After 26 games, Portland Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups felt like a change needed to be made in the starting lineup.
In Sunday night’s loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, Billups opted to start Larry Nance Jr. instead of Robert Covington, who has started every game he’s played with the Blazers since arriving ahead of the 2020-21 season.
The Blazers starting five has not been fully healthy for the last five games with Damian Lillard and/or CJ McCollum out, so the five that started last night (Lillard, Norman Powell, Nassir Little, Nance Jr., Jusuf Nurkic) logged their first minutes of the season together. And it wasn’t pretty.
The five-man lineup logged a net rating of -77.5, with an offensive rating of 60 and a defensive rating of 137.5. It’s the second-worst lineup with at least seven minutes played together this season. Granted, one game as a complete unit is not a large enough sample size to truly determine how strong the lineup is, but the first go-around isn’t pretty. It was worth making the switch, but there would be nothing wrong in reverting back to Covington in the starting five with Nance Jr. coming off the bench.
Billups has really struggled during this streak because he’s had to deal with a number of injuries, not just with McCollum and Lillard. Nassir Little has been sidelined, and so has Cody Zeller. It’s been a while since the Blazers trotted out their top lineup with everyone healthy.
If Billups wanted to make more changes for Tuesday’s game against the Phoenix Suns, perhaps inserting Anfernee Simons into the starting unit would make sense. Simons posted a season-high 26 off the bench Sunday against the Wolves.
So, if the Blazers swapped out Simons for Little and re-inserted Covington for Nance Jr., here’s what the difference would be with those units:
Per NBA Advanced Stats
|Lillard, Powell, Little, Nance Jr., Nurkic||60||137.5||-77.5|
|Lillard, Simons, Powell, Covington, Nurkic||125.7||90.9||34.8|
The Blazers are only 27 games into the season with 55 more, so there is still time to experiment with these lineups to ensure you’re putting out the best unit.
What you don’t want to see is a lack of trying that will push the Blazers in a deeper hole that they might not be able to climb out of later in the season. Billups showed a willingness to try, and getting the rotations correct is a game of trial and error. His lineup against the Wolves came out as an error, so it’s time to try again.