Best pairings this season

Over the course of the season there have been a few lineup groupings that have really stood out on the eye test. Pairs of players that are able to accentuate each other’s strengths, or cover up each other’s weaknesses, or both.

For the team to be successful the coaching staff should find a way to play these players together as much as possible.

The choices for this piece is all subjective from the eye test, but lineup data from evanmiya.com will be used to help justify and put into context the pairings that are listed.

Lamont Butler and Adam Seiko

This pairing of guards works really well together. To start, they are both plus defenders. They do it in different ways, Seiko is more prone to force tough shots while Butler is more disruptive in passing lanes, but they are both good on the defensive end.

On the offensive end is where they really compliment each other. Butler is a ball handler, comfortable coming off of screens in the pick and roll. He is the most aggressive player on the team and wants to finish at the rim as often as possible.

Seiko is a shooter. He is at his best offensively when he is able to spot up along the perimeter or come off screens ready to shoot.

The two compliment each other well, as Seiko provides spacing for Butler to attack the rim, and Butler will draw extra defenders when attacking the rim, leaving Seiko wide open on the perimeter.

The numbers at evanmiya.com bear this out, as the pairing has an offensive rating of 112.3 when they share the court, well above average. That number is even more impressive when considering Seiko’s cold streak ended after Butler left with injury. If Seiko keeps hitting shots when Butler returns, that offensive rating should improve.

The pairing would outscore an average team by 18.5 points over 100 possessions. It is one of the better pairings listed on evanmiya.com.

Keshad Johnson and Chad Baker-Mazara

This is a lineup for the small ball fans out there. Keshad Johnson and Chad Baker-Mazara are both 6’7” athletic specimens. Their skills are not as synergistic as the last pair, but their size and athleticism make them hard for other teams to deal with.

They have not played much together this season, only 65 possessions with both of them on the floor. The potential is there though.

When both players are on the floor they are able to disrupt opposing offenses with their length and athleticism. They help force turnovers and then get out and run, where they can really do damage. Each of them is a competent enough ball handler to take the ball coast to coast on a turnover or a defensive rebound and finish with authority. The pairing has not quite been elite at anything yet, but as the chemistry develops these two can cause some serious issues in the conference.

For those that really love small ball, adding Aguek Arop to this pair has been really successful. It’s been a really small sample size, but the team has experienced a lot of success with the trio on the floor, for much of the same reasons. All three can capably guard just about anyone put in front of them. The small ball lineup lets Arop play his most natural offensive position at center. They’re all able to be disruptive on defense, block shots, get steals, secure rebounds, run in transition, and score before the defense is set. It’s not an every day lineup, but if the coaches want the guys to run for a few minutes, those are the guys to go with. That trio has an adjusted net rating of 35.9, and took the lead in a crucial stretch against Georgetown.

No CBM in this clip but it shows how they can be disruptive on defense and dangerous in transition.

Nathan Mensah and Joshua Tomaic

On the other end of the spectrum, those who like old school bully ball will like this pairing. The defense is unreal when these two share the court. Despite being big rather than small, the key to this pairing is similar to the last pairing. both players can capably guard most anyone, allowing the defense to switch ball screens and deny penetration, forcing tougher shots. It is rare to have a 6’10 player who can guard point guards, and the Aztecs have two of them.

When these two share the court the Aztecs have a defensive rating of 66.7. At the pace the Aztecs play at, it translates to allowing about 44 points per game. That is an absurdly low total, and probably not sustainable, but even if it got ten points worse it would still be absurdly good.

The problem with this duo has been the offense. The offense has been below average. Mensah has struggled offensively this season, and Tomaić is attempting to play a stretch 4 role without much success so far (29% from deep). That being said, the duo has an adjusted net rating of 27.7 when they share the court. When the defense is that elite the offense doesn’t need to do much in order to out score the opponents.

There are other pairings that the data really likes. Keshad Johnson and Keith Dinwiddie is a great example. When those two are both on the court the Aztecs have an adjusted net rating of 43.2, the best of all pairings with over 100 possessions played. The three listed were the pairings that have stuck out the most on tape though.

Leave a comment with your favorite combinations and let me know who I missed.

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