Rick Carlisle has employed 250 different variations of his roster this season. As I cautioned doing this exercise last year, five-man lineups truly don't play much time together in the grand scheme of things. We tend to view a few of them as singular entities coming together cohesively, but outside of the Mavericks' dual starting fives (a Felton-led lineup has 201 minutes while the version with Parsons has 125), no fivesome has played more than 32 minutes together this year.
That makes these things tricky: there's still some small sample size variation happening. A lot of this data is still influenced by who the Mavericks played when deploying this certain subset of their roster. On an individual level, the Mavericks are best when JaVale McGee (plus-6.4), Raymond Felton (plus-6.3) and Wesley Matthews (plus-5.7) play. (There's a three-point drop off after that.) Their involvement or absence in these five-man units doesn't reflect on the overall state of the Mavericks, after all.
But there's some truth in these numbers, too, and they're definitely worth investigating. I curbed the data pretty hard, requiring a minimum of three games and 10 minutes played this season, which left us with about 20 lineups (out of 250, remember) that were eligible.
Real quick, a refresher: offensive rating measures how many points the Mavericks score based on 100 possessions. Defensive rating is how many they allow per 100 possessions. Net rating is the difference between the two. Now here's the best five-man units.
Barea / Felton / Matthews / Dirk / Powell
5 games, 20 minutes, 124 Offensive Rating, 79 Defensive Rating, 46 Net Rating
The Mavericks' most deadly lineup includes J.J. Barea, which is how you know we live in a flawed world.
It's funny because Barea has clearly been a negative this season (minus-2.3). He has struggled shooting the rock and his defense is, well, it's still bad. But this quintet has murdered the five games they've appeared in. Without digging to see exactly how he played with these teammates, I'd guess Barea just made some shots.
Barea / Harris / Matthews / Dirk / Powell
7 games, 27 minutes, 129 Offensive Rating, 97 Defensive Rating, 31 Net Rating
Ah, now we're getting somewhere: the top two lineups both feature Dirk and Powell together. That front court can work with the three guard lineup. A 129 offensive rating is, in fact, the second-best offense among qualifying lineups.
Williams / Matthews / Parsons / Powell / Pachulia
4 games, 17 minutes, 93 Offensive Rating, 66 Defensive Rating, 27 Net Rating
Zaza occupying the middle, Matthews playing his natural shooting guard position and a more mobile Powell at power forward. Considering all that, it's no surprise that this fivesome has stifled opposing offenses, albeit in just four games.
Williams / Matthews / Parsons / Villanueva / Pachulia
6 games, 15 minutes, 134 Offensive Rating, 108 Defensive Rating, 26 Net Rating
This is the highest qualifying offensive showing for a five-man unit. Villanueva, despite having the worst impact this season, must have hit shots in these 15 minutes. While his gravity doesn't compare to Dirk's, he does shift defenses around even when he's missing looks, helping free up the floor for the others.
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Now, let's take a quick look at the two starting fives. Here's the more effective one with Felton first.
Williams / Felton / Matthews / Dirk / Pachulia
22 games, 201 minutes, 115 Offensive Rating, 97 Defensive Rating, 18 Net Rating
This is a plus-13 point improvement offensively and plus-four improvement on the other end. The one thing this lineup does especially well is take care of the ball: they boast a 2.21 assist-to-turnover ratio. It's not the best assisting lineup, but the turnovers are so far and few between that it sugarcoats the average shooting numbers.
Williams / Matthews / Parsons / Dirk / Pachulia
16 games, 125 minutes, 97 Offensive Rating, 104 Defensive Rating, minus-7 Net Rating
With Parsons and the starters, the Mavericks haven't played well this season. It came to a head with that disastrous Hornets blowout, where Parsons skipped the first half and was on the floor while Charlotte ran them out to the pasture. Both the offense and defense is a few points worse each way, and it manifests itself with subpar play.
Still, as Parsons continues to work himself back, this is the lineup that stands to improve dramatically.