St. John’s Lineups: A Little Bit Of Everything Leads to Nothing

St. John’s captured a 14-point victory over Dartmouth at Carnesecca Arena on Saturday, but the Red Storm are still 10-8 and winless during Big East play. The entire season has been characterized by new starting lineups and trying to fit together mismatched pieces.

Prior to the season the Red Storm were considered potentially the “most-talented team in the Big East.” While that article links to Jeff Borzello’s CBS article from November, he certainly wasn’t the only one saying it. Five starters returned from the previous season and St. John’s seemed to have the pieces to be a competitive team in the new Big East. Things haven’t worked out quite that way. Now 0-5 in conference play, Steve Lavin is facing questions about how to get the most out of his lineups.

The problem is that St. John’s can’t seem to find a lineup that works with its 10 rotation players on the court. Sure, there have been new starting lineups galore (almost half the games this season have featured a new five), but it doesn’t really matter. It’s about finding a group that can give a coach consistent minutes. That’s not happening. This season Ken Pomeroy is tracking the most used lineups during a team’s past five games. Here’s the percentage of time that the top lineup has played together for each of the 10 Big East teams:

Team Lineup Pct.
Providence 34.5%
Xavier 32.2%
Butler 26.5%
Villanova 21.1%
Seton Hall 19.4%
Creighton 19.1%
Georgetown 14.9%
DePaul 14.4%
Marquette 13.1%
St. John’s 8.7%

Well, you probably saw that coming, huh? But isn’t it somewhat shocking that St. John’s has found that little consistency? It isn’t just the past five games either. In order to better understand what was wrong with the Red Storm I took a look at the performance of lineups and individual players against “Big East level competition,” defined as teams ranked 125th or better in Pomeroy’s rankings.

By algorithmically going through play-by-play logs I found the most played St. John’s lineups during those games and their performance are presented below.

PG SG SF PF C Off. Points Off. Poss. Def. Points Def. Poss. Off. Eff. Def. Eff. Margin
Rysheed Jordan D’Angelo Harrison Phil Greene JaKarr Sampson Orlando Sanchez 81 65 73 62 124.6 117.7 6.9
Rysheed Jordan D’Angelo Harrison Sir’Dominic Pointer JaKarr Sampson Orlando Sanchez 46 43 48 46 107.0 104.3 2.6
Rysheed Jordan D’Angelo Harrison Phil Greene JaKarr Sampson Chris Obekpa 37 34 49 38 108.8 128.9 -20.1
Phil Greene D’Angelo Harrison Max Hooper JaKarr Sampson Chris Obekpa 31 32 30 30 96.9 100.0 -3.1
Phil Greene D’Angelo Harrison Sir’Dominic Pointer JaKarr Sampson Chris Obekpa 38 29 23 30 131.0 76.7 54.4
Phil Greene D’Angelo Harrison Sir’Dominic Pointer JaKarr Sampson Orlando Sanchez 28 24 22 25 116.7 88.0 28.7
Phil Greene D’Angelo Harrison Orlando Sanchez JaKarr Sampson Chris Obekpa 17 20 25 22 85.0 113.6 -28.6
Rysheed Jordan D’Angelo Harrison Sir’Dominic Pointer Orlando Sanchez Chris Obekpa 25 18 24 19 138.9 126.3 12.6
Rysheed Jordan D’Angelo Harrison Sir’Dominic Pointer JaKarr Sampson Chris Obekpa 19 17 20 16 111.8 125.0 -13.2
Rysheed Jordan D’Angelo Harrison Phil Greene Orlando Sanchez Chris Obekpa 15 17 11 17 88.2 64.7 23.5

Before we go any further there’s one huge caveat to all of this: Because St. John’s subs so much and has so many inconsistencies in its lineups, even the most-played lineup has only played 127 total possessions (offense and defense) together this season. That’s just less than a full game. Therefore this isn’t a particularly large sample. The extremes though could still be relevant. For instance, there are a number of lineups with Sir’Dominic Pointer that have been successful. The defensive numbers of the fifth and sixth most used lineups seem too good to be true, but Pointer is nationally ranked in both block percentage (5.7%) and steal percentage (3.9%). Those lineups also provide plenty of rebounding, with the 6’5″ Pointer playing small forward. Why is rebounding important? Well, the Red Storm are excellent at making shots difficult for opponents. The problem on defense, especially against more talented opponents, is corralling the misses. St. John’s currently ranks last in the Big East in defensive rebounding percentage. Getting a third, bigger player to crash the boards instead of forcing Phil Greene or Max Hooper into that position on the boards should translate into slightly better defensive numbers.

It’s also worth noting that the most-played lineup, which is a little smaller, struggles a bit defensively, but is the third best of these 10 lineups offensively. That helps those five at least stay in front of opponents. It makes sense that lineups with Sanchez would be better offensively. Right now he has a much more refined offensive game than Obekpa. That’s probably why St. John’s is almost 10 points better per 100 possessions when he’s on the court versus off of it against those same “Big East quality opponents.” Unlike Hooper, who gives almost all the offensive gains back by struggling on the defensive end, Sanchez is passable on both. Here’s how St. John’s (the entire team) has performed with certain players in and out of the lineup against the upper echelon of opponents:

Last First Off. Eff. In Off. Eff. Out Def. Eff. In Def. Eff. Out In Poss. Out Poss. Off Diff. Def. Diff. Total Diff.
Greene Phil 103.5 100.0 102.8 118.2 543 218 3.5 -15.4 18.9
Sanchez Orlando 107.0 97.2 105.8 108.6 401 361 9.8 -2.8 12.6
Obekpa Chris 100.3 104.9 100.0 114.5 394 367 -4.7 -14.5 9.9
Hooper Max 111.1 96.4 112.0 103.8 314 447 14.7 8.2 6.5
Harrison D’Angelo 102.6 102.3 106.1 109.6 540 221 0.3 -3.5 3.8
Pointer Sir’Dominic 100.2 105.9 106.0 108.7 456 305 -5.7 -2.7 -3.0
Achiuwa God’Sgift 96.4 104.6 104.1 108.2 197 564 -8.2 -4.1 -4.1
Branch Jamal 108.1 99.2 116.0 102.1 271 491 8.9 13.9 -5.0
Sampson Jakarr 101.7 103.6 111.1 101.8 424 337 -1.9 9.2 -11.2
Jordan Rysheed 98.7 106.2 111.3 102.2 389 373 -7.5 9.1 -16.5

Is anyone else shocked by Phil Greene’s numbers? I was a little until I thought about it. The reason Greene’s numbers look so good is the improvement he brings over Rysheed Jordan, who is obviously still finding his way against elite competition. Since the game against Xavier on Dec. 31, Jordan hasn’t posted an offensive rating above 100 in a single game, with his best being 98 in 33 minutes against DePaul. He played just 13 minutes against Providence and 23 minutes against Dartmouth, neither with particularly good results. Has Jordan hit a wall? Is that what’s happened to St. John’s offense? It’s quite possible.

The other surprise in this list might be JaKarr Sampson. The 6’9″ forward has had just one game in Big East play with an offensive rating above 100, the double-overtime loss to Providence last Thursday. If Sampson can improve his shot selection and concentrate on getting to the rim it’s quite possible that the St. John’s offense could improve and the Red Storm could become more competitive in the Big East.

What all of these numbers reveal is that there’s no magic bullet that can either fix or destroy St. John’s season. The Red Storm have a number of talented players, but are working through the growing pains of a freshman point guard and a coaching staff that has struggled to find a consistent rhythm of substitutions during games. Don’t worry that the Red Storm keep starting different lineups. Worry that Lavin and company can’t find a way to get the most out their unique pieces during the 40 minutes that come afterwards.

Note: All lineup data was processed from the official play-by-play available on NCAA.org. I was unfortunately unable to obtain XML data, but was able to smooth out any lineup errors during the QA work through this data, which is part of the reason this post is about a week later than I had hoped. Curious about another team’s lineups? Ask in the comments.

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3 Responses to St. John’s Lineups: A Little Bit Of Everything Leads to Nothing

  1. Joamiq January 21, 2014 at 6:32 pm #

    This is terrific work – thanks for doing it

  2. dariosk February 6, 2014 at 11:37 am #

    hi, I’m a NCAA fan from Italy, do you have some data about lineups?I love watching these stuff but aren’t easy to find

    • John Templon February 6, 2014 at 12:19 pm #

      KenPom is putting some lineup data at the bottom of his team pages now. I had to write a computer program to grab all the lineup data that I reference in this post because it’s impossible to get anywhere online.