Portland Trail Blazers Head Coach Chauncey Billups may have stumbled onto something potentially unique and promising in a Nov. 14 loss to the Utah Jazz. Despite falling to 3-7, the Blazers’ starting lineup in Utah contained a new wrinkle – although it’s not the only time Billups has rolled out this five-man group.
Portland has dealt with a number of injuries through its first 10 games. Anfernee Simons, the team’s most talented offensive player, had thumb surgery after the first game of the season.
Point guard Scoot Henderson has been missing since Nov. 3, center Robert Williams III is out for the rest of the season after knee surgery and sixth man Malcolm Brogdon has been absent the Blazers’ last two-plus games with a hamstring issue.
Billups has been forced to experiment because of all those maladies, but that led to one significant change in the loss to the Jazz that could have been made a week ago.
Blazers’ newest starting 5 is one of Portland’s most dominant lineups
Billups inserted Toumani Camara into the starting five for the in-season tournament defeat in Utah. Camara officially took Matisse Thybulle’s spot at small forward, although he’d already surpassed the five-year veteran in the rotation.
The Trail Blazers’ starters against the Jazz were Skylar Mays, Shaedon Sharpe, Camara, Jerami Grant and Deandre Ayton. That group played 13 minutes together and finished the loss with an offensive rating (ORtg) of 129.6 and a defensive rating (DRtg) of 138.5 for a net rating of -8.8.
It’s not great, but the Blazers did lose by almost twice that much, and those five were only outscored by 1 point over the course of the game. (Offensive and defensive ratings are calculated per 100 possessions, while plus-minus is calculated simply by the time a player or lineup is on the court).
But how often – and how well – has that lineup played together over the course of Portland’s first 10 games?
The five of Mays, Sharpe, Camara, Grant and Ayton has been Billups’ third-most used lineup this year. The group has played 35 total minutes across six games.
The only lineups that have played more are the Blazers’ opening-night starting five of Henderson, Sharpe, Thybulle, Grant and Ayton (54 minutes in four games) and one that features Brogdon in place of Mays (40 minutes in five games).
The newest group of Trail Blazers starters is obliterating teams on the offensive end with a 125.7 ORtg and is no slouch defensively, either, with a DRtg of 108.6. Its net rating of 17.1 is the best of any Portland lineup that’s played more than 21 minutes this season.
That five is also a plus-2.8 – the best of any group that’s played together in more than three out of the 10 games.
This will hand Billups a dilemma once the Blazers’ backcourt gets healthy. Henderson will surely get the majority of point guard minutes when he returns, Simons will resume his spot in the starting lineup and Brogdon, who’s averaging 28 minutes a game this season, will likely get more run than Mays.
(For reference: That group with Brogdon in place of Mays has a net rating of 2.4, and when Henderson takes Mays’ spot, it’s a whopping -47.1.)
It’s not a bad dilemma to have, though, for a team focused on player development. Now that he knows these five have success when they’re on the floor together, Billups can mix and match more players for more development.
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