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The starting lineup, and what that means for the rotation

As a followup to jj_fekl's FanPost, I figured it's about time I tackle not just the starting lineup, but the rotation in general -- and just what it is, from a talent perspective, that has kept this team from living up to the expectations we had for it before the season.

First of all, many people focus way too much on the wrong things when thinking about the starting lineup. They tend to think that the starting lineup should be comprised of the five best guys, since a team is presumably going to or they assume that those five guys are automatically going to get the most minutes. But that is a much too shallow view of the starting lineup.

When you think about who's starting, you also have to think about who's not starting -- and what those players not starting need to be successful when they come into the game.

When talking about the Cougs' starting lineup, obviously Taylor Rochestie, Klay Thompson and Aron Baynes are givens since they are without a doubt our three best players. That leaves you with a choice of some combination of these guys, who each have distinct strengths and weaknesses:

Guards Strengths Weaknesses
Nikola Koprivica Solid on-ball defender, good defensive rebounder Mediocre outside shot, limited offensive game, can be a turnover machine
Marcus Capers Solid on-ball defender, great defensive rebounder, adequate ball-handler and distributor Extremely limited offensive game, no outside shot whatsoever
Forwards Strengths Weaknesses
Caleb Forrest Good face-up shooter, good offensive rebounder, "hustle/glue guy" Poor defensive rebounder, undersized defender against bigger 4s
DeAngelo Casto Great rebounder on both ends, team's best shot blocker, can defend both bigger and smaller players Turns the ball over a lot, best offensive move is a dunk, suffers from mental lapses on both offense and defense
G/F Strengths Weaknesses
Daven Harmeling Once was an elite shooter and presumably that guy is still in there somewhere One-dimensional offensive player even when hitting his shot, poor defensive rebounder, struggles to defend wings

Because each of these guys brings a highly specific skillset to the court, the two players really have to compliment each other's strengths and hopefully make up for each others' deficiencies. Beyond that, the players left behind on the bench also have to be work together in much the same way, but they also have to be able to play in a unit with the guys who are on the floor when they come into the game.

First, the obvious: Harmeling is a non option because he's simply terrible -- he's bringing virtually nothing positive to the floor right now, and until he starts shooting the ball well in limited minutes, limited minutes is all he should get.

Second, I don't think Koprivica/Forrest or Capers/Casto are good options. This is where "best" vs. "most talented" comes into play. The most talented lineup pretty clearly would involve both Capers and Casto starting. But that's just not realistic. Both guys make too many errors and are just too limited offensively to be on the floor at the same time for very many minutes. Plus, you just never know what you're going to get from Casto from night to night. Some nights, he's a world beater. Other nights, he looks like he badly needs a redshirt year.

Starting Koprivica and Forrest together offers another altogether unique issue. A few people commented they like them in the starting lineup becuase of the success that starting lineup had at the beginning of the game against Cal. But you can't overlook what happened once the first subs came in the game.

  • Casto comes in for Baynes about six minutes in; so far so good, as the lead quickly goes to 12-3. 
  • Harmeling comes in for Forrest about 30 seconds later. Again, so far so good, as the Cougs maintain their lead.
  • Capers comes in for Koprivica about 1:30 later.
  • You've now got a lineup of Rochestie/Thompson/Capers/Harmeling/Casto ... and Thompson needs a sub soon. So in comes Mike Harthun.
  • Meanwhile, the early lead is dwindling fast.

See the problem with this? You get guys coming into the game who don't compliment each other. Seriously -- what is Rochestie supposed to do playing with Harthun, Capers, Harmeling and Casto? It's no wonder that lead disappeared faster than you can say "Hey look! Jorge Gutierrez and Derrick Low have the same hair dresser!"

Bennett even addressed this quandary on his radio show last night (thanks, Grady!):

A caller felt that the team lost a lot of its momentum against Cal when the reserves started to come in. "We had some breakdowns," said Tony, and he feels that can happen when the young kids come in. Tony feels we still have to sub - he looks at Aron at about the 16 minute mark and the other starters shortly thereafter. But he knows one of the drawbacks of subbing is that some breakdowns can occur.

When you start all your experienced players, you have no choice but to replace them with inexperienced subs, because that's the bulk of what's left on your bench. The results are predictable. You have to start guys that leave with some reliable options on the bench so that you don't have breakdowns en masse when you give the starters the rest they have to have.

This team has shown time and time again that it has the most potential when it has a good mixture of experience and youth on the floor, and starting all experienced guys fouls up your chance to do that -- you end up playing bunches of one or the other.

Because of this, I believe there really are only two options for combinations out of these five guys: Capers/Forrest and Koprivica/Casto. My preference would be Capers/Forrest. Here's my reasoning:

  • Forrest is the best offensive player out of those four. If you're looking to get off to a solid start from a scoring perspective, it's valuable to have him in there.
  • Capers is the best defensive rebounding guard we have, which makes up for some of Forrest's deficiency there. Additionally, with our four best offensive players on the floor around him, Capers' offensive issues get masked as well as they can.
  • Casto is your first big man off the bench for Baynes around the 15- or 14-minute mark. In my mind, you're just trying to steal a few minutes here to get the big man some rest.
  • Koprivica comes in for Capers or Thompson at some point.

Of course, this is why the issues that face this team have been so much bigger than just the starting lineup. Where does scoring come from when Thompson or Baynes -- or both -- are out of the lineup? There are no answers to that. That's why there's little doubt in my mind that the biggest problem Tony faces with his rotation is the absolute lack fo production from Harmeling. If Daven is shooting the way he has the past two years, this is all so much easier, because you've got a legitimate scorer coming off the bench. But that's not the case.

In an ideal world, you want reserve units that can come in and extend a lead, or at the very lease, maintain a lead. All Tony can do with this team is piece together a rotation that features units Right now, Tony has try and piece together lineups that he hopes don't fall apart. That's not a fun place for a coach to be.

Starting Capers and Forrest I think gives this team the best chance to not only get off to a fast start, but use its reserves in a way that doesn't kill their chance to win the game.