"Stat Just Happened" is our new series where we'll pair an important stat with how it actually unfolded on the floor. Our aim? To answer key questions, uncover hidden truths and peel back the curtain on why some numbers matter more than others.
Today, a certain lineup from the Oklahoma City Thunder takes the spotlight.
According to NBA.com, that's how many points per 100 possessions the Thunder's five-man lineup of Chris Paul, Dennis Schroder, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams have outscored opponents by in the regular season.
Why is it noteworthy? Of lineups that have logged at least 100 minutes together, it's the best in the league.
They've gotten it done on both ends of the court together, scoring at a rate of 127.9 points per 100 possessions on offence while holding opponents to 98.0 points per 100 possessions on defence. (For context, the Dallas Mavericks have the best offensive rating in the league this season at 115.9 and the Milwaukee Bucks have the best defensive rating at 102.5. So yeah, this lineup has been a cheat code). It's been the Thunder's secret weapon in the clutch, where they've obliterated teams this season.
Beyond their ridiculous net rating, there are a couple of things that I find interesting about this lineup, the first of which should be obvious - the backcourt is made up of two point guards in Paul and Schroder, plus someone who played point guard almost all of last season in Gilgeous-Alexander.
You might think that the three of them would butt heads since they're each at their best when they have the ball in their hands, but they've figured out a way to make it work. A big reason why is they're each good enough shooters and smart enough players to play off-ball. Schroder has been a streaky shooter throughout his NBA career, but he's canned 41.4 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3s this season. Paul doesn't take nearly as many catch-and-shoot 3s as Schroder does, but he's made 42.3 percent of those opportunities. Similar deal with Gilgeous-Alexander - they're not a big part of his game, but he's up to 41.9 percent on catch-and-shoot 3s this season.
With Gallinari being a high volume 3-point shooter at power forward, the Thunder can stretch teams out by playing four-out when they're on the court together, giving whichever one of Paul, Schroder and Gilgeous-Alexander has the ball the real estate they need to put on a pick-and-roll clinic, usually with Adams setting the screen.
Paul is clearly the best pick-and-roll scorer of the three - he ranks in the 92nd percentile with 1.08 points per pick-and-roll possession - but they're each three-level scorers and they each bring something different to the table in those situations.
In the case of Paul, every trick in the book.
In the case of Schroder, lightning-quick speed.
In the case of Gilgeous-Alexander, craft.
It's a lot of my-turn-your-turn - only 44.4 percent of the lineup's baskets have been assisted, which is a miniscule number - but there are very few teams that can roll out lineups that feature three strong defenders at the guard position, so one of them almost always has a favourable matchup.
"Most teams have one or two really good defenders," Gilgeous-Alexander told Michael Pina of SB Nation. "It's rare you find a team with three really good defenders. It's hard for them to guard all three of us at the same time. It's something I've adjusted to and it'll make me better in the long run."
Their success on defence is even more surprising considering they're not just containing teams, they're shutting them down.
It's made possible by Paul being among the most versatile defenders in the league this season. Based on data collected by Krishna Narsu of BBall Index, Paul has spent only 20.9 percent of his minutes guarding point guards compared to 32.0 percent guarding shooting guards and 27.1 percent guarding small forwards. He's even spent some time on power forwards (14.2 percent) and centres (5.9 percent) despite being only 6-foot-1.
At his size, Paul should have no business guarding threes and fours, but he's one of the smartest defenders in the league. Just watch him battle with Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, who is one of the toughest matchups in the league, on the following possession. Tatum has seven inches and 35 pounds on Paul, but Paul makes him work for every inch he gets and gets so close to him when he rises for the fadeaway that he's basically in his jersey.
Tatum is able to get a shot off over Paul, only it falls short.
That sets the tone for everyone else. While they aren't quite as versatile as Paul, Schroder and Gilgeous-Alexander can guard multiple positions themselves. (Paul joked with Pina that Gilgeous-Alexander finally learned how to defend the post after 25 games). Gallinari and Adams are much more limited - Gallinari doesn't have the foot speed to switch and Adams is at his best when he's hanging out in the paint - but the guards make their lives easier by being pests. Paul is a walking basketball encyclopedia, knowing how to gain even the smallest advantages on players, Schroder will use his speed to pester opponents the full length of the court and Gilgeous-Alexander has the length to swallow ball handlers whole.
With the three of them flying around the court, Gallinari and Adams rarely have to overextend themselves.
Given how dominant the five of them have been, it's shocking that it's only the Thunder's third-most used lineup on the season, but there's a good chance we'll get a heavy dose of it in the playoffs when every game matters. Maybe not to the point where Thunder head coach Billy Donovan decides to start games with them, but they'll almost certainly play more than the 4.3 minutes they've been getting together because no team in the regular season had an answer for them.
The proof is in that one key number...
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