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2013-14 NBA Starting Lineups That Free Agency Helped the Most

Adam FromalNational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 18, 2016

2013-14 NBA Starting Lineups That Free Agency Helped the Most

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    It's hard for NBA general managers to significantly upgrade their starting lineups, especially with a weak free-agent class to work with. And yet seven have still managed to do exactly that. 

    Most of the teams who have improved over the offseason have done so through the draft or by acquiring depth, but these seven squads have managed to fill up one of the five starting spots with a player stronger than the incumbent. Other teams have been able to upgrade single spots in the lineup, but corresponding declines negated any advantage they might have gained.

    If your team is featured here, you're probably in good shape going into the 2013-14 campaign.

    Three of the seven teams should be considered playoff locks, while another trio has improved enough that each of the members appears likely to advance to the postseason. Then there's one squad that improved, just not enough.

    Is your favorite team featured? 

     

    Note: Restricted free agents still expected to return to their old teams will be given asterisks. 

7. Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Projected Starting Lineup:

    • Point guard: Kyrie Irving
    • Shooting guard: Dion Waiters
    • Small forward: Anthony Bennett
    • Power forward: Tristan Thompson
    • Center: Andrew Bynum

     

    The Cleveland Cavaliers only have one new addition to the starting lineup that came via free agency. Anthony Bennett is a new face as well, assuming he starts over the other unappealing options at small forward. But he was drafted, not signed in the open market. 

    By the end of the 2013-14 campaign, this upgrade in the starting lineup could rank significantly higher, but there's still too much uncertainty. 

    Andrew Bynum is the free-agency addition, and he could start over Anderson Varejao or slide over a spot in the lineup to force Tristan Thompson to the bench. Is he going to look like the Los Angeles Lakers or Philadelphia 76ers version of himself? 

    If we're dealing with the former, then the Cavs might as well book The Q for a first-round series in the playoffs, but the latter would mean their starting lineup hasn't actually been upgraded at all. 

    There's a lot of uncertainty for Cleveland, but there's also plenty of reason for optimism. 

6. Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Projected Starting Lineup:

    • Point guard: Ricky Rubio
    • Shooting guard: Kevin Martin
    • Small forward: Corey Brewer
    • Power forward: Kevin Love
    • Center: Nikola Pekovic*

     

    Nikola Pekovic could technically still sign an offer sheet and hope the Minnesota Timberwolves don't match it, but that appears to be remarkably unlikely. Even though negotiations are dragging on so long that Pek must think he's Dwight Howard, there's been no indication the Montenegrin center will leave. 

    That leaves two free-agency-prompted changes in the starting five: shooting guard and small forward.

    At the 3, Corey Brewer (or Chase Budinger, but that's not as much fun) will replace Andrei Kirilenko. Unfortunately for the 'Wolves, that's a bit of a downgrade. While Brewer is on the rise, his defensive inconsistency and lack of versatility on offense make him the less valuable of the two.

    It's not all negative, though, or else Minnesota wouldn't be included in this article. 

    Kevin Martin is a significant upgrade at shooting guard over the undersized rotation the team had been using in the past. One of the offseason priorities was finding size and shooting ability at the 2, and Martin definitely has both of those attributes. 

    He may be limited defensively, but he'll space the court and actually has the size necessary to at least not let other shooting guards loft up attempts right over the top of him.

5. Los Angeles Clippers

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    Projected Starting Lineup:

    • Point guard: Chris Paul
    • Shooting guard: J.J. Redick
    • Small forward: Jared Dudley
    • Power forward: Blake Griffin
    • Center: DeAndre Jordan

     

    Matt Barnes could very well start over Jared Dudley at small forward, but the veteran is better suited coming off the bench as an energy guy. When Barnes plays, his enthusiasm and hustle are both contagious, and he usually inspires his teammates to put in more effort.

    Redick and Dudley are the two new additions to the lineup, both acquired in the trade that sent Eric Bledsoe to the Phoenix Suns.

    Each of them will help the Los Angeles Clippers' outside shooting, and while that wasn't a true weakness last year, it wasn't a strength either. Dudley is coming off a season in which he made 1.3 triples per game on 39.1 percent shooting from behind the arc, while Redick drilled 2.1 per contest while shooting 36.6 percent. 

    Their combined efforts will make a big impact on the floor spacing, allowing Blake Griffin to use his ever-expanding arsenal of post moves without fear of a collapsing defense. 

    There are no other changes to the starting lineup, and neither Redick nor Dudley is a star. But while the improvement isn't all that massive, there wasn't much room for upward mobility in the first place. 

4. Golden State Warriors

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    Projected Starting Lineup:

    • Point guard: Stephen Curry
    • Shooting guard: Klay Thompson
    • Small forward: Andre Iguodala
    • Power forward: David Lee
    • Center: Andrew Bogut

     

    The only change caused by free agency comes at small forward. 

    Harrison Barnes started 81 games at the 3 for the Golden State Warriors in 2012-13, but now Andre Iguodala has a stranglehold over the starting spot. While the Dubs could shift Iggy to shooting guard and make Klay Thompson into a sixth man, this appears to be the most likely starting five. 

    So, let's turn to Basketball-Reference for a head-to-head comparison between the All-Star swingman and the North Carolina product. The following are per-game stats:

     PointsReboundsAssistsStealsBlocksFG%PER
    Andre Igoudala15.15.84.91.70.546.016.9
    Harrison Barnes9.24.11.20.60.243.911.0

     And now, just for good measure, their per-game stats during the postseason:

     PointsReboundsAssistsStealsBlocksFG%PER
    Andre Igoudala14.46.04.91.80.441.915.0
    Harrison Barnes16.16.41.30.60.444.413.8

    Barnes was much better once the playoffs rolled around, but he still wasn't on the same level as Iguodala. He created fewer points, and his defense lagged well behind. You can't see it reflected in the above stats, but Iggy remains one of the league's best perimeter defenders. 

    Although the second-year forward could become the better player down the road, he's not right now. This was a major upgrade in the starting lineup. 

    But the beauty of the move? Barnes is still on the roster; just as a sixth man.

3. New Orleans Pelicans

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    Projected Starting Lineup:

    • Point guard: Jrue Holiday
    • Shooting guard: Eric Gordon
    • Small forward: Tyreke Evans
    • Power forward: Anthony Davis
    • Center: Greg Stiemsma

     

    The New Orleans Pelicans did more to upgrade their starting lineup than any other team in the NBA, even if not all of the moves came in free agency. Jrue Holiday was technically acquired in a draft-day trade that sent the rights to Nerlens Noel and a 2014 first-round pick (top-five protected) to the Philadelphia 76ers. 

    Even without the Holiday move counting for the purposes of this article, the Pelicans still did a great job upgrading the talent in the starting lineup. 

    Greg Stiemsma, a shot-blocking specialist who doesn't offer a lot on the offensive end, is a clear downgrade from Robin Lopez, but Tyreke Evans more than makes up for the difference. Al Farouq-Aminu was a serviceable player at the 3, but Evans has All-Star potential. 

    Remember Evans' rookie season? The one in which he averaged 20 points, five rebounds and six assists to join Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Oscar Robertson in an ultra-exclusive club? 

    The Memphis product has declined since then, but that's due largely to the roster/coaching turmoil and toxicity he experienced on the Sacramento Kings. He has so much physical talent, and all he needs is a consistent jumper to take that next step. 

    The Pelicans did more than just replace their name. They gave their team playoff potential. 

2. Charlotte Bobcats

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    Projected Starting Lineup:

    • Point guard: Kemba Walker
    • Shooting guard: Gerald Henderson*
    • Small forward: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
    • Power forward: Cody Zeller
    • Center: Al Jefferson


    The Charlotte Bobcats managed to sign the best free agent in franchise history when they secured the services of Al Jefferson. Although the frontcourt is now crowded with Jefferson, Cody Zeller, Bismack Biyombo and Josh McRoberts, there was still a significant talent upgrade. 

    Gerald Henderson remains a restricted free agent, but no other team has expressed much interest in the shooting guard's services. It's increasingly likely that he returns to Charlotte, either by signing an extension or playing for the qualifying offer. 

    With Henderson back, three pieces in the starting lineup remain steady. 

    Power forward is still up for grabs, but expect Zeller to win the job before he plays a single game of his rookie season. He's simply more impressive than Biyombo and McRoberts, and it's worth letting him learn on the court. 

    Charlotte hasn't improved enough to have a remote shot at the postseason, even in the weaker Eastern Conference, but it's still managed to move out of the NBA's basement. 

1. Houston Rockets

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    Projected Starting Lineup:

    • Point guard: Jeremy Lin
    • Shooting guard: James Harden
    • Small forward: Chandler Parsons
    • Power forward: Terrence Jones
    • Center: Dwight Howard

     

    The most controversial part of this starting lineup is easily Terrence Jones. 

    I've been quite impressed by the growth I've seen from him during Summer League action. All play in Orlando and Las Vegas comes with major caveats, but Jones looks more confident and has been showing off more skills than ever before. That bodes well for his chances to start. 

    Then again, Greg Smith, Donatas Motiejunas or even Omer Asik could all start at the 4. We just don't know yet. 

    However, power forward is ultimately irrelevant for the purposes of this article, simply because none of the possible starters were acquired during free agency. The only true change comes at center, where Dwight Howard will be replacing Asik. 

    The Turkish big man played great basketball throughout 2012-13, dominating on the glass and protecting the rim to help make up for the porosity of his backcourt. He just wasn't very stellar on the offensive end. 

    Even while injured, Howard thrived as a two-way center. He led the NBA in rebounding, played elite defense and scored both efficiently and in volume. Despite his back troubles, he was one of the league's best centers. 

    If he's healthy, he'll be the best at his position, just as he was before joining the Los Angeles Lakers for a single season. 

    That's a big upgrade, even over a quality big like Asik. 

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