Every NBA Team's Most Entertaining Lineup for 2015-16 Season
NBA coaches need different lineups for different reasons, and ideally they'll have one at the ready for any situation.
It could be a five-man scorching machine to deploy when a crunch-time bucket is desperately needed. Or a stone-wall quintet to protect a late-game lead. There are energy units to get teams out of a funk and stable ones that simply attempt to maintain a contest's flow.
Correctly assembling those lineups can take weeks, months or even years. We don't have that kind of time—but luckily, we're only building one group and using the most enjoyable criterion.
Which lineups make our hoops senses tingle the most? If each team prioritized entertainment over all else, which five players would it put on the floor?
Those are subjective inquiries, and as such, our attempts to answer them rely on the eye test. But we've also used the stat sheet where we can to help determine who works best together to yield the most aesthetically pleasing results.
Now, these have to be lineups that could realistically see floor time together this season. That means two things. First, no one who is already out for the year is eligible. Second, the groups need to make some basketball sense (i.e., there are no all-guard or all-big lineups.)
Otherwise, it's fair game. Got it? Good. Here's are our favorite five to watch on each roster.
Lineup: Jeff Teague, Dennis Schroder, Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap, Al Horford
When all is right with the Atlanta Hawks, their offense works like an assembly line. It's beautiful basketball and certainly productive, but it can be a tad light on flash for the casual fan.
Add some creativity to the mix, though, and the Hawks have something for everyone: movement (of player and ball) for the purists and magic for those who prefer their hoops served in viral-friendly highlight clips. Third-year point guard Dennis Schroder can provide that spark, particularly when he's working in concert with fellow track-star floor general Jeff Teague.
The more playmakers the merrier, and this unit pits Atlanta's best together. It also features walking mismatches at both frontcourt spots, with Paul Millsap and Al Horford capable of molding their jack-of-all-trades talents however needed. Sharpshooter Kyle Korver is a steady source of entertainment by himself, both for the defensive attention he draws and what he can do when he wiggles free.
If there's any surprise here, it's that energetic swingman Kent Bazemore isn't involved. His motor is insatiable, his 6'11 ½" wingspan is downright freakish, and he's daring enough to fill both highlight and blooper reels. But the quintet above has no expendable parts, so Bazemore will have to channel his energy on the sideline (which he's quite skilled at doing).
Lineup: Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder, Jared Sullinger, Amir Johnson
There isn't a dull lineup in the Boston Celtics' arsenal. Not when you remember that coaching wunderkind Brad Stevens will be overseeing it.
Since there's no way to give the skipper a superstar, the next best option is making his five as versatile as possible. This unit brings Boston's top two playmakers together with Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Smart. Up front, the Celtics have a guy who can score from the paint to the perimeter in Jared Sullinger and the walking adhesives known as Jae Crowder and Amir Johnson.
Offensively, the entertainment rests in Sullinger's craftiness and a stream of dribble drives by Thomas and Smart. The 5'9" Thomas is always a sight to behold, constantly outwitting bigger and stronger defenders. Smart provides an intoxicating blend of toughness and braggadocio. Sullinger brings different basketball eras together, combining throwback skills on the low block with modern outside shooting.
At the opposite end, Smart, Crowder and Johnson all play a relentless style. Thomas' size hurts him defensively, but he battles. Sullinger doesn't bring much to that side of the ball, but he'll hit the glass hard.
Lineup: Shane Larkin, Bojan Bogdanovic, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Thaddeus Young, Brook Lopez
It's tempting to bench plodding center Brook Lopez to add some pep in the Brooklyn Nets' step, but without the big guy in the middle, where would this team find scoring? Thaddeus Young and Bojan Bogdanovic, the Nos. 2 and 3 point-producers, are complementary types who can only handle so much spotlight. Jarrett Jack, the fourth-leading scorer, has a subpar career 14.3 player efficiency rating.
So, Lopez stays. But keeping youngsters Shane Larkin and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson on the floor sets the stage for some excitement. Larkin darts around like a deer jetting across a highway, and the 5'11" point guard is a sneaky-good highlight source. Hollis-Jefferson, the 23rd selection in June, is a freakish athlete with a 7'2" wingspan and 38" vertical.
Young provides both style and substance, as he's equally capable of making the right play and the unforgettable one. Bogdanovic is a savvy below-the-rim player who won't disrupt the ball movement like Joe Johnson's isolation game would.
No matter how one bends Brooklyn's roster, it's hard to form anything that resembles excitement. But there are enough speed, strength and smarts around the steady Lopez to make this quintet worth watching.
Lineup: Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb, Nicolas Batum, Frank Kaminsky, Al Jefferson
Another entertaining lineup anchored by a plodding post player?
Look, Al Jefferson might be the antithesis of the pace-and-space movement, but there's something appealing about watching someone go against the grain. Not to mention, it's remarkable that the big guy has the footwork, shooting touch and arsenal of post moves to pile up points from the spot where everyone knows he's headed: the left block.
But, just like the Charlotte Hornets are doing, we're modernizing the group around Big Al.
Kemba Walker is still the club's best option at point, with the handles and toughness one would expect from a New York City native. Jeremy Lamb is finally tapping into his massive potential and scoring from everywhere. Nicolas Batum is the adjustable link who can bring any five-man unit together. Rookie Frank Kaminsky is a skilled 7-footer with three-point range—'nuff said.
Each position features a capable scorer and willing passer. That should keep the ball from sticking and allow these ignitable offensive weapons to do damage together.
Lineup: Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Doug McDermott, Nikola Mirotic, Taj Gibson
There are no other backcourt options for Chicago Bulls besides Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. Even if Rose is feeling the aftereffects of a three-plus-year bout with the injury bug, he's worlds more entertaining than E'Twaun Moore, Aaron Brooks and Kirk Hinrich. Butler is a no-brainer, an overqualified highlight-maker at either end of the floor.
The small forward spot isn't quite as cut-and-dried. Mike Dunleavy can be a show-stopper if he catches fire from long range, and Tony Snell can spot up or slash to the basket. But Doug McDermott is a point-producing machine, as evidenced both by his historically proficient NCAA career and current mark of 18.6 points per 36 minutes.
Nikola Mirotic, an All-Rookie first-teamer last season, is an incendiary shooter and explosive finisher at the basket. Pau Gasol has an argument for the other frontcourt spot, thanks to strong fundamentals in the post and a soft shooting touch from the mid-range. But Taj Gibson's above-the-rim abilities add an element the 35-year-old Gasol can't provide.
Lineup: Kyrie Irving, J.R. Smith, LeBron James, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson
Is it even possible to build a mundane lineup that features LeBron James?
He seemingly gets to (and above) the rim at will. His selflessness, smarts and vision elevate the players around him. He can score 30-plus points, drop 10-plus dimes or snare 10-plus boards on any given night (he's already done all three this season). And he's still a lockdown defender when he engages.
There's a fantasy feel to the Cleveland Cavaliers roster with All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love surrounding The King. Irving is on (or at the top) of the list of the league's best ball-handlers, and he's a dangerous scoring threat as soon as he crosses half court. Love can stretch the floor or bully defenders on the low block, and he's the best deep-ball passer in the business.
For better or worse, J.R. Smith is can't-miss television. He takes (and sometimes makes) head-scratching shots, and he's a former dunk contest participant. Tristan Thompson's activity on the offensive glass is a show of its own, and it captures the substantial impact his energy can make.
Where's the weak link—in terms of entertainment, remember—in this quintet?
It's not Deron Williams. Injuries and inconsistencies pulled him from the elite point guard ranks years ago. But he can still put defenders on skates, bury clutch shots or set the table for his teammates.
Wesley Matthews is a premier three-and-D wing who is powered by extra fuel this season as he works his way back from a torn Achilles. Chandler Parsons is a 6'9" playmaker, with the across-the-board skills to saturate the stat sheet. Dirk Nowitzki is nothing short of a modern marvel. At 37 years young, he's still a tremendously tough cover with a pure shooting stroke and the size to launch over any defender.
At the 5, we're holding out hope that JaVale McGee can find his way back to the hardwood. Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said recently that McGee's rehab is "a weeks, not days, thing," per ESPN.com's Tim MacMahon, which means the door is open for his return. If McGee plays, he's perhaps the only player who could have the best dunk, block and Shaqtin' A Fool blunder on the same night.
Lineup: Emmanuel Mudiay, Gary Harris, Will Barton, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried
The Denver Nuggets should always play at track-star speeds. That's the best way to take advantage of the thin air at 5,280 feet above sea level. It lets their athleticism compensate for the inexperience of several key figures.
And basketball just looks better when it's played in fast-forward.
Rookie Emmanuel Mudiay, the No. 7 pick, can hit that button. He's a 6'5", 200-pound package of quickness, explosive athleticism and creativity. He can (and should) live in the open court, and this lineup puts four capable receivers on the finishing end of his lob passes.
Gary Harris has an intriguing set of three-and-D chops, but he's too skilled to pencil into a specialist role. Will Barton is an inexhaustible energy source who understands that playing hard is a powerful tool. Kenneth Faried can harness the same high motor, especially if he's getting fast-break chances. Danilo Gallinari has a skill set that's near star level and the versatility of a glue guy.
When these Nuggets are running and gunning, you should be sitting and enjoying.
Lineup: Brandon Jennings, Reggie Jackson, Stanley Johnson, Marcus Morris, Andre Drummond
Two point guards are better than one. Andre Drummond, as expected, is crashing the NBA's superstar party. Lottery pick Stanley Johnson doesn't know how to back down from a challenge. Marcus Morris has been playing like he's mad (because he is).
Tell me you're not interested in seeing these five Detroit Pistons together.
President-coach Stan Van Gundy sounds intrigued by a Brandon Jennings-Reggie Jackson backcourt, and why wouldn't he? Both are potent playmakers and scorers. Jennings can catch fire in spectacular fashion (he had a 55-point outburst seven games into his career), and Jackson has uncovered a serviceable three-point stroke since joining the team at last season's trade deadline (34.2 percent).
Jennings and Jackson will keep these five playing at full-throttle, and Johnson's tenacity will yield some jaw-dropping transition plays. Morris can mold his game to several different roles. And the extra attention paid to the perimeter means more room to roam, rebound and rock the rim for Drummond, who already has three 20-point, 20-board efforts under his belt.
Golden State Warriors
This is the Golden State Warriors' five-man wrecking ball. Last season, it steamrolled opponents by 21.8 points per 100 possessions—28.0 during the fourth quarter. The quintet started the last three games of the NBA Finals, turning a 2-1 series deficit into a 3-2 championship win.
"We have a lot of guys who can switch 1-thru-5 and that helps us so much defensively," Harrison Barnes said, via KNBR's Bonta Hill. "Offensively, once we get the ball we can run. We can have five ball-handlers and run pick-and-rolls."
The beauty of this lineup is the opponent doesn't know who will distribute, who will take the shot or where the points will come from. And that's remarkable given the scorching hot start that reigning MVP Stephen Curry has had (33.3 points per game on .532/.473/.926 shooting).
Golden State's switching, swarming defense can force turnovers at an eye-opening rate. Once the ball comes loose, the Dubs have imaginative playmakers, dead-eye snipers and forceful finishers—and multiple players who can fill all three roles.
Watching James Harden is like seeing a character actor and constantly being impressed by similar performances that somehow feel uniquely special.
Opposing defenses know where Harden wants to go (the three-point arc, free-throw line or right to the basket) and how he's likely to get there (dribble drives, Eurosteps and step-back jumpers). But even with a virtual copy of the Houston Rockets' playbook, teams struggle to bother The Beard.
So is seeing Ty Lawson motor around like his kicks come equipped with turbo packs. Ditto for Dwight Howard dominating above the rim at both ends. Or Trevor Ariza knowing a scorer's next move before he does. And Terrence Jones dipping further into his growing collection of basketball tricks.
But perhaps the most striking aspect of Houston's roster is the number of potential candidates who didn't make the cut: quick-strike scorer Marcus Thornton, ball hawk Patrick Beverley, bouncy big man Clint Capela, ebullient swingman Corey Brewer, stretch big Donatas Motiejunas, feisty forward Montrezl Harrell and high-flyer K.J. McDaniels (who is currently in the NBA Development League).
Lineup: George Hill, Monta Ellis, C.J. Miles, Paul George, Myles Turner
Sorry, Paul George—we like you as a nightmare cover, small-ball 4 too.
It's getting harder each day to remember that the 25-year-old essentially lost last season to a broken leg. Maybe he's making up for lost time. Perhaps he's immune to rust. Either way, the Indiana Pacers star is once again flashing elite skills on both sides of the floor.
Aggressive George Hill is a ton of offensive fun, and he's long been a defensive pest. Monta Ellis is a blur on the fast break, an electric scorer and an underrated setup man. Myles Turner can block shots and drill jumpers, a unicorn skill set if this league has one. It's tempting to reserve the final spot for absurdly athletic swingman Glenn Robinson III, but C.J. Miles' shooting opens up attack lanes.
Indy doesn't have to run with this lineup. Hill, George and Turner can grind out stops defensively, and all five can find buckets in controlled half-court sets. But when it does accelerate, the highlight reels fill up shortly thereafter.
Los Angeles Clippers
It's only right a team that plays home games a stone's throw from Hollywood would open contests with its most entertaining five.
There is no debating three of these choices: Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Paul operates like an artist, and the plays he creates for himself and his teammates are often masterpieces. Griffin's aerial acrobatics alone are enough to secure his spot, but his point forward talents might be even more aesthetically pleasing. Jordan keeps poster printers in business with thunderous throwdowns.
The arguments can start at the other two positions. Jamal Crawford has mesmerizing control of the rock, and Paul Pierce continues to dismantle opposing defenses. But we're not about to leave J.J. Redick's feathery soft shooting touch on the bench. And Lance Stephenson's mix of unpredictability and playground skills produces some of the league's best drama.
With snipers, slashers, dunkers and distributors, this Los Angeles Clippers' group has all the ingredients of a breakaway buzz saw. The highlights don't stop when the action slows down, either. With Paul and Griffin running the show, they'll turn any defensive cracks into spot-up triples, dizzying drives and, of course, Lob City's finest alley-oops.
Los Angeles Lakers
Lineup: D'Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Nick Young, Julius Randle, Tarik Black
Don't worry, we'll start with the thousand-pound, purple-and-gold elephant in the room: No, Kobe Bryant is not part of the Los Angeles Lakers' most entertaining five.
Part of that is his own doing—there's nothing fun about the team's most active shooter converting field goals at only a 32 percent clip. But part of it falls on his teammates too. They do far too much ball-watching when The Mamba is on the floor.
Pairing D'Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson in the backcourt gives L.A. youth, energy, scoring and playmaking at both spots. In terms of excitement, Clarkson's athleticism and Russell's next-level vision fit the bill with ease. And who doesn't enjoy Nick Young's voluminous shooting ways or experimental trips inside the arc?
Metta World Peace is always worth the price of admission, and rookie Larry Nance Jr. flies around the hardwood. But Julius Randle's face-up game and handles are the best show the Lakers have at the 4. Tarik Black's quickness and hops make him a much better fit with this fast five than the plodding Roy Hibbert.
Lineup: Mike Conley, Jordan Adams, Tony Allen, Jeff Green, Marc Gasol
The Memphis Grizzlies are built to bludgeon their opponents and drag them through the mud. The style has its merits—50-plus wins each of the past three seasons—but excitement is rarely one of them.
This lineup doesn't completely alter Memphis' identity. It still starts with the underrated Mike Conley as the head of the snake, has Tony Allen's "first-team all-defense" talents on the perimeter and revolves around Marc Gasol's genius-level basketball IQ. But the presence of Jeff Green and Jordan Adams should add some zip and scoring punch to a club that struggles with both.
The only constant with Green is inconsistency, but his high notes are dynamic. When he's rolling, he can score from all three levels, and he's a sneaky-good supplier of angry slams. Adams is much more mysterious, as he's made just 32 appearances to date. But the sophomore left UCLA with a deep scoring arsenal, and he's someone Grizzlies owner Robert Pera would reportedly like to see get more minutes, per ESPN.com's Marc Stein.
These five won't be confused for Olympic sprinters, but they could turn stops into scoring chances fairly quickly. Because Allen is involved, there's also the game within the game of trying to maximize his defensive impact while minimizing his offensive shortcomings. It's an entertaining struggle for those who watch closely enough.
The Miami Heat are still figuring out the best playing speed for backcourt mates Goran Dragic and Dwyane Wade. The former likes to dart around like an Indy car driver, while the latter prefers to methodically break down opponents with the skills and smarts of a Hall of Fame-bound veteran.
This lineup can bring the two styles together, making it a must-watch in both transition and the half-court game.
The speedy Dragic gets a second sprinter here in rookie Justise Winslow, who has a prospect's energy and a veteran's poise. Both can attack on or off the ball, and they're quick enough to punish a sleepy defense off made baskets. Chris Bosh can initiate quick-strike scoring chances as an outlet passer, convert them as a smooth finisher at the basket or add a different wrinkle as a trailing shooter.
These three can score in a controlled setting too, but the major half-court draw is the Wade-Hassan Whiteside connection. The 7-footer is shooting 64.5 percent off passes from Wade, who has said the partnership reminds him of playing alongside Shaquille O'Neal.
Lineup: Jerryd Bayless, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, John Henson
Scary but true: This lineup could start and stop with Giannis Antetokounmpo, and it'd still be well worth your viewing time. He's a superb showman in every sense. His physical gifts are freakish, his enthusiasm is infectious, and his highlights often challenge our understanding of what's humanly possible.
"Turn on League Pass and watch him work over the course of games and then you'll truly appreciate what he could become," wrote NBA.com's Sekou Smith. "...Antetokounmpo is just 20 and has barely scratched the surface of the player he'll become when his skills—and understanding of the game—catch up to his athleticism."
Antetokounmpo is quickly adding substance to his style, and yet he's far from the only reason to peep this Milwaukee Bucks' group.
Jabari Parker is back from the torn ACL that derailed his rookie year and boasts advanced scoring skills for a 20-year-old. Khris Middleton is Milwaukee's $70 million glue guy who contributes in many different ways. Jerryd Bayless' shooting and scoring prowess get him the nod over Michael Carter-Williams, and John Henson's athleticism gives him better highlight potential than the ground-bound Greg Monroe.
Lineup: Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, Nemanja Bjelica, Karl-Anthony Towns
The Minnesota Timberwolves are protecting their young pups. There's a strong veteran presence on this roster to help guide the youngsters, and it's hard to argue with the method since the Wolves already have as many wins through eight games (four) as they did through 20 outings last season.
But we're not after wins here; we're out for sheer enjoyment. We'll take all the wide-eyed prospects we can get.
This lineup pairs each of the last two No. 1 picks together, and both are living up to their billing. Reigning Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins is equal parts scoring machine, tenacious defender and athletic specimen. Karl-Anthony Towns, who could well keep the hardware in the Gopher State, has made a seamless transition on both ends of the floor and already makes you wonder if his game has any holes.
Provided you caught any clips of last year's dunk contest, you already know why Zach LaVine made the cut. Ditto if you've ever seen Ricky Rubio sneak a pass through a crevice that no one else can see. You may not be as familiar with rookie Nemanja Bjelica, the 35th pick in 2010. He's 6'10", a knockdown shooter and a secondary playmaker—need we say more?
New Orleans Pelicans
Lineup: Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, Ryan Anderson, Anthony Davis
This is the New Orleans Pelicans' most talented five. It has been for the past two seasons. It looks so interesting on paper. If nothing else, it projects to give Anthony Davis the most breathing room he'll get for the shooting and scoring threats he has around him.
How it works in practice is unfortunately still a question mark. The group played just 106 minutes together last season, which was up from 91 the year prior. Both times it's leaked uncontrollably on defense, but it's also scored at what would be league-leading rates (118.5 points per 100 possessions last season, 123.5 in 2013-14).
Davis has three pick-and-choose partners in Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans. All three can make things happen off the dribble, and both Holiday and Gordon are above-average shooters from deep. Ryan Anderson is a quantity-plus-quality sniper, and he's capable of maneuvering around an overzealous close-out.
In other words, everyone surrounding Davis demands some level of defensive respect. That means less attention can be paid to the single-browed superstar, who's a highlight waiting to happen in every facet of the game.
New York Knicks
Lineup: Jerian Grant, Langston Galloway, Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis, Robin Lopez
Carmelo Anthony can get a little sticky with the basketball, and he's still scraping off the rust from February knee surgery. But he's the most entertaining scorer on the New York Knicks and one of the best in the entire league. He has hit the 40-point mark 35 times in his career, the fourth-highest total since 2003-04.
He's a must-have on this list, and 7'3" rookie Kristaps Porzingis might be a stronger lock. The 20-year-old can score from anywhere, is a beast on the boards and owns the season's strongest putback-smash reel. His buzz might be bigger than his game at the moment, but that's a testament to the excitement he brings.
"I don't think we could anticipate that he'd be as good as he's been," Knicks coach Derek Fisher said, according to Newsday's Al Iannazzone. "...His ceiling is a long way from wherever he is now. We just have to be excited about the present but also the future."
Alongside the Knicks' biggest names, the young backcourt of Jerian Grant and Langston Galloway supplies copious amounts of energy. Grant is a shrewd decision-maker and slippery off the bounce. Galloway is cashing in nearly everything he throws up (60 percent three-point shooting) and is relentless at the defensive end. Robin Lopez has the same high motor and a versatile set of two-way tools.
Oklahoma City Thunder
In Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Oklahoma City Thunder have two MVP candidates and a pair of players who could capture the scoring crown. Any lineup that features both has the potential to work miracles.
But this specific look is what the kids would call an embarrassment of offensive riches. All five are double-digit scorers. All five are 47-plus percent shooters. All five can create scoring chances of their own or finish those generated by others.
Get them working in rhythm, and this becomes something crazier than a video game could muster up. They've played 24 minutes together so far and have piled up an astronomical 160.3 points per 100 possessions. For context, Golden State leads all clubs with a 111.5 offensive rating.
Westbrook, Durant and Dion Waiters are all dangerous off the dribble. Durant, Serge Ibaka and Enes Kanter are lethal scoring options when rolling or popping out of screens. These five can torch defenses from distance, wreak havoc right at the rim or keep the scoreboard rolling from anywhere in between.
Lineup: Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, Mario Hezonja, Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic
The Orlando Magic deserve a prominent place on your League Pass watch list, and this lineup is a big reason why.
There are better backcourts than Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo, but few can match the entertainment. Payton plays with a captivating herky-jerky style, and he's in constant pursuit of assist chances. Oladipo can do crazy things at the rim—like a crunch-time 360 for instance—hounds opponents like a bill collector and is an artistic distributor.
Mario Hezonja, the fifth overall selection in June, might wind up leading the rookie class in viral videos. He has everything a top-tier highlight-supplier needs: hops, handles, colossal confidence and deft outside shooting. Sophomore Aaron Gordon has the athleticism to shut down Twitter. His defensive versatility already borders on elite, and he's widening his shooting range.
Center Nikola Vucevic impresses more with function than flair; while he may not rock a lot of rims (though he certainly can), he'll please the fundamental crowd with sound footwork, nifty ball fakes and a jumper that may soon extend out to the perimeter.
Lineup: Isaiah Canaan, Nik Stauskas, Robert Covington, Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor
The excitement of tanking is inherently tied to future possibilities, but we have to try to squeeze some fun out of the Philadelphia 76ers' present.
That's easiest to do on the interior. Rookie Jahlil Okafor, the No. 3 pick, looks exactly as advertised: an advanced scorer near the bucket, active rebounder and not much else. But the Sixers need an offensive focal point, and he's best equipped to man that role. Sophomore Nerlens Noel is Okafor's defensive counterpart, an action-packed combo of energy, athleticism, active hands and great instincts.
The pickings get slim from there, namely because two of Philly's top rebuilding assets have yet to see the floor: Joel Embiid, who's sidelined by foot surgery for a second season, and Dario Saric, who remains overseas. But with the interior holding the keys for this lineup (and Philly's future), it's best to flood the perimeter with as much shooting as possible.
Isaiah Canaan has drilled 37.6 percent of his triples since the start of last season. Nik Stauskas has struggled to find his NBA range, but his picturesque form suggests it's only a matter of time. Robert Covington only started 49 games last season (and played 70) and still had the 10th-most outings with three-plus triples (31). It's a streaky trio, but on the right night, it can adequately support the bigs.
Lineup: Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, Devin Booker, T.J. Warren, Jon Leuer
The Phoenix Suns learned the hard way last season that there is such a thing as too many point guards. But two is a manageable number and an engaging one at that.
Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight give Phoenix two equally capable initiators, though each takes a different approach inside the lines. Bledsoe is mind-numbingly athletic—he's "Mini-LeBron" athletic. And like The King, Bledsoe can overstuff any category on the stat sheet. Knight is a scorer first, but he's also a sharpshooter and pesky on-ball defender.
The Bledsoe-Knight backcourt allows the Suns to push the tempo and run pick-and-rolls with both players. That's a lot for the defense to monitor, which means freshman sniper Devin Booker should be able to wiggle free and drop three-point bombs. All that activity also opens lanes for sophomore slasher T.J. Warren, who packs a microwave-scoring punch inside the arc.
There are a few different ways to handle the center spot. Tyson Chandler is the best screen-setter and interior defender. Markieff Morris would bring athleticism and a versatile point-producing skill set, while Alex Len boasts some highly intriguing physical tools. But Jon Leuer's 38.7 career three-point percentage helps spread the floor for the rest of the Suns to attack.
Portland Trail Blazers
Lineup: Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Maurice Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu, Meyers Leonard
The Portland Trail Blazers are in an exciting place...somehow. They lost four starters from last season's 51-win team over the summer and replaced that experienced talent with a slew of young players. But the new bodies aren't organic-granola raw; most have at least a few NBA seasons under their belt, which opens the possibility for Portland to fast-track its rebuild.
The Blazers already have what every retooling team desperately needs: a full-fledged focal point. Two-time All-Star Damian Lillard is entrenched as the franchise leader, and he just so happens to play an enchanting brand of basketball. His three-point shooting can dazzle both for volume and efficiency, plus he's a dynamic dunker.
The other backcourt spot goes to third-year combo guard C.J. McCollum, an early favorite for Most Improved Player. Like Lillard, McCollum is a deadly outside shooter and capable creator off the dribble. He already has four 20-point outbursts through the Blazers' first nine contests, which means Portland has two guards with game-breaking ability.
A forward tandem of Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu gives this lineup terrific length and athleticism at both spots. Harkless has hinted at owning three-and-D skills (with powerful slams sprinkled in), while Aminu's massive 7'3" wingspan makes him an asset in rebounding, defense and point-blank finishing. Meyers Leonard is a 7'1" big who shoots threes and defends the rim—a show-stopping pair of skills.
Lineup: Rajon Rondo, Marco Belinelli, Rudy Gay, DeMarcus Cousins, Willie Cauley-Stein
DeMarcus Cousins could run a one-man basketball show, and it might sell out arenas.
His game is a joy to watch. He moves with a grace no one should have at his size (6'11", 270 lbs), and his skill set might have zero weaknesses (he's shooting and making threes now if you hadn't noticed). Oh, he's still a bit of a loose cannon too, so there's always potential for things to go south quickly.
Rudy Gay is the sidekick scorer for this quintet. The ball can stick to his hands at times, but he can light the lamp from long range and rock the rim. Rajon Rondo divvies up the touches for everyone, which allows him to showcase his superhuman vision. Marco Belinelli isn't a consistent contributor, but he can be a fiery shooter and underrated creator.
The biggest non-Boogie draw, though, might be rookie Willie Cauley-Stein. The spring-loaded 7-footer rarely steps outside of his lane, which could limit the wow factor on his stat sheet. But his role is one of the league's most entertaining: the athletic, slam-dunking, shot-blocking big man.
San Antonio Spurs
Lineup: Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan
This five-man grouping is almost a living museum exhibit linking the San Antonio Spurs' past with their future—only everyone involved is really good in the present.
Tony Parker is once again perfecting his havoc-creating, head-of-the-snake role. His dribble penetrations kick-start head coach Gregg Popovich's offensive machine, and the 33-year-old remains clever and shifty enough to finish a lot of those possessions on his own. Manu Ginobili gives San Antonio a second igniter, only a less predictable one with a truer three-point shoot.
This frontcourt is the kind you'll tell your grandchildren about. Tim Duncan is already a future first-ballot Hall of Famer, and he's proving that can't erase strong fundamentals and hoops smarts. LaMarcus Aldridge is a steady source of elite-level production. And Kawhi Leonard, who already owns Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards, is warning everyone that his best is still to come.
"I always wanted to be a great player coming into the NBA," Leonard said, per USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt. "First coming in, I wanted to be on a team that was a winning team and help me learn how to win in this league. I gradually wanted to become a go-to guy. It's all played out and worked out well for me."
Lineup: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll, Jonas Valanciunas
The Toronto Raptors have booked a pair of consecutive playoff trips off the combined talents of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. This lineup is the best way to assist the Raptors' stars, both by easing their burden and relieving some of the defensive pressure they feel.
Lowry has a featured scoring role on this team, so having Cory Joseph alongside him allows the pair to split playmaking duties. DeMarre Carroll is a low-maintenance offensive player who can attract defenders by spotting up in the short corner or slashing to the basket. That increases the odds of DeRozan getting one-on-one chances with his matchup, and he can win those battles in spectacular fashion.
With four scoring threats around the perimeter, Jonas Valanciunas should have acres of low-post real estate. He occasionally gets lost in the shuffle, but he's a reliable offensive source when his teammates look for him.
A Lowry-Joseph backcourt is loaded with toughness and energy. DeRozan's athleticism stands out even in the bigger, stronger, faster world of the NBA, and Carroll's passion is simply special. Add a skilled scoring center such as Valanciunas to the equation, and this is a quintet you do not want to miss.
Lineup: Alec Burks, Rodney Hood, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert
Winning with defense doesn't always make the best television, but the Utah Jazz have the ingredients to make it work: athleticism, youthful energy, oppressive length and expert coaching. They can even pull it off without disruptive 6'6" point guard Dante Exum, who's shelved for the season with a torn ACL.
Rather than plug in an underwhelming replacement for Exum, the Jazz are at their peak when they bypass the point guard position altogether. There's enough playmaking between Alec Burks, Rodney Hood and Gordon Hayward to keep the offense moving, plus this gives Utah all 6'6" or taller defenders.
The main attraction of this unit is also the driving force of the defense—twin towers Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors. Gobert defines the label "physical freak," standing 7'2" and sporting a gigantic 7'8 ½" wingspan. The 6'10" Favors isn't that far behind, with a 7'4" wingspan springing out from his 6'10", 265-pound frame. They average 4.9 blocks between them and routinely crush jams at the other end.
All five players are mobile, so each can take advantage of the turnovers the swarming defense creates. And all five are explosive, so any of them can capture dunk-of-the-night honors.
Lineup: John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr., Jared Dudley, Marcin Gortat
The importance of modernizing the Washington Wizards offense with more threes and a faster pace isn't to keep up with the times. It's about putting talented guards John Wall and Bradley Beal in the best possible position to succeed.
Both are potent scorers, outstanding athletes, willing passers and elusive ball-handlers. That means the best formation around them includes transition running mates, defense-stretching shooters and space-creating screen-setters. This support trio should check off every box.
Otto Porter has enough speed to keep up in the open court, and his jack-of-all-trades talent allows him to fill any role on the break. Jared Dudley has an expert-level basketball IQ, and his 39.4 career three-point percentage demands defensive attention. Marcin Gortat can set stone-wall picks, and if the ball comes his way during his roll to the basket, he's skilled enough to do something with it.
But, again, the entertainment here is mostly tied to the spread-out floor that Wall and Beal can attack. Wall might be the league's fastest player end to end, and he's an above-the-rim highlight source on either side of the ball. Beal's three-point stroke is flammable, and his handles are constantly improving. Give either one room to create, and there's a good chance he'll produce a memorable moment.