OKC Thunder's 'nightmare' lineup soon to return with Dennis Schroder
Dennis Schroder has returned to the bubble, which means the return of the Thunder’s best lineup isn’t far behind.
So far, it’s been a no-show.
Through seven seeding games, Schroder, Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams have shared the floor for exactly zero minutes.
Schroder has only appeared in one game in Orlando, and he’s questionable to play Friday in the Thunder’s final seeding game. The Sixth Man of the Year candidate is in mandatory self isolation after leaving the Disney campus for the birth of his daughter.
The Thunder offense has sputtered in the bubble without Schroder, but Billy Donovan has yet to use his not-so-secret weapon: the three-point guard lineup.
When Schroder, Paul and Gilgeous-Alexander join forces with Gallinari and Adams, the Thunder outscores opponents by 29.9 points per 100 possessions.
Even after 70 games, and 41 games in which they’ve been paired together, the sample size remains small. That five-man wrecking crew has only played 177 minutes together all season.
But among lineups that have played at least 100 minutes, that Thunder group is the top-rated lineup in the NBA by a seven-point margin.
Next closest is the Clippers
combination of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Patrick Beverley, Marcus Morris and Ivica Zubac. They’re outsourcing opponents by 22.9 points per 100 possessions in a limited 147-minute sample.
The Thunder scores a ridiculous 127.9 points per 100 possessions with its best five on the floor.
Gilgeous-Alexander explained why it works.
“Because we have five guys that can make two defenders guard them, whether that be Steven in the post drawing double teams, myself, Dennis or Chris getting in the lane and drawing another defender, or Gallo in a mismatch, and then that puts the defense in rotations and they have to play from there.
“Basketball becomes real simple. I think we’re a nightmare mismatch-wise.”
So why not turn to that lineup for more than 4.3 minutes per game?
Donovan’s answer was fairly straightforward, and it has to do with staggering the minutes of his three point guards.
“I think that’s been the one thing that really has been missed in some of this,” Donovan said. “I get what the numbers look like with those three guys, but if you do that in the first half, you do that quite a bit in the second quarter … you’re gonna have different segments of time in the game where it’s gonna be Chris, or Shai or Dennis out there by themselves, and you’re gonna have two of those three guys on the bench. That’s the only way it can work.”
Donovan prefers that two of the three guards are on the floor at all times. If all three play too much at once, two might have to rest at the same time.
The three-point guard lineup, with Gallinari and Adams, is primarily used in short stretches late in the second and fourth quarters.
It’s become OKC’s go-to closing group.
“We’re certainly very, very much aware, I am, of the numbers of what those guys have done together closing games,” Donovan said. “We’d like that to continue. But we also understand that it’s a 48-minute game.”