A basketball player's value is the sum of his ability in each of the five tools. When they are on the floor, how do they help their team score, shoot, pass, rebound and defend?
A player is a combination of tools, a line-up is a combination of tool sets and a team is a combination of line-ups.
There are 25 possible slots in a line-up - five tools x five positions. For simplicity's sake, we can categorize every player as either + (above-average), 0 (average) or - (below-average) for his position at each tool.
The ultimate lineup would be 25/25, with the ability to score, shoot, pass, rebound and defend at all five positions. The first Dream Team, with over a half-dozen Hall of Famers in the prime of their careers, could field multiple 25/25 lineups.
John Stockton, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Karl Malone and David Robinson - that's a line-up that could beat you from every conceivable angle. You can't leave anyone single-covered because they can all score, you can't leave anyone open because they can all shoot, you can't send double teams at anyone because they can all pass, you can't attack anyone because they can all defend and you can't expect second-chance points because they can all rebound.
Depending on the situation, Chuck Daly could slide everyone up a position and add Patrick Ewing at C or down a position and add Magic Johnson at PG. Over the course of a game, a coach is constantly mixing and matching line-ups, trying to find the combination of players the other team can't match up with.
Since the salary cap make it impossible for a franchise to assemble a group like the Dream Team, the best NBA teams have to make do with more limited players, putting them in lineups greater than the sum of their parts. There's no better example than the 2011 Dallas Mavericks, an unlikely collection of veterans thrown together at the end of their careers who wound up stunning the basketball world.
|Player||Defensive Position||Shot creation||Shooting||Passing||Rebounding|
|Jason Terry||1-, 2-||+||+||0||0|
|Jason Kidd||1, 2+, 3||-||+||+||+|
|Shawn Marion||1, 2+, 3+, 4||0||-||0||+|
|Dirk Nowitzki||4-, 5-||+||+||+||0|
|Tyson Chandler||4+, 5+||-||0||-||+|
Jason Terry, a 6'2 guard who didn't have the passing ability to be a PG, had to "cross-switch" with a bigger guard. Terry had to play defense at PG and offense at SG, which meant the other player in the back-court needed to defend SG's and run point.
That made Jason Kidd, a 6'4, 220-pound PG who could defend SG's and SF's, the perfect fit. In his prime, Kidd could defend three different positions at an elite level, enabling just about any guard to be successful next to him. Even in his late 30s, his skill-set was so rare he could play a key role on a championship team.
With weak defenders at PG (Terry) and PF (Dirk Nowitzki), Shawn Marion's ability to play elite defense at multiple positions was incredibly valuable to the Mavs. At various points in the 2011 playoffs, Marion guarded Andre Miller, Brandon Roy, Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.
Marion, Dirk and Tyson Chandler were a well-oiled machine up front. Dirk, at 7'0 with the size of a C and the skill-set of a SG, handled the shot-creating, passing and shooting, while Marion and Chandler handled the defense and rebounding. Since Marion was a plus defender at SF and Chandler was a plus defender at PF and C, Dallas could hide Dirk on the weakest offensive player at SF, PF and C.
The Mavs had the perfect mix of offense and defense. While they didn't have many great two-way players, their pluses and minuses lined up almost perfectly.