Lineups That Work (And Some That Don’t)

Florida has been a team that has been subject to runs, some glorious such as the offensive barrages that saw them come back from 20+ point deficits against Alabama and Georgia, but some devastating such as the dry spells that got them into those deep holes as well as droughts against Utah State, Missouri, Baylor, Mississippi State, and Ole Miss that kept them completely out of games.

Consistency hasn’t been a calling card of this basketball team and it has made for a lot of frustration as they go through more peaks and valleys in a 40-minute game than some teams go through in a season. There are multiple contributing factors to the Gators’ inconsistency but when you look at the statistics one thing jumps out more than any other.

Lineup data.

Part of the reason the Gators have had trouble playing consistently for 40 minutes is that they have had wildly different production depending on who is on the floor together. With substitutions happening so rapidly in basketball and with their being a large amount of possible 5-man combinations it can be tough to identify which groups are playing well and who are struggling in real time but with statistics, and a solid sample size given the fact that we’re 24 games into the season can see which lineups are contributing to winning and which lineups are struggling.

Basketball is all about winning on the margins, gaining incremental advantages in multiple areas that all add up to a net positive in points for your team over your opponent. Analyzing different lineups and ensuring your players are being put in the optimum position to succeed is one of the best ways to get the most out of a team’s talent. For the Gators and their short bench due to injuries and the two redshirt players they might not have the same number of options as a team with a full complement of active players but there is still enough variation that finding the proper groupings of players matters.

To find out what lineups have been the best for the Gators and which haven’t been as good I poured over lineup data, looking at both the lineups they use most often as well as lineups that are more seldom used to see what groups are helping and which are hurting. By looking at all the possible combinations as well as the numbers those lineups have put up we can see what’s working and what’s not, which also can point towards which groupings the team can put on the floor to have the best success.

I will be using points per possession to evaluate lineups and for a reference point the Gators as a team are at 1.03 PPP offensively and 0.95 PPP defensively on the season. This can help frame what is a good lineup for the Gators as you can see if they are above or below average in each of these categories.

The Best Five (By The Numbers)

Looking at the data there is one lineup that has far surpassed any five-man group the Gators have put on the floor and if you look at games where Florida played their best basketball at the start of the SEC season this isn’t going to surprise you.

Andrew Nembhard
Noah Locke
Keyontae Johnson
Kerry Blackshear Jr.
Omar Payne

Offensive PPP: 1.45
Defensive PPP: 0.62

So, as you can see, this team is significantly better on both ends of the floor and therefore has been unquestionably the team’s best lineup. Unfortunately, they haven’t seen the floor together in five games, a curious decision and one that makes you wonder if there is something else at play that keeps this group from playing together.

Adding to this lineup’s brilliance is the fact they have a turnover percentage of only 8.5% (team average is 17.3) and they are grabbing offensive rebounds on an absurd 50% of their missed shots.

For some reason the Gators have gone away from using this lineup but I’ve written about this enough in past articles so I’ll leave it here, but if you see some of them on the court together again this season you should instantly get very, very excited.

The Current Starters

Andrew Nembhard
Noah Locke
Scottie Lewis
Keyontae Johnson
Kerry Blackshear Jr.

Offensive PPP: 1.11
Defensive PPP: 0.92

As much as I will lament the team’s optimal five not getting on the floor the current starting lineup with Scottie Lewis entering the mix in favor of Omar Payne has been pretty good, though the numbers aren’t drastically better than Florida’s team average. It’s definitely a solid lineup that has competed well in the SEC but it hasn’t shown the extreme upside that has differentiated themselves from other competition, and ultimately they have been outplayed in the losses to LSU, Mississippi State, Baylor, and Ole Miss.

Recent Tre Mann Insertion

Andrew Nembhard
Tre Mann
Scottie Lewis
Keyontae Johnson
Kerry Blackshear Jr.

Offensive PPP: 0.86
Defensive PPP: 0.62

This lineup has gotten a lot of run recently as Tre Mann has demanded more minutes, but things haven’t gone particularly well offensively. Something that has been interesting about Mann’s game is that it has become almost the opposite of what you would have expected from him out of high school. He had a reputation as a lethal scorer who wasn’t as good on the other end but really things in Gainesville have been the opposite. The scoring touch he showed in high school hasn’t been on display in college yet but he has shown a commitment to defense, something that has shown in his defensive on/off numbers. This lineup has shown they can compete defensively but it hasn’t gone well on the offensive end.

The Lineup With A Stat You Won’t Believe

Andrew Nembhard
Tre Mann
Noah Locke
Keyontae Johnson
Kerry Blackshear Jr.

Offensive PPP: 0.64
Defensive PPP: 0.93

This lineup has been the third most used group over the past few games despite the fact that they haven’t done well whatsoever. Lineups like this one are ones that have really hurt the team for stretches and with a fairly good sample size this group simply hasn’t seemed to gel very well.

The stat you won’t believe? This group is 1-24 from the 3-point line, or 4.2% if you’d prefer.

When a lineup featuring the team’s best shooters can’t find open shots and can’t get makes something isn’t working and this group hasn’t been effective. Whatever it is about these five isn’t coming together and they shouldn’t be playing together.

Getting Closer To The Best Five

Andrew Nembhard
Tre Mann
Noah Locke
Kerry Blackshear Jr.
Omar Payne

Offensive PPP: 1.14
Defensive PPP: 0.89

This has been the only lineup to see Omar Payne and Kerry Blackshear Jr. together in the last five games and even though it hasn’t been the best five as I described at the top of the article they have still played really well.

What’s particularly interesting is that this lineup is nearly identical to the lineup we just laid out as one of Florida’s worst, but Omar Payne is subbed in for Keyontae Johnson and it has changed everything.

This shows just how much chemistry matters. Keyontae Johnson is one of (if not THE, I’m ready for debates) best and most important Gators so it’s clearly not that he was bringing that lineup down and Omar Payne was bringing it up, chemistry in basketball is just extremely elusive and this is a perfect example of why lineup data matters. If the staff wants to get the guard trio of Nembhard, Mann, and Locke out there together their next decision of whether they role out Blackshear and Johnson or Blackshear and Payne will be make or break. That one player decision is worth 0.5 PPP offensively and if they are privy to the data, there is a clear choice.

The Kerry-Blackshear-Jr.-Picked-Up-Two-Quick-Fouls Lineup

Andrew Nembhard
Noah Locke
Scottie Lewis
Keyontae Johnson
Omar Payne

Offense PPP: 1.1
Defensive PPP: 1.07

Unfortunately, Blackshear picking up two early fouls and getting sent to the bench has been a common occurrence this season and when it has happened the Gators often get Payne in at center to play with the other four starters. The numbers this group have put together are pretty interesting as they have scored the ball well but have the worst defensive numbers of any lineup they have played major stretches with. You would have thought putting in Payne for Blackshear would be a defensive upgrade but in this lineup that hasn’t been the case. However, one thing that’s interesting is that you would think taking Blackshear out and putting in Payne would really decrease offensive production with the starting group but the numbers are nearly identical. That would suggest that maybe the team could try to get Payne in with the starters earlier and allow Blackshear to come back on with some of the bench players when he could shoulder the offensive load.

Primarily Bench Unit

Ques Glover
Tre Mann
Scottie Lewis
Keyontae Johnson
Omar Payne

Offensive PPP: 0.95
Defensive PPP: 1.26

This is one of the lineups that has gotten stuck in some difficult stretches recently, a lot of it due to turnover troubles. They have a turnover percentage of 31.6%, much higher than the team’s average of 17.5%, and that has resulted in major offensive issues in addition to allowing the opponent easy transition opportunities. There have been a few lineups like these with no Nembhard and no Blackshear that have really struggled and it makes you wonder if the coaching staff should stagger those two players to make sure at least one is always on the floor. Needless to say, this particular combination hopefully won’t be playing too much together moving forward.

Solving The Backcourt

Florida’s roster doesn’t offer the number of bodies to get too crazy with different lineups but one area they do have a bit of depth is the backcourt with Andrew Nembhard, Noah Locke, Tre Mann, and Ques Glover. To see which combinations have worked and which haven’t, here is what happened with the different combinations of these players in the backcourt.

Nembhard
Locke

Offensive PPP: 1.1
Defensive PPP: 0.94

Nembhard
Mann

Offensive PPP: 0.97
Defensive PPP: 0.93

Nembhard
Glover

Offensive PPP: 1.11
Defensive PPP: 0.93

Glover
Locke

Offensive PPP: 0.99
Defensive PPP: 0.99

Glover
Mann

Offensive PPP: 0.89
Defensive PPP: 1.02

Mann
Locke

Offensive PPP: 0.9
Defensive PPP: 1.01

One thing that is apparent when you look at any lineup data—Andrew Nembhard elevates whoever he is playing with. It’s tough to find a five-player combination with him in it that struggles and when you even look at these two-man backcourt combinations it’s clear he elevates the play of whoever he’s with. With that being the case, using him to ensure some weaker lineups can have their production brought up would be extremely wise. Something interesting about this data is that Glover struggled with Mann or Locke but had success on the floor with Nembhard. Watching the film, this is largely due to Glover getting play away from the ball with Nembhard running things as opposed to when he played with Mann or Locke and was the point guard. A lot of the lineups featuring Glover at the point have struggled, no matter what players he’s been with, and for that reason the Gators should strongly consider only getting his minutes next to Nembhard. He did have success in some lineups next to Noah Locke, but it’s worth noting that a lot of those possessions have come in garbage time, something that needs to be considered even this type of lineup data.

Obviously Nembhard can’t play 40 minutes a game and you’ve got to get some production from the backcourt when he’s not in there. Mann-Locke numbers don’t look good when you look at the entire season as a sample but if you look at more recent games they have had some success—albeit with some other good players around them.

Mann
Locke
Lewis
Johnson
Blackshear Jr.

… are at 1.69 PPP offensively and 1.0 defensively though it’s only over a 25 possession sample size and has been in the last 4 games. Sneaking Mann in there with the starters could definitely be wise, as we know Nembhard is going to elevate the play of whoever he is with so playing him with some bench players could help eliminate some negative runs.

Individual Player On/Off Numbers

Seeing the numbers when an individual player is on or off the floor can be really insightful as to their impact on the team and winning. Here are the Gators’ points per possession numbers when a player is on the floor versus when they are off the floor.

Andrew Nembhard

Offense On: 1.07 PPP
Offense Off: 0.87 PPP

Defense On: 0.93 PPP
Defense Off: 1.03 PPP

Noah Locke

Offense On: 1.05 PPP
Offense Off: 0.98 PPP

Defense On: 0.96 PPP
Defense Off: 0.93 PPP

Keyontae Johnson

Offense On: 1.04 PPP
Offense Off: 0.98 PPP

Defense On: 0.92 PPP
Defense Off: 1.05 PPP

Scottie Lewis

Offense On: 1.03 PPP
Offense Off: 1.01 PPP

Defense On: 0.97 PPP
Defense Off: 0.93 PPP

Kerry Blackshear Jr.

Offense On: 1.05 PPP
Offense Off: 0.96 PPP

Defense On: 0.92 PPP
Defense Off: 1.03 PPP

Tre Mann

Offense On: 0.92 PPP
Offense Off: 1.1 PPP

Defense On: 0.95 PPP
Defense Off: 0.95 PPP

Omar Payne

Offense On: 0.99 PPP
Offense Off: 1.05 PPP

Defense On: 0.95 PPP
Defense Off: 0.96 PPP

Ques Glover

Offense On: 0.98 PPP
Offense Off: 1.05 PPP

Defense On: 1.02 PPP
Defense Off: 0.92 PPP

Individual on/off numbers don’t tell the entire story but it definitely shows the impact of some players, such as the team looking much stronger offensively when Nembhard or Blackshear are in the game. You can also see with some players that the team hasn’t always had success with them on the floor and that’s why it matters so much to put them in good positions to succeed by seeing the lineups they have success with. Some of these players have had the opportunity to play in lineups that have really worked for them and their individual numbers reflect it but some of them have gotten stuck in lineups that haven’t produced all year and going back to them has meant poor numbers. Seeing each player’s on/off data should also help give some context to which lineups have brought the best out of them and which have brought the worst.

Going Forward

Now you know what to look for when you see the Gators roll out a particular lineup and you can see just how much chemistry matters when it comes to putting together groups of players. As you saw, the difference in choosing one player or another can have massive implications in how they are going to perform, most notably showcased in the difference between Nembhard-Mann-Locke-Blackshear Jr.-Johnson and Nembhard-Mann-Locke-Blackshear-Payne, where the difference between putting Johnson or Payne in that group had a 0.5 PPP offensive difference.

Consistency has always been talked about as a focus of the team, as consistency has never been a strength. However, when you look at the lineups and see that some of the ones being played have done poorly all year and some have done spectacularly, you can see why the team has been inconsistent.

There are times where I am all for trying out different lineups and throwing things at the wall to see what sticks but at this point of the season the sample size for what lineups work and what lineups don’t is quite large, and there isn’t much of a reason to go to some of the poor lineups that the team has put on the floor recently. By using lineup data teams can maximize production and get the absolute best out of their players and by putting poor lineups out things can go horribly, players can lose confidence, and your team can lose games. Florida has played a lot of tight games this season where gaining points on the margins could have been the difference and eliminating one scoring drought could have changed a loss to a W and getting the best lineups on the floor may have changed some of those outcomes. What groupings of players the staff uses moving forward into the most important part of the season will be fascinating to watch and making the right calls could mean the Gators end the season on a very positive note.

Eric Fawcett
Eric hails from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. His blend of sports and comedy has landed his words on ESPN, Bleacher Report, CBS Sports, Lindy's and others. He loves zone defenses, the extra pass, and a 30 second shot clock. Growing up in Canada, an American channel showing SEC basketball games was his first exposure to Gator hoops, and he has been hooked ever since. You can follow him on Twitter at @Efawcett7.

3 COMMENTS

  1. I also enjoy your analysis. These articles should be helpful for some in particular. I do think you have to take into consideration the attributes of the team your playing and that’s another variable to consider. For instance, an opposing team could be an exceptional on defense or offense or produce many mismatches to consider when playing particular players. The coach has to adjust his lineup to counter the strengths of the opposing team. However, when analyzing our team alone, you make a very good case for a particular lineup. Again, I really enjoy your articles.