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The Wizards’ small lineup has been a big success, but it shouldn’t be rushed into big minutes yet

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NBA: Washington Wizards at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Wizards have spent most of the first month of the season looking for a lineup other than their starting unit that could be a positive for the team. Over the past few games, they’ve finally found something that has shown quite a bit of promise.

When the Wizards sub out Markieff Morris, make Otto Porter the stretch four, and insert Kelly Oubre at small forward, the Wizards have been remarkably effective. Washington has outscored opponents by 38 points in the 36 minutes they’ve played together so far this season. That translates to a Net Rating of +51.9, which is the second-best Net Rating for any unit that’s played at least 30 minutes together this season.

What’s most encouraging about those numbers is that a big chunk of them have come in late game situations, where Washington has struggled most of the season. The lineup is a +15 in 18 fourth quarter minutes, and played a big part in helping the team pull out wins at home against Milwaukee and Denver.

Anytime a lineup shows this kind of promise, it’s natural to want to extend their playing time to maximize their value. But sometimes, the thing that makes a lineup potent is that it’s used in small doses where it can best leverage its strengths.

So can the Wizards’ small lineup hold up to the brunt of a bigger workload? Let’s take a look:

STRENGTHS

They can go small without sacrificing rebounding

You wouldn’t know it by looking at their frames, but Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre are both stellar rebounders at their position. Porter is pulling in more rebounds per 100 possessions than LeBron James, and Kelly Oubre is pulling in more than Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard. They’re both top 20 in rebounds per 100 possessions among players 6’8 or shorter who have played at least 300 minutes this season.

Believe it or not, they’re both rebounding the ball better than Markieff Morris, Jason Smith, or Andrew Nicholson. The only player on the team that’s rebounding the ball better than Porter or Oubre is Marcin Gortat. So even though they’re going small, they’re actually putting their best rebounding unit on the floor with Oubre, Porter, and Gortat.

The shooting distribution has been great

Even though this lineup has played a lot in the fourth quarter, where the offense has been known to bog down, the shot distribution has been fairly even when they’re all sharing the floor. According to NBAwowy, Wall has attempted 16 shots with the lineup, Oubre has taken 13, Beal has taken 12, Porter has taken 10, and Gortat has taken 7.

When you’re spreading the ball out that evenly, it makes it a lot harder for opposing defenses to zero in on any one player. As a result, the Wizards are shooting 54.7 percent from the field and 38.1 percent from deep.

The lineup gives Markieff Morris more time to help the bench

Markieff Morris has struggled this season, but he’s still a big step up compared to a lot of the other guys coming off the bench and can help compensate for some of their shortcomings. For example, the Wizards are a +5 in the 38 minutes in which Morris has played alongside Andrew Nicholson. That might not sound like a big deal, but it kinda is because Nicholson hasn’t posted a positive plus/minus with anyone else on the squad this season.

Washington desperately needs to find a way to get productive minutes out of their second-biggest signing from last summer. If staggering Morris with the bench is the way to do it, they absolutely need to explore doing that more often.

POTENTIAL WEAKNESSES

Lack of shot creators

The ball distribution has been great so far, but I’m not sure that holds up as well if you give it extended minutes in the flow of a game. Oubre, Porter, and Gortat are all at their best working off the ball. The more often you trot that lineup out there, the easier it is to scheme ways to get the ball out of Wall and Beal’s hands and try to force the other three to make something happen, or cut off passing lanes and force Wall and Beal into bad isolation shots.

Haven’t played much against quality teams

Here’s the full list of teams the Wizards have unleashed the Wall-Beal-Oubre-Porter-Gortat lineup on:

  • Brooklyn Nets
  • Denver Nuggets
  • Miami Heat
  • Milwaukee Bucks
  • New York Knicks
  • Oklahoma City Thunder
  • Phoenix Suns

There are only two teams over .500 in that group. None of those teams are in the top 10 when it comes to offensive efficiency, and the Thunder are the only team in the top 10 in defensive efficiency. They were fortunate enough to catch Knicks and Bucks on the back end of back-to-backs, and get the Suns and Nuggets in the midst of East Coast road trips.

On top of that, remember most of the minutes this lineup has logged came in late game situations where the opposing team was at their most tired.

FINAL VERDICT

The Wizards are in desperate need of a lineup other than their starters that can produce useful minutes and defend smaller lineups. This unit helps address both of those issues.

That said, it’s still way too early to anoint this unit as the Wizards’ best five-man lineup. There are flaws with this unit that can and will be exploited when the team faces tougher, fresher competition. Scott Brooks shouldn’t be in a rush to change to start his starting lineup anytime soon, but having both options at his disposal should allow him to take advantage of the strengths of both lineups.