luol Deng has also been a consistent playoff performer for Tom Thibodeau, although he's failed to capture as many headlines as his teammates. The small forward is the one who's been present in each of the four best three-man lineups thus far.
Seeing as there are only five with positive NetRtgs, that's not so shabby.
Best Regular-Season Lineup: Andre Miller, Danilo Gallinari, Kosta Koufos
Time Together: 52 games played, 303 minutes
Stats: 117.2 OffRtg, 100.0 DefRtg, 17.2 NetRtg
I have to apologize to Denver Nuggets fans here, because I have no choice but to remind them just how great they were with Danilo Gallinari in the lineup. The team was surging before he tore his ACL, and it's hard to think they'd have failed to advance into the second round by now if the Italian forward were still healthy.
As for the other two guys in this trio, sometimes being steady and unspectacular gets the job done. This was one of the slowest and most careful lineups that George Karl employed on a regular basis.
It was also the most effective.
Best Postseason Lineup: Corey Brewer, Andre Iguodala, Wilson Chandler
Time Together: Five games played, 49 minutes
Stats: 121.0 OffRtg, 103.9 DefRtg, 17.0 NetRtg
This isn't the most traditional way to use wing players, but throwing out three at a time has worked well for the Denver Nuggets.
The extra size and length that Corey Brewer, Andre Iguodala and Wilson Chandler bring to the table has enabled them to close out on the Golden State Warriors' three-point shooters. It's also helped rather dramatically on the defensive glass.
This triumvirate has pulled down 80 percent of the available defensive rebounds when they're on the court, a number that's well above the team's 74.5 percent average.
Best Regular-Season Lineup: Jarrett Jack, Stephen Curry, Andrew Bogut
Time Together: 28 games played, 267 minutes
Stats: 110.9 OffRtg, 103.3 DefRtg, 7.6 NetRtg
The Golden State Warriors were at their best when Andrew Bogut was on the court. Unfortunately for the Dubs, though, Bogut's health kept him in suits for far too long.
Bogut was an integral part of Golden State's most effective lineup (the one featured here), and he also joined Jarrett Jack and David Lee in the second-best one.
His presence in the paint opened things up for the guards out on the perimeter, which explains why a lineup with two floor generals came out on top.
Best Postseason Lineup: Jarrett Jack, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green
Time Together: Five games played, 41 minutes
Stats: 128.4 OffRtg, 95.4 DefRtg, 33.0 NetRtg
Remember when Andre Miller got by Draymond Green for a game-winning layup? That shot spoke volumes about Miller's confidence, but also Mark Jackson's feelings toward his rookie forward.
The Michigan State product was put in a tough situation during that play, but he's already established himself as a fantastic and trustworthy defensive player. He's able to mask Jarrett Jack's defensive shortcomings, as is Klay Thompson.
This is a small lineup, but it's been an effective one across the board. Amazingly enough, the Dubs have rebounded the ball most effectively when Jack, Thompson and Green are all on the court.
Best Regular-Season Lineup: Patrick Beverly, Carlos Delfino, Chandler Parsons
Time Together: 30 games played, 225 minutes
Stats: 110.0 OffRtg, 96.3 DefRtg, 13.7 NetRtg
Apparently James Harden's defensive shortcomings were a much bigger deal than people are willing to admit. To find the bearded shooting guard in one of the best three-man lineups, you have to go all the way down to No. 6, and he's only present in two of the top 10 entries.
This lineup, however, was boosted to the top of the bunch because it thrived when stopping the opposing team from putting up points.
Patrick Beverly, Carlos Delfino and Chandler Parsons combined to allow 96.3 points per 100 possessions, which was a better mark than that produced by any of the other three-man lineups Kevin McHale used in 2012-13.
Best Postseason Lineup: James Harden, Francisco Garcia, Chandler Parsons
Time Together: Three games played, 74 minutes
Stats: 119.2 OffRtg, 107.1 DefRtg, 12.1 NetRtg
Harden's defense hasn't gotten much better during the postseason, but he's created so much offense that the Houston Rockets have still been most successful when he's on the court.
The 2-guard has thrived driving to the basket. Both finishing plays and drawing contract have garnered positive results thus far, and he's also been quite effective kicking the ball out to three-point shooters.
Francisco Garcia and Chandler Parsons are both great snipers, and they've camped out in the corners when Harden is on the court against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Best Regular-Season Lineup: Lance Stephenson, Tyler Hansbrough, Roy Hibbert
Time Together: 44 games played, 239 minutes
Stats: 106.6 OffRtg, 88.4 DefRtg, 18.1 NetRtg
Lance Stephenson has been remarkably underappreciated during the 2012-13 season. Paul George, Roy Hibbert and George Hill get most of the attention for the Indiana Pacers, but Stephenson has been one of the more valuable players on the team.
Just take a look at the three-man lineups they found themselves in.
Stephenson was in each of the eight best lineups. George was only in half of the 10 top trios and was conspicuously absent from each of the two best.
Meanwhile, Hill and Hibbert found themselves in just five and three of the top 10, respectively.
Best Postseason Lineup: George Hill, Lance Stephenson, Roy Hibbert
Time Together: Five games played, 116 minutes
Stats: 114.6 OffRtg, 90.3 DefRtg, 24.3 NetRtg
Stephenson is present in the postseason's top lineup as well. In fact, he's in the second-best one, too.
This time, though, he's joined by George Hill and Hibbert, who has found his offense and started to absolutely obliterate the Atlanta Hawks frontcourt. Despite the reputations of these three players, all of whom are better defensively than offensively, they've excelled at putting up points.
Only the Paul George, David West and Hibbert combo has scored at a higher rate, and they've still only been marginally better on offense.
Best Regular-Season Lineup: Jamal Crawford, Lamar Odom, Ryan Hollins
Time Together: 39 games played, 319 minutes
Stats: 110.8 OffRtg, 91.1 DefRtg, 19.7 NetRtg
All season long, we spent time touting the Los Angeles Clippers' bench, hyping just how deep this roster was. Well, you can see that here, as the top three-man lineup is comprised solely of players who begin the game on the pine.
Between Jamal Crawford's offensive prowess, Lamar Odom's versatility and Ryan Hollins' athleticism, the Clippers performed admirably when this trio stepped onto the hardwood.
Plus, despite the need to hide Crawford on defense, this combo dominated defensively as well. Only four trios held opponents to fewer points per 100 possessions.
Best Postseason Lineup: Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes
Time Together: Five games played, 68 minutes
Stats: 111.3 OffRtg, 103.6 DefRtg, 7.7 NetRtg
The Memphis Grizzlies have torched the Los Angeles Clippers starters. Chris Paul is no exception, as he's had quite a bit of trouble navigating pick-and-roll sets when Mike Conley has the ball in his hands.
If you're surprised that CP3—undeniably L.A.'s best player—wasn't present in either the best regular-season or postseason lineup, trust me, I was too.
Instead, Eric Bledsoe's constant peskiness earned him a spot alongside Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes.
Best Regular-Season Lineup: Jodie Meeks, Metta World Peace, Antawn Jamison
Time Together: 44 games played, 261 minutes
Stats: 113.5 OffRtg, 96.7 DefRtg, 16.8 NetRtg
There was so much three-point shooting when this trio was on the court together.
Jodie Meeks, Metta World Peace and Antawn Jamison always love firing away from downtown, and the time they spent together proved to be no exception.
With this trio suited up, the Lakers took 29.8 thee-pointers per 48 minutes. Among qualified combos, only Meeks, World Peace and Kobe Bryant took more. However, the group that included Kobe shot 8.4 percent worse from behind the three-point arc. Despite shooting an extra 1.3 triples per 48 minutes, they made two less.
Meeks, World Peace and Jamison also played solid defense, but their three-point shooting definitely stands out above every other aspect of the game.
Best Postseason Lineup: Steve Nash, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol
Time Together: Two games played, 50 minutes
Stats: 95.2 OffRtg, 90.6 DefRtg, 4.6 NetRtg
You know why the Los Angeles Lakers were dead in the water once Steve Nash was unable to play? He was one of the few players who was able to make a consistently positive impact during the team's playoff series against the San Antonio Spurs.
Each of the top five three-man lineups employed by the Lakers in the postseason featured Nash. And since the one displayed up above is the only one with a positive NetRtg, that's problematic.
Ten different lineups played at least 40 minutes during the first-round sweep, and nine were outscored by the Spurs. At the very bottom was the trio featuring Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard and Darius Morris, one that was outscored by 35.5 points per 100 possessions.
Best Regular-Season Lineup: Jerryd Bayless, Mike Conley, Tayshaun Prince
Time Together: 32 games played, 277 minutes
Stats: 116.3 OffRtg, 99.8 DefRtg, 16.6 NetRtg
When Jerryd Bayless, Mike Conley and Tayshaun Prince were all on the court together, they didn't rebound the ball particularly well. The trio's 51.9 total rebounding percentage was below the Memphis Grizzlies' average mark of 52.2.
However, they shot the ball incredibly effectively. All three of these players thrive creating offense, and create offense they did.
Despite playing at a faster pace than normal, Bayless, Conley and Prince helped the Grizzlies post effective field-goal percentages and true shooting percentages of 52.5 and 58.4, respectively. Not only do those shatter Memphis' average marks, but they're each third among all qualified three-man lineups employed by Lionel Hollins.
Best Postseason Lineup: Mike Conley, Quincy Pondexter, Marc Gasol
Time Together: Five games played, 44 minutes
Stats: 114.8 OffRtg, 85.3 DefRtg, 29.5 NetRtg
If you want to score against the Memphis Grizzlies during the postseason, you'd better try to do so when Mike Conley, Quincy Pondexter and Marc Gasol aren't all on the court together.
Throughout the first-round series with the Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis has allowed 103.4 points per 100 possessions. When this trio is on the court, though, that number drops to a ridiculous 85.3. Each of the three has excelled in his respective role.
Additionally, no group of three players has managed to score more points per 100 possessions for Memphis than this one. Talk about an outburst of great play from Pondexter.
Best Regular-Season Lineup: Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade, Shane Battier
Time Together: 52 games played, 454 minutes
Stats: 119.6 OffRtg, 96.3 DefRtg, 23.2 NetRtg
No LeBron James in the Miami Heat's best statistical three-man lineup? What?
Fear not, as the league's best player was in six of the next seven best combos for the defending champions. It's not like he wasn't valuable for the team with the best record in the NBA, either. In fact, Miami outscored opponents by 14.1 points per 100 possessions when James played.
However, this combo reigned supreme. The pairing of Dwyane Wade's slashing and the three-point shooting of Mario Chalmers and Shane Battier allowed Miami's offense to border on unstoppable.
Among all qualified three-man lineups used by playoff teams, this one had the highest NetRtg.
If you're curious, James, Wade and Chris Bosh produced a 13.4 NetRtg while playing more minutes than any other trio.
Best Postseason Lineup: Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Chris Andersen
Time Together: Four games played, 59 minutes
Stats: 123.2 OffRtg, 83.5 DefRtg, 39.6 NetRtg
Three-point shooting and rebounding: That's what this lineup is all about, with a little bit of defense sprinkled in thanks to Shane Battier and Chris Andersen.
Again, it's somewhat of a shock that LeBron James isn't present in the top lineup, but the backups have truly performed admirably against the Milwaukee Bucks. In fact, they had the highest NetRtg out of every single qualified three-man lineup playing in the postseason.
Then again, everyone has played well in this series.
Udonis Haslem, James and Dwyane Wade formed the worst trio against the Bucks, and they still managed to outscore their opponents by 5.8 points per 100 possessions.
Best Regular-Season Lineup: Monta Ellis, J.J. Redick, Larry Sanders
Time Together: 24 games played, 240 minutes
Stats: 114.9 OffRtg, 101.5 DefRtg, 13.3 NetRtg
No Milwaukee Bucks lineup could match the scoring prowess of Monta Ellis, J.J. Redick and Larry Sanders. These three complemented each other perfectly, and it's a shame they weren't able to play more minutes together.
Sanders held down the fort on the inside, finishing plays around the basket and crashing the boards. Ellis' slashing opened things up even more, and Redick was there to spot up on the perimeter and wreak havoc with his shooting ability.
Plus, Sanders' rim-protecting skills were able to negate the porous defense played by the two guards.
Best Postseason Lineup: Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis, Luc Mbah a Moute
Time Together: Four games played, 84 minutes
Stats: 97.6 OffRtg, 105.6 DefRtg, Minus-7.9 NetRtg
If you're looking for a great way to express just how thoroughly the Miami Heat manhandled the Milwaukee Bucks, look no further than the NetRtg of Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis and Luc Mbah a Moute.
No three-man lineup produced a better one, and this group was well below breaking even. Milwaukee was just completely outmatched.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Ellis, Mbah a Moute and Sanders finished last among Milwaukee's trios, posting a minus-19.1 NetRtg.
Best Regular-Season Lineup: Pablo Prigioni, J.R. Smith, Tyson Chandler
Time Together: 45 games played, 229 minutes
Stats: 117.1 OffRtg, 96.9 DefRtg, 20.2 NetRtg
This lineup might not be the one you expected to see, most likely because a certain scoring champion isn't present, but it thrived for two reasons: defense and rebounding.
We all know just how good Tyson Chandler is on the defensive end of the court, but J.R. Smith's point-stopping efforts often get overshadowed by his scoring output. The Sixth Man of the Year is more than capable out on the perimeter.
As a whole, this trio allowed 96.9 points per 100 possessions, a number more impressive than that produced by any other three-man lineup used by the New York Knicks.
Additionally, this was the second-best lineup in terms of total rebounding percentage, falling shy of only Chandler, Smith and Amar'e Stoudemire.
Best Postseason Lineup: Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni, Iman Shumpert
Time Together: Four games played, 51 minutes
Stats: 98.6 OffRtg, 69.9 DefRtg, 28.7 NetRtg
If you think you're going to score on this lineup, think again. Well, think again if you're a member of the Boston Celtics' organization, at least.
In the first five games of this competitive first-round series, Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni and Iman Shumpert have held the C's to an insane 69.9 points per 100 possessions. That's just absolutely ridiculous.
Felton in particular has been playing fantastic basketball, and he's the driving force behind keeping the offense strong enough that the defense is as valuable as possible.
Best Regular-Season Lineup: Kevin Martin, Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant
Time Together: 55 games played, 353 minutes
Stats: 119.7 OffRtg, 101.8 DefRtg, 18.0 NetRtg
Playing two shooting guards alongside Kevin Durant worked out well for Scott Brooks and the Oklahoma City Thunder during the regular season.
Kevin Martin's offense and Thabo Sefolosha's defense complement each other perfectly, and the presence of that duo on the court allows Durant to take over as both the primary scorer and the leading facilitator.
This trio might not have prevented points all that effectively, but it couldn't be stopped on offense thanks to a lot of second-chance opportunities and remarkably efficient shooting.
Best Postseason Lineup: Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Kendrick Perkins
Time Together: Two games played, 42 minutes
Stats: 106.5 OffRtg, 72.9 DefRtg, 33.6 NetRtg
Sorry, Thunder fans.
Russell Westbrook was a part of your top postseason lineup, so it's one that will be awfully hard to duplicate throughout the rest of the playoffs.
The Durant-Westbrook combination is deadly, and the defense is incredible with Kendrick Perkins playing the part of the landlord in the paint. Each of the Thunder's superstars took strides forward on defense, and they can hold their own even without knowing that a rim-protector is going to work behind them.
Only the Miami Heat has put together a postseason trio more effective than this one.
Best Regular-Season Lineup: Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Boris Diaw
Time Together: 48 games played, 382 minutes
Stats: 111.7 OffRtg, 93.8 DefRtg, 18.0 NetRtg
It should come as no surprise that the San Antonio Spurs' top regular-season lineup seems like a random collection of players just thrown together.
A quote from Grantland's Mark Titus stands out in my mind:
But he [Danny Green] is a starter who scores double digits for a team that figures to be the Western Conference favorite now that Russell Westbrook is injured. That's something that can only be said by … well … every Spurs starter. Actually, I think that explains Green's path to NBA success perfectly — he's on the Spurs. If the Spurs were to sign Tim Tebow now that the Jets have released him, they'd probably turn him into an All-Star.
There were actually nine three-man units that came within three points per 100 possessions of the top spot. That shouldn't surprise you, either.
Best Postseason Lineup: Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard, Matt Bonner
Time Together: Four games played, 54 minutes
Stats: 119.3 OffRtg, 89.7 DefRtg, 29.6 NetRtg
When I look back on the San Antonio Spurs' first-round sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers, I'll remember it as the Matt Bonner series.
The "Red Rocket" consistently outpaced the expectations. He shot 55.6 percent from the field, including a sparkling 75 percent from downtown. But nothing, not even his 16.0 PER, stood out more than the lefty floater he hit over the outstretched arms of Dwight Howard.
Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard both played brilliant basketball over the course of those four games, but this was all about Bonner.