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January 26, 2012
Starting Fives
Worst of Last Quarter Century

by Neil Paine

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On Wednesday night, Charlotte Bobcats coach Paul Silas sent out the following starting lineup:

PG Kemba Walker
SG Matt Carroll
SF Derrick Brown
PF Tyrus Thomas
C  Byron Mullens

Which prompted Ben Swanson of Rufus on Fire to tweet:

"this could LITERALLY be the worst lineup ever."

(Perhaps not surprisingly, that group got rolled by the lowly Wizards, 92-75.)

My interest piqued, I wanted to see if I could actually find a worse starting lineup in the Basketball-Reference database (which goes back to 1986 for regular-season games and 1991 for the playoffs).

Going into the game, here were the career AWS+ scores (Alternate Win Score adjusted for league, where average = 100 ... think OPS+ for basketball) for Charlotte's starters:

Pos Player         Min AWS+
PG  Kemba Walker   456  91
SG  Matt Carroll  7141  71
SF  Derrick Brown 1444  86
PF  Tyrus Thomas  6847  96
C   Byron Mullens  561  67
    Average             82

To find possible starting lineups that were worse, I queried for groups where:

  • Every starter had at least 456 career minutes
  • No starter had a career AWS+ greater than 96

And I sorted by the lowest average. Hide the children, because the results are terrifying:

Date Team Opp Starters Avg
04/17/2002 DEN MIN Bateer (-19)/Cheaney (58)/Harvey (69)/Posey (93)/Satterfield (21)     44
03/30/2002 DEN CHI Bateer (-19)/Bowen (81)/Cheaney (58)/Howard (82)/Satterfield (21)     45
04/17/2007 DAL GSW Ager (-48)/Barea (78)/Buckner (73)/Diop (71)/George (69)              49
04/11/1986 NYK DET Bannister (19)/Cofield (3)/McNealy (70)/Orr (87)/Wilkins (74)         51
11/16/2002 DEN DET Blount (73)/Howard (82)/Posey (93)/Satterfield (21)/Tskitishvili (-7) 52
03/27/1986 NYK DAL Bannister (19)/Orr (87)/Sparrow (75)/Thornton (11)/Wilkins (74)       53
02/13/1993 DAL PHI Bond (29)/Iuzzolino (89)/Rooks (63)/Smith (44)/White (45)             54
12/30/1992 DAL POR Bond (29)/Davis (72)/Howard (42)/Iuzzolino (89)/Smith (44)            55
12/29/1992 DAL SAC Bond (29)/Davis (72)/Hodge (46)/Iuzzolino (89)/Smith (44)             56
01/19/2004 UTA GSW Arroyo (77)/Bell (70)/Collins (47)/Pavlovic (31)/Stevenson (55)       56
11/06/1990 LAC GSW Bannister (19)/Garland (76)/Grant (87)/Kimble (6)/Norman (96)         57
03/25/2002 DEN NYK Bateer (-19)/Bowen (81)/Cheaney (58)/Howard (82)/McCloud (83)         57
02/28/1989 SAS CHI Anderson (65)/Anderson (82)/Brickowski (85)/Comegys (45)/Smrek (10)   57
04/12/2004 ORL CHI Bogans (66)/DeClercq (76)/Gaines (10)/Howard (82)/Stevenson (55)      58
03/16/2002 DEN MIA Bateer (-19)/Cheaney (58)/Howard (82)/Lenard (88)/McCloud (83)        58
01/21/2007 MIN PHO Blount (73)/Foye (73)/Hassell (47)/James (92)/Reed (8)                58
03/26/1999 LAC SEA Martin (64)/Nesby (75)/Olowokandi (49)/Smith (56)/Taylor (49)         59
03/02/1989 SAS CLE Anderson (82)/Brickowski (85)/Comegys (45)/Maxwell (72)/Smrek (10)    59
12/28/2002 DEN LAL Blount (73)/Bowen (81)/Harrington (14)/Howard (82)/Yarbrough (44)     59
04/07/2002 DEN LAC Bateer (-19)/Cheaney (58)/Howard (82)/McCloud (83)/Posey (93)         59
12/01/1992 DAL UTA Bond (29)/Davis (72)/Iuzzolino (89)/Rooks (63)/Smith (44)             59
01/30/1993 DAL PHO Bond (29)/Davis (72)/Iuzzolino (89)/Rooks (63)/White (45)             59

The 2002 Nuggets and 1993 Mavericks dominate this list, which isn't exactly shocking seeing as how they were two of the worst teams of the past 20 years (in Dallas' case, the worst).

By mid-November 2001, Denver coach Dan Issel was already resorting to a starting five of Kenny Satterfield, James Posey, Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Juwan Howard, and Mark Blount. In December, Issel was put out of his misery; by March, interim coach Mike Evans was starting Satterfield, Calbert Cheaney, Posey, Donnell Harvey, and Mengke Bateer--arguably the worst 5-man unit to begin a game in the last 25+ years.

Not that others haven't tried since. Resting their starters at the end of a 67-win campaign, the 2007 Mavs played their penultimate game of the season with a ghastly starting lineup of Jose Barea, Maurice Ager, Greg Buckner, Devean George and DeSagana Diop. Ironically, it was against Golden State--the same Warriors team that would unceremoniously upset Dallas out of the playoffs sixteen days later.

Similarly late in the 1986 season, the 23-59 Knicks started a dreadful group: Fred Cofield, Gerald Wilkins, Louis Orr, Chris McNealy, & Ken Bannister. Predictably, the Bad Boy Pistons were winning 87-68 after three quarters before pulling their own starters out of pity.

But even among these horrible lineups, the 1993 Mavs stand out with five separate units ranking among the 22 worst. The one constant in all of them? Walter Bond, an inexperienced SG who kicked off his brief career with -3.4 WARP, still one of the worst seasons ever by a rookie. Bond was frequently accompanied by flotsam like Brian Howard, Doug Smith, Donald Hodge, Randy White, Sean Rooks, Terry Davis, and Mike Iuzzolino, leading to some of the worst starting lineups imaginable.

By comparison, the group Silas started Wednesday doesn't look so bad after all ... Because even though they did get blown out by Washington, at least they weren't starting Mengke Bateer.

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