Ranking All 30 NBA Teams Based on Their Starting Lineups
A starting lineup alone cannot win a championship, but we're going to pretend that it can in this fantasy universe and then rank the NBA's 30 teams accordingly.
All that matters is the group of five players that first steps out onto the court: a point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward and center.
In an effort to avoid quibbling about which players are listed in the starting lineup, I'll be strictly adhering to ESPN's depth charts, which you can find here.
Read on to find out.
30. Charlotte Bobcats
Point Guard: Ramon Sessions
Shooting Guard: Ben Gordon
Small Forward: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Power Forward: Bismack Biyombo
Center: Brendan Haywood
The Charlotte Bobcats have improved, but their starting lineup still doesn't stand out as anything but the worst starting five in the NBA.
As good as Michael Kidd-Gilchrist may be one day, he's still just a talented rookie. Bismack Biyombo is in a similar situation even though he's now in Year 2 with the Bobcats.
The additions of Ramon Sessions, Ben Gordon and Brendan Haywood will help Charlotte win more games than last year, but this roster still needs a lot of work.
29. Detroit Pistons
Point Guard: Brandon Knight
Shooting Guard: Rodney Stuckey
Small Forward: Tayshaun Prince
Power Forward: Jonas Jerebko
Center: Greg Monroe
The sole reason that the Detroit Pistons don't find themselves in the cellar is the presence of Greg Monroe. Even at his young age, the big man is already one of the best at his position in the entire NBA.
Brandon Knight should develop during his sophomore year, and Rodney Stuckey remains an underrated guard. However, there just isn't enough talent in the starting lineup going into the season.
28. Orlando Magic
Point Guard: Jameer Nelson
Shooting Guard: Arron Afflalo
Small Forward: Hedo Turkoglu
Power Forward: Glen Davis
Center: Gustavo Ayon
It's never a good thing when Glen Davis the best starter on your team. Sadly, that's the case for the Orlando Magic after Dwight Howard headed out west to join the Los Angeles Lakers.
Each and every member of the Orlando starting five is a solid player, but the combined efforts just don't match the star power that every remaining team can claim.
27. Sacramento Kings
Point Guard: Isaiah Thomas
Shooting Guard: Marcus Thornton
Small Forward: Tyreke Evans
Power Forward: Jason Thompson
Center: DeMarcus Cousins
The Sacramento Kings have enough talented guards that they're forcing Tyreke Evans to play small forward in an effort to maximize the skill on the court. While the decision accomplishes that task, it does devalue Evans quite a bit.
DeMarcus Cousins is easily the best player on this roster, and he should take another step forward during his third season in the league.
26. Houston Rockets
Point Guard: Jeremy Lin
Shooting Guard: Kevin Martin
Small Forward: Chandler Parsons
Power Forward: Patrick Patterson
Center: Omer Asik
The Houston Rockets lineup is full of question marks.
Can Kevin Martin stay healthy? Is Jeremy Lin more like the young guard who bounced from roster to roster or the standout that inspired Linsanity? Does Omer Asik deserve a starting role?
This is a new-look starting five, but it's one with a decent amount of talent from top to bottom.
25. Cleveland Cavaliers
Point Guard: Kyrie Irving
Shooting Guard: Daniel Gibson
Small Forward: Omri Casspi
Power Forward: Tristan Thompson
Center: Anderson Varejao
Kyrie Irving is one of the premier point guards in the NBA, and Anderson Varejao is one of the most underappreciated players in the league thanks to his boundless energy and work on the glass.
Their combined efforts are enough to keep the Cleveland Cavaliers out of the bottom five, but it'll take Dion Waiters surpassing Daniel Gibson and shining plus an emergence from Tristan Thompson to allow this unit to take the next step.
24. Toronto Raptors
Point Guard: Kyle Lowry
Shooting Guard: Terrence Ross
Small Forward: DeMar DeRozan
Power Forward: Andrea Bargnani
Center: Jonas Valanciunas
There will be no shortage of offense coming from the five basketball players prominently featured on this slide.
Kyle Lowry is one of the most dynamic offensive point guards in the Association, Terrence Ross should succeed on the more glamorous end of the court as a rookie, Andrea Bargnani is a great shooter, and DeMar DeRozan...well, he loves to shoot.
If Jonas Valanciunas competes for Rookie of the Year, this could be too low for Canada's team.
23. New Orleans Hornets
Point Guard: Greivis Vasquez
Shooting Guard: Eric Gordon
Small Forward: Al-Farouq Aminu
Power Forward: Ryan Anderson
Center: Anthony Davis
Eric Gordon is already one of the best shooting guards in the world, and Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson complement each other perfectly in the frontcourt. There will be no shortage of offense or defense while those two big men are on the court.
The problem with the New Orleans Hornets is that the team is insanely young when it comes to the starting five.
If a few players on the roster fail to live up to their potential, then the rebuilding process could take a bit longer.
22. Portland Trail Blazers
Point Guard: Damian Lillard
Shooting Guard: Wesley Matthews
Small Forward: Nicolas Batum
Power Forward: LaMarcus Aldridge
Center: Meyers Leonard
It's tough to move out of the bottom 10 when your starting five features two rookies. Even though Damian Lillard is my pick for Rookie of the Year, he's still in his first season out of Weber State.
LaMarcus Aldridge will have to continue improving as he'll be expected to carry this team offensively for one more season.
As for the wing players, they could both break out, but they haven't yet.
21. Milwaukee Bucks
Point Guard: Brandon Jennings
Shooting Guard: Monta Ellis
Small Forward: Mike Dunleavy
Power Forward: Drew Gooden
Center: Samuel Dalembert
If I were the Milwaukee Bucks head coach, I'd tell Mike Dunleavy, Drew Gooden and Samuel Dalembert that they weren't allowed to shoot.
Then I'd place the three starting frontcourt members under the basket and let Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis fire away at will. The backcourt duo is offensively talented enough to handle the responsibility.
20. Phoenix Suns
Point Guard: Goran Dragic
Shooting Guard: Wesley Johnson
Small Forward: Michael Beasley
Power Forward: Luis Scola
Center: Marcin Gortat
Well, this isn't how the Phoenix Suns looked last year.
Even though Steve Nash is gone, the additions of Goran Dragic, Wesley Johnson, Michael Beasley and Luis Scola put the Suns in an even stronger position than they were last year.
It will be interesting to see whether or not Marcin Gortat can continue to play at an All-Star level without Nash feeding him the ball, though.
19. Washington Wizards
Point Guard: John Wall
Shooting Guard: Bradley Beal
Small Forward: Trevor Ariza
Power Forward: Nene Hilario
Center: Emeka Okafor
Even though Bradley Beal is only a rookie, he'll form an impressive one-two punch in the backcourt alongside an improved John Wall. The former No. 1 pick should finally live up to his potential during the 2012-13 season now that he's surrounded by quality teammates.
These names might not jump off the page, but they're all solid players who are capable of winning game after game.
18. Dallas Mavericks
Point Guard: Darren Collison
Shooting Guard: O.J. Mayo
Small Forward: Shawn Marion
Power Forward: Dirk Nowitzki
Center: Chris Kaman
With three new names in the starting five and another year of wear and tear on Dirk Nowitzki's body, it'll be intriguing to see whether the Dallas Mavericks can remain in the playoff hunt all season.
Dirk is still going to be a stud, but can Chris Kaman regain his old form? Can O.J. Mayo prove that he's not just a volume shooter? Can Darren Collison show us that George Hill shouldn't have replaced him in the Indiana Pacers lineup?
17. Utah Jazz
Point Guard: Mo Williams
Shooting Guard: Gordon Hayward
Small Forward: Marvin Williams
Power Forward: Paul Millsap
Center: Al Jefferson
If it wasn't for Marvin Williams, the Utah Jazz would boast an incredible starting lineup after the return of Mo Williams to his former team.
Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson form one of the league's top frontcourt tandems, but it will all be for naught until Alec Burks starts at shooting guard and Gordon Hayward shifts to Marvin's spot in the lineup.
16. Golden State Warriors
Point Guard: Stephen Curry
Shooting Guard: Klay Thompson
Small Forward: Harrison Barnes
Power Forward: David Lee
Center: Andrew Bogut
If they're all on the court and not bandaged up on the sidelines, this team could score more points than any other squad in the NBA.
Between Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes, the Golden State Warriors have three-point shooting galore. Plus, Andrew Bogut finally gives the Dubs a defensive stopper in the paint.
Youth might occasionally hold these five back, but the talent and upside is through the roof.
15. Philadelphia 76ers
Point Guard: Jrue Holiday
Shooting Guard: Jason Richardson
Small Forward: Evan Turner
Power Forward: Spencer Hawes
Center: Andrew Bynum
The Philadelphia 76ers should be fringe contenders in the Eastern Conference this season, but that's more of a testament to the team's depth than its starting lineup.
Andrew Bynum and Spencer Hawes form a great inside-outside pairing at the big man positions, but the other three players in the starting five still have a lot to prove.
Jason Richardson is no longer the player he once was, Jrue Holiday needs to show that he can keep improving, and Evan Turner must get rid of the "bust" label.
14. Atlanta Hawks
Point Guard: Jeff Teague
Shooting Guard: Lou Williams
Small Forward: Kyle Korver
Power Forward: Josh Smith
Center: Al Horford
The Atlanta Hawks might have lost Joe Johnson to the Brooklyn Nets, but Danny Ferry's new team isn't going to skip a beat after the additions of Lou Williams (via free agency), Kyle Korver (via trade) and Al Horford (via return from injury) to the starting five.
Josh Smith and Horford will both be competing for coveted All-Star spots in the Eastern Conference as they receive passes from an improved Jeff Teague.
With the possible exception of "J-Smoove," none of these players will blow you away. They will all be solid while complementing one another nicely.
Don't sleep on the Hawks.
13. Memphis Grizzlies
Point Guard: Mike Conley
Shooting Guard: Tony Allen
Small Forward: Rudy Gay
Power Forward: Zach Randolph
Center: Marc Gasol
The Memphis Grizzlies usher in a new tier of starting fives. Even though the Atlanta Hawks possess quality players at all five positions, they still fall rather significantly short of the top 13 starting units in the NBA.
When your worst two starters are Tony Allen—one of the league's premier perimeter defenders—and Mike Conley—an emerging dual-threat point guard—you're in good shape.
12. Minnesota Timberwolves
Point Guard: Ricky Rubio
Shooting Guard: Alexey Shved
Small Forward: Andrei Kirilenko
Power Forward: Kevin Love
Center: Nikola Pekovic
The Minnesota Timberwolves are ready to make the jump into the postseason during the 2012-13 season, especially if Brandon Roy is healthy enough to overtake Alexey Shved and Chase Budinger at shooting guard.
As it stands, the starting five is incredibly potent on the offensive end of the court.
The versatility of Andrei Kirilenko, the creativity of Ricky Rubio, the inside-outside game of Kevin Love and the bruising physicality of Nikola Pekovic will all help the Wolves dominate opponents.
11. Chicago Bulls
Point Guard: Derrick Rose
Shooting Guard: Rip Hamilton
Small Forward: Luol Deng
Power Forward: Carlos Boozer
Center: Joakim Noah
Derrick Rose isn't going to return until the season is well under way, but the Chicago Bulls are going to become one of the Eastern Conference's most deadly teams as soon as he steps back onto the court.
After all, Rose is a former MVP with unmatched offensive skills at his position.
The rest of the starting lineup isn't half bad, even though each player has limitations.
10. Indiana Pacers
Point Guard: George Hill
Shooting Guard: Paul George
Small Forward: Danny Granger
Power Forward: David West
Center: Roy Hibbert
The Indiana Pacers might not have as many big names as the Chicago Bulls, but that's just how this hard-nosed team likes it.
George Hill showed off his skills during the end of the last regular season, taking over as the starting point guard for Darren Collison. With him and Paul George each improving, this will be a terrifying backcourt to face.
Bolstered by the defense of Roy Hibbert and the offense of David West and Danny Granger, the frontcourt ain't too shabby either.
9. Los Angeles Clippers
Point Guard: Chris Paul
Shooting Guard: Chauncey Billups
Small Forward: Caron Butler
Power Forward: Blake Griffin
Center: DeAndre Jordan
Whenever your starting lineup lays claim to two of the league's top 20 players, you know you're in good shape.
It helps even more when one of them is the best point guard in the league. The other is a dynamic young power forward who has averaged over 20 points and 10 rebounds per game during both of his seasons in the NBA.
Any improvement at all from DeAndre Jordan would just be the icing on an already delicious cake.
8. Denver Nuggets
Point Guard: Ty Lawson
Shooting Guard: Andre Iguodala
Small Forward: Danilo Gallinari
Power Forward: Kenneth Faried
Center: JaVale McGee
Depth is the name of the game for the Denver Nuggets, but "Solid Starting Five" might as well be the middle name.
Ty Lawson is emerging as one of the NBA's best point guards, and the diminutive speedster will have more options to work with than ever before.
With Andre Iguodala upgrading the perimeter defense and providing another transition option, the Nuggets are set to become one of the league's best and most exciting teams.
Denver marks another step to a higher tier of starting fives.
7. New York Knicks
Point Guard: Raymond Felton
Shooting Guard: J.R. Smith
Small Forward: Carmelo Anthony
Power Forward: Amar'e Stoudemire
Center: Tyson Chandler
With two of the league's best offensive players, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and an intriguing backcourt, the New York Knicks are finally set to win more than just one playoff game at the conclusion of the 2012-13 NBA season.
The biggest question marks come with the two guards. Raymond Felton must be in shape and play like he never left Madison Square Garden, while J.R. Smith needs to develop some semblance of consistency.
6. Brooklyn Nets
Point Guard: Deron Williams
Shooting Guard: Joe Johnson
Small Forward: Gerald Wallace
Power Forward: Kris Humphries
Center: Brook Lopez
Don't fall into the trap of thinking that the Brooklyn Nets simply added Joe Johnson to a putrid lineup and jumped up to this lofty spot in the rankings.
The Nets added Johnson, a healthy Brook Lopez and a year of chemistry development between the players without a "J" in their names.
That's a pretty significant difference between the 2011-12 squad and this one.
5. Boston Celtics
Point Guard: Rajon Rondo
Shooting Guard: Courtney Lee
Small Forward: Paul Pierce
Power Forward: Brandon Bass
Center: Kevin Garnett
Rajon Rondo is one of the league's top three point guards, while Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett both rank within the league's best 25 or 30 players.
Even without Ray Allen, the Boston Celtics still have that stellar "Big Three."
Courtney Lee should be able to hold down the fort at shooting guard while Avery Bradley recovers from offseason surgery.
Rondo, Pierce and Garnett may stand out, but every member of this starting five is solid.
4. San Antonio Spurs
Point Guard: Tony Parker
Shooting Guard: Manu Ginobili
Small Forward: Kawhi Leonard
Power Forward: Tim Duncan
Center: Boris Diaw
As long as Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are wearing San Antonio Spurs uniforms, the team is still going to remain competitive in the Western Conference.
This year will be no different, especially if Kawhi Leonard can continue performing at the level he did as a rookie and Boris Diaw's versatility continues to play an efficient role in Gregg Popovich's offense.
As always, it would be foolish to doubt the Spurs.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
Point Guard: Russell Westbrook
Shooting Guard: Thabo Sefolosha
Small Forward: Kevin Durant
Power Forward: Serge Ibaka
Center: Kendrick Perkins
Even without James Harden in the starting lineup, the Oklahoma City Thunder still boast one of the best five-man units in the Association.
Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant form an incredible one-two punch on offense, just as Thabo Sefolosha, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins form a stellar one-two-three punch on defense.
Despite the presence of two of the league's 10 best players, the Thunder still can't touch the top two starting fives in the NBA.
2. Miami Heat
Point Guard: Mario Chalmers
Shooting Guard: Dwyane Wade
Small Forward: LeBron James
Power Forward: Shane Battier
Center: Chris Bosh
The defending champions added depth with Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, but neither player will be starting for the Miami Heat when the 2012-13 season kicks off.
Mario Chalmers is still developing into an above-average point guard while Shane Battier attempts to stave off Father Time and remain an effective defender. However, the Heat aren't about those two.
This team now belongs to LeBron James, the clear No. 1 player in the world. At this point, it's utterly nonsensical to argue anything else.
The scary part is that Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh aren't too far behind him, and the Los Angeles Lakers still hold down the fort in the top overall spot of these rankings.
1. Los Angeles Lakers
Point Guard: Steve Nash
Shooting Guard: Kobe Bryant
Small Forward: Metta World Peace
Power Forward: Pau Gasol
Center: Dwight Howard
A few months ago when the Los Angeles Lakers suffered an early postseason defeat at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder, who would have thought that this team would go into the next season with the league's best starting five?
Yes, that's why Kobe Bryant looks so happy.
He's now joined not only by Pau Gasol, but also by Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. There's going to be offense galore in the Staples Center while the four biggest members of the starting lineup cover for Steve Nash on defense when necessary.
The Lakers may not have the depth to topple the Miami Heat as the overall favorites, but they will have the best and most exciting list of names for announcers to read out at the start of games.