Assembling Every NBA Team's Post-Free Agency 'Death Lineup'

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistSeptember 14, 2017

Assembling Every NBA Team's Post-Free Agency 'Death Lineup'

0 of 30

    Omar Rawlings/Getty Images

    The 2014-15 NBA champion Golden State Warriors started something with their now-notorious "Death Lineup."

    In an era with a growing worship for versatility, the decision to run out Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green was still ambitious—so much so this famed five now has its own Wikipedia page. The results were identically unprecedented. Through 37 regular-season appearances, Golden State's Death Lineup outscored opponents by 21.8 points per 100 possessions. They were even better in the same number of outings during the 2015-16 go-round, absolutely vaporizing rivals by 47 points per 100 possessions.

    Copycats have since cropped up all around the league, albeit in much (much) smaller doses. No other team has the roster makeup to match the potency and reliability of the original positionless monster, which now features Kevin Durant instead of Barnes.

    Not even the Warriors themselves roll out the Death Lineup in heavy volume. This particular setup is viewed as a conditional plaything. Some squads won't dare mess with super small-ball, regardless of whether they have the requisite personnel.

    Let's play pretend, though.

    Assume that every team, as currently constructed, wants to replicate the model bred by those 67-win champs. What would that lineup look like? Who would be in it? What are their strengths? How about their weaknesses? And given everything, how likely are these best-fit options to see the court in real life? 

    Broken-record reminder: These combos aren't strictly made up of the five best players, period. Sometimes, things work out that way. But the focus more so lies with assembling the most versatile groups available—unique blends of spacing, playmaking and defensive switching, irrespective of size.

    Note: Players who remain unsigned or are expected to miss most of the 2017-18 season will not be eligible for inclusion.

Atlanta Hawks

1 of 30

    Ned Dishman/Getty Images

    Death Lineup: Dennis Schroder/Kent Bazemore/Taurean Prince/Luke Babbitt/John Collins

    Building a knockoff Death Unit for the Atlanta Hawks is not an off-the-cuff process. Options abound following the departures of Tim Hardaway Jr., Dwight Howard, Paul Millsap and Thabo Sefolosha.

    Dennis Schroder's inclusion isn't up for debate. The Hawks don't have anywhere else to turn at point guard. Kent Bazemore and Taurean Prince are similarly non-negotiable. They're the exact players who must be in these hyper-versatile combinations: switchy wings who, in their case, should bring just enough ball-handling and shooting to let the lineup cook.

    Handing out the final two slots is the trickier part.

    DeAndre' Bembry can slide into the de facto 2 spot and push Bazemore and Prince up a position. But the latter's jumper is already a wild card, while Bazemore's 34.7 percent success rate on threes last season doesn't inspire much confidence—especially with even fewer creative-types around him.

    Squeezing in another question mark dilutes the potential of this Xeroxed Death Lineup. Newcomer Luke Babbitt is more of a surefire marksman. He's shooting 40.6 percent for his career from distance, and most of his minutes since entering the league have come at the 4.

    Either Dewayne Dedmon or John Collins can round out this fivesome. Neither satisfies the wing-masquerading-as-a-big job description championed by Green with Golden State, but that role is almost impossible to fill, even in theory, and must be met with malleability throughout these proceedings.

    Dedmon is a sneaky-competent defensive switcher and has infrequently explored his range on the perimeter. But Collins is the better offensive prospect and offers similar tools on the defensive side. Besides, on a rebuilding squad, all ties go to the 19-year-old.

Boston Celtics

2 of 30

    Elsa/Getty Images

    Death Lineup: Kyrie Irving/Marcus Smart/Jaylen Brown/Gordon Hayward/Marcus Morris

    Nearly two-thirds of the Boston Celtics' minutes from last season are gone, including five of their seven most played contributors: Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson, Kelly Olynyk and Isaiah Thomas. Viewed in those terms, you wouldn't know they're working off a season in which they posted the Eastern Conference's best record.

    But we're not here to question whether the Celtics' summertime shakeup is worth the end product. They retain the intrigue on the wings to field a stupid-good Warriors imitation, even after sending out one of their best options, in Crowder, to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

    Jaylen Brown is the lone member of this quintet who isn't (yet) a legitimate shot creator. Loop the erratic Marcus Smart into that category, and the Celtics are left with Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Marcus Morris to attack off the dribble. 

    Splitting up the defensive responsibilities isn't of any concern, either. Pretty much everyone can hang with point guards for a breath or two, allowing head coach Brad Stevens to stash Irving on the enemy's least viable cannon.

    Using Morris as the small-ball 5 isn't ideal, but he's been a solid, if slightly above-average, post defender for the past two seasons. He has the height, at 6'9", and length to pester bigger players, and Hayward can pitch in on occasion. And let's not forget that Smart has experience defending forwards. The Celtics can roll the dice on him as this group's go-to post stopper, knowing they have the outside gnats in Brown, Hayward and Morris to institute chokeholds on the perimeter.

    Spacing is probably the only drawback to this formation—in addition to the usual rebounding disclaimers, of course. Smart remains a non-threat from long range, Brown barely cleared a 34 percent hit rate on threes as a rookie, and defenses won't fear Morris' up-and-down stroke.

    Then again, Hayward and Irving are deadly on- and off-ball shooters, while Brown (36.5 percent) and Morris (37.1) splashed in enough of their catch-and-shoot treys to make this work. And if the former builds off the 37.7 percent outside clip he posted over his last 30 appearances, the Celtics will hum at both ends. If not, they can always consider subbing out Brown or Morris for Jayson Tatum.

Brooklyn Nets

3 of 30

    Chris Schwegler/Getty Images

    Death Lineup: Jeremy Lin/D'Angelo Russell/Allen Crabbe/Caris LeVert/Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

    Although Trevor Booker is suited to be the 5-man in this pocket-sized gaggle, the Brooklyn Nets are flush with swingmen and wings. They might as well steer into the excess.

    Sticking Jeremy Lin and D'Angelo Russell in the backcourt does nothing for the defense, but the coupling is non-negotiable. Head coach Kenny Atkinson will turn to this duo anyway. Leaning on Allen Crabbe, Caris LeVert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to shimmy between the three toughest pulls isn't the worst way to incorporate the inevitable.

    Speaking of: Hollis-Jefferson profiles as the most important ingredient in this cocktail. The Nets have already dubbed him a power forward. The five lineups in which he appeared most last season all slotted him at the 4, and incidentally, each finished the year as a net plus.

    Sliding him up another position isn't without its risks. Brooklyn tried using him as the sole big in very small doses, during which time the defense cratered. But he can run some pick-and-roll and hold his own off the dribble to nullify the absence of a jumper on offense, and his preventive stances on the block are sturdy enough to get by against the right matchups.

    Plus, the Nets do not project as a good defensive team. Testing out super-small lineups won't induce impactful setbacks. They have the freedom to experiment, and the frenetic speeds at which this combination will run should make for an entertaining—and possibly lethal—offensive machine.

Charlotte Hornets

4 of 30

    Brock Williams-Smith/Getty Images

    Death Lineup: Kemba Walker/Malik Monk/Nicolas Batum/Michael Kidd-Gilchrist/Marvin Williams

    Jeremy Lamb can be subbed in for Malik Monk if push comes to shove. He is taller and longer and permits the Charlotte Hornets to switch almost everything once they single out a cover for Kemba Walker. 

    But defense shouldn't be the most pressing priority of a unit that includes Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and an intriguing small-ball 5 like Marvin Williams. Neither Batum nor Kidd-Gilchrist sees much time versus non-3s, but they, along with Williams, inject the interchangeability necessary to focus on Charlotte's unimpressive shooting corps.

    Walker is fine. Better than fine, actually. He's developed into one of the NBA's most underrated shooters. And Williams remains a good option to space the floor at center. But Kidd-Gilchrist has yet to attempt even 10 triples in a single season, and Batum hasn't cleared a 35 percent knockdown rate from deep since 2013-14.

    Including Monk is paramount to maximizing this contingent's offensive adaptability—the primary aim of any Death Lineup. As Shaun Powell wrote for NBA.com:

    "Monk is slippery smooth with the ball and in college was able to launch his shot from anywhere, with good results. True enough, he’s a product of his era, which means he’s either scoring from deep or at the rim. Also, at 6-foot-3, he’s on the short side for his position and his body could use another layer of muscle, but talent overcomes those deficiencies. Bottom line is Monk was an explosive scorer at the premier program in college basketball and that usually translates well on the next level.

    "Put him next to Kemba Walker and suddenly defenses must make some sharp decisions, assuming Monk is able to deliver right away as a rookie. If so, then Walker, Monk and small forward Nicolas Batum will spread the floor and give the Hornets’ offense another dimension and loads of energy."

    Here comes the hard truth: Monk's mettle might not matter. The Hornets aren't in the positionless business. They seldom made room for Kidd-Gilchrist at the 4 last year. They're not headed in a different direction with Dwight Howard, Frank Kaminsky and Cody Zeller all on the docket. But if they do dip their feet in these more contemporary waters, this alignment should be their crutch.

Chicago Bulls

5 of 30

    David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

    Death Lineup: Kris Dunn/Zach LaVine/Dwyane Wade/Justin Holiday/Bobby Portis

    Nothing says "The Chicago Bulls need some more damn wings" like a Death Patrol unit featuring four guards and Bobby Portis.

    Quibble over Justin Holiday's designation if you're feeling nitpicky. He is 6'6" and no stranger to small-forward duty. But the idea of him matching up with power forwards—even fellow tiny-ball 4s—is pretty funny.

    If the Bulls are feeling really inventive, they could roll out a five-guard composite with Jerian Grant. And if they're feeling more tank-a-delic than productive, they could roll out four point guards plus Holiday or Wade once Cameron Payne recovers from his latest foot injury.

    Granted, many of these options are prided upon Chicago standing pat. Wade has his sights set on Cleveland, Los Angeles or Miami as the possibility of a buyout with the Bulls looms, per the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson. And Payne's days with the organization could be numbered amid his injury and a backcourt pileup, according to the Chicago Sun-Times' Joe Cowley.

    Anyway, this is what stalling looks like. The Bulls don't have a ton of Death Lineup appeal. They're short on wings and heavy on guards who can't shoot. A combo of Holiday, Wade, Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and Bobby Portis will get slaughtered defensively and won't hit anywhere near enough threes. They can hedge against the latter by inserting Lauri Markkanen at the 5, but he doesn't move like a wing on defense—a prerequisite for any 7-footer hoping to crack these five-person flexibility fests.

    The Bulls cannot do any better than this selected crew, which might, if they're lucky, be able to grind out enough off-the-bounce offense to evade complete-sham status. 

Cleveland Cavaliers

6 of 30

    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    Death Lineup: Isaiah Thomas/JR Smith/Cedi Osman/Jae Crowder/LeBron James

    Acquiring Crowder gives the Cavaliers a more Death Squad friendly feel. They needn't tie any of their hopes to Richard Jefferson or Iman Shumpert defending 4s and can mix and match the other two wing combinations depending on the opponent or head coach Tyronn Lue's daily prerogatives.

    Giving the nod to rookie Cedi Osman is a tad controversial. And yes, his chase-down block for the Turkish National Team influenced the pick. But at 6'8", with three-point range and the ability to hand off the most difficult hostiles to Crowder, he's the dare-to-be-great selection over Shumpert, Jefferson and Jeff Green.

    One of the remaining three can be thrown into the fire if the Cavaliers don't trust JR Smith, but like Osman, he gives the lineup a more pizzazz. He'll put down threebies whenever LeBron James is on the floor, and his postseason defense can be—gasp—better than watchable.

    Thomas should be a seamless fit in Irving's stead...if he's healthy. He's coping with a hip injury he suffered last season and acknowledged to ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski he probably won't be ready to start the year.

    Get him back in good form, and the offense will erupt at every turn. He almost replaces Irving's one-on-one stylings and promises a comparable off-ball punch. Both averaged 1.12 points per isolation last season, and Thomas added more value as a spot-up sniper, according to NBA Math's Play-Type Profiles.

    Plopping James at center makes for a shape-shifting dream. The Cavaliers are reluctant to do it with great frequency, but the results can be deadly. In the roughly 35 minutes he spent at the 5 during the playoffs, they outpaced opponents by 17.7 points per 100 possessions.

    All the typical small-sample disclaimers apply, and Cleveland needs to hit on Osman for this exact personnel potluck to survive on defense. But a majority variation of this lineup is, as of now, the best response to Golden State's own five-man brew.

Dallas Mavericks

7 of 30

    Glenn James/Getty Images

    Death Lineup: Dennis Smith Jr./Seth Curry/Wesley Matthews/Dorian Finney-Smith/Harrison Barnes

    Go ahead and file this Death Lineup under "Fun and Potentially Effective, But Buried Behind Reality."

    The Dallas Mavericks won't invest significant time in an arrangement that doesn't include Salah Mejri, Nerlens Noel, Dirk Nowitzki or Dwight Powell. They can, technically, without having to explain themselves; the four of them together won't even earn a top-40 salary ($19.7 million) after Noel signed his qualifying offer sheet. But the sheer number of options at the 5 isn't conducive to high-usage Miniball.

    Nowitzki can be used as the 5 while cutting out Seth Curry or Dorian Finney-Smith if it didn't stand to torpedo the defense. Noel's understated switchiness on the less glamorous end would work as well if he had any sort of jumper or off-the-dribble game.

    Unleashing the frontcourt trio of Finney-Smith, Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews is more entertaining. Most of Barnes' time has come at the 4 since 2015-16, and he's proved to be a viable deterrent in the post and, sometimes, against pick-and-roll divers. Moving him up to the 5 in small bursts wouldn't be that big of a leap. He should be able to make do against burlier bodies, and the Mavericks can switch everything with Finney-Smith and Matthews when challenging more mobile bigs.

    Curry and Dennis Smith Jr. will run into some problems defensively when facing bigger guards, but they'll be lightning rods on offense—a meld of sweet shooting and fast-acting explosion. Also: Curry is a smidge underrated on defense. He can gum up pick-and-rolls and use open space in one-on-one situations to his advantage. 

    Should Smith's athleticism shine through on defense like it does offense, it won't matter that he's 6'2". The Mavericks will be able to tread water with him guarding wings.

Denver Nuggets

8 of 30

    Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

    Death Lineup: Jamal Murray/Gary Harris/Will Barton/Wilson Chandler/Paul Millsap

    Sculpting any five-man alignment for the Denver Nuggets that doesn't include Nikola Jokic just feels wrong. He is the complete offensive package—a telepathic dime-dropper with three-point range, deadeye touch around the rim, striking floaters and underprized handles. 

    But the defensive modus operandi incumbent of Death Lineups works against him. While his woes on that side of the court are oft-overstated, he isn't the unicorn switcher Denver needs in this situation.

    Paul Millsap, on the other hand, fits the bill to perfection. Surrounding him with Will Barton, Wilson Chandler, Gary Harris and Jamal Murray lays the groundwork for a two-way titan. Everyone can play on or off the ball without straying too far from their comfort zone, and the defense will switch just about everything.

    Denver was outscored by 8.1 points per 100 possessions last year whenever Barton, Chandler, Harris and Murray shared the floor, but a 68-minute sample proves nothing. Non-switchers Kenneth Faried and Mason Plumlee soaked up almost half the time as the fifth wheel, and the foursome was a plus-14 through 35 minutes of action next to Darrell Arthur.

    Millsap is a demonstrative upgrade over Arthur. His ebbing three-point percentage will climb beside so many shot creators, and Atlanta spent the majority of the past four years turning him loose as the Draymond Green of the Eastern Conference.

    No one in the league last season faced as many pick-and-roll ball-handlers (60) and divers (99), and Millsap contested more shots at the rim (518) than Kristaps Porzingis (514). Jokic's offensive armory stretches deeper, but Millsap has the jumper, vision and off-the-bounce knowhow to supplant much of what he does.

Detroit Pistons

9 of 30

    Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

    Death Lineup: Reggie Jackson/Avery Bradley/Stanley Johnson/Tobias Harris/Jon Leuer

    Jon Leuer is not the optimal 5-man in Death Lineup parlance. He's more traditional tower with a perimeter feel than oversized wing.

    He's also the best option the Detroit Pistons have on the payroll.

    Andre Drummond and Boban Marjanovic shouldn't be rotating between defensive tasks on even a semi-regular basis. Anthony Tolliver is a coin-flip rim protector with uninspiring mobility on his best nights. Henry Ellenson is the human Hail Mary. 

    Short of pinning Tobias Harris or Stanley Johnson to the center spot, the Pistons don't have another choice. And head coach Stan Van Gundy could consider such drastic measures if that game of musical chairs didn't force a heavier workload upon Langston Galloway, Luke Kennard or Ish Smith.

    At least Leuer has some experience shifting defensive courses. He badgered more pick-and-roll ball-handlers last season than any of Detroit's other bigs, and no one on the team guarded more isolation possessions. 

    Everyone else is a no-brainer. Reggie Jackson won't be usurped by Galloway or Smith unless his left knee is permanently shot, and the Pistons can switch across the remaining defensive posts with Bradley, Harris and Johnson. 

    Floor-spacing will be an issue should Leuer and Johnson continue to shoot below 30 percent from beyond the arc, but so-so clips from Harris and Jackson will keep them afloat if Bradley's downtown detonations don't cease to exist.

Golden State Warriors

10 of 30

    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Death Lineup: Stephen Curry/Klay Thompson/Andre Iguodala/Kevin Durant/Draymond Green

    Well, duh.

    In the 224 minutes Curry, Durant, Green, Iguodala and Thompson played together this past year, the Warriors outmuscled opponents by 23.9 points per 100 possessions while tallying league-best offensive and defensive ratings. This group shot under 33.9 percent from long distance, but its true shooting percentage (65.4) would have ranked first overall by almost six percentage points.

    It was the same story, different stage, during the postseason.

    Golden State blitzed hostiles by 32.9 points per 100 possessions in the 65 minutes this arrangement took the court, displaying ridiculous efficiency despite a 33.3 percent showing from behind the rainbow. And the results were even more one-sided in the 17 minutes head coach Steve Kerr deployed his switch-everything battering ram during the Warriors' five-game NBA Finals romp versus the Cavaliers.

    Imagine what the Death Lineup of Death Lineups will do next season, when Durant is no longer new to the scene.

    Heck, imagine what it'll do if the Warriors aren't so shy about turning their five-man trump card loose in larger doses. 

Houston Rockets

11 of 30

    David Dow/Getty Images

    Death Lineup: Chris Paul/James Harden/Trevor Ariza/Luc Mbah a Moute/PJ Tucker

    Next to the Warriors' five-man slaughterhouse, the Houston Rockets' perimeter party forecasts as the NBA's most dangerous. Sure, this squadron needs to take the floor first. Three of the five members are newcomers, and the James Harden-Chris Paul alliance is not without its possible detours. 

    Talk about champagne problems.

    Harden and Paul will figure things out. Superstar talents usually do—especially when they were, as Wojnarowski put it, "determined" to play together. Both are scintillating spot-up snipers, and Paul should pounce at the opportunity to lighten his offensive load for the first time. Their synergy will be a non-issue before you can say "What would Dwight Howard think?" 

    Putting together defensive stops won't be a problem for this group. PJ Tucker has the girth to wage battle with bruisers, and Luc Mbah a Moute is a stealthy post irritant. They can spell each other against 5s, as the remaining one joins Trevor Ariza in harassing wings Harden cannot.

    Paul might even emerge as a low-key switcher. What he lacks in size, at 6'0", he makes up for with homicidal constancy, not unlike Patrick Beverley. He can take on the JR Smiths and Klay Thompsons of opposing backcourts for possessions at a time when he's not riding solo on the offensive end.

    Manufacturing palatable three-point efficiency will be this lineup's singular roadblock (other than rebounding)—if it has one at all. Mbah a Moute's 39.1 percent clip from deep last season is an outlier, Ariza canned less than 35 percent of his own attempts, and Tucker's outside stroke is unpredictable.

    Most of these shortcomings will work themselves out. Ariza has historically hit more of his treys (37.2 percent between 2012-13 and 2015-16), and Tucker swished 40 percent of his triples after joining the Toronto Raptors at last year's trade deadline. Mbah a Moute's regular-season best probably won't hold, but he should register as a threat by virtue of being the shooter left unattended by scrambling defenses.

Indiana Pacers

12 of 30

    Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

    Death Lineup: Cory Joseph/Victor Oladipo/Lance Stephenson/Thaddeus Young/Myles Turner

    Hitching Myles Turner to the bench isn't necessary in the Indiana Pacers' Death Squad iteration. They can go off the reservation and pull him for Bojan Bogdanovic or Glenn Robinson III, with Thaddeus Young slithering up to center, but they're pushing the bill inside this current construction.

    Playing Cory Joseph, Victor Oladipo and Lance Stephenson could be a tactical catastrophe. None is a remarkable shooter, and Stephenson is the tallest of the troika...at 6'5".

    At the same time, the 6'3" Joseph is the shortest. And that's not short at all. They should be able to cover point guards through small forwards between them, and their collective, change-of-pace ball-handling should counteract their question-mark spacing.

    Young can be viewed in the same vein. He sank 38.1 percent of his triplets last season, but that blew his previous career high into oblivion (34.8 percent). Oladipo or Turner could wind up being the best assassin for this clique, which doesn't say much.

    Nearly all of them, however, can generate points off the catch. Turner was the only one to drill under 35.7 percent of his spot-up threes in 2016-17. The innumerable pump-and-dumps staged by this cast of ball-dominant attackers will keep enemies honest.

    Hanging tough on defense, meanwhile, should be a given. The Pacers defended like a top-three team in the 255 minutes they played Turner and Young last season without any other bigs or Paul George. A lion's share of that time came beside Robinson, Monta Ellis and Jeff Teague. Carrying on with Joseph, Oladipo and Stephenson in their place figures to be a smooth transition.

Los Angeles Clippers

13 of 30

    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Death Lineup: Patrick Beverley/Austin Rivers/Sindarius Thornwell/Danilo Gallinari/Blake Griffin

    So. Many. Options. 

    All of the Los Angeles Clippers' best Death Lineups must include Blake Griffin at the 5. They can get cute with the 6'10" Gallinari at center, but that maneuver comes at the expense of an upper-echelon passer if Milos Teodosic isn't piloting the offense.

    Grabbing a designated power forward isn't as straightforward. Gallinari is the obvious pick—and the ultimate winner. But he and Griffin are chop suey together on the defensive side. Including Montrezl Harrell or Wesley Johnson instead is tempting.

    Alas, Gallinari's deceptively deep offensive rucksack is even more disarming, as The Ringer's Danny Chau opined immediately after he joined the Clippers:  

    "The Nuggets used their 6-foot-10 center as the offensive fulcrum from the top of the arc, which inherently created mismatch opportunities below. And Gallo feasted in every which way. According to the numbers from Synergy, Gallinari was — at least — in the league’s 82nd percentile as a scorer in six different play types (pick-and-roll ball handler, pick-and-roll roll man, post-up, spot-up, cuts, off-screen), and was in the 75th percentile in isolations. The Nuggets became League Pass darlings due to their joyous, share-economy offense, but Gallinari’s performance still largely fell under the radar. If you haven’t been keeping track at home, Gallo has a higher scoring average (18.8 points per game) than incoming Nugget Paul Millsap (17.5) over the past two seasons."

    Head coach Doc Rivers will have to fill out the rest of this lineup around the Gallinari-Griffin marriage. Beverley's suffocating defense and off-ball shooting is a shoo-in, and at least one of Johnson, DeAndre Liggins or rookie Sindarius Thornwell must join him. Thornwell earns the nod, even as a rookie, because he packs a more expansive offensive lunch bag without compromising defensive rotations.

    Liggins or Johnson can round out the five-man package, but the Clippers need another ball-handler. Beverley is an atypical point guard, and Gallinari shouldn't be entrusted with pick-and-roll duties on his own. Austin Rivers neutralizes this wrinkle and has the size, at 6'4", to hold up versus most third- or fourth-option wings.

Los Angeles Lakers

14 of 30

    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    Death Lineup: Lonzo Ball/Kentavious Caldwell-Pope/Brandon Ingram/Kyle Kuzma/Luol Deng

    Apologies to Larry Nance Jr. The Brandon Ingram-Kyle Kuzma-Luol Deng trifecta is too tantalizing to bust up.

    Ingram has to be on the floor, because the Durant comparisons haven't yet been invalidated. Deng will only be part of the Los Angeles Lakers' long-term future if they can't find a taker for the three years and $54 million left on his deal, but the Miami Heat intermittently experimented with him at center in 2015-16. Having that extra ball-handler at the 5 is a Death Lineup boon, even when he's half-hobbled and washed. 

    As for Kuzma, his summer-league outburst seals Nance's fate as a spectator. Harrison Faigen elaborated for Silver Screen & Roll:

    "Kuzma averaged 21.8 points and 6.4 rebounds while shooting 51.4 percent from the field and an astonishing 48 percent on threes, with signs of promising defensive potential to boot. Kuzma’s leakouts make him the perfect weapon for Lonzo Ball in transition, and his combination of shooting ability, passing skills and knack for putting the ball on the floor when defenses close out too hard should make him an offensive weapon for years to come if they translate to actual NBA games. He also demonstrated the ability to defend both smaller and larger players in a variety of lineups."

    Unknown commodities take precedence when they provide a do-it-all sampling at the 3 and 4. It helps too that Kuzma is now familiar with Ball's play style. The time he spent alongside the point guard, however brief, could be the bedrock for instant fast-break synergy.

    Adding Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to this positionless stew encourages across-the-board switching. Ball must ideally be stashed on the weakest link, but certain matchups will allow the 6'6" facilitator to heckle small forwards.

    Caldwell-Pope is also a necessary spacing buffer. Ball and Kuzma haven't played in a real NBA game, and Deng left his three-point stroke in the 2016 postseason. Ingram nailed a respectable 35.7 percent of his triplets when playing between 30 and 39 minutes as a rookie, but he converted under 30 percent of his deep looks overall.

    Turning to Caldwell-Pope, a career 33.4 percent shooter from beyond the arc, for long-range stability is harrowing at best and impossibly foolish at worst. But Ball should make life easier on everyone around him right away, and the Lakers will overcome the spacing deficit with their buffet of off-the-dribble workers.

Memphis Grizzlies

15 of 30

    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Death Lineup: Mike Conley/Andrew Harrison/Tyreke Evans/Rade Zagorac/Chandler Parsons (but preferably JaMychal Green)

    Welcome to that moment when you regret instituting the "Players who remain unsigned will be not be considered" rule.

    JaMychal Green displaces Chandler Parsons in an instant should he return to the Memphis Grizzlies. And, for the record, that remains the most likely outcome. Sources told CBS Sports' Matt Moore that Green's contract situation should be hammered out before the start of training camp.

    Either way, expectations for the Grizzlies' Death Lineup must be tapered to account for the rampant unknowns.

    Parsons has the height to keep up at center with extremely limited application, but he's working off three straight season-ending knee injuries. He may not have the lower-body juice to tussle with anyone. Green at times plays like the drifter's version of Draymond Green, but Memphis only gave him 15 minutes as the solo big this past year.

    Slink beyond the mystery at center, and the outlook doesn't really clear up. Andrew Harrison has serious defensive range but no three-point pulse. Tyreke Evans has the wingspan to wreak havoc across multiple assignments, but he too is a jump-shooting question mark. Rade Zagorac is basically a 6'9" guard-forward—a commodity Memphis doesn't otherwise have—but he's a second-round flier with no NBA minutes to his name.

    Ah, well. At least the Grizzlies have Mr. Surething himself, Mike Conley, right? Give him a returning Green and surprise showing from Evans, Harrison or Zagorac, and this Ave Maria lineup starts to look a little more convincing. 

Miami Heat

16 of 30

    Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

    Death Lineup: Goran Dragic/Josh Richardson/Rodney McGruder/Justise Winslow/James Johnson

    Maybe next year, Dion Waiters.

    This lineup no doubt would have become a staple last season if not for Justise Winslow's shoulder injury. Head coach Erik Spoelstra holds extra floor spacing in high regard, and the Heat rolled out James Johnson-at-center rat packs with some frequency.

    Goran Dragic, Rodney McGruder and Josh Richardson flanked Johnson for 97 minutes, through which they were an unimpressive plus-0.8 points per 100 possessions. And they were even worse during Miami's 30-11 tear, tallying a net rating of minus-3.7.

    Tossing in Winslow rather than Waiters represents a calculated risk. He doesn't guarantee nearly enough shooting, a potential deal-breaker knowing that Richardson didn't recapture his three-point touch until the final 15 games and that neither Johnson nor McGruder pumped in treys with league-average efficiency.

    But the defensive versatility is off the charts. Richardson, McGruder and Winslow can trade off assignments against most teams, and Johnson remains an outside threat relative to opposing centers. All five players can jump-start pick-and-rolls, and the combination of Dragic and Richardson can tote the three-point burdens—easily so if McGruder and/or Winslow wield improved jumpers.

    Swapping out McGruder or Winslow with Waiters or Tyler Johnson arms the offense to the teeth, but the Heat lose defensive mojo when stacking up versus frontcourts. And with both Kelly Olynyk and Hassan Whiteside in the rotation, Coach Spo won't have the same lineup liberties he did in 2016-17.

    He needs to cut loose the mishmashes with the highest ceilings, and this mixture of ball-handling and fidgety defense warrants the longest look.

Milwaukee Bucks

17 of 30

    Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

    Death Lineup: Malcolm Brogdon/Khris Middleton/Tony Snell/Giannis Antetokounmpo/Thon Maker

    This Death Squad is legit.

    And since Giannis Antetokounmpo, Malcolm Brogdon, Thon Maker, Khris Middleton and Tony Snell have already shared the floor for more than a millisecond, it's also among the most established.

    Through the 135 minutes these five played together last season, the Milwaukee Bucks outscored opponents by 11.9 points per 100 possessions while notching top-five marks in every category that matters. Their turnover rate (10.3) would have led the league, and they registered a higher effective field-goal percentage (54.6) than the Rockets (54.5).

    Fifteen-game studies are subject to well-actually orgies. This performance may not hold under more exposure. The Bucks couldn't turn to this five-person jamboree until February, when Middleton returned from a torn hamstring, and head coach Jason Kidd seldom let his troops off the leash for more than a couple minutes at a time.

    Quick hooks for Maker specifically will detract from this unit's bottom line. He is still just 20 years old, and the Bucks have playoff hopes to juggle. A dearth of wings will also force Kidd to restrict how much he uses this four-airfoil combination.

    Yet, at the same time, this is one of the few sort-of tested lineups that can actually switch everything without overextending anyone. And with Brogdon, Middleton and Snell to offset the unproven-to-nonexistent shooting from Maker and Antetokounmpo, this platoon has no discernible weakness—except, maybe, on the defensive glass, where height and length might not override the absence of brawn.

Minnesota Timberwolves

18 of 30

    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Death Lineup: Jeff Teague/Jamal Crawford/Jimmy Butler/Andrew Wiggins/Karl-Anthony Towns

    Here's to the Death Squad that shouldn't be.

    The Minnesota Timberwolves aren't set up to work this model into their routine. They don't have enough wings, even after re-signing Shabazz Muhammad, and the ones they do have shouldn't be guarding across multiple positions.

    Many of them shouldn't be responsible for defending anyone, period.

    Jamal Crawford's Cirque du Soleil handles make for a nice offensive addition—provided he drops in more than 35 percent of his spot-up threes—but he's someone you hide at the other end. The same goes for Andrew Wiggins. He has the size, at 6'8", to stalk small-ball 4s, but he's yet to show signs of real improvement. He is nonchalant on closeouts, inattentive when his man doesn't have the ball, easily picked off and slow to react when opposing offenses miss shots and/or snare offensive rebounds.

    Jimmy Butler cannot shoulder the entire perimeter burden by his lonesome, and Karl-Anthony Towns, while a solid switcher, isn't a dependable partner in crime. This lineup will hemorrhage points. 

    Worse, it won't necessarily wow on offense. All five members can get buckets, but the off-ball spacing could be an inclement seesaw. Apply last season's catch-and-shoot roles to this year, and the Timberwolves will be fine. But those defensive pitfalls aren't going anywhere, and they don't have the personnel to call on a better arrangement.

New Orleans Pelicans

19 of 30

    Rob Foldy/Getty Images

    Death Lineup: Ian Clark/Jrue Holiday/Tony Allen/E'Twaun Moore/Anthony Davis

    Welp.

    Puny punch-packing lineups will not be a fixture in the New Orleans Pelicans' rotation. They aren't supposed to be. DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis are the modern-day Twin Towers, and the Pelicans won't mold their identity by tethering one to the bench for protracted stretches at a time.

    Staggering their minutes will allow for some nifty trial runs, but the meat-and-potato course of their makeup won't change. Cousins and Davis are in New Orleans to bully and blast and dominate together.

    Deviations from that norm are even less appealing in the aftermath of Solomon Hill's torn hamstring. He's their best, and only, small-ball 4 option. Losing him leaves the two-man committee of...Tony Allen and E'Twaun Moore...who both stand at 6'4"...the same height as point guard Jrue Holiday.

    Davis' pterodactyl wingspan will let him switch everything, but that only helps when your next best frontcourt option isn't giving up at least a half-foot to the assignments he abandons. Allen has built a career off frustrating bigger players with impeccable ball denial, and Moore is feisty as hell, but size matters even in deliberately diminutive programs.

    Others will have the Pelicans yank one of their guards for Darius Miller, and they won't be out of line. Getting a 6'8" wing in here appears to help. But incorporating a poor man's Hill who might be a better shooter than his predecessor doesn't track when they're entrenched in ambiguity at so many other spots. 

    Pulling Allen for Rajon Rondo—6'1" of him—would stretch the offense's versatility without crippling the defense if this was 2008. Nowadays, Rondo's stances against whoever, let alone wings, cannot be trusted anymore than the 37 percent he's shooting from three over the past two seasons.

    Hence why we're left with this guards-plus-Davis amalgam. The Pelicans get more than enough ball-handling while Holiday, Moore and Ian Clark should carry the three-point torch by themselves. What happens on defense is anyone's guess—though, again, if you need two smalls to sew chaos against 3s and 4s, Allen and Moore are the picks. 

New York Knicks

20 of 30

    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Death Lineup: Frank Ntilikina, Courtney Lee, Tim Hardaway Jr., Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis

    Pretend Carmelo Anthony's name has an asterisk next to it. This selection is valid only so long as he's a member of the New York Knicks. If he gets traded to the Rockets, or another team, Michael Beasley, Mindaugas Kuzminskas or Lance Thomas will take his place.

    For now, with ESPN.com's Ian Begley reporting the Knicks are "not close" to moving their 10-time All-Star, any Death Squad imitation must include him and Porzingis.

    Anthony will remain a defensive liability when going toe-to-toe with opposing 4s. Too many power forwards are glorified wings for the Knicks to count on a finite range of skills to mask his delayed responses and general disinterest. But he's an offensive mismatch against just about anyone. Moving him up to the 4, next to Porzingis at the 5, foments unguardable offensive anarchy.

    New York put up 118.8 points per 100 possessions last season in the 300-plus minutes Anthony and Porzingis spent at the 4 and 5, respectively, according to NBA Wowy. The defense coughed up almost as much (115.4), but that's why you spin the wheel with rookie Frank Ntilikina: His hustle can only help, even as he's learning the ropes, and he's not ball-dominant enough to mess up the offensive vibes.

    By no means will this lineup ever be an impenetrable fortress, but it might not be on life support, either. Tim Hardaway Jr. has improved enough for the Knicks to stash Anthony on afterthoughts, and worrywarts have exaggerated Porzingis' issues when working in space. He is a stout rim protector who navigates the half court like a wing.

    Receive anything remotely consistent from Hardaway, Ntilikina or Courtney Lee, and the Knicks will have the defensive firepower to prop up their offensive terror.

Oklahoma City Thunder

21 of 30

    Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

    Death Lineup: Russell Westbrook/Andre Roberson/Paul George/Jerami Grant/Patrick Patterson

    Rank every team's best possible Death Squad impersonation, and the Oklahoma City Thunder's replica better finish in the top five.

    Extracting ample amounts of long-range splurges from a lineup with Jerami Grant, Andre Roberson and Russell Westbrook won't be easy, but answer this: Which facsimiles are better?

    Golden State's landscape-shifting mishmash for sure. Houston's reproduction probably gets the thumbs-up. After them...who?

    The Celtics? Maybe if they didn't cut the cords for both Bradley and Crowder. The Bucks? Come back slinging endorsements when Maker averages more than 10 minutes per game. The Cavaliers? If only Thomas' hips could lie. The Lakers? LaVar Ball himself couldn't sell this. (He'd definitely try.)

    Placing stock in the defensive switch-a-tude of this five-piece ensemble is too magnetic to resist. Grant, Roberson and Paul George can, and should, and would, switch everything. Plus-minus superhero Patrick Patterson will even join the swiveling fun, with the 6'8" Grant in the backdrop, ready and able to shadow centers for a beat.

    Drawing defenses outside the paint won't be an unreasonable undertaking with a secondary playmaker like George. Westbrook now has a setup man to feed his 35.6 percent clip on spot-up triples, and Grant, who cleared 37 percent shooting on deep balls last year off limited volume, will only get higher-quality looks beside two top-tier table-setters. 

    Tack on Patterson's 37 percent showing from three since 2012-13, and Roberson's inconvenient knack for clanging wide-open jumpers off every part of the rim won't hamper the Thunder's offensive dynamism. Their Death Lineup is built to pick a fight with the Warriors' crowning example. 

Orlando Magic

22 of 30

    Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

    Death Lineup: Evan Fournier/Terrence Ross/Jonathon Simmons/Jonathan Isaac/Aaron Gordon

    No real point guard? No real point guard.

    Elfrid Payton doesn't have the off-ball touch or defensive switchability to maximize ultra-versatile lineups. Similar concerns would follow D.J. Augustin (size) and Shelvin Mack (shooting) onto the battlefield.

    Relying on Evan Fournier and Jonathon Simmons for ball-handling needs is the better play. The Orlando Magic get to leverage extra spacing with Fournier and Terrence Ross both on the court, while Simmons, Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac look like much better shooters and drivers when clunky bodies aren't clogging the lane.

    Multiwing lineups should offer more defensive assurances, which doesn't happen here. Simmons can tackle primary facilitators, but Fournier and Ross aren't lockdown presences. Ross may get the defense edge every third matchup—or something along those lines.

    Gordon and Isaac have the fast-fluttering footwork and explosion to minify some of the concession. But this assumes the Magic are prepared to let them fly together—a presumption Orlando Magic Daily's Philip Rossman Reich wasn't quite ready to make when assessing Isaac's immediate fit:

    "The team will probably keep his role fairly simple, asking him to come off the bench, defend, run the floor and hit the occasional open three-pointer. The Magic are not going to throw him into the deep end. Not with their starting lineup seemingly loaded with veterans and the still-promising Aaron Gordon.

    "The odds too of the Magic throwing out the super athletic defensive tandem of Isaac and Gordon together does not seem likely, at least early in the year. Not until Isaac proves he can defend at a high level in the NBA (which the Magic should think he can) and can hit an open three-pointer. There may be instances when teams go super small that the Magic may use this to counter those 'death lineups.'"

    Finding time for this combination would be tough even if the rest of the league decides to do their best Warriors impression. Having both Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic on the ledger complicates the frontcourt rotation, and the odds of the Magic shelving all their point guards at once aren't good.

    Still, just because they won't flex their cross-position muscles doesn't mean they shouldn't.

Philadelphia 76ers

23 of 30

    Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

    Death Lineup: Markelle Fultz/JJ Redick/Justin Anderson/Robert Covington/Ben Simmons

    Please, please, pretty please with bacon-wrapped sugar cubes on top: Can the Philadelphia 76ers let this lineup be great?

    All right, maybe "great" is too strong an adjective, but we deserve to see Ben Simmons headline small-ball lineups at center. He is the to-be-determined cross between Draymond Green and LeBron James, and that unproven hybrid demands a spot at the big kids' tiny-lineup table.

    Running with this is admittedly counterintuitive to some extent. Joel Embiid put the almost-processed Sixers on the map. They outscored opponents by 3.2 points per 100 possessions with him jumping center as a rookie—a net rating superior to that from the 53-win Celtics.

    As the unicorn the NBA didn't initially realize it had, Embiid could follow in the footsteps of Porzingis, Towns and Turner before him and switch enough within this concoction to preserve the termed spirit requested of Death Lineups. But the inclusion of those towers—mostly Towns and Turner—is borne from necessity.

    Philly has Simmons, a 6'10" thingamajig with the vision of a point guard, attack mode of a wing and in-progress interior clout of a big. He needs to be in the middle. Partner him with the a more-defensively-engaged James Harden-in-training like Markelle Fultz, along with JJ Redick's red-hot fingertips, and the offense will zoom.

    Attach those three to the interchangeable stopping power of Justin Anderson and Robert Covington, and the Sixers should have an authentic two-way killer on their hands—the kind head coach Brett Brown is coaxed into testing out, even though it relegates Embiid, Richaun Holmes, Amir Johnson, Jahlil Okafor and Dario Saric to simultaneous bystander duty.

Phoenix Suns

24 of 30

    Barry Gossage/Getty Images

    Death Lineup: Eric Bledsoe/Devin Booker/Josh Jackson/Jared Dudley/Marquese Chriss

    And the award for "Probably Ineffective Death Squad Duplicate with the Best Chance of Being Incredibly Fun" goes to...the Phoenix Suns!

    Tasking Marquese Chriss with center duties is just asking for trouble. He averaged 5.4 fouls per 36 minutes last season—seventh-most in the league, and by far the worst mark among 32 rookies to log at least 700 total minutes. 

    Newbies commit mistakes, and Chriss, who only left his teenage years in the rear view this past July, didn't have the benefit of staunch veteran guidance once Phoenix shut down Tyson Chandler in February. As head coach Earl Watson told FiveThirtyEight's Chris Herring in April:

    “You ever seen a young group of guys play against a group of older guys in pickup? The older guys somehow manage to physically take advantage of the younger guys without making it look like that’s what they’re doing. Then the young guy starts to hit back, and it’s completely obvious? That’s what we look like sometimes. Players in this league are so good, and our guys are still learning how to be aggressive without committing obvious fouls.”

    Inexperience and a suboptimal supporting cast cannot be the sole sources of Chriss' struggles. He grappled with pick-and-roll reads no matter the opponent or lineup—lapses that will be exacerbated spending more time at center, alongside a collection of wings and guards.

    Jared Dudley and Josh Jackson should help make up some of the difference, and Eric Bledsoe is the better defender at his position more often than many realize. Devin Booker rated as one of the Association's 10 worst stoppers last year, according to NBA Math's Defensive Points Saved, but who cares? This lineup will torch teams with its pace, transition bounce and four average-to-above-average shooters. 

Portland Trail Blazers

25 of 30

    Cameron Browne/Getty Images

    Death Lineup: Damian Lillard/CJ McCollum/Evan Turner/Moe Harkless/Al-Farouq Aminu

    Blame the Portland Trail Blazers' frontcourt if and when they don't ever dive into Death Squad territory. 

    Zach Collins, Ed Davis, Meyers Leonard, Jusuf Nurkic, Caleb Swanigan and Noah Vonleh all factor into the battle for minutes, and the Blazers don't have the top-to-bottom perimeter arsenal to burn through five options, in volume, with one lineup.

    That doesn't mean we can't let our imaginations run wild. And the play style of this lineup is certainly wild. 

    Al-Farouq Aminu, Moe Harkless and Evan Turner form a unique threesome—a three-headed workalike that has the length and strength to hound bigger bodies and the quickness to spare against the backcourt posts Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum cannot handle. They won't perfectly cover up for both guards every night, but they should offset the struggles of one without completely sacrificing their integrity on the inside.

    Shoring up the offense will be the greatest obstacle. Lillard and McCollum can hit contested pull-up jumpers in their sleep, but their three running mates make for a collective unknown—which is putting it kindly.

    Turner has never developed into a threat beyond mid-range, Aminu has cleared a 33 percent clip from downtown just once, and Harkless cannot guarantee league-average efficiency. Things could get real clumpy, real fast.

    On the flip side, it will take a lot for the Blazers to be a hopeless offensive cause. They struggled to pile on points in the 19 minutes this group operated last season, but they're one more reliable shooter away from being in business. And wouldn't you know it: Aminu nuked nylon on 40 percent of his three-point attempts after Feb. 1.

    Ergo, the Blazers are in business...if they find room for this small-ball special first.

Sacramento Kings

26 of 30

    Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

    Death Lineup: De'Aaron Fox/George Hill/Buddy Hield/Vince Carter/Skal Labissiere

    Choosing the Sacramento Kings' Death Squad is a cinch. All of the decisions are pretty straightforward, until you get to center, where they have two fitting candidates in Willie Cauley-Stein and Skal Labissiere.

    Even this pickle is artificially awkward. Both are superb switchers given their size, but Labissiere takes the baton from Cauley-Stein with a burgeoning offensive repertoire. As Cowbell Kingdom's Christopher Kline wrote:

    "He runs the floor well in transition, and his three-point shot showed flashes of consistency throughout the season’s latter half. He’s still at his best when prodding the interior, but his exterior game has blossomed enough to yield success alongside another true five in Willie Cauley-Stein.

    "In spot-up situations, Labissiere was excellent as he scored 48 points in 39 possessions, according to Synergy Sports. That is 1.231 points per possession, which puts him in the top 30 of the entire NBA."

    Fielding a big that can space the floor away from the ball, even in small doses, is a must with De'Aron Fox running point for your Death Lineup. He shot just 24.6 percent from distance at Kentucky, and the Kings will want four other shooters orbiting him to keep things spacey.

    Filling out the other three vacancies takes almost no thought. Vince Carter (40.2), Buddy Hield (41.7) and George Hill (40.1) all cleared 40 percent shooting on catch-and-launch triples in 2016-17. Each can also run some pick-and-roll when the Kings are gutsy enough to station Fox off the ball.

    Defensive learning curves for Fox, Hield and, yes, Labissiere drag down this unit's overall ceiling. The results could go sideways if a 40-year-old Carter doesn't replicate his Memphis swan song. But Sacramento has something going for its take on the Death Lineup that other teams do not: All five members could, on any given night, win the defensive battle against their designated assignments.

San Antonio Spurs

27 of 30

    Noah Graham/Getty Images

    Death Lineup: Dejounte Murray/Patty Mills/Danny Green/Kawhi Leonard/Rudy Gay

    Never-gonna-happen-but-totally-should alert.

    The San Antonio Spurs have steadfastly resisted immersing themselves in the small-ball movement. They went to a Kawhi Leonard-LaMarcus Aldridge 4-5 combo for a whopping 27 minutes last season. They're not about to do a total heel turn and start liberally playing small lineups.

    Signing Rudy Gay suggests they're more open to four-out arrangements with Aldridge at center. It also implies they're wary of using Leonard at the 4, which doesn't bode well for this Death Squad fantasy. But if head coach Gregg Popovich ever has a change of heart, this should be his baby.

    Actually, strike that. Beggars cannot bark orders.

    Popovich can sub in Manu Ginobili for Patty Mills or Dejounte Murray to up the defensive switchability factor. Either is fine. We're not picky. A real, live, playable Death Lineup is all we ask.

    Besides, if and when the Spurs use Gay, Leonard and Danny Green as their frontcourt, they almost can't go wrong with their next two decisions. That tricycle will bust their butts on defense and create mismatches galore in San Antonio's favor at the other end.

Toronto Raptors

28 of 30

    Mark Blinch/Getty Images

    Death Lineup: Kyle Lowry/Norman Powell/DeMar DeRozan/CJ Miles/Serge Ibaka

    Inserting Lucas Nogueira or Pascal Siakam as the small-ball 5 for Toronto's Murderers' Row is far more tempting than it should be. They don't put the ball on the floor more than Serge Ibaka, but they're more likely to fly around from person-to-person on defense.

    Ideally, though, teams want their Death Squad centers to chuck threes. Ibaka has a leg up on them in that department. He's shooting 36.9 percent from deep amid rising volume since 2012-13, and his shot-blocking allows for some residual unicorn dap.

    Selecting his four collaborators takes approximately zero effort. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry can initiate pick-and-rolls or fling passes on the move. The latter is a fully loaded off-ball bazooka, and they both have experience playing with Norman Powell, the default nomination to adopt the defensive covers DeRozan shouldn't touch.

    Toronto shot 43.4 percent from beyond the arc with the DeRozan-Lowry-Powell trio on the hardwood. Think of what CJ Miles will do for that accuracy after wrapping 2016-17 as the chief assassin among 240 players to finish off 75 spot-up possessions. And with him in the fold, DeRozan can, on most nights, slide down to the opposition's most vulnerable perimeter assignment.

    Put it this way: The Raptors were obliterated last year whenever they played DeRozan, Lowry, Powell and DeMarre Carroll at the same time. Now they get to substitute the busted-up Carroll with Miles. The resulting lineup, with Ibaka at the 5, will do some damage.

    (Brownie points will be awarded to anyone brazen enough to suggest Bruno Caboclo should get run at center.)

Utah Jazz

29 of 30

    Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

    Death Lineup: Dante Exum/Rodney Hood/Thabo Sefolosha/Joe Ingles/Joe Johnson

    Feel free to declare this particular exercise a waste of time.

    Lineups that don't include Rudy Gobert are options for which the Utah Jazz don't have time. He cannot play all 48 minutes, and they need to allocate time at center for Derrick Favors. And the Jazz didn't add rookie Tony Bradley and Ekpe Udoh for giggles.

    Hope springs eternal 'round these parts, though. 

    Perhaps head coach Quin Snyder is goaded into experimenting with some wacky combinations whenever Gobert takes a breather. Maybe Favors gets the boot via trade before the February deadline, making it slightly easier to periodically veer away from traditional clusters.

    Whatever dominoes need to fall, let them tumble. This group is the rare small-ball posse that will be genuinely exciting to watch on defense.

    Joe Ingles and Joe Johnson can vacillate between rival 4s and 5s, while the Dante Exum-Rodney Hood-Thabo Sefolosha triangle switches everything else. Exum won't allow the Jazz to play five-out, but Sefolosha is the only one from the remaining four who didn't torch twine on more than 37 percent of his three-point attempts last season. And his efficiency should climb when afforded more space to attack off the dribble within this four-out setup.

    Yes, the Jazz will get de—wait for it—stroyed on the defensive glass with Ingles as their best rebounder. But this Death Lineup should force enough turnovers and push enough offensive boundaries for that to matter as little as possible.

Washington Wizards

30 of 30

    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Death Lineup: John Wall/Bradley Beal/Kelly Oubre Jr./Otto Porter Jr./Markieff Morris

    Shame on the Washington Wizards for not unleashing this completely obvious Death Squad on a more regular basis in 2016-17.

    Bradley Beal, Markieff Morris, Kelly Oubre Jr., Otto Porter Jr. and John Wall played 52 minutes across 29 appearances, during which time the Wizards outhooped opponents by 22.4 points per 100 possessions—a differential anchored by a ridiculous offensive rating (128.0) that exceeded the Warriors' league-best mark by nearly 15.

    Prattle on about the danger of scant samples all you want. You're not wrong. The Wizards won't sustain unfathomable returns while shooting under 28 percent from different area codes. They need a more reliable three-point display from Oubre, not to mention a more consistent commitment from Morris on defense if he's going to survive at center.

    Except, Rule No. 76 applies here: No excuses, play like a champion.

    Washington has one of the league's most ready-made Death Lineup knockoffs. Head coach Scott Brooks needs to move past his lack of backup wings to get this small-ball layout the extensive burn it deserves.

                                                                  

    Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale) and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast co-hosted by B/R's Andrew Bailey.

    Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference or NBA.com. Salary information via Basketball Insiders, Spotrac and RealGM.