Head coaches in the NBA can have a major impact on their team's performance. Aside from establishing a defensive scheme, probably the biggest task that coaches face is finding their team's best lineup.
It's often not as simple as it sounds. Putting the five best players on the court at the same time doesn't always work out. The talents have to mesh and complement each other properly.
Finding that top lineup can take some time, especially for a coach who is taking over a new team. Doc Rivers has been accustomed to relying on the same core for years in Boston, but finding that with the Los Angeles Clippers may be a little tougher.
With a few viable options off the bench, Rivers will have to experiment during the season to find which groups play best with one another.
What will the Clippers' ideal five-man lineup look like? Let's start from the core and work our way out.
A Different Big Three
Despite his best efforts—"It'd have been easier," Rivers told Howard Beck of Bleacher/Report—Rivers wasn't able to bring over a few of the key components from his title team in Boston. That familiarity with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce is missed, but fortunately, the Clippers core of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan have plenty of experience playing with each other.
The chemistry between those three players showed in the lineup data last season.
The Clippers had 17 lineups play more than 50 minutes together last year. When you rank those lineups by net efficiency ranking (offensive efficiency subtracted by defensive efficiency), the Clippers' top three lineups all featured Paul, Griffin and Jordan.
They played 1,554 minutes together last year. With those three on the floor, LA posted an offensive efficiency mark of 113.4, a number that would easily be tops in the league this year. The plus-9.9 net rating of that group is equally impressive.
Although Vinny Del Negro didn't always see it this way, the Clippers are at their best when Jordan shares the floor with Paul and Griffin. Given the lack of depth in the Clippers frontcourt and Paul's status as the league's best point guard, these three players are a must in the top lineup.
Tops This Year
You can safely throw J.J. Redick into that core as well. His spot-up shooting and underrated defense and penetration abilities have been a perfect match next to Paul in the backcourt.
Losing him to a hand injury hurt, mostly because the Clippers' starting lineup of Paul-Redick-Jared Dudley-Griffin-Jordan was the most frequently used one so far this season.
That group was working, too. The starters have posted a strong net rating of plus-7.8 in 290 minutes this year, led by an explosive offense.
Another lineup, however, may give Rivers some pause when deciding who should close out games.
Bring in Jamal Crawford for Dudley, and that five-man group has a plus-11 net rating and an absolutely absurd offensive efficiency of 119.4. That's what can happen when you put so many capable scorers next to Paul. It's important to note that Crawford shot a substantially higher percentage when he played next to Paul than without him.
The lineup of Paul-Redick-Crawford-Griffin-Jordan has only 53 minutes together, and there are obvious challenges defensively with that group. Neither Redick nor Crawford has the size or length to guard small forwards, so this group is largely dependent on matchups.
Go small against the Clippers at your own risk.
So who should be the fifth player to join Paul, Redick, Griffin and Jordan? Is it Crawford or Dudley? The answer may be neither.
Matt Barnes has struggled with injuries all year, but he may be the missing piece to the Clippers' ideal lineup.
Although the sample size this year is limited, Barnes has provided the defense, length, rebounding and off-the-ball cutting that are often missed with Crawford and Dudley.
So far this season, the Clippers have a net rating of plus-25.5 with Paul-Crawford-Barnes-Griffin-Jordan and plus-21.1 with Redick swapped in for Crawford. Those are huge differentials, even if the sample size is tiny.
Luckily, we have a slightly bigger sample size to draw upon from last year.
Maybe you wouldn't expect this given all the options the Clippers had last year, but Barnes played in four of the Clippers' top five lineups in net rating last season (minimum 50 minutes). Good things happen when he's on the floor.
Rivers will have the ability to play matchups when he's working with a full deck, but don't be surprised if Barnes is a part of the Clippers' best lineup once again this season.
All stats accurate as of December 11. Data from NBA.com was used in this post.