Dear Coach Lorenzo Romar,
Here are some personnel combinations I think would help the Huskies.
Venoy Overton at the 1, Justin Holiday at the 2
Would the opposing team ever get their offense started? Holiday's quicks, length, and smarts on D will enable him to completely deny the ball to the 2. That will leave the opposing PG to attempt to initiate the offense against Venoy's man-pressure with no outlet to the second ball-handler.
Overton 1, Holiday 2, + Quincy Pondexter and Matthew Bryan-Amaning
I'd love to see Overton run the ball up the back of the defense more often. He must be one of the fastest players in the country end to end with the ball; I suspect that even the best teams in transition D will consistently struggle to counter that.
QPon, Holiday, and MBA combine to make excellent trailers, frequently generating second and third-chance opportunities if Overton misses.
They comprise the defensive combo most productive at generating turnovers and are the most potent at running the break once they do so.
I truly believe that if the Huskies are to generate TOs and offensive rebounds at the rate you are looking for, it will be with this combination.
Isaiah Thomas paired with Scott Suggs or Holiday, not Overton or Abdul Gaddy
This isn't a criticism of any particular player, but of combinations of skill sets. None of the three point guards is an effective 2—Overton has limited scoring skills in half-court sets; Gaddy has scoring skills that are effective as a balance to his pure-point skills but does not put enough pressure on the D to open up space for Thomas; and Isaiah is more effective—by far—when the ball starts in his hands.
The consequence is that none of the three puts much pressure on the D in half-court sets without the ball in his hands, leaving the PG with the ball with a packed defense.
Nor is the two-point guard lineup an effective defensive tandem. While they used their quickness to generate turnovers against teams with slower guards such as Stanford and WSU, they are not athletically dominant enough to have done the same against teams such as Oregon or USC.
If defense is the objective, Holiday is the best option. I have written elsewhere that he is one of the most potent wing defenders in the country, with an offensive game that is more productive for the 2 than either Overton or Gaddy.
If offense is the consideration, I believe Suggs is by far the best option at the 2. Suggs has repeatedly shown himself to be an effective three-point marksman. His presence forces the D to expand, opening up space for Thomas. If the defense sags inward to cover Isaiah, Suggs is the one 2 who can make them pay by adding three points to the Dawgs' scoreboard.
That is a highly valuable skill set with a scorer like Thomas, and especially with a pair of scorers like Thomas and Q-Pon.
Holiday has been, I believe, as or more productive an offensive player in the half-court than either Gaddy or Overton. He facilitates the offense by making smart and accurate passes and moving well without the ball, and he creates numerous second-chance opportunities on the boards.
However, what sets him apart as an option at the 2 is his defense. As noted above, his physical skills and basketball IQ make him a shutdown defender on the wing. He can completely deny the ball to the opposing SG or roam and create havoc while still effectively covering his man on the wing.
The turnovers, loose balls, and offensive rebounds he generates are of tremendous value offensively, leading me to believe that he and Suggs are the two most effective options at the 2.
Players I'd like to see getting significantly less playing time
I want to preface this by emphasizing that the following is not a criticism of these young men as people, nor of their effort, dedication to the team, or even their game in the future.
Building a lineup is not about absolute talent, but the combinations of skill sets and actors that give the team the best chance to win. I believe that this season, Gaddy rarely fits into that equation.
He is the third best PG on the team; he is not an effective enough scorer at the 2 to take pressure off Thomas; although he is a physically gifted and smart defender, he is not nearly as effective at that position as Holiday would be.
Although Gaddy is a talented, dedicated player, I believe that his minutes would be more beneficial to the team if played by Suggs and Holiday, who offer skill sets and decision-making that are very different from Overton and Thomas'.
In fairness, his minutes have diminished markedly recently. For the team, this year, I think that's a good thing.
Despite his imposing frame, he just simply hasn't produced. He has not contributed at all offensively, and he has not rebounded nor defended well enough to justify taking minutes from MBA, Tyreese Breshers, or Holiday.
A combination I never want to see
Gant and Overton
Overton is a player worth having on the court. He is one of the fastest in the country end to end with the ball; he plays intense man D; and his junior leadership is vital to the team's success.
However, he has generated very limited productivity in the half-court. He has been inaccurate with his passes and has often made poor decisions as to where to direct them. He has been unable to score or make a productive pass once he gets in the lane. His contribution has been limited to the occasional open three.
He is absolutely worth having out on the floor, but pairing him with Gant leaves two offensively useless players on the court simultaneously, putting FAR, FAR too much pressure on the other three players on the court.
A lot of Holiday at the 2. He is a game-changing defender. The guard combinations played thus far have been unable to generate turnovers against half of the teams in the Pac-10; Holiday would change that in a big way. His offensive game in the half-court is as or more effective for the 2 spot as either Overton or Gaddy.
Lots of Overton running up the opposition's back with Holiday and Pondexter trailing.
It is worth noting that the combos suggested above would likely lead to a slight reduction in minutes for Thomas—down to 25, perhaps. While this seems counterintuitive at first, I think that, realistically, it makes sense. His game is built on movement—driving to the basket, especially. Fresher legs and more energy likely would mean an even more dynamic Isaiah Thomas.
Coach, during your tenure, the Dawgs have always been at their best when effectively generating turnovers and second-chance opportunities and putting pressure on the defense in transition. I believe that Holiday at the 2 changes the entire dynamic of the lineup and of the game. I think that Suggs, as often as he can be put in, frees up a tremendous amount of space for Thomas and QPon to put pressure on the defense.