6 NBA Teams Still Without a Clear Starting Lineup Before the 2012-13 Season
By this point in the offseason, most NBA teams have long since figured out what their starting lineups will look like. Whether they will be trotting out the same group from last season or incorporating some shiny new pieces. Even the most active teams' rosters are taking shape as the 2012-2013 season steadily approaches.
There are, however, a few stragglers who still have yet to get their act together.
Whether they are waiting to see how a young player fairs in training camp, if a veteran is still capable of playing at a high level or even simply if a player can fit into the team's culture and identity, there are a handful of teams around the league that are still lacking a definitive starting lineup.
While having depth is certainly never a bad thing in today's NBA, it can lead to a certain amount of personnel problems as coaches struggle to figure out just who deserves to be out on the court for tipoff versus who would be better served riding the pine and rotating into the game.
Without further ado, here are six teams that are still figuring out their starting lineups and what they could look like when basketball begins in October.
Note: The projected starters are listed from positions one through five in italics at the top of each slide. In no way is this a guarantee on who will be starting, it is only speculation based on the rosters and identities of each team.
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Jeremy Lin; Kevin Martin; Chandler Parsons; Royce White; Omer Asik.
Perhaps no team has as muddled of a roster as the Houston Rockets, who gutted their roster in the failed attempt to land an elite player, ridding themselves of both young talent and proven veterans alike.
Now, the Rockets are left with a squad filled with athleticism and quickness but sorely lacking in experience and that lack of established players is why Houston still has no set starting lineup as the season approaches.
Jeremy Lin, the team’s marquee free agent addition, is all but guaranteed a starting job. The budding superstar will be the center of the team’s offense, work almost exclusively with the ball in his hands and be asked to both score and facilitate consistently in order to keep Houston competitive as they rebuild.
Although questions remain about whether his backloaded deal is worth it and if he can replicate his success with New York, there is no denying Lin’s talent and upside, making him the default starting point guard.
At the two though, things become more difficult. The team has Kevin Martin, a career 18.4 points per game scorer capable of exploding any given night, but Martin clashed with coach Kevin McHale and, at age 29, does not exactly fit the team’s youth movement. First round lottery pick Jeremy Lamb should see plenty of minutes given his scoring ability and smooth shooting stroke, as well as his potential to improve.
Ultimately, Martin should win out as he is still the better player and earn the starting role alongside Lin, barring another trip to McHale’s doghouse.
At forward, the team will likely use Chandler Parsons, who is coming off of a solid rookie season in which he averaged 9.5 points, 4.8 boards and 2.1 assists per game while showcasing nice versatility on both ends of the court, and either multi-faceted rookie Royce White or third-year power forward Patrick Patterson.
The center spot is Omer Asik’s to lose given that the team splurged on him in free agency and lacks any true fives on the roster capable of making a major defensive impact like Asik.
With a team this young and unpredictable though, it is always possible for someone to break out in training camp and earn his way into a starting slot.
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Isaiah Thomas; Marcus Thornton; Tyreke Evans; Thomas Robinson; DeMarcus Cousins
For years now the Sacramento Kings have had a roster with plenty of talent but have never been able to take advantage of it and have created a number of logjams out on the court. The 2012-2013 season should be no different as yet another active but ill-conceived offseason has left them with no clear starting five for next season.
DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans should be locks, although the team needs to make a move for a true small forward, since the three is not a natural spot for Evans. Evans is still a versatile offensive player that can handle the ball, make plays, slash and play in transition, though he is a below average shooter and defender.
Cousins needs to mature, but the third-year center is coming off of a breakout season in which he averaged 18.1 points, 11 boards and 1.6 assists per game while showing flashes of being the league’s next dominant center. He needs to improve his decision making and effort, but he has the talent to be a top-five big man in this league and a perennial All-Star. He may cause some headaches, but he absolutely deserves a starting job.
Marcus Thornton isn’t always efficient, but he is one of the best shooters on the Kings’ roster and can consistently create his own offense, making him a valuable piece. Thornton is also capable of heating up in an instant and having huge scoring games. While he could thrive as a sixth man for a contender, he’s Sacramento’s starting 2-guard for the foreseeable future.
The point guard and power forward spots, however, are where the questions lie.
Isaiah Thomas is coming off a superb rookie year in which he earned the starting job and averaged 11.5 points, 2.6 boards and 4.1 dimes per game, but the Kings just signed former-Most Improved Player Aaron Brooks who is capable of providing the same things for Sacramento and is a more explosive scorer.
At the four, the team drafted Thomas Robinson, one of the most NBA-ready players in the 2012 draft, but also re-signed athletic big Jason Thompson to a long-term deal.
In the end though, this team is still trying to figure out what it has in its young core and will opt for potential by trotting out a lineup with no one over the age of 25.
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Jeff Teague; Louis Williams; Anthony Morrow; Josh Smith; Al Horford
The Atlanta Hawks had as busy an offseason as any team, dealing away former franchise guard Joe Johnson for cap room and a number of rotation pieces and also sending perennial disappointment Marvin Williams packing in exchange for former All-Star point man Devin Harris.
While this made it clear that the team wanted to position itself to be a player in free agency and not toil in mediocrity, it left them with a number of issues heading into next season. Namely who will start for them on the wing.
Josh Smith is riding high off of his best professional season, averaging 18.8 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.7 blocks per contest while shooting 45.8 percent from the field, and though his name is perpetually dangled in trade talks, there is no reason to think the high-flying athlete won’t be a starter for Atlanta when the season tips off.
The same goes for Al Horford, who returned from a pectoral injury in the playoffs and will resume his role as the team’s starting center. Though he is a natural power forward because of his quickness and midrange shooting he is capable of playing the five and is simply the Hawks’ best option in the middle.
Many fans and pundits have speculated that the team will start Harris over Jeff Teague, but the team is still trying to determine if Teague can be their point guard of the future and his quickness and defensive intensity should earn him another shot as the starting one for Atlanta. He averaged a solid 12.6 points, 4.9 assists and 1.6 steals per game last season and is poised to pick up right where he left off after a solid playoff run.
At 2-guard, the team should go small and play the explosive but undersized Louis Williams. Williams was the team’s lone high-profile free agent pickup and his shooting and ball handling abilities would give Atlanta the luxury of having a pair of backcourt playmakers.
The small forward spot could very well go to Anthony Morrow, a sharpshooter who, though slightly short for the three position, has emerged as a consistent scoring option who can occasionally make plays on the defensive end.
This Atlanta team has a bright future, but in order to remain competitive next season they should look to play small-ball and exploit their speed and athleticism whenever possible right from the start of a game.
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Jrue Holiday; Evan Turner; Dorell Wright; Spencer Hawes; Andrew Bynum
By trading for Andrew Bynum, the Philadelphia 76ers have found their franchise center and vaulted into the title contention conversation. But their slew of other offseason moves have made it difficult to predict just what the starting five Philly trots out on opening night will look like.
Bynum is unquestionably the starting center, and with good reason. The seven-footer had easily the best season of his career in 2011-2012, averaging 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game while shooting an impressive 55.8 percent from the field. He was finally able to stay healthy and thrived taking a more active role with Los Angeles both offensively and defensively.
As long as he can stay on the court, Bynum will man the middle for Philadelphia as he gives them a tremendous advantage in the paint over nearly ever other team in the NBA.
Jrue Holiday will retain the starting point guard role as the UCLA product has improved considerably in his time in the league and his mix of athleticism, shooting and court vision make him one of the better point guards in the Eastern Conference. Beyond just his abilities though, the Sixers have absolutely no depth at the one and there is no legitimate challenger to Holiday’s status as the incumbent starter.
Jason Richardson was brought in from Orlando to be a three-point threat primarily and, while he is still a starting-level talent, Evan Turner, fresh from a strong postseason in which he averaged 11.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game, will likely be the first shooting guard to see the floor for Philly. Turner is a tremendous athlete; a multi-position defender and simply fits the club’s identity better than Richardson.
At small forward, Dorell Wright will be the one to fill Andre Iguodala’s shoes. Wright is not nearly the multi-faceted player Iguodala was, but he is a capable scorer who can stroke shots from the perimeter and contribute on the boards too.
The power forward slot is a clear toss-up between Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young, but a player like Hawes who can pass very well out of the post and hit shots from outside compliments Bynum better than another freak athlete who can run the floor like Young does.
These 76ers have a number of options in their starting lineup, but building one that can thrive around Bynum filled with shooters and defenders will likely be their best choice.
Portland Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard; Wesley Matthews; Nicolas Batum; J.J. Hickson; LaMarcus Aldridge
Portland started the 2011-2012 season looking like a dark-horse Western Conference contender but, after struggling down the stretch, opted to blow up and begin the rebuilding process around star big man LaMarcus Aldridge.
Now, the Blazers have a number of intriguing young talents, but also some issues with just who will be consistent starters during the 2012-2013 campaign.
Obviously Aldridge will be in the starting five, but because of their lack of depth at center I believe L.A. Will see the brunt of his time at the five. He has the size and strength to play center, although he will need to attack the basket more and hit the glass with force, as he sometimes has a tendency to float out to the perimeter instead of getting to the rim.
J.J. Hickson was an afterthought in Sacramento, but played phenomenally in Portland, as he averaged 15.1 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game while shooting 54.3 percent from the field and making 10 starts. In a contract year, Hickson will be motivated to play his best basketball and has the athletic ability to thrive alongside Aldridge in a mobile frontcourt that can outscore opponents easily.
Meyers Leonard has tremendous upside, but is still very raw and will need time to add both muscle and finesse to his game before he is ready to be a regular starter in the NBA.
Damian Lillard was the team’s sixth overall pick and though there was much discussion about whether a mid-major college player could be a starter as a rookie, Lillard put all criticism to rest by torching the Summer League and averaging 26.5 points, four rebounds and 5.3 assists on his way to being named the co-Summer League MVP.
With little quality backcourt depth, Lillard should be the starter for every game he can play and is already considered by many to be among the favorites for Rookie of the Year given his talent and the opportunity he has.
Wesley Matthews had a down 2011-2012 season, but is still a hard-nosed defender, solid three-point shooter and will provide a nice, stable presence alongside Lillard, who will undoubtedly take his licks in his first year as a professional basketball player.
Nicolas Batum was re-signed by the team to a lucrative deal after a bidding war with the Minnesota Timberwolves. The French wing player looks ready to prove why he was worth such a hefty contract with his athletic ability and play on both ends of the floor.
Portland is still a year or two away from entering the playoff conversation again, and before they can get there they must figure out a consistent starting lineup.
New Orleans Hornets
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Greivis Vasquez; Eric Gordon; Al-Farouq Aminu; Ryan Anderson; Anthony Davis
By winning the NBA’s draft lottery and retaining Eric Gordon despite his best efforts, the New Orleans Hornets have positioned themselves to be a playoff contender sooner rather than later. However, before they can return to relevancy, the team will need to sort out its starting lineup, which features several interesting dilemmas.
As the first overall pick, the NCAA’s Most Outstanding Player and potentially the league’s next elite big man, Anthony Davis will be a starter from day one, but the question is whether he will begin games at center or power forward. Despite his wiry frame and need to bulk up, the Hornets will likely begin Davis at the five due to his rebounding and shot-blocking abilities.
Alongside Davis will be Ryan Anderson, who won the league’s Most Improved Player award last season by averaging 16.1 points and 7.7 rebounds while connecting on 43.9 percent of his shots from the field and 39.3 percent from three-point territory. Though he will not have as many open looks as he did alongside Dwight Howard, Anderson should still thrive spacing the floor and hitting the offensive glass.
New Orleans surprised many by dealing incumbent starting point guard Jarrett Jack for nothing to Golden State, and opening up a serious hole at the lead guard spot. Although the team seems set on converting Austin Rivers to a true point guard from a combo-guard, Greivis Vasquez will be the starter initially.
He averaged 8.9 points, 2.6 boards and 5.4 assists for the Hornets last season and has excellent size and court vision, even with his lack of shooting range.
Eric Gordon struggled with injuries last season, but is easily the most talented player on the New Orleans roster and will be asked to lead the team in 2012-2013. He is a good shooter that can also bully his way to the rim and is a physical and aggressive perimeter defender. There is simply no chance that a healthy Gordon wouldn’t start for Monty Williams’ Hornets.
Al-Farouq Aminu has been less than stellar in his brief NBA career, but he still has the potential to breakout thanks to his athletic ability and will be the team’s starting small forward in all likelihood when the season starts.
New Orleans has Hakim Warrick, Robin Lopez and Jason Smith who could all challenge for starting positions, but ultimately this team will look to get as much experience and playing time for their young nucleus as possible.