So far this season, the Milwaukee Bucks have used a lot of different starting lineups. The team’s head coach, Mike Budenholzer, is using a variety of unusual five-man lineups. This is partly because of injuries and partly because he wants to find out which players work well together.
Milwaukee has utilized 206 different five-man units through 19 games. That places them seventh in the NBA, behind the Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Orlando Magic, San Antonio Spurs, and Toronto Raptors.
By a wide margin, the most common starting lineup has been Jrue Holiday, Jevon Carter, Grayson Allen, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Brook Lopez. They have played together for 127 minutes; the next highest combination has played for 28 minutes. This lineup has also been the most dominant, with the second-highest net rating of any five-man combination that has played at least 100 minutes together this season.
With Holiday and Carter leading the charge against the guards and Lopez and Antetokounmpo guarding the paint, their defense is absolutely unbeatable. Their defensive rating of 94.5 places them in the 97th percentile, per Cleaning the Glass. Not only do they force opponents to take difficult shots, but they also force a number of turnovers. It will be entertaining to watch them improve once Khris Middleton replaces Allen.
I would be doing a disservice if I did not provide a sample disclaimer in the future. It is important to keep in mind that a single outlier performance can significantly influence the rest of the lineup groups.
Surprisingly, their second-most-used lineup is even more productive than their starting unit. George Hill, Wes Matthews, Jordan Nwora, Bobby Portis, and Antetokounmpo have a net rating of 32.8 after eight games and 28 minutes together (about 10 points better than the starters). Antetokounmpo-led hot shooting and a potent offensive attack have propelled them to victory.
Budenholzer prefers to have one of his elite big men on the court at all times. Antetokounmpo and Lopez are the best rim protectors and represent the final line of defense. This means Portis is playing more power forward in Milwaukee than ever before. When not paired with the defensive stars, Serge Ibaka is on the court to provide assistance.
The wing is where the difficulty increases. Pat Connaughton has missed all but two games for the Bucks, while Middleton and Joe Ingles have yet to make their season debuts. The remaining roster lacks size and strength as a result.
Allen has been asked to fill this void, shifting to the three position as Holiday and Carter assume starting positions in the backcourt. Approximately fifty percent of his time is spent at the three-point line, up from twelve percent last season. Nwora, Matthews, and the rookie MarJon Beauchamp have all seen time on the wing, but none of them have yet to make a significant contribution. Now that Connaughton has returned, he will help to fill the void that he has created.
Guard has become much more clean. Budenholzer has instituted a three-man rotation consisting of Hill, Carter, and Holiday, with one of them running the offense at all times. They can also play together, allowing the Bucks to experiment with various roster configurations.
The versatility of Antetokounmpo unlocks everything for Milwaukee. He can move up or down a position depending on the mismatch the Bucks wish to exploit. If he attempts a three-pointer, Lopez and Portis provide sufficient perimeter shooting to keep the court spaced. If he moves to the five, Milwaukee has the roster pieces to force opponents to pay.
Budenholzer and the Bucks are preparing for the playoffs in every way. They want to get into good habits and get ready for another strong run at the NBA Finals. This also necessitates experimenting with different combinations of players to determine who works well together. In this regard, Budenholzer is undervalued.