2 Key Takeaways From 9 Games Worth of IUBB Lineup Data
You already know "buddy ball" between Malik and Kel'el is working well early in the season. But you may be surprised by how well it's working, and how bad every other type of lineup has been.
For Indiana so far this season, there has been one path to success: Malik Reneau and Kel’el Ware playing together.
And it’s not close.
All lineups other than those including both of Indiana’s starting big men have been abject failures.
Let's explore below ... keeping in mind that all of this data is only from a small nine-game sample size, with only four games against teams in the top-100.
So there is still a lot of noise in the numbers you are about to see, even though the story they tell does seem to mostly match up with what our eyes are telling us.
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All lineup data in this article is from Pivot Analysis.
Reneau + Ware together
When Reneau and Ware play together (347 possessions), Indiana has a Net Rating of +20.44. (This means per 100 possessions, IU outscores opponents by 20.44 points.)
In IU's four games versus top-100 competition (UConn, Auburn, Maryland, and Michigan), it's +7.34.
Even against UConn and Auburn, games that IU lost by a combined 48 points and in which Ware struggled with his efficiency, the Reneau + Ware lineups were only -9 across 48 total minutes played.
But as soon as you start looking at lineups that don’t include both of them, Indiana’s efficiency craters.
All the other lineups
Let’s start at the most basic level:
Reneau on / Ware off: -53.12 Net Rating across 70 possessions (yes, you’re reading that correctly)
Ware on / Reneau off: -12.16 Net Rating across 107 possessions
In total, Indiana is -28.2 across 177 possessions with only one of Reneau or Ware on the floor.
When both Reneau and Ware are off the floor, Indiana’s Net Rating is -13.43 across 74 possessions.
This is obviously a problem, given the fact that both Kel’el and Malik are big guys who need rest and who will more than occasionally be in foul trouble while playing for a coach who believes in the first half auto-bench. (But that’s a topic for a different day.)
As you might expect, given the success of Reneau/Ware lineups, all of the individual lineup permutations with both of them playing look pretty good:
Reneau/Ware/Mgbako: +21.68 across 235 possessions
Reneau/Ware/Galloway: +26.64 across 308 possessions
Reneau/Ware/Mgbako/Galloway: +29.74 across 208 possessions
Reneau/Ware/Mgbako/Galloway/X: +20.63 across 107 possessions
Reneau/Ware/Mgbako/Galloway/Cupps: +36.16 across 80 possessions
Here is a stunning stat at first glance: against Auburn and UConn, that lineup of Reneau/Ware/Mgbako/Galloway/Cupps had a Net Rating of 48.32 across 17 minutes and 27 possessions. (IU outscored Auburn and UConn in those minutes 40-27, driven mostly by the Hoosiers’ hot start against Auburn.)
Mixing and matching bench guys in there seems to work as well (relatively speaking), albeit in extremely small sample sizes:
Reneau/Ware/Banks: +7.02 across 57 possessions
Reneau/Ware/Gunn: -5.12 across 59 possessions … which certainly doesn’t seem good until you recognize that Gunn’s overall Net Rating is -25.6.
So let’s get to the bench lineups, because is this is where IU’s Net Rating really starts to unravel.
Gunn/Banks/Walker: -27.79 across 76 possessions
Gunn/Banks/Walker/Sparks: -31.12 across 39 possessions
Gunn/Banks/Walker/Sparks/Cupps: -18.09 across 28 possessions
To me, there are two very clear takeaways from this data:
Takeaway #1: playing too many bench players at one time just isn’t working
CJ Gunn, Kaleb Banks, and Anthony Walker are all useful players in their own way, but they have not shown that they fit together in one lineup.
Walker is a veteran with a very small range of ways in which he can impact a game positively. That’s perfect for a role player off the bench, but he gets into trouble when he tries to do too much — which he sometimes has to do while leading the bench unit.
Gunn and Banks are both young, developing players who can show flashes of production but can’t be counted on each game. That’s exactly where they should be given their recruiting profile and age. But when playing together, one of them has to step up and provide consistent offensive production from the wing for the lineups to work, and that’s just not something IU can count on right now.
Adding Sparks to the mix doesn’t make it much better. Walker and Banks are both far more comfortable driving to the basket, but Sparks is only effective on the block. This leads to clogged lanes and indecision, which kills any chance for offensive flow.
Given how consistently the all-bench lineups are killing Indiana in first halves, it seems obvious that substitutions should be more staggered. This puts everyone in a better position to succeed.
And even though the lineups with only one of Reneau or Ware on the court haven’t had much success so far this season, that’s where I’d ignore the data. Over the long term, I have no doubt Indiana’s bench players would perform better if they got to play in lineups anchored by Reneau or Ware.
Here’s the bigger issue:
If the all-bench lineups made sense together as a unit, then maybe I could entertain an argument for playing them together to build some chemistry; but even then it seems like a wasted effort given that the college game is only 40 minutes and the all-bench lineup never plays together in the second half anyway.
It seems like a much more fruitful investment of playing time, both in the short-term and long-term, to see which mixed-and-matched combos can find the best chemistry.
Now let’s get to takeaway #2 … which is the bigger issue facing this roster in a macro sense.