What's the best Friar lineup?

Once it became clear this winter that Kris Dunn would be a star running mate to LaDontae Henton, the big question on the mind of most Friars fans has been, Who fits best alongside them? The other seven primary rotation players -- sorry, Teddy B. -- have all had their chances, but it’s not yet obvious which combinations will work best from game to game.

To answer this question -- or at least shed some light on potential answers -- I logged six recent Friars games (each of the last eight games except for the blowouts at DePaul and Villanova). This creates a sample of about 400 possessions on offense and the same on defense. It’s not a huge sample, but it’s enough to hint at conclusions.

How five-man units perform:

I’ve culled out the seven most common five-man lineups Ed Cooley has played in the six-game sample (at Georgetown, at Xavier, vs. Villanova, vs. Seton Hall, vs. Marquette, at Seton Hall).

Frequently-used Lineups
PG SG SF PF C %Poss
Dunn Lomomba Henton Bentil Desrosiers 19%
Dunn Lomomba Henton Bentil Chukwu 8%
Cartwright Dunn Harris Henton Chukwu 8%
Dunn Lindsey Harris Henton Chukwu 7%
Cartwright Dunn Harris Henton Desrosiers 6%
Cartwright Dunn Harris Henton Bentil 5%
Dunn Harris Henton Bentil Desrosiers 4%

The worst offensive lineup in this group -- by far -- is also the one that was long the team’s starting lineup: Dunn-Lomomba-Henton-Bentil-Desrosiers. It’s the only lineup of the seven that, at 0.96 points per possession (PPP), is scoring fewer than 1.15 PPP (PC has scored at 1.09 PPP during the sample). This lineup is far and away the most frequent one used in the sample, on the floor nearly 20 percent of the time. It bounced back Wednesday, when it was +8 while featuring for most of the second half at Seton Hall.

Frequently-used lineups at a glance
Lineup OffPoss PPP DefPoss PPP +/- EM AdjOff AdjDef AdjEM
Du-Lo-He-Be-De 77 0.96 73 0.94 +6 0.02 -0.15 0.12 -0.03
Du-Lo-He-Be-Ch 32 1.41 33 0.97 13 0.44 0.23 0.02 +0.25
Ca-Du-Ha-He-Ch 34 1.24 31 1.35 0 -0.12 0.14 -0.30 -0.16
Du-Li-Ha-He-Ch 26 1.23 26 0.88 9 0.35 0.12 0.12 +0.23
Ca-Du-Ha-He-De 26 1.15 25 1.12 2 0.03 0.11 -0.16 -0.05
Ca-Du-Ha-He-Be 20 1.25 19 1.47 -3 -0.22 0.17 -0.39 -0.22
Du-Ha-He-Be-De 15 1.33 16 1.25 0 0.08 0.22 -0.24 -0.02

Two lineups stand out offensively. The first is the “new” starting lineup that blitzed Seton Hall to start the second half Wednesday. Dunn-Lomomba-Henton-Bentil-Chukwu are scoring at 1.41-PPP clip when on the floor. It was solid offensively vs. Marquette and truly spectacular at Seton Hall (1.65), though barely saw any time in the other four games. In the limited time it’s logged, it’s been more effective than the starting lineup Cooley rolled with prior to Carson Desrosiers’ knee injury.

The other top offensive lineup has been used sparingly, in a small spurt vs. Villanova and briefly in the two Seton Hall games, and that’s Dunn-Harris-Henton-Bentil-Desrosiers. This lineup has floundered defensively, though, allowing 1.25 PPP (PC has allowed 1.04 PPP across the six-game sample).

On defense, the same Dunn-Lomomba-Henton-Bentil-Desrosiers lineup that’s struggled so much on offense (0.96 PPP) has allowed just 0.94 PPP on defense. The other top defensive lineup is the motley Dunn-Lindsey-Harris-Henton-Chukwu lineup, which has allowed just 0.88 PPP on 26 defensive possessions. The Dunn-Lomomba-Henton-Bentil-Chukwu lineup that has been so good on offense has also held its own on defense with a 0.97 PPP to make it the best all-around lineup in our sample.

It won’t surprise close observers that the four defensive lineups that have fared worse than average of these seven lineups all feature Tyler Harris, and three of the four also include Kyron Cartwright. Lineups with Cartwright, Dunn, Harris and Henton have been nearly uniformly disastrous defensively, allowing 1.47 PPP when Ben Bentil is at center, 1.35 PPP when Chukwu is at center and a more respectable 1.12 PPP when Desrosiers is at center. The Cartwright-Dunn-Harris-Henton-Bentil lineup is the only one of the seven lineups in the sample that has been outscored.

Despite having played just a bit less than Chukwu, Cartwright and even Junior Lomomba, Jalen Lindsey only appears in one of the seven most common lineups. That lineup -- Dunn-Lindsey-Harris-Henton-Chukwu -- turned around the Marquette game, outscoring MU by 17 points on just 13 possessions but was then outscored 9-0 in just a couple minutes on the floor in the first half at Seton Hall.

How players perform

I’ve attempted to determine how much each player helps or hurts a lineup, be it on offense or defense, isolating a player’s contribution within his lineups, controlling for his teammates and the quality of the opposition.

It’s darn near impossible to isolate Henton because he’s always on the floor, so on-court vs. off-court data is basically useless for him, and that’s mostly the case with Dunn as well. The goal here is to figure out what the supporting case brings.

Players at a glance
Player OffPoss PPP DefPoss PPP EM Plus/Minus AdJOff AdjDef AdjEM
Henton 394 1.10 388.5 1.04 0.06 29 0.01 0.00 0.01
Dunn 348 1.10 344.5 1.07 0.04 17 0.01 -0.02 -0.01
Bentil 241 1.09 246 1.02 0.06 10 -0.02 0.03 0.02
Harris 211 1.13 211.5 1.07 0.06 12 0.05 -0.05 0.00
Desrosiers 190 1.04 186.5 1.08 -0.04 -3 -0.05 -0.02 -0.07
Lomomba 170 1.10 174.5 0.92 0.18 26 -0.01 0.12 0.11
Cartwright 167 1.08 163.5 1.15 -0.07 -8 0.00 -0.10 -0.10
Chukwu 138 1.20 142 1.04 0.16 18 0.09 -0.02 0.07
Lindsey 129 1.00 133 1.02 -0.02 -7 -0.08 0.04 -0.04
 

Relative to their teammates, two players stand out as pluses on offense. Relative to the Friars’ average offensive performance, Chukwu and Harris have made the biggest impact of the supporting cast. Lineups with Chukwu have performed nine points better on offense than typical Friars lineups when adjusted for frequency on the floor and quality of competition. Lineups with Harris have performed five points better than average. Chukwu lineups have performed better on offense than Providence as a team has in all six games in this sample. Last night’s Seton Hall game was the first in the sample in which Harris lineups performed worse than the Friars as a whole.

On the other end of things are Lindsey and Desrosiers. Lineups with Lindsey have performed eight points worse than typical PC lineups; Desrosiers lineups have been five points worse. Most of Desrosiers’ negative offensive value is because of the game at Xavier in which PC lineups with him on the floor scored just 0.83 PPP. In that game Desrosiers was a -19, the worst single-game plus/minus of any player in the sample. Lindsey lineups were especially poor in the games vs. Georgetown and in both Seton Hall games but, as discussed earlier, were just fine on offense vs. Marquette and also at Xavier, Lindsey knocking down two 3’s in the latter game.

At the other end of the floor, Lomomba has a clear impact on the Friars’ defense. PC performs about 12 points per 100 defensive possessions better with Lomomba on the floor that an average PC lineup. Lomomba’s +18 in Wednesday’s game at Seton Hall was the second best single-game plus/minus in this sample. The other two players whose lineups perform best on defense are Lindsey (four points better than expected) and Bentil (three points better). Lindsey has had a maligned freshman season, but in PC’s two poorest defensive performances of this stretch -- vs. Villanova, at Xavier -- it was lineups including Lindsey that best held up defensively. Bentil’s defense – not to mention his offense -- were a big part of PC’s two big road comebacks against Georgetown and Seton Hall. The freshman big man’s +24 vs. Seton Hall was the best single-game plus/minus by a Friar in this six-game sample.

Best/worst single-game +/-
Player Opp Plus/Minus
Bentil at SHU 24
Lomomba at SHU 18
Dunn at SHU 16
Chukwu vs. Marq 16
Dunn vs. SHU 15
Henton at SHU 15
- - -
Cartwright at Xav -9
Cartwright vs. Nova -9
Henton at Xav -9
Lindsey at SHU -11
Lindsey at Gtown -12
Dunn at Xav -13
Desrosiers at Xav -19
 

We’ve spent time talking about the struggles on defense of lineups with Cartwright and Harris. Indeed, Cartwright lineups are 10 points per 100 possessions worse on defense than a typical PC lineup; Harris lineups are five points worse. Cartwright has the worst plus/minus in this stretch -- a -8, one point worse than Lindsey.

Conclusions

This sample is admittedly small, so I am wary of drawing sweeping conclusions. I hope to look at all Big East and postseason games after this season with an eye toward next season. As for the rest of this year, based on my data, I’d recommend Cooley use Cartwright as infrequently as possible, spotting him minutes when Dunn needs a rest or when a press is flustering Providence. For the sake of the defense, I’d recommend never playing Cartwright with Harris and always having either Chukwu or Desrosiers on the floor, no matter the lineup.

If Cooley’s struggling for offense, I’d recommend playing Harris at the 2 rather than going with a Cartwright-Dunn backcourt. As far as whether to play Lomomba or Lindsey, offensive lineups with Lindsey offer better spacing, but Lomomba mostly stays out of the way on offense (to the team’s benefit) and has proved better defensively.

Cooley has rotated lineups liberally in the first halves of games before settling on shortened second-half rotations. Those shorter rotations change from game to game, and Cooley’s ability to push the right buttons (as he did in the wins at Georgetown and Seton Hall) will be vital to the Friars going deep in their upcoming tournaments.


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