The Pacers Have the Best 5-Man Unit in the NBA

By NBA rules, only five players from each team can be on the court at any one time. While Pacers Coach Frank Vogel recognizes this, he has said that he thinks of his roster as having seven starters: Darren Collison, Paul George, Danny Granger, David West, Roy Hibbert (who have been the actual starters all year when healthy), George Hill and Tyler Hanbrough.

Danny Granger made a similar claim last Friday, saying that he thinks “maybe one through eight, we’ve got guys who could start on other teams.” (Presuming he meant the same seven Vogel has been talking about and just guesstimated while answering a post-game question fresh out the shower … unless he thinks more of Jeff Foster, Dahntay Jones, Lance Stephenson or AJ Price that anyone else I know.)

Well, some data from Basketball Value backs up the fact that the Pacers haven’t lost much when they’ve gone to their third guard.

When you look at how every five-man unit in the NBA has performed so far, the Pacers’ lineup of Collison/Hill/Granger/West/Hibbert has been the best. Their offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions) has been an off-the-charts 123.8 while their defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) have been a just-as-impressively stingy 57.8. The difference there is 66 points per 100, making this the NBA’s top lineup.

Of course, the caveat here is that they’ve only played 24 minutes together. That’s not quite as small as it may seem and you will notice that the entire top-50 NBA lineup list is mostly groups that have played 40 minutes or fewer together. Keeping up a 115-plus offensive rating or a sub-85 defensive rating obviously becomes increasingly difficult as the minutes mount. Over time, sample size wins out and the random runs that happen in every game start to even out to a more realistic number.

That’s why the fact that Indiana’s actual starting lineup ranks 25th should be even more encouraging to Pacers fans. Unlike the lineup with George Hill at playing SG, the Pacers real starters have played  144 minutes together, which is more than all but 5 other five-man units.

And among the NBA lineups that have played together for 100 or more minutes, Indiana’s starting unit (Collison/George/Granger/West/Hibbert) ranks second. As far as on-court effectiveness, this puts them behind only Miami’s potent-alongside-anybody triumvirate of LeBron/Wade/Bosh, who (during their 109 minutes so far this year playing with Mario Chalmers and Joel Anthony) have scored 108.2 points per 100 and given up just 87.2.

Indiana’s starters compare very favorably.

In their 144 minutes thus far, they have actually scored better than Miami, at 113 points per 100 possessions, while being a little bit easier to score on, at 93.4. For perspective, those numbers mean the Pacers starters have been better on both sides of the court so far this season than the Lob City starters, Chicago’s starters, the Lakers’ starters, Atlanta’s starters, San Antonio’s starters (with Manu before his injury) and Orlando’s starters.

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