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Finding the Optimal Lineup

Using +/- data to figure out what have been the best options for the Huskies since Quade Green’s absence

NCAA Basketball: Arizona State at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

On January 16th the Huskies curb stomped a solid USC team at home by 32 points. Quade Green had 14 points, 5 assists, and 4 steals. Then it was announced that he was academically ineligible before Washington’s next game and they’ve gone an abysmal 1-7 during that time. This is unfortunately not a revelation to anyone who has been paying attention.

Late game snafus have of course been the biggest reason why the Husky’s NCAA hopes are dead but part of that stems from Coach Hop’s lineup confusion. Marcus Tsohonis has gone from redshirting to starting in that time. RaeQuan Battle went from an afterthought to 6th man if not starter. Nate Roberts went from glued to the bench to contributor to glued to the bench to contributor again. And on top of all of it Jaden McDaniels has seen his status yo-yo back in forth due to a combination of injury and poor play. Suffice it to say there hasn’t been a lot of consistency.

In order to try to help Coach Hopkins figure out the optimal lineup I went back and delved into some of the plus/minus numbers starting with the Stanford game once Quade Green was officially out. I recorded who was on the court at all times and the +/- and number of minutes for each of those lineups in order to get a sense for the success of various pairings and combinations throughout the 5 and 12 hours of game clock.

Individual Plus/Minus

I want to start with the caveat that my numbers are not going to exactly match what is reported in the box score. There are two reasons for this. Number one is that it’s possible I made a mistake at some point. It’s a complicated spreadsheet. More common though is number two which is that I wait to factor in substitutions until the end of someone shooting free throws. For example, in the loss to Arizona Jaden McDaniels committed a technical foul and was immediately pulled from the game. The Wildcats sank both free throws but McDaniels wasn’t on the court so the person who came in for him was essentially gifted his -2. That doesn’t seem right so if you were on the court when the foul was committed then the free throws go in your account whether positive or negative.

As a general reminder, the Huskies have been outscored by a total of 26 points in these 8 games which means they’ve been outscored by an average of 3.2 points per 40 minutes.

  1. RaeQuan Battle, +19 in 121.4 minutes, +6.3 +/- per 40 minutes
  2. Hameir Wright, +11 in 256.1 minutes, +1.7 +/- per 40 minutes
  3. Marcus Tsohonis, -2 in 175.2 minutes, -0.5 +/- per 40 minutes
  4. Isaiah Stewart, -24 in 280.4 minutes, -3.4 +/- per 40 minutes
  5. Elijah Hardy, -6 in 63.9 minutes, -3.8 +/- per 40 minutes
  6. Nate Roberts, -5 in 50.1 minutes, -4.0 +/- per 40 minutes
  7. Naz Carter, -33 in 254.2 minutes, -5.2 +/- per 40 minutes
  8. Jamal Bey, -33 in 204.6 minutes, -6.5 +/- per 40 minutes
  9. Sam Timmins, -6 in 31.3 minutes, -7.7 +/- per 40 minutes
  10. Jaden McDaniels, -43 in 208 minutes, -8.3 per 40 minutes

A quick caution about plus/minus data. The smaller the sample size the less reliable it is. Let’s say Sam Timmins is on the court when a perimeter player commits a touch foul and they’re in the double bonus and the opponent sinks both free throws. That’s -2 on his record that had nothing to do with him. With his minutes total it changes his P/M per 40 from 7.7 to 5.1 and leapfrogs him up 2 spots. Also, it’s particularly tricky with players who are subbed in specifically for defensive possessions. This has really hurt Sam Timmins’ numbers in the past as he has often been subbed in to protect Noah Dickerson’s or Isaiah Stewart’s foul situation and subbed out when the team is back on offense.

Still, there are some fairly obvious conclusions at the top and at the bottom. There are some serious flaws in RaeQuan Battle’s game. He’s shooting only just over 30% from 3-point range because his shot selection needs serious improvement. But that number climbs to 50% on unguarded catch and shoot opportunities. Defenses absolutely have to account for his presence on the court and know that he’s willing and able to pull up from anywhere on the court. That gravitational effect has been missing since Quade Green went out and helps open things up inside for Isaiah Stewart.

On the opposite side we have Jaden McDaniels’ numbers. On the one hand you could argue he was hurt by missing UW’s one win during that span due to injury. On the other you could argue that the reason Washington won was because he wasn’t playing. Things do appear to be getting a little better for Jaden. He’s a +7 over Washington’s past two games after finishing a combined -42 in the 3 games after returning from his ankle injury. Hopefully health has legitimately been a factor and with a full week off his numbers will continue to get better. But there’s no question that the team has been worse with him on the floor in a major way.

Finally, I’d like to point out that Hameir Wright’s value shows through in this exercise. It of course is a major help that Wright happens to be shooting 45% from 3-point range in the past 8 games after starting the season at 28% up until that point. There’s never been a question about his defense and now he’s finally put things together to become an average offensive player. If he’s able to just stabilize at somewhere around 35% from deep the rest of the way then he’s a clear asset.

Player Combinations

Top-5 with at least 25 minutes total playing time

  1. Marcus Tsohonis and RaeQuan Battle, +27 in 80 minutes, +13.5 +/- per 40 minutes
  2. Hameir Wright and RaeQuan Battle, +17 in 84 minutes, +8.1 +/- per 40 minutes
  3. Isaiah Stewart and RaeQuan Battle, +13 in 86 minutes, +6.0 +/- per 40 minutes
  4. Hameir Wright and Marcus Tsohonis, +13 in 126 minutes, +4.1 +/- per 40 minutes
  5. Naz Carter and RaeQuan Battle, +7 in 75 minutes, +3.7 +/- per 40 minutes

Let the freshmen cook! It’s not exactly a surprise that if you take the best 3 individual plus minuses and essentially mix and match them that you’ll find the best combinations as well. Having at least one of Tsohonis and Battle on the court and preferably both has been the most successful way for the Huskies to play recently.

Bottom-5 with at least 25 minutes total playing time

  1. Naz Carter and Nate Roberts, -14 in 27 minutes, -20.4 +/- per 40 minutes
  2. Jaden McDaniels and Jamal Bey, -40 in 119 minutes, -13.4 +/- per 40 minutes
  3. Isaiah Stewart and Elijah Hardy, -14 in 44 minutes, -12.7 +/- per 40 minutes
  4. Jaden McDaniels and Naz Carter, -45 in 157 minutes, -11.4 +/- per 40 minutes
  5. Jaden McDaniels and Nate Roberts, -9 in 32 minutes, -11.3 +/- per 40 minutes

The bottom of the barrel looks a little different since I instituted the minimum 25 minutes of on court playing time rule. Sam Timmins hasn’t played at least that amount with any other single player so he drops off entirely. 3 of the 5 lineups feature Jaden McDaniels which given the individual numbers isn’t exactly surprising.

The Naz Carter and Nate Roberts combination is a bit perplexing but neither has been particularly good in conference play and they barely gained enough time to qualify. The Isaiah Stewart and Elijah Hardy duo has been atrocious and it’s likely because Hardy is both a complete non-shooting threat and struggles to properly execute entry passes down to Stewart. The combination of both weaknesses leads to an offense completely incapable of scoring.

I didn’t look at every 3-man combination but if you weight the minutes most heavily I’m confident that it doesn’t get much worse than the Naz Carter/Jaden McDaniels/Isaiah Stewart trio at -38 in 133 minutes (-11.4 +/- per 40 minutes). After the Quade Green announcement the common thought is that Washington would survive because each of those 3 could go off for 20 points on any given night and if any two of them did then it would be enough for Washington to win the game.

Instead, Naz Carter and Jaden McDaniels have non-complimentary skill sets as each prefers to drive the ball and neither has an above average handle. That’s compounded by Stewart’s constant presence in the paint which means Jaden and Naz are usually barreling into 3+ defenders and are forced to either pull up for a long 2 or keep going and commit an offensive foul or get the ball stripped.

For contrast, the Marcus Tsohonis/RaeQuan Battle/Isaiah Stewart combination which replaces Naz and Jaden with 2 better spot up shooters is functioning at +21 in 62 minutes (+13.5 +/- per 40 minutes).

5-Man Lineups

This one is a little tricky since Hop’s constant tinkering to find the right lineup has resulted in a lot of different 5-man pairings. There has been only one lineup that has played at least 10% of the total minutes over the last 8 games and just 6 lineups that have played at least 5% of the total minutes.

By far the most popular lineup has been Bey/Carter/McDaniels/Wright/Stewart. When McDaniels has been healthy this has been the go-to starting lineup and has played twice as much as any other. It hasn’t been a bad option. That grouping is +3.9 per 40 minutes despite running Jamal Bey at point guard.

In fact of the 6 lineups to log at least 20 minutes together there’s only been one that was a clear negative. The same group above but with Elijah Hardy replacing Jamal Bey at the point. The majority of those minutes came in the second half of the Stanford game and contributed to Washington’s epic collapse. They played about 2.5 minutes together in the Arizona game but otherwise that lineup has mostly been retired with the emergence of Marcus Tsohonis.

Only one other of the 10 most popular 5-man groupings doesn’t feature Tsohonis on the court. The results are mostly positive. It’s a small sample size of just 6 minutes but Tsohonis/Battle/McDaniels/Wright/Stewart is +7 with brief stints in 5 games. I’d like to see that lineup get a little more run as it puts 3 shooters around Stewart while keeping up the all 6’9 back line on defense.

Unfortunately Tsohonis is also part of the worst grouping among any seeing at least 5 minutes. The Tsohonis/Bey/Carter/McDaniels/Stewart grouping has been an abject disaster at -13 in 11 minutes (-47.5 per 40 minutes). Unfortunately that’s the lineup that Hop went to down the stretch of the Oregon game and it didn’t have enough juice to get it done.

Hopkins has to worry about team dynamics in addition to just the raw numbers but when Washington takes the court in Pullman on Sunday I’d like to see the Dawgs roll out the lineup of Tsohonis/Battle/McDaniels/Wright/Stewart with Carter coming in for McDaniels at the first media timeout.