The best five-man, high-volume lineup in the NBA this season by volume hasn’t been the undefeated Golden State Warriors starting lineup. It hasn’t been a Spurs group, or any unit with Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Blake Griffin, or James Harden.
Nope. Of the 26 lineups with at least 70 minutes played this season, the best five-man lineup in the NBA has been the Mavs’ group of Deron Williams, Raymond Felton, Wesley Matthews, Dirk Nowitzki, and Zaza Pachulia. In 71 minutes played, that group has a league-leading +31.5 net rating per 100 possessions, including a league-leading 131.5 offensive rating. That means that unit is scoring 131.5 points every 100 possessions, an absurd rate.
But it shouldn’t come as a surprise. That’s the lineup Dallas often finishes games with, and it’s the group that carries the team while Chandler Parsons still battles through a minutes restriction. That unit turned what appeared to be a road loss in Boston into a thrilling road win. Those five players closed out wins against the Pelicans and Lakers. Without that group, Dallas isn’t 8-4 and in third place in the West.
What’s most surprising about that group, though, is that essentially four of those players are new to the team. Nowitzki has been here for ages, of course, but Felton played just 281 minutes last season, his only other with the Mavericks. He and Nowitzki shared the floor for just 108 minutes during the 2014-15 regular season, according to NBA.com, so it’s not like they have a long history of working together. Williams, Matthews, and Pachulia, meanwhile, all joined the team this summer.
|Deron Williams, Raymond Felton, Wesley Matthews, Dirk Nowitzki, Zaza Pachulia||Mavericks||31.5|
|Russell Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams||Thunder||20.6|
|Jarrett Jack, Joe Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Thaddeus Young, Brook Lopez||Nets||19.8|
|Kemba Walker, P.J. Hairston, Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams, Al Jefferson||Hornets||18.0|
|Ricky Rubio, Andrew Wiggins, Tayshaun Prince, Kevin Garnett, Karl-Anthony Towns||Timberwolves||17.7|
The Dallas coaches and players have all praised the club’s high basketball IQ, and there’s perhaps no greater indicator of a smart team than seeing eye-popping stats like these: That group has a 2.47-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, ranking second-best among those 26 lineups, and its 67.6 true shooting percentage is miles ahead of the second-best Clippers’ starting lineup, sitting at 62.3 percent. One other notable element: It plays at a very slow pace relative to the rest of the groups on the list, which both reflects past success and bodes well for future success in crunch time, when the game usually slows down. In short, there’s nothing not to like about that group.
It’s no guarantee that those five will continue playing at this high a level for the rest of the season. But, again, this is a group of five players who have little to no history of playing together. Even Williams and Matthews shared the floor sparingly in their one-season partnership in Utah. As they continue to grow used to each other and learn everyone’s tendencies, odds are they can continue playing very well and potentially improve in other areas, particularly on defense.
“We’re still getting comfortable,” Williams told Mavs.com. “Still finding my way around out there. I think we all are still figuring out how to play with each other. Those things take time.
“Very rarely do you have a team in their first season (together) where they just kind of connect and click right from the start, but I feel confident in how we’ve started so far, and we’re gonna continue to get better.”