Stanford has a diverse set of frontcourt players. Seven-footer Brook Lopez is the primary offensive option. Robin Lopez is considered more of a defensive force. Lawrence Hill is a former all-conference selection who will swing between the small and power forward positions. Fred Washington plays mostly small forward and will often guard the opponents' best perimeter threat. Taj Finger is a veteran who gives gritty minutes off the bench. How does Coach Trent Johnson best combine these players on the floor? This article analyzes the play-by-play books available from gostanford.com and opponents' official web sites to try to answer this question.
Only games from after Brook Lopez returned from academic suspension are used. First, the rotation from prior to his return is not representative of the current rotation. Second, the quality of the opposition has changed from before his return. In addition, substitution information was not available on the play by play books available on the web for the Santa Clara, Fresno State, UCLA, USC, and Arizona home games. In the 12 games used, a total of approximately 707 possessions were counted.
First, let's look at the team's efficiency ratings (points per 100 possessions) while each of the five players is on the court and off the court:
|On Court Possessions||On Court||Off Court|
|Player||Offense||Defense||Offense Rating||Defense Rating||Offense Rating||Defense Rating|
As expected, the team is better with Brook Lopez on the floor, the team's offense is better with Lawrence Hill playing, and the team's defense is better with Fred Washington in the lineup. There is a drop-off with Taj Finger playing, but more on the offensive end then the defensive end. The surprising result is Robin Lopez. There is a drastic improvement on offense with Robin on the floor and the on-court defensive rating is worse for him than any other member of the front court. On offense, the following table shows that Robin enhances the Brook focused offense. On the flip side, the defense is best when only Brook Lopez is on the court:
|On Court Possessions||Efficiency Rating|
However, it is important to also look at which teammates the Lopez twins play alongside with. Mostly, the five players will fill the three frontcourt positions, but Washington will also play in the backcourt alongside three of the above mentioned four big men (Lopez, Lopez, Hill, and Finger do not appear on the court together). The following table shows the efficiency ratings of different three-man front court combinations along with three combinations when Washington is in the backcourt:
|On Court Possessions||Efficiency Rating|
The most frequent single Lopez lineup is Brook at the center, Hill at power forward, and Washington at small forward. This combination has the best defensive rating on the table, but one of the lower offensive ratings. Robin Lopez has only played with Hill and Washington at the forward spots for about 14 possessions in the collected data, which appears to be a major reason Robin's offensive and defensive ratings are relatively high. Also, in the few possessions he has played alongside Finger and Hill without Washington, there has been a lot of scoring on both ends.
The use of Lawrence Hill also makes a big difference to both offensive and defensive ratings. As mentioned above, the defense improves with Hill at power forward, while the offense worsens. However, Hill has played power forward without Washington at small forward on only 20 possessions so this effect is probably more related to the presence of Washington, a good defender but not an outside shooting threat. Stanford may want to experiment with other small forward options along with Hill at power forward to see if more offense can be generated without sacrificing too much defense. For example, the data has Landry Fields only playing small forward on about 20 possessions alongside Hill at power forward.
For combinations with more than 30 offensive possessions, the best offensive combination is Hill playing small forward alongside the Lopez twins. However, Hill has difficulty guarding small forwards and Stanford has been better off sacrificing some offense to install the stifling defensive combination of Washington on the perimeter with the Lopez twins in the middle. One effective combination with Hill playing small forward is to have Taj Finger at power forward and Brook Lopez at center. In this lineup, Finger often will guard the better opposing offensive forward and the combination of Brook on the inside and Hill on the outside is effective offensively.
The challenge for the coaching staff in rotating its big men is that the players are not interchangeable. The staff needs to put together players whose abilities complement each other. The recent rotation of starting the Lopez twins and Fred Washington and then bringing Lawrence Hill off the bench is consistent with this strategy if Hill comes in for Robin Lopez. Hill should only slide over to small forward when Finger enters the game.
The other non-interchangable part is Brook Lopez. Who should Robin play with when Brook is on the bench? Playing Robin with Finger and Washington is a good defensive lineup, which should hold down the fort until Brook checks back in. If more offense is needed, the data show no obvious answers. Playing Hill at power forward alongside Robin Lopez should probably get more run to see how it works. In any case, Stanford fans will want Brook Lopez to check back in as quickly as possible.