It’s one of the few things that the average fan can bitch regularly about: the starting lineup. It is announced before every game on Twitter with a fancy graphic, people keep track of who is starting, there’s an award for the best player coming off the bench so you know you must be pretty good if you’re ahead of that guy and in The Starting Five.
However, a fairly logical and decent argument is to be made that the five players on the court to end the game are far more important than the five who are on the court to start it. I would tend to agree with this line of thinking because teams need a “closer” and the minutes at the end of the game are higher leverage and thus more important...right?
As I mentioned in the game notes post after the most recent loss to Illinois, the Wisconsin Badgers starting five has, more often than not, put the team in an early hole which then requires Wisconsin to have to comeback, something their offense isn’t really built to do. Here are those scores if you can’t be bothered to click on the link and give us some of those sweet, sweet pageviews:
4:04, 2-7, Illinois, loss
3:18, 5-4, Northwestern, win
4:30, 3-11, Iowa, loss
4:30, 5-8, Michigan, loss
4:22, 7-10, Nebraska, win
4:20, 4-11, Illinois, loss
3:13, 7-7, Penn State, win
4:03, 7-7, Penn State, loss
It should be noted that Greg Gard HAS changed the starting lineup a couple of times already. Sophomore forward Tyler Wahl has been inserted into the lineup when it became clear that Micah Potter and Nate Reuvers couldn’t be on the court together. More recently, Gard has oscillated between starting Reuvers and Potter to, as you can see above, similar effect.
I wanted to take a closer look at this and, against my better mental health, bounced on over to the wonderful EvanMiya.com and pulled up the five-man lineup efficiency tool for Wisconsin. What I found was, frankly, not that shocking.
After adjusting the parameters so that only lineups who have played 40 or more possessions together, two of the three worst lineups in adjusted team efficiency margin, are the variations of the starting the lineup that Gard has used: D’Mitrik Trice, Brad Davison, Aleem Ford, Tyler Wahl and either Reuvers or Potter.
It should be noted that the final column of numbers, the AdjOpp BPR, shows how good the opposing lineup is (higher number is better) and those lineups with Ford do tend to be against superior competition.
In one man’s opinion, the one overlapping feature of all the worst lineups here is Aleem Ford. While Davison and Trice are also a part of all of those lineups, those two also appear in some of the better lineups and, quite simply, play more minutes than Ford, who appears in none of the better lineups.
Over the last two games of the regular season I propose that the Badgers replace Ford in the starting lineup with true freshman Jonathan Davis.
While Davis has slowly been getting more minutes as the season has worn on, over the past five games Ford has averaged 28.6 minutes while Davis has had 26.8. That should most certainly be reversed and, honestly, expanded so that Davis is playing considerably more minutes than Ford. Their ORtgs are almost identical (Ford 98.5, Davis 98.1) and Davis is the superior rebounder and defender and has shown more of a knack for getting to the rim while also drawing more fouls and having a higher free throw rate.
Davis has a higher three point percentage than Ford this year too, on far fewer attempts mind you, but I don’t think that is sustainable this year. Eventually could Davis be a better shooter than Ford? Sure, but I think this year Davis got hot in a couple of games and that has goosed his long distance shooting numbers.
I also took a look at the chemistry (a score that reflects how much better than average the team performs when these two players on the court together, compared to team averages when they are on the court individually) scores for Davis and Ford on EvanMiya.com and they are all heavily in favor of Davis. In fact, the only other player in the regular rotation that Davis has a negative chemistry with is...you guessed it, Aleem Ford.
Ford, on the other hand, has negative chemistry with every player except Trevor Anderson (who only has negative chemistry with Davison) and Potter (who has positive chemistry with everyone).
In conclusion, the Badgers aren’t a team built to make comebacks and putting the team in an early hole is clearly bad for them. Let’s try and shake things up by putting Davis in the starting lineup, continuing to give him more minutes, and relegate Ford to a supporting bench role and see what happens.