Ranking the Most Balanced Starting Lineups in the NBA
Now that the 2013-14 NBA regular season is finally here, and the preseason roster tinkering is over, we get to see the very best starting lineup each team has to offer.
While some of the top squads in the league are carried by one or two megastars, many are fueled by all five of their starters. A five-pronged attack often makes it ridiculously difficult for opponents to narrow their game plan or their emphasis.
True balance in a starting lineup involves a wide range of scoring options, multiple rebounders and a defense with no weak spots.
Which NBA starting lineups fit the mold? Find out ahead as we rank the most balanced units in the Association.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Offensive balance 8.5, defensive balance 7.5
If Corey Brewer is the Minnesota Timberwolves' least-dangerous offensive starter, they're in good shape. On the other side of the ball, Kevin Martin is the only truly substandard defender.
Houston Rockets: Offensive balance 8.5, defensive balance 7.5
Kevin McHale's crew might be Howard-Harden oriented, but Chandler Parsons and Patrick Beverley will help facilitate a healthy share of scoring chances. Their real test of balance will come when they face a finely tuned San Antonio Spurs machine or a hot-shooting Los Angeles Clippers club.
Golden State Warriors: Offensive balance 9.5, defensive balance 6.0
You'd be hard-pressed to find a starting five with an offensive ceiling higher than the Dubs. The Splash Brothers' nightly heroics are supported by the passing skills of Andre Iguodala and big man Andrew Bogut. Defensively, things aren't quite as balanced, as Stephen Curry and David Lee have much to prove.
Los Angeles Clippers: Offensive balance 8.5, defensive balance 7.0
An increase in low-post scoring would make this a truly comprehensive offense, and a priority of protecting the paint would give them a more competitive defense. That being said, this is an exceptionally talented group—1 through 5.
5. Brooklyn Nets
Offensive Balance: 9.5
Defensive Balance: 8.0
If these rankings were based solely on 2013-14 projections, then the Brooklyn Nets might be higher.
They don't possess that "proven balance" factor yet, but within the next month or two we'll find out exactly how they'll share responsibilities. It's imperative for Jason Kidd to give everyone touches and keep them dialed into the game plan.
As Brooklyn's returning stars welcome highly respected newcomers, Kidd has an abundance of offensive skill at every starting position. If they each can work hard to get each other shots, the Nets starters could be the most lethal, unguardable offensive unit in the Eastern Conference.
Joe Johnson will be the shakiest piece of the defensive puzzle, but there are multiple high-level defenders on Brooklyn's starting five. Healthy versions of Deron Williams and Paul Pierce will do more than hold their own, and Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez will make the paint a no-fly zone.
Again, we're holding off on crowning this starting five, as they must prove they can coexist in adverse situations. However, they land in our top-five based on resumes and expectations.
4. Memphis Grizzlies
Offensive Balance: 8.0
Defensive Balance: 9.5
Memphis is no juggernaut In the scoring department, but the Grizzlies compensate for their suspect three-point shooting with a varied diet of Mike Conley, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
They work harder than almost any other squad at getting buckets close to the rim and rarely rely on outstanding nights from any single player.
The real mark of Memphis' balance comes on the defensive side.
Each Grizzlies starter brings a unique skill set to the defense with Conley's quickness and thievery, Tony Allen's swingman physicality, Tayshaun Prince's length, Randolph's rebounding and Gasol's deep post protection.
The top of the West is brutally competitive, so it's asking a lot for Memphis to exceed last season's appearance in the conference finals. But that doesn't mean its grit-and-grind ways aren't worthy of praise.
3. San Antonio Spurs
Starters: Tony Parker (PG), Danny Green (SG), Kawhi Leonard (SF), Tim Duncan (PF), Tiago Splitter (C)
Offensive Balance: 9.0
Defensive Balance: 8.5
Tim Duncan and Tony Parker are the unquestioned leaders of the San Antonio Spurs' starting unit, but their unselfishness enables the team to deliver a well-rounded attack every night.
Gregg Popovich knows how to keep everyone involved, whether it's finding touches for Tiago Splitter on a dive to the rim or making sure Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green get their open looks.
San Antonio's ball movement and well-allocated scoring was impressive in 2012-13, and it's only going to be more impressive in 2013-14. Leonard will become a more prominent factor on a nightly basis, and Green and Splitter should continue to develop in their roles. That means less burden for both Parker and Duncan.
As a defensive unit, the Spurs aren't quite at the level of the elite clubs. However, Green and Leonard do a tremendous job against swingmen, and Duncan is a master of footwork and timing in the paint
Pop's starting unit allowed 0.89 points per possession last year, according to 82games.com. A number like that can only be the product of balance.
2. Chicago Bulls
Offensive Balance: 9.0
Defensive Balance: 9.0
Don't let their opening-night struggles fool you. The Chicago Bulls' starting five is, pound for pound, one of the best lineups in the league.
The Bulls might rely on Derrick Rose to carry them at times, but Rose will ensure that Chicago launches a well-rounded attack.
His ability to penetrate gets things started, but it is the passing and shooting skills of his comrades that keeps the chain reaction going. Chicago has a skilled big man in Carlos Boozer, a competent high-post pivot in Joakim Noah and a couple dangerous wings in Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler.
Coach Tom Thibodeau's vaunted defense is empowered by his starters' inside-out commitment to making opponents work. The Bulls have active athleticism in the backcourt and on the wings, and Joakim Noah protects the rim as well as anyone in the Association.
When you have such focused efforts on both the interior and perimeter, you have the makings of a championship contender.
1. Indiana Pacers
Offensive Balance: 9.5
Defensive Balance: 9.5
No starting lineup is more balanced in all phases of the game than the Indiana Pacers.
Frank Vogel's first five do a great job of using size to their advantage and playing a physical style of basketball that few opponents can overcome.
Each of the Pacers'starters can produce on offense and there's no weak link. Having five players with the ability to fill up the hoop means that there's not as much pressure on a star like Paul George to force shots. David West and Roy Hibbert present multiple options in the post while George and the Indiana guards can generate plenty of opportunities on the perimeter.
Defensively, the Pacers do two important things extremely well—corral slashers and protect the rim. Their effectiveness in both of these areas is a huge reason why this unit was plus-288 in 2012-13, per 82games.com.
A starting five with this kind of size and evenly distributed production gives the Pacers a great chance to return to the conference finals, and possibly venture even further.
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