When it comes to starting lineups, Erik Spoelstra’s approach in the past has always been to establish a level of consistency, so key bench players can stay in their same roles and the rotation isn’t disrupted.
Although he’s managed to continue to use Tyler Johnson and James Johnson – the NBA’s second-most prolific scoring duo without any starts – together off the bench, Spoelstra has had to toss his overall way of thinking when it’s come to turning in his lineup card this season.
The Heat has shuffled through 12 different starting lineups through it’s first 33 games. A lot of it is because of injuries, and some of it because Miami doesn’t have an established starting power forward with Chris Bosh out for the season.
Although there are eight other teams in the league that have flipped through at least a dozen starting lineups thus far (Pelicans 16, Jazz 15, Mavericks 13, Nuggets 12, Lakers 12, Grizzlies 12, Spurs 12, 76ers 12), Miami’s most used starting lineup this season of Goran Dragic, Wayne Ellington, Rodney McGruder, Josh McRoberts and Hassan Whiteside have started only eight games together, tied for second-fewest starts in the league with the Grizzlies.
Only the Pelicans, 76ers and Nuggets have had lineups that have made fewer starts together (7) entering Thursday’s games.
“We've had a lot of moving parts,” said Spoelstra, who has put a new starting lineup on the court in each of the Heat’s last two games including Thursday against the Hornets. “I told them two weeks ago that I’m going to approach this team differently than teams in the past. We may change lineups based on opponent and based on players availability. That’s just the reality of this team.
“So the guys understand. Everybody’s had their chance up to this point. Nobody can have any regrets about that. We just have to stay ready, concentrate on getting better in specific areas to help us win. Our fours [power forwards] are the ones that have had to deal with that more than anybody. They’ve understood, been great pros about it.”
To provide some perspective, the Golden State Warriors’ lineup of Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Zaza Pachulia leads the league with 27 starts together and is 23-4 overall.
When the Heat won it’s last NBA title in 2012-2013, Spoelstra used 15 starting lineups total for the season. The most-used lineup that season of Bosh, Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade made 46 starts together in the regular season and went 37-9.
Last season, Spoelstra shuffled through 23 starting lineups. Bosh, Luol Deng, Dragic, Wade and Whiteside was the most popular, making 26 starts together and going 16-10. But of those 23 lineups, 13 started only one game together as Spoelstra usually went deep into his bench and plugged in a player to fill in for someone out with an injury.
This season, six of the Heat’s 12 starting lineups have made multiple starts together.
WILLIAMS STILL ADJUSTING
If any Heat player has found himself in a more unique role than others it’s Derrick Williams.
He’s started 10 games this season and hasn’t played at all in 13 games per coach’s decision. It’s the kind of up and down role that can drive a player crazy.
“Whatever coach’s decisions are, you got to roll with it as a team,” Williams said Thursday. “There have been other guys on our team, as well, who have been out of the lineup and things like that. So you just got to stay professional and stay ready. That’s what coach loves the most. When he calls your name and you’re ready and you contribute, then your minutes increase.
“This is my first year in my six years that I’ve actually kind of been out of the rotation a little bit. I’ve always played 20-25 minutes and things like that. It’s a little different adjustment just going which way coach wants to go. Whichever way it is, you got to live with it whether it’s me playing a lot or me not playing. It’s bigger than myself. This is about the Heat organization and us getting Ws.”
Williams, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft, is averaging a career-low 16 minutes and shooting just 42.6 percent and 19.4 percent from three-point range this season. He’s averaging 6.8 points per game.
“I’ll never get used to that – not playing,” Williams said. “But as of right now, you just got to deal with it. I’m an a lot better basketball player [playing] than not playing. I know that. I think guys on the team know that. But at the end of the day, it’s the coach’s decision on who he wants to play. I’ll never get used to not playing.”
MCROBERTS IN BOOT
Spoelstra said there’s no “update right now” regarding forward Josh McRoberts, who has been ruled out indefinitely wth a stress fracture in his left foot.
“He’s still in a boot and when we get to that next point – and I don’t when that next point will be – we’ll take the next course of action,” he said. “But we're putting our minds together. We really want to find a solution for him. I know he really wants to be out there and he was playing some of his better basketball [before he got hurt]. He was getting in a better rhythm right before that. So, we’ll just cross our fingers and hopefully we'll find a different solution.”
MOST USED STARTING LINEUPS BY TEAM (through Wednesday)
Golden State Warriors (27 games, 23-4 record): Curry-Durant-D. Green-Pachulia-K. Thompson
Washington Wizards (26, 14-12): Beal-Gortat-Morris-Porter-Wall
Chicago Bulls (26, 13-13): Butler-Gibson-Lopez-Rondo-Wade
Minnesota Timberwolves (26, 7-19): Dieng-LaVine-Rubio-Towns-Wiggins
Toronto Raptors (24, 18-6): Carroll-DeRozan-Lowry-Siakam-Valanciunas
Oklahoma City Thunder (24, 15-9): S. Adams-Oladipo-Roberson-Sabonis-Westbrook
Los Angeles Clippers (23, 16-7): B. Griffin-Jordan-Mbah a Moute-Paul-Redick
Milwaukee Bucks (21, 11-10): Antetokounmpo-Delladeova,Henson-Parker-Snell
New York Knicks (21, 10-11): Anthony-Lee-Noah-Porzingis-Rose
Detroit Pistons (20, 10-10): Caldwell-Pope-Drummond-T. Harris-M. Morris-I. Smith
Charlotte Hornets (19, 12-7): Batum-Kidd/Gilchrist-Walker-Williams-Zeller
Los Angeles Lakers (19, 8-11): Deng-Mozgov-Randle-Russell-N. Young
Cleveland Cavaliers (18, 14-4): K. Irving-L. James-Love-J.R. Smith-T. Thompson
Boston Celtics (17, 13-4): Bradley-Crowder-Horford-A. Johnson-I. Thomas
Houston Rockets (17, 15-2): R. Anderson-Ariza-Beverley-Capela-Harden
Indiana Pacers (16, 9-7): Ellis-George-Teague-Turner-Young
San Antonio Spurs (16, 13-3): L. Aldridge-P. Gasol-D. Green-K. Leonard-T. Parker
Orlando Magic (15, 7-8): Augustin-Biyombo-Fournier-Gordon-Ibaka
Atlanta Hawks (15, 7-8): Bazemore-Howard-Korver-Millsap-Schroder
Pheonix Suns (15, 4-11): Bledsoe-Booker-T. Chandler-Chriss-Tucker
Brooklyn Nets (12, 3-9): Bogdanovic-Booker-Kilpatrick-Lopez-Whitehead
Portland Trail Blazers (11, 5-6): E. Davis-Harkless-Lillard-McCollum-Plumlee
Dallas Mavericks (10, 4-6): H. Barnes-Finney/Smith-W. Matthews-Mejri-D. Williams
Sacramento Kings (10, 3-7): Afflalo-Cousins-Gay-Koufos-Lawson
Miami Heat (8, 2-6): Dragic-Ellington-McGruder-McRoberts-Whiteside
Memphis Grizzlies (8, 7-1): T. Allen-M. Gasol-J. Green-Harrison-T. Williams
Utah Jazz (8, 6-2): Diaw-Exum-Gobert-Hayward-Hood
Philadelphia 76ers (7, 1-6): Covington-Embiid-Henderson-Rodriguez-Saric
Denver Nuggets (7, 5-2): W. Chandler-Gallinari-G. Harris-Jokic-Mudiay
New Orleans Pelicans (7, 0-7): Asik-A. Davis-Frazier-S. Hill-E. Moore