The Worst Starting 5s in the NBA Post-Free Agency

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistAugust 1, 2013

The Worst Starting 5s in the NBA Post-Free Agency

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    The race for Andrew Wiggins is on, and NBA teams are filling the starting blocks at an alarming rate.

    A key to any successful tanking campaign lies in fielding a lineup light on intimidation, and even lighter on production.

    Failing both the eye test and the numbers game, the starting fives that crack this list only strengthen those cries for retraction.

    In a superstar-driven league, it's only a matter of which ones a team already has and what those players are doing to bring more to the fold. There's only one Mikhail Prokhorov burning through stacks of cash as quickly as the Federal Reserve can print them, meaning manufactured dynasties come few and far between. 

    Some teams on this list have already scratched the first item off their championship checklists. They've landed their star player and are now busy burning up the recruiting trails.

    Most are still searching for that franchise centerpiece, but their post-free agency starting tandems might just be bad enough for a member of the vaunted 2014 rookie crop to be that building block.

    While some dark clouds loom over their 2013-14 outlook, fans must never forget about that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. With the promise of that potential prize in the back of our minds, it's time to celebrate the grotesque with a trip through the worst of the worst.

     

    *For argument's sake, this list has been compiled assuming all currently injured players will enter next season with a clean bill of health.

    **Unless otherwise noted, statistics are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.

10. Dallas Mavericks

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    PG: Jose Calderon

    SG: Monta Ellis

    SF: Shawn Marion

    PF: Dirk Nowitzki

    C: Samuel Dalembert

     

    Despite the best efforts of their stargazing owner, Mark Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks' offseason haul netted them a collection of complementary pieces. With Father Time having exiled Dirk Nowitzki from the elite, there is no cornerstone building block in the Big D.

    Jose Calderon is a tactician with the basketball (career 4.2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio), but he's never had to massage offensive egos like those of Nowitzki and Monta Ellis. It's a daunting task he soon wouldn't wish on his worst enemy.

    Ellis has fired off at least 17.5 field-goal attempts per game in the last four seasons despite a career player efficiency rating (16.8) that suggests he's nothing better than mediocre. Nowitzki, a former MVP with a career 23.5 PER, has surpassed that shooting rate just three times in his 15-year career and hasn't shared the floor with a chucker like Ellis in more than a decade, since Michael Finley (17.8) in 2001-02.

    Nowitzki's scoring average has dropped the last four seasons, and he may not have the life left in his 35-year-old legs to buck that trend. Ellis is all too eager to grab the offensive reins, which should scare Mavericks fans when they consider the career 31.8 percent three-point shooter fired off 328 shots from distance last season.

    As for Shawn Marion and Samuel Dalembert, any points produced from this pair will be found money. An Ellis-Calderon backcourt is going to produce a steady stream of opposing drivers, and the thought of Nowitzki chasing today's supercharged hybrid forwards is exhausting to just write about.

    Dallas won't be flat-lining in Nowitzki's twilight years, but that treadmill of mediocrity looks ready for its next turn.

9. Toronto Raptors

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    PG: Kyle Lowry

    SG: DeMar DeRozan

    SF: Rudy Gay

    PF: Amir Johnson

    C: Jonas Valanciunas

     

    If new Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri earns his keep, this team won't finish the season with the same starting lineup shown here.

    Outside of sophomore bruiser Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto has few pieces worth keeping around.

    Kyle Lowry is neither an efficient scorer (40.1 field-goal percentage last season) nor a great setup man (career 5.0 assists against 1.9 turnovers per game). DeMar DeRozan is a shooting guard who can't shoot (39.1 percent away from the rim last season). Amir Johnson is decent (10.0 points and 7.5 rebounds last season), but it's tough to predict anything better than that for the eight-year veteran's future.

    And then there's Rudy Gay, the man with superstar skills and pedestrian efficiency marks (career 16.1 player efficiency rating). He has the raw talent to do anything on the hardwood, but his seven-year track record shows that he cannot do them at a consistently effective rate.

    Ujiri's plan for his first season back in Toronto should be simple: Work on developing Valanciunas and pray for a respectable return on the trade market for the rest of this core.

8. Boston Celtics

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    PG: Rajon Rondo

    SG: Avery Bradley

    SF: Jeff Green

    PF: Brandon Bass

    C: Jared Sullinger

     

    If Boston Celtics team president Danny Ainge has embraced the vast reclamation project at hand, why are so many members of Celtics Nation reluctant to follow his lead?

    I get it. On paper, Boston has a trio of valuable pieces for the future in Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley and Jeff Green. But the key phrase is those three deflating words: for the future.

    Rondo's playmaking ability is unrivaled by his fellow floor generals. He sees passing lanes that others don't and threads needles that the world's greatest seamstress can't.

    But what good is a championship-caliber quarterback without a group of competent receivers surrounding him?

    Judging off last season's scoring averages alone, Rondo's supporting cast is good for a combined 36.7 points per game. Considering he has never poured in better than 13.7 points a night, this offensive group has a steep uphill climb toward becoming merely atrocious.

    Green has the deepest bag of scoring tricks of the bunch. But while he averaged 20.1 points in 17 starts last season, his scoring average in 280 career starts is only 15.2.

    He's the only player of this starting group who shot above 32 percent from deep last season. He's also the only member of this lineup to crack last season's top-200 shooters from within five feet (59.2 percent, 181st).

    Defensively, this lineup shines on the perimeter, but any player who finds a path to the basket should discover an efficient scoring chance shortly thereafter. The Celtics were soft up front last season, and that team had Kevin Garnett to anchor the interior.

    From perimeter shooting to low-post scoring to a rim-protecting defensive presence, Ainge has plenty of holes to fill on this roster. Returning to relevance takes time even for a franchise as proud and storied as the Celtics.

7. Orlando Magic

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    PG: Victor Oladipo

    SG: Arron Afflalo

    SG: Maurice Harkless

    PF: Tobias Harris

    C: Nikola Vucevic

     

    If the Orlando Magic guessed right with the No. 2 pick in this year's draft and natural shooting guard Victor Oladipo can flourish at the point guard spot, then this team will finish the year in a far more desirable power ranking list.

    If the Orlando Summer League taught us anything, though, there are going to be bumps in the road for Oladipo's backcourt transition.

    As Fox Sports' Ken Hornack reported, Oladipo's "rough moments (in the summer league) included a 2-of-12 shooting performance against eventual league champion Oklahoma City...He also finished with nearly as many turnovers (19) as assists (20)."

    It's a shame, because the rest of this opening lineup is ready to compete for a postseason berth.

    Nikola Vucevic is a walking double-double and a 52 percent shooter to boot. Tobias Harris left the Milwaukee Bucks as trade filler and arrived in Orlando as a rising star (17.3 points and 8.5 rebounds in 27 games with the Magic). Arron Afflalo serves as the group's veteran leader and combines with Maurice Harkless to form a dynamic defensive duo on the wings.

    Oladipo is an important piece to Orlando's future, but he's not a point guard. Not yet anyway.

    Without a conductor to steer this locomotive, the Magic are going to struggle to get out of the train station.

6. Sacramento Kings

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    PG: Greivis Vasquez

    SG: Ben McLemore

    SF: Luc Mbah a Moute

    PF: Jason Thompson

    C: DeMarcus Cousins

     

    Keeping quiet on the DeMarcus Cousins trade front was a nice start for the new Sacramento Kings regime. So too was snagging scoring savant Ben McLemore with the No. 7 pick in June's draft and later prying Greivis Vasquez away from the New Orleans Pelicans.

    Still, there's the question of how defensive-minded coach Michael Malone will mesh with Sacramento's offensively slanted roster.

    Having a stopper like Luc Mbah a Moute helps, but he can't change that this starting group features a pair of players who allowed more than 110 points per 100 possessions last season (Jason Thompson, 111, and Vasquez, 112). Or that Cousins and Thompson have tallied just two seasons with an even 1.0 block per game in their combined eight years.

    Even if Malone had a sudden change of heart and looked to turn every game into a track meet, Sacramento doesn't have the consistent offensive weapons to sustain a frenetic pace.

    For as talented as he is, Cousins is still a 6'11" center with a career field-goal percentage below 45.0. McLemore's offensive potential arises more from the eye test than through any statistical analysis (15.8 points per game on 33.3 percent shooting at the Las Vegas Summer League).

    The Kings kept their home base, but are now on the hunt for an identity.

5. Charlotte Bobcats

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    PG: Kemba Walker

    SG: Ben Gordon

    SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

    PF: Cody Zeller

    C: Al Jefferson

     

    Four of the five players in the Charlotte Bobcats' projected starting lineup are built for an up-tempo system.

    Kemba Walker is more of a scorer (17.7 points per game) than a traditional point guard (5.7 assists against 2.4 turnovers). Ben Gordon is a potent perimeter shooter (career 40.4 three-point percentage), but his quick trigger is a liability in the half-court set.

    Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's hideous form suggests he'll never be even a mediocre shooter, but his athleticism makes him an asset in transition. Cody Zeller has shown flashes of a productive low-post game, but he'll need to add some meat to his 240-pound frame before he impacts the game with more than just his mobility.

    The only player hoping that new Bobcats coach Steve Clifford doesn't put a charge into this offense is Charlotte's $41 million man, Al Jefferson. The plodding 265-pound center is an effective back-to-the-basket scorer (17.8 points per game on 49.4 percent shooting form the field last season), but full-court sprints are not among his list of strengths.

    Charlotte didn't cough up the cash to take Jefferson out of his comfort zone, but Clifford can only put so many yellow lights in front of his offense before he risks sacrificing the strengths of his other four starters.

4. Utah Jazz

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    PG: Trey Burke

    SG: Alec Burks

    SF: Gordon Hayward

    PF: Derrick Favors

    C: Enes Kanter

     

    Assuming this starting five earns Tyrone Corbin's blessing, 23-year-old Gordon Hayward will be its senior member.

    For these youthful Utah Jazz, it's all a matter of continuing their development as the stage gets brighter and the competition level rises.

    Hayward has a versatile skill set, but he's sliced five percentage points off his field-goal success rate during his first three years in the league (43.5 down from 48.5). Derrick Favors is the only other projected starter who's ever averaged even 20 minutes a night, and his previous high was only 23.2.

    With Alec Burks and Enes Kanter in the mix, the potential for respectability is there. While the small sample size of this group leaves some room for promise, there's no telling how those numbers will translate with increased workloads and nightly battles with the league's best of the best.

    Not to mention that this franchise has staked so much of its future on a 6'0" point guard being able to create clean offensive looks against bigger, stronger defenders. Trey Burke may be an All-Star one day, but his woeful shooting display at the Orlando Summer League (24.1 percent from the field, 5.3 percent from deep) highlights that those days may be years away.

    The Jazz have been waiting for this time to come since Kanter and Favors first arrived in Salt Lake City. Here's to hoping they'll have the patience to enjoy the fruits of their youth movement down the road.

3. Milwaukee Bucks

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    PG: Brandon Knight

    SG: O.J. Mayo

    SF: Ersan Ilyasova

    PF: John Henson

    C: Larry Sanders

     

    Opposing offenses will have reasons to "Fear the Deer" when matched up with these Milwaukee Bucks next season.

    Sliding Ersan Ilyasova to small forward frees up a starting gig for John Henson to fill. Combining that duo with budding star Larry Sanders gives Milwaukee a three-headed frontcourt all standing at least 6'9".

    Unfortunately, those same terrors will shift sides when the ball moves across the time line.

    Milwaukee traded one inefficient backcourt pairing in Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings for another in Brandon Knight and O.J. Mayo. These Bucks guards can also score points in bunches, but Knight (career 41.0 field-goal percentage) and Mayo (43.6) are just as likely to shoot their team out of a game.

    The problem is that Milwaukee's defensive-oriented interior will rely on these volume scorers to keep them competitive. Mayo is the only player in this opening lineup to have averaged 14 points for an entire season, and he's only hit that mark in three of his five years in the league.

    Beer goggles might be a requirement for Brew Town basketball this season.

2. Phoenix Suns

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    PG: Goran Dragic

    SG: Eric Bledsoe

    SF: Caron Butler

    PF: Markieff Morris

    C: Marcin Gortat

     

    If offense wins games and defense wins championships, what's the take-home prize for raw athleticism?

    Better than you'd think, actually, provided that you're buying into the hype surrounding the next class of NBA rookies.

    The Phoenix Suns starting five has no proven scorers.

    Goran Dragic had a mild breakthrough campaign in 2012-13 (14.7 points and 7.4 assists), but he's already 27 years old and close to, or perhaps already at, his peak performance level. Eric Bledsoe is a strength and conditioning coach's dream, but his three-point shooting (career 30.8 percent) and decision-making (3.0 assists against 1.9 turnovers) leave plenty to be desired.

    I'm intrigued to see what Jeff Hornacek can do with this athletic backcourt, but that's purely coming from an entertainment standpoint. If the Suns aren't holding nightly races to 120 points, it will still be fun to watch each player try to play his way out of the desert.

    Caron Butler's best days are behind him; Marcin Gortat's may never come. Markieff Morris looked solid at the Las Vegas Summer League (13.6 points on 52.2 percent shooting), which means he'll likely be hoping for mediocrity when the games actually matter.

    If the basketball world looks like smoke and smells like smoke next season, chances are the Suns will have entered full-on fire-sale mode. 

1. Philadelphia 76ers

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    PG: Michael Carter-Williams

    SG: Jason Richardson

    SF: Evan Turner

    SF: Thaddeus Young

    C: Nerlens Noel

     

    The Philadelphia 76ers swapped out their All-Star point guard, Jrue Holiday, for a potential No. 1 pick in Nerlens Noel, knowing full well that the prospect was sidelined indefinitely while rehabbing from a torn ACL.

    Well, Noel has been granted a miraculous recovery here, and Philly still holds this spot with the worst starting five in the business.

    Michael Carter-Williams is a long, athletic point guard lacking anything close to ideal decision-making or three-point shooting. At one time, Jason Richardson was the standard bearer for physical tools, but knee injuries and Father Time have sapped his explosiveness and effectiveness. Evan Turner could be a productive piece deep in a good team's rotation, but looks well over his head the Sixers' new leading man.

    Noel and Thaddeus Young could be one of the league's more athletic frontcourt pairings, but the duo tips the scales at a combined weight of less than 450 pounds. If back-to-the-basket bruisers are a dying breed, there may be a hope for a revival whenever Philly is on the defensive end.

    The Sixers are thin on to shooters, scorers and rebounders.

    Maybe there's a reason why this team hasn't settled on a coach—or why a coach has yet to settle on it.