Why George Karl is costing us the series

"This series is probably one of the tougher series to call because it's unclear to me which lineups George Karl will actually go with." - Haralabos Voulgaris

Haralabos's prediction in the NBA Stat Geek Smackdown couldn't have been more accurate.  Particularly, the lineup of Ty Lawson, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Kenyon Martin, and Nene is killing us. This lineup is playing really good defense but is so bad on offense, that they give up more points than they allow.  According to the's recently released Stats Cube tool, our starting lineup scores 89.49 points per 100 possessions while giving up 91.96 points per 100 possessions on defense for a -2.46 net differential per 100 possessions.  


Per 48 minutes, we average 89.2 points,  11.6 3 point attempts, 20.8% shooting from 3, and rebound at a rate of 41.8%.  These stats are all >10% below our team's season averages, for the whole season (our whole season stats are worse than the post trade stats, so it's even more terrible that Karl continues to play this lineup, given his alternatives).  In fact, this lineup isn't >10% better than our season long team average in any category.   The more damning stat is that this lineup is so bad that its Offensive Rating of 89.49 is BY FAR the worst of any lineup that has played over 200 possessions for any team that made the playoffs.  Meaning: no playoff team has a coach willing to play a lineup that is that bad offensively for that many possessions.  Somehow George Karl hasn't noticed this, or he refuses to make an adjustment.  He actually likes this lineup so much that he has played it more than any other lineup since the trading deadline. 


Let's look, game by game, at how this lineup has performed against Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma City at Denver 4-5-11

George Karl played this lineup from the start of the game until 3:52 left in the 1st quarter.  Net result: we were outscored 20-12.  With 3:52 left in the 2nd, the unit re-entered the game and played until the 1:32 mark and outscored the Thunder 9-5.  This same lineup started the 2nd half and played until 6:59 in the 3rd and was outscored 8-6.  In all, our starting lineup was outscored 33-27 in 17 minutes of play with Karl's preferred starting lineup.  

Denver at Oklahoma City 4-8-11

Unfazed, Karl decided to start the same lineup.  This lineup played from the start of the game until the 4:40 mark of the first quarter and played OKC to a 10-10 draw.  It started the 2nd half and played until 7:06 of the 3rd quarter and was outscored 3-8.  Yeah, you read that correctly, our starting lineup scored 3 points in almost 5 minutes of play.  Overall, we scored 13 points and gave up 18 points  in 14 minutes of play.

Denver at Oklahoma City 4-17-11

The playoffs started and Karl had 2 games worth of evidence against Oklahoma City to evaluate his starting lineup selection.  So what does George Karl do?  You guessed it, the same damn thing - this time it works out and we outscore the Thunder 23-11 until 3:59 left in the 1st, when Karl changes things up.  With 3:25 left in the 2nd, our starting unit re-enters the game and is outscored 4-9 until 30 seconds left in the half.  The same lineup starts the 4th quarter and plays about a minute and is outscored 3-0 until Nene gets injured.  Total damage 27-23 in 12 minutes of play.

Denver at Oklahoma City 4-20-11

George Karl is sad he can't attend the 4-20 festivities at CU, so he brings the joints with him and spends the game thinking about Cheetos rather than playoff games and starts the same lineup.  This lineup gets smoked 9-15, playing until 5:03 left in the first quarter.  He finally changes things up in the 2nd half - but by then it was too little too late.

Total points scored: 82 in  approximately 50 minutes of play (78 points per 48 minutes) - this is bad offense, folks

Total points given up: 89 (85 points per 48 minutes) - this is an excellent defensive performance.  

It took Karl 7 halves of basketball to make an adjustment.  Take a moment to let that statement sink in.  In a league where smart coaches adjust in half a quarter of play, or at least by the 2nd half, Karl took 7 halves (84 minutes) of basketball before adjusting!   When Karl finally made an adjustment and played the Lawson + Felton back court, the Thunder already had an answer - they ran sets to force our bigs to closeout on their 3 point shooters so that we were left with our smaller players to box out their much larger players and killed us on the offensive boards.  This is coaching and scheming at its finest.  We're losing the series not because of some innate talent disadvantage that Kizla thinks we have, but because we're getting out schemed by the OKC coaching staff and front office.  That's hard to stomach.

Yes, we matchup poorly with the Thunder, but with the number of guys we can suit up, this doesn't have to be the case.  With the wrong lineups, the Thunder are much better than us.  With the proper lineups, we're better than the Thunder.

Why does our starting lineup perform poorly on offense?  It relies on Nene to get easy buckets and make good passes for layups and open 3's and also relies on Ty Lawson getting easy buckets.  When those things happen, things open up and we get wide open threes.  Gallo and Chandler can't get their own shots, so they depend on assisted threes - and Oklahoma City, with their paint defense, is able to stay at home on our shooters.  Oklahoma City is packing the paint and double and tripling Nene.  They're leaving KMart wide open and helping off his man on pick and rolls, Lawson takes, and Nene post plays while staying home on shooters.

Example 1:


DEN at OKC 1 iPhone (via chantech1)

Notice how they double Ty off of KMart's man and then give him 4 or 5 feet of space to shoot the jumpshot.

Example 2:

DENatOKC2 iPhone (via chantech1)

The takeaway here is the Thunder leaving Kmart wide open to help against Nene's potential drive to the hoop.

Example 3:

DEN at OKC 3 iPhone (via chantech1)

Again, notice how they play way off Kmart, quadruple Nene in the post, and then stay out on our shooters.  Also, notice both Gallo and Chandler stacked on top of each other, giving Nene fewer options to pass to for an open 3.  Karl needs to make sure his guys are spaced if the Thunder are going to commit 4 guys to Nene.

George Karl's lack of adjustments and poor lineup selection has put our team at a great disadvantage in every single game against the Thunder.  Without going into his questionable out-of-timeout plays and end-game management in game 1, we can clearly see that Karl is not only failing to put his team in a position to succeed but also is getting completely outclassed from a scheme and preparation standpoint.  I know it's too much to ask to make schematic adjustments, but George Karl, if you see this and AAA is still out, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE don't start the same lineup in game 3.

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