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Fantasy basketball: A look at consistency

Which 5 man lineups have played the most together?

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

We speak a lot about consistency in sports: Teams that play together over extended stretches tend to perform better as a unit, due to their familiarity with each other’s strengths and weaknesses, their predilections and habits, good and bad. This helps with spacing and with pacing, and teams begin to flow with an inner rhythm. Oklahoma City needed about 30 games before they found a consistent rhythm to their game because incorporating new players, even when they’re elites like Hoodie Melo and Paul George, still takes a minute.

So, who’s played the most together over this half season?

Let’s consider 5 man lineups that have played at least 20 games together, and average at least 10 minutes playing together. That’s 17 lineups total in the NBA. You might think that’s low for a league with 30 teams, but it’s even worse than that: Both Milwaukee and Indiana have two such 5 man lineups, so it’s really 15 teams total that have 5 man lineups that average at least 10 minutes per game over at least 20 games. Half the league satisfies. Is that low? Well, last season only 8 teams had a 5 man lineup that played in at least 40 games together and averaged at least 10 minutes together over those games (Indiana again had two lineups that satisfied). 12 such teams did it in the 2015-16 season; five teams in 2014-15; twelve in 2013-14; and, nine in 2012-13. So, if things continue apace, this would actually be the MOST consistent season, by those standards, in the past half-decade.

Speaking of MOST CONSISTENCY, the Minnesota Timberwolves have the only 5 man lineup that is averaging at least 20 minutes played per game. How does that stack up against the last five years?

NBA Teams with 5 man lineups that average 20+ minutes per game:

  • 2012-13: none
  • 2013-14: Minnesota (20.6 mins) and Indiana (20.1)
  • 2014-15: LA Clippers (20.3 mins)
  • 2015-16: none
  • 2016-17: Minnesota (21.5 mins)
  • 2017-18: Minnesota (24.4 mins, through 45 games)

So, we’re not crazy. What Thibs is doing with his players is an outlier over the recent past, which is a polite way of saying that he’s managing minutes like a maniac. You know that scene in the The Hateful Eight when Sam L. Jackson tells us how he killed Bruce Dern’s son after marching him through the freezing snow? That’s what this Timberwolves team is like. Thibs is clearly Sam Jackson. (Who the hell else would he be?) Minnesota players are the condemned man. And, the Bulls are Channing Tatum, hiding underneath the floor for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

Anyway, playing 20 minutes per game together doesn’t seem to be a requirement for anyone outside of the Twin Cities. And, Thibs ain’t calming down, neither. In the month of January, the Wolves have TWO 5 man lineups that are averaging at least twenty minutes together, and, yup, they are the most minutes and the third-most minutes. What the heck, amigo.

Speaking of minutes, guess who’s averaging the third most in the NBA this season? Still? That’s right, Mr. LeBron James. Who is playing 36.9 minutes per game on the season. Here are his minutes by month:

  • October - 4th, 37.0
  • November - 7th, 37.0
  • December - 7th, 38.1

LBJ is averaging 34 minutes in January, so far, but that’s because he “only” played 27 minutes against the, duh, Timberwolves a few games ago.

He has 12 games with at least 40 minutes played.

The two players who are averaging more minutes than he, Giannis Antetokounmpo (37.4 minutes per game) and Khris Middleton (37.1), are 23 and 26 years old, respectively. LeBron recently turned 33. The only other player who is over 30 years old in the top 20 of minutes played is Trevor Ariza (he’s 32 years old).

The Cavs are still functioning at a high level (seventh best winning percentage in the NBA, fifth in points per game, sixth in field goal percentage), but at what cost, man? I thought the Cavs were posta-be deep. Why are they playing this poor man all these minutes?

Also, they’re 22nd in rebounds. Maybe try playing some old school basketball and actually box out once in goddamn while, y’know?

For what it’s worth, the Cleveland Cavaliers are second worst in the NBA in defensive efficiency. (Sacramento is obviously the worst.) They give up more points than Phoenix. I didn’t think that was actually possible given the known physical laws of space-time. I guess you can add this Cavs team to the pile with Gamma Ray Bursts: What are they? Are they weapons or just big star farts? If the Cavs don’t make the Finals, that’s what we’ll be calling them: the Old Star Farts.

Sub-question re the Cavs: if LBJ leaves, Kevin Love would inherit the Cavs team (especially since Ty Lue would definitely get fired and the vile Dan Gilbert would definitely fire the GM, who is only there to get fired, anyway). KLove makes over $20 million a year. He makes a ton of money, but he’s not yet 30. Since his contract would (probably) be hard to move, would he accept a buyout and then go for another 5 year max contract? Remember, he was a proto-Unicorn in Minnie before LBJ traded for him. Could he go west to California and sign with either of the LA teams? Could he team up with his UCLA brother Sergeant Russell Westbrook in OKC (they’ll have cap space when PG13 and Hoodie Melo leave)? The eventual destruction of the Cavs, even if LeBron stays, is interesting when you think about all the non-LBJ players. What happens to I.T. and Iman Shumpert? Is Tristan untradeable?

Stats as of Jan. 17 2018.