More on the Best Starting Line-Ups

Posted on November 8, 2009 by


The Wall Street Journal reported the top five starting line-ups – in terms of average WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] – since 1981-82.  Here are the top 25 across the same time period:

1. Utah Jazz [1996-97]: 0.238 WP48, 9.39 Eff. Dif. [Rank: 6]

2. Chicago Bulls [1995-96]: 0.236 WP48, 13.00 Eff. Dif. [Rank: 1]

3. Chicago Bulls [1996-97]: 0.221 WP48, 11.61 Eff. Dif. [Rank: 2]

4. LA Lakers [1984-85]: 0.219 WP48, 6.90 Eff. Dif. [Rank: 53]

5. Boston Celtics [1986-87]: 0.217 WP48, 6.50 Eff. Dif. [Rank: 68]

6. Utah Jazz [1998-99]: 0.216 WP48, 7.15 Eff. Dif. [Rank: 44]

7. Phoenix Suns [1992-93]: 0.216 WP48, 6.46 Eff. Dif. [Rank: 69]

8. Boston Celtics [2007-08]: 0.215 WP48, 10.95 Eff. Dif. [Rank: 3]

9. Boston Celtics [2008-09]: 0.214 WP48, 8.02 Eff. Dif. [Rank: 23]

10. Portland Trail Blazers [1990-91]: 0.213 WP48, 8.26 Eff. Dif. [Rank: 18]

11. Orlando Magic [1995-96]: 0.211 WP48, 5.82 Eff. Dif. [Rank: 92]

12. Boston Celtics [1987-88]: 0.210 WP48, 5.86 Eff. Dif. [Rank: 90]

13. LA Lakers [1985-86]: 0.208 WP48, 7.25 Eff. Dif. [Rank: 39]

14. Boston Celtics [1985-86]: 0.208 WP48, 8.94 Eff. Dif. [Rank: 10]

15. San Antonio Spurs [1993-94]: 0.206 WP48, 5.62 Eff. Dif. [Rank: 100]

16. LA Lakers [1986-87]: 0.205 WP48, 8.85 Eff. Dif. [Rank: 11]

17. San Antonio Spurs [1991-92]: 0.204 WP48, 3.32 Eff. Dif. [Rank: 200]

18. LA Lakers [1999-00]: 0.204 WP48, 8.84 Eff. Dif. [Rank: 12]

19. Seattle Super Sonics [1995-96]: 0.203 WP48, 8.01 Eff. Dif. [Rank: 24]

20. Orlando Magic [1994-95]: 0.203 WP48, 7.10 Eff. Dif. [Rank: 45]

21. Dallas Mavericks [2006-07]: 0.203 WP48, 7.81 Eff. Dif. [Rank: 28]

22. Chicago Bulls [1990-91]: 0.203 WP48, 9.20 Eff. Dif. [Rank: 8]

23. Houston Rockets [1996-97]: 0.202 WP48, 4.69 Eff. Dif. [Rank: 130]

24. Phoenix Suns [1989-90]: 0.200 WP48, 6.78 Eff. Dif. [Rank: 58]

25. Phoenix Suns [2007-08]: 0.200 WP48, 5.09 Eff. Dif. [Rank: 115]

The above list reports both the starter’s (top five players in games started) average WP48 as well as the team’s efficiency differential (offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency).  Across the 759 teams that have played from 1981-82 to 2008-09, these two numbers have a 0.88 correlation.  So the quality of your starter’s isn’t everything, but it’s something.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the starters for the Boston Celtics in 2009-10 [Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett] would rank 9th on this list (with a mark of 0.214). What about some other teams this year?

So far the Cleveland Cavaliers have primarily started the following quintet: Maurice Williams, Anthony Parker, LeBron James, Anderson Varejao, Shaquille O’Neal.  Last year these five players had an average WP48 of 0.201.  And if you replace Parker with Delonte West, the average rises to 0.211 (a mark that ranks in the top 15th).

As noted, it was the LA Lakers that inspired this story. The Lakers starting line-up of Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum only averaged a 0.153 WP48.  If you replace Odom with Pau Gasol this average rises to 0.159.  And if Bynum returns to what we saw in 2007-08 [0.358 WP48], then the average rises to 0.199 WP48. 

So it’s possible that the Celtics, Cavaliers, and Lakers could field starting line-ups that will crack the top 25 (or come close).  Of course, all of this is based on last year’s numbers.  And although last year’s numbers are linked to what we see this year, player performance is not constant. So these starting line-ups may be better — or worse — than what is reported above; and we won’t have enough data to see where each team is at for a few more weeks.

The NBA often says it cares.  But if it really cared, the NBA would solve our data shortage by scheduling games a bit faster at the start of the season.  How about double-headers?  They do it in baseball.  And if they had a few of these at the start of the NBA season we could get the data we need to answer our questions so much quicker.

Until something like that happens (as if it would), we are left with the limited data we see in November. So look for a few more “Lawson” posts until this season really gets going.

– DJ

The WoW Journal Comments Policy

Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at provides substantially more information on the published research behind Wins Produced and Win Score

Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say

Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics

Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.