The Small-Ball Lineup Every NBA Team Needs to Showcase In 2022-23

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured Columnist IVAugust 16, 2022

The Small-Ball Lineup Every NBA Team Needs to Showcase In 2022-23

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    SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 9: Draymond Green #23, Klay Thompson #11 and Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors look on before the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on January 9, 2022 at Chase Center in San Francisco, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images

    Teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves may be swimming against the tide, but the NBA's small-ball era won't end any time soon.

    Even squads with monster frontcourts need to be able to pivot to faster, more versatile and sometimes positionless groups, especially in the playoffs. Luckily, most of them have those lineups tucked away somewhere on the roster.

    Some coaches will be more willing to experiment than others. Some teams have players who'll make those experiments easier. But every team at least has at least one small-ball option.

    To determine the best small-ball lineup for each of the league's 30 teams, we'll consider talent, fit, versatility and size.

Atlanta Hawks

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    ATLANTA, GA - JULY 1: Dejounte Murray of the Atlanta Hawks talks to the media during the introductory draft press conference on July 1, 2022 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Adam Hagy/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Adam Hagy/NBAE via Getty Images

    The Lineup: Trae Young, Dejounte Murray, Bogdan Bogdanović, De'Andre Hunter and John Collins

    The first four players for this lineup are obvious.

    We need to see how the abundance of playmaking between Trae Young and Dejounte Murray will mesh (if at all). Meanwhile, Bogdan Bogdanović and De'Andre Hunter are no-brainers in positionless lineups.

    Bogdanović brings an intriguing mix of shooting and playmaking, while Hunter provides some multipositional defense and a catch-and-shoot threat.

    The only real question is who serves as the nominal 5.

    Hunter might even make some sense there with another wing shuffled in, but John Collins should be able to move his feet well enough to fit into a fully switchable defense. His rim-running and 38.8 three-point percentage over the last three years would elevate the offensive ceiling of this group, too.

Boston Celtics

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    BOSTON, MA - JUNE 10:  Jayson Tatum #0 and Jaylen Brown #7 of the Boston Celtics walk off the court against the Golden State Warriors during Game Four of the 2022 NBA Finals on June 10, 2022 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

    The Lineup: Marcus Smart, Malcolm Brogdon, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Grant Williams

    According to positional data on Basketball Reference, Grant Williams hasn't spent much time at the 5, but he fits the "P.J. Tucker on the 2019-20 Houston Rockets" mold.

    He can defend all over the floor on one end and space it on the other (he shot 41.1 percent from deep last season). While rebounding could be a problem, Marcus Smart, Malcolm Brogdon, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are all solid at it for their respective positions.

    What makes this group special is the combination of Smart, Brown and Tatum. All three can create, shoot and defend up and down an opposing lineup to some extent.

    Last season, Boston was plus-15.2 points per 100 possessions with that trio on the floor. Adding another player in Brogdon who can fit the above description will make this group even less predictable.

Brooklyn Nets

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    MIAMI, FL - MARCH 26: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets and Ben Simmons #10 of the Brooklyn Nets look on during the game against the Miami Heat on March 26, 2022 at FTX Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

    The Lineup: Kyrie Irving, Seth Curry, Joe Harris, Kevin Durant and Ben Simmons

    A few hours after The Athletic's Shams Charania reported that Kevin Durant had issued an ultimatum to Brooklyn Nets governor Joe Tsai—pick me or the combination of head coach Steve Nash and general manager Sean Marks—Tsai himself responded to the news:

    Joe Tsai @joetsai1999

    Our front office and coaching staff have my support. We will make decisions in the best interest of the Brooklyn Nets.

    In other words, who knows what this team will look like when the 2022-23 season starts?

    Assuming the roster remains what it is today, Brooklyn can deploy one of the most talented and versatile small-ball lineups in the league.

    Durant and Kyrie Irving are fifth and 13th, respectively, in career offensive box plus/minus. Seth Curry and Joe Harris are third and fourth all time in career three-point percentage. Having Simmons as a point center in the middle of that would be a nightmare to defend.

    The ceiling isn't quite as high on the other end, but there's at least some switchability with Simmons, Durant and Harris. Though this group lacks rim protection, Simmons has already made two All-Defensive teams and is a more believable anchor than most small-ball lineups can boast.

Charlotte Hornets

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    CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - DECEMBER 27: LaMelo Ball #2 of the Charlotte Hornets celebrates with Gordon Hayward #20 during their game against the Houston Rockets at Spectrum Center on December 27, 2021 in Charlotte, North Carolina. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)
    Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

    The Lineup: LaMelo Ball, Terry Rozier, Cody Martin, Gordon Hayward and P.J. Washington

    P.J. Washington has spent more than a third of his career minutes at the 5. Last season, he was a center for more than 50 percent of his playing time, and the Charlotte Hornets were plus-5.9 points per 100 possessions with those lineups.

    With his floor-spacing in place, filling out the rest of the lineup is relatively simple.

    LaMelo Ball has to be in there, and his 6'7" frame at point guard makes it a lot easier to deploy switch-heavy schemes. Once you add the solid playmaking from Gordon Hayward and Cody Martin (career marks of 4.3 and 3.6 assists per 75 possessions, respectively), it's easy to be intrigued about the level of passing.

    With Terry Rozier's heat-check scoring as the final ingredient, this group could cause some problems for opponents.

Chicago Bulls

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    PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 07: DeMar DeRozan #11, and Zach LaVine #8 of the Chicago Bulls look on against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center on March 7, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The 76ers defeated the Bulls 121-106. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    The Lineup: Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Patrick Williams

    The Chicago Bulls are one of the few teams that basically decided to run it back this offseason, so they had the opportunity to play this lineup in 2021-22. Unfortunately, injuries (and perhaps coach Billy Donovan's hesitance) limited it to just three possessions.

    The Bulls did play Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan together before injuries piled up, and they were plus-16.3 points per 100 possessions with that quartet on the floor. But those groups typically featured a traditional 5 like Nikola Vucevic or Tony Bradley.

    If they want a full-fledged, switch-everything defense next season, they should give that foursome a little more time with Patrick Williams at the 5. They probably can't do that for long stretches, but the combination of defensive versatility, outside shooting and playmaking in this lineup is intriguing.

    With DeRozan and LaVine leading the offense, points shouldn't be terribly difficult to come by. On the other end, you have two of the game's top perimeter defenders in Ball and Caruso, and a potential utility man in Williams.

Cleveland Cavaliers

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    CLEVELAND, OHIO - NOVEMBER 10: Darius Garland #10 celebrates with Ricky Rubio #3 of the Cleveland Cavaliers after Garland scored during the final seconds of the fourth quarter against the Washington Wizards at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on November 10, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Wizards defeated the Cavaliers 97-94. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    The Lineup: Ricky Rubio, Darius Garland, Caris LeVert, Dean Wade and Evan Mobley

    Playing Evan Mobley at the 5 doesn't feel like the purest sense of the term "small-ball," but it's certainly smaller than a starting lineup that includes him, Lauri Markkanen and Jarrett Allen. Mobley also has the ability to survive as a perimeter defender.

    The other player who feels like he has to be involved is Darius Garland, whose combination of playmaking and shooting made him an All-Star last season.

    Wing depth hasn't been a strength of this squad, so filling the other three spots was trickier.

    Ricky Rubio's 6'9" wingspan helps, as does his passing. Caris LeVert's heat-check scoring gives Rubio and Garland a semi-reliable option to pass to. And Dean Wade, a 25-year-old combo forward with a 36.5 career three-point percentage, is the glue guy.

Dallas Mavericks

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    DALLAS, TX - MARCH 21: Luka Doncic #77 and Spencer Dinwiddie #26 of the Dallas Mavericks react as the Mavericks play the Minnesota Timberwolves late in the second half at American Airlines Center on March 21, 2022 in Dallas, Texas. The Mavericks won 110-108. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
    Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

    The Lineup: Luka Dončić, Spencer Dinwiddie, Reggie Bullock, Dorian Finney-Smith and Maxi Kleber

    Four years into Luka Dončić's career, it's become clear that pairing him with even a hint of outside shooting is going to lead to a strong offense. This lineup gives him that.

    Reggie Bullock is a career 38.5 percent three-point shooter, while Dorian Finney-Smith is at 38.9 percent over the last three seasons. Flanking Luka pick-and-rolls or isolations with those two already puts defenses in a pick-your-poison situation.

    When the guy setting the ball screen is Maxi Kleber (36.8 percent from deep over the last three seasons), things get even trickier. Having the ability to finish plays either as a pick-and-pop or pick-and-roll big makes things even more dynamic.

    As for that fifth spot, there's a temptation to plug Tim Hardaway Jr. in there since he's a reliable three-point shooter. But Spencer Dinwiddie's ability to create from scratch takes a little pressure off Luka. A few more catch-and-shoot opportunities for Dončić could do wonders for his efficiency.

Denver Nuggets

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    DENVER, CO - JANUARY 19: Aaron Gordon #50 of the Denver Nuggets and Bones Hyland #3 of the Denver Nuggets react during a game against the LA Clippers on January 19, 2022 at the Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

    The Lineup: Jamal Murray, Bones Hyland, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon

    It's heresy to leave Nikola Jokic out of any ideal Denver Nuggets lineup, but he would violate the spirit of a small-ball group by definition.

    Assuming health for Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., this group would still be a blast.

    Aaron Gordon is the only non-shooter of the bunch, but the lineup demanded at least one plus defender over 6'5". And with opponents spread out by Murray, Bones Hyland, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and MPJ, Gordon should have some wide-open cutting lanes to exploit.

    With Murray and Bones creating from the perimeter, KCP and Porter raining threes and Gordon finishing inside, this lineup could do major damage in limited stretches.

Detroit Pistons

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    DETROIT, MI - MARCH 31: Saddiq Bey #41 talks to Cade Cunningham #2 of the Detroit Pistons before the game against the Philadelphia 76ers on March 31, 2022 at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Michigan. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

    The Lineup: Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey, Alec Burks, Saddiq Bey and Marvin Bagley III

    Cade Cunningham's shooting was a big part of why he was the No. 1 pick in 2021, but he managed only a 47.1 effective field-goal percentage as a rookie. That was 6.1 percentage points shy of the league average.

    On the flip side, Cunningham's playmaking ability may have translated quicker than expected. Adding Jaden Ivey's slashing should draw perimeter defenders away from him, giving him extra time to get those jumpers off.

    Surrounding those two with a proven shooter in Alec Burks (40.1 percent from three over the last three years) and a theoretical one in Saddiq Bey (36.1 percent for his career) makes sense. They'll command attention around the perimeter.

    That leaves the 5, and Marvin Bagley III has plenty to prove after signing a three-year, $37.5 million deal this offseason.

    The 6'11" Bagley undoubtedly has the size of a big man, but one of the reasons he was the No. 2 pick in 2018 was wing-like mobility and skills. That has yet to shine through, but being in a lineup like this might force him to hone those things.

Golden State Warriors

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    BOSTON, MA - JUNE 16: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors high fives Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors during Game Six of the 2022 NBA Finals on June 16, 2022 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

    The Lineup: Stephen Curry, Jordan Poole, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green

    Had Klay Thompson and Draymond Green been healthy at the same time during the 2021-22 regular season, we probably would've seen plenty of this lineup.

    If there was any doubt about that, the playoffs should've dispelled it. This lineup logged more than 100 minutes in the postseason and had a plus-13.8 net rating.

    If everyone's available, we'll see a lot more of this in 2022-23.

    Although he's now 32, Draymond remains one of the most consistent, effective and unique small-ball 5s in the league. He can defend all over the floor, including the post. That makes this lineup less susceptible to being bullied than most of the others featured here.

    With him orchestrating from the middle of the floor, and Stephen Curry, Klay, Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins flying all around him, this figures to be one of the best lineups in the league next season.

Houston Rockets

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    HOUSTON, TX - MARCH 2: Jalen Green #0 of the Houston Rockets high fives Jae'Sean Tate #8 of the Houston Rockets prior to the game against the Utah Jazz on March 2, 2022 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images

    The Lineup: Kevin Porter Jr., Eric Gordon, Jalen Green, Jae'Sean Tate and Jabari Smith Jr.

    The Houston Rockets may not be very good next season, but they sure will be fun.

    Over his last 25 games of his rookie season, Jalen Green averaged 22.0 points and 3.2 threes while shooting 39.3 percent from deep and posting an above-average box plus/minus. His ability to get hot from the outside and electrify an arena with aerial finishes inside gives him the kind of star potential that could fast-track this rebuild.

    His backcourt mate, Kevin Porter Jr., showed flashes in 2021-22 as well. On top of averaging 6.2 assists and 2.5 threes while shooting 37.5 percent from deep, KPJ's 6'9" wingspan makes him an intriguing 1 for a positionless lineup. He isn't a lockdown defender, but he has the size to fit into a switch-heavy lineup.

    With the Swiss-army-knife game of Jae'Sean Tate and the outside shooting of Eric Gordon, this lineup already has the potential to be interesting. But if 2022 No. 3 overall pick Jabari Smith Jr. pops earlier than expected, it could actually cause some problems for opponents.

    Smith struggled with his shot at summer league, but his defense looked better than expected. That could open up some fascinating small-ball options for Houston.

Indiana Pacers

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    ORLANDO, FLORIDA - MARCH 02: Buddy Hield #24 and Tyrese Haliburton #0 of the Indiana Pacers look on against the Orlando Magic during the first half at Amway Center on March 02, 2022 in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    The Lineup: Tyrese Haliburton, Bennedict Mathurin, Buddy Hield, Aaron Nesmith and Oshae Brissett

    Oshae Brissett has played nearly 200 minutes at center over the last two seasons. He has the game (and frame) of a prototypical small-ball 5. He's a hearty rebounder for a 6'7" player and has hit 36.8 percent of his three-point attempts with the Indiana Pacers.

    That outside shooting would allow Indiana to deploy a five-out scheme around Tyrese Haliburton's playmaking. And if a few wild cards turn out to be aces (or at least face cards), this lineup might actually cause some problems.

    Aaron Nesmith hit 52.2 percent of his three-point attempts as a sophomore for Vanderbilt, but that shooting hasn't quite translated to the NBA yet. If it does, combining him with Buddy Hield, one of the most prolific three-point shooters of all time, checks the floor-spacing box. Hield has played 468 regular-season games, and Stephen Curry is the only player in league history who hit more threes in his first 468 appearances.

    That leaves the other wild card, incoming rookie Bennedict Mathurin. He played only three games in summer league, but he flashed the confidence and well-rounded scoring repertoire that made him a top-10 pick.

    If Mathurin lives up to that billing as a rookie, Indiana will at least be pesky.

Los Angeles Clippers

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    CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 31: Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) and Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George (13) sit on the bench during a NBA game between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Chicago Bulls on March 31, 2022 at the United Center in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The Lineup: John Wall, Norman Powell, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and Nicolas Batum

    Add this lineup to whatever group the Golden State Warriors' bunch is in. Not only does this have a chance to be one of the best small-ball lineups in the league, it could compete for best overall.

    The Los Angeles Clippers seemed to unlock something with Nicolas Batum at the 5 in the 2021 postseason, but they mostly buried last season. He logged only 12 percent of his minutes at center and spend the rest of the time at power forward.

    With Kawhi Leonard and Paul George coming back this season, it will be a lot easier to cobble together those small-ball lineups.

    With those two and Norman Powell hounding the perimeter, the Clippers' need for rim protection would be diminished. On the other end, surrounding Leonard with the shooting of Batum, Powell and George should make for a devastatingly difficult attack to defend.

    Throw in John Wall's ability to create, and it's easy to see how this lineup could dominate whenever it's deployed.

Los Angeles Lakers

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    LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 19: LeBron James #6 and Austin Reaves #15 of the Los Angeles Lakers walk back to the court after a timeout during a 111-104 Indiana Pacers win at Crypto.com Arena on January 19, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
    Harry How/Getty Images

    The Lineup: Kendrick Nunn, Austin Reaves, Talen Horton-Tucker, Stanley Johnson and LeBron James

    It's unclear whether the Los Angeles Lakers will relent and give up multiple first-round picks to unload Russell Westbrook at some point. If they don't, even their small-ball lineups could be pretty cramped.

    There's a temptation to go with a Russ-LeBron James-Anthony Davis trio here, but having Westbrook and AD in the same lineup is just begging the opposition to pack the paint. Instead, we'll suggest something the Lakers started to embrace last season: point center LeBron.

    In 2021-22, James logged roughly half his minutes at the 5. And though L.A. had a negative point differential with those lineups, it was still better than when he played the 3 or the 4.

    The current Lakers roster doesn't have the ideal pieces to surround LeBron at the 5. But if they tried to squeeze as much shooting as possible into the other four spots, this lineup could at least be interesting.

    None of Kendrick Nunn, Austin Reaves, Talen Horton-Tucker and Stanley Johnson are proven shooters (with the possible exception of Nunn), but they've shown flashes. Horton-Tucker and Johnson both have hints of secondary playmaking potential, too.

Memphis Grizzlies

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    MEMPHIS, TN - MAY 1: Desmond Bane #22 hi-fives Ja Morant #12 of the Memphis Grizzlies during Game 1 of the 2022 NBA Playoffs Western Conference Semifinals on May 1, 2022 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

    The Lineup: Ja Morant, Tyus Jones, Desmond Bane, David Roddy and Brandon Clarke

    The Memphis Grizzlies started games with Jaren Jackson Jr. and Steven Adams in 2021-22, so putting Brandon Clarke at the 5 is still technically downsizing.

    While Clarke sort of abandoned the pursuit of being a stretch big last season, he posted career highs in box plus/minus, assist percentage, block percentage and rebounding percentage. He can do a lot of center stuff, but he's also able to defend outside and occasionally operate as a playmaking hub (as Adams often did for the Grizzlies).

    Beyond Clarke, the obvious choices for this lineup are Ja Morant and Desmond Bane, who are sort of a funhouse mirror version of Curry and Thompson. Tyus Jones and David Roddy are the wild cards.

    The former might seem to overlap with Morant, but Memphis had a higher net rating last season with Jones on the floor and Morant off than vice versa. The Grizzlies dominated in the limited minutes that they shared the court with one another.

    Morant is a flashy, high-flying slasher who provides highlight-reel worthy plays in every game. Jones, meanwhile, is the steadier hand who has a knack for getting just what you need in a given situation.

    As for Roddy, I just want to see how the funky, do-everything game that the 6'6", 255-pound forward used in college translates to the NBA. In a lineup with Morant, Jones, Bane and Clarke, he should have a soft landing as a gap filler.

Miami Heat

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    MIAMI, FLORIDA - MAY 04: Jimmy Butler #22 and Victor Oladipo #4 of the Miami Heat high five against the Philadelphia 76ers during the second half in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at FTX Arena on May 04, 2022 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    The Lineup: Victor Oladipo, Tyler Herro, Max Strus, Jimmy Butler and Nikola Jovic

    Kyle Lowry is the Miami Heat's more natural small-ball point guard, but plugging Victor Oladipo in as the nominal 1 makes this lineup more switchable on defense. And there's still plenty of playmaking with him, Tyler Herro and Jimmy Butler.

    Butler will be a staple in any small-ball or positionless lineup for Miami. If Oladipo could even be an average three-point shooter, there should be enough floor spacing between him, Herro and Max Strus in this group.

    That leaves rookie Nikola Jovic, who may not play much this season. He's a teenager heading to an established playoff team, but the theoretical version of him is an ideal 5 for a lineup like this.

    Jovic is 6'10" and has the potential to both space the floor and facilitate a bit, although it may take him some time to live up to that and be better than a turnstile on defense. Miami's track record of developing young talent suggests he'll eventually get there.

Milwaukee Bucks

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    MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 20: Khris Middleton #22, Giannis Antetokounmpo #34, and Jrue Holiday #21 of the Milwaukee Bucks walk on to the court during the game against the Chicago Bulls during Round 1 Game 2 of the 2022 NBA Playoffs on April 20, 2022 at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

    The Lineup: Jrue Holiday, Pat Connaughton, Joe Ingles, Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo

    Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday are the gimmes here. Since Holiday joined the Milwaukee Bucks, they're plus-11.8 points per 100 possessions when all three are on the floor. And Giannis has plenty of experience playing the 5.

    The question then becomes who fills in the other two wing/forward spots. While there are certainly arguments for Wesley Matthews and Grayson Allen, Pat Connaughton and Joe Ingles provide the most intriguing mix of shooting, playmaking and defense.

    The Bucks can't deploy this lineup right away, as they'll have to wait a few months for Ingles to wrap up his recovery from a torn ACL. But adding his savvy as a pick-and-roll creator, floor spacer and multipositional defender will help.

    Connaughton's willingness to operate as little more than a catch-and-shoot and cutting threat on offense while still selling out on defense and the boards makes him a solid glue guy for this bunch.

Minnesota Timberwolves

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    MEMPHIS, TN - APRIL 26: Anthony Edwards #1 and D'Angelo Russell #0 of the Minnesota Timberwolves talk during Round 1 Game 5 of the 2022 NBA Playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies on April 26, 2022 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

    The Lineup: D'Angelo Russell, Bryn Forbes, Anthony Edwards, Jaden McDaniels and Kyle Anderson

    Even after pairing Karl-Anthony Towns with Rudy Gobert this offseason, the Minnesota Timberwolves still have the personnel for more of a small-ball purist's lineup.

    The group is bookended with playmaking from D'Angelo Russell and Kyle Anderson, both of whom can create looks for and then find teammates. Assuming Jaden McDaniels can bounce back to a three-point percentage closer to the mark of 36.4 that he put up as a rookie, there's a decent amount of shooting between Russell and Anderson.

    This lineup will depend a lot on Anthony Edwards, though.

    Edwards showed superstar potential when he averaged 25.2 points in his playoff debut. Minnesota would be wise to find lineups in which he can be the unquestioned alpha.

    This group is exactly that kind of lineup.

New Orleans Pelicans

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    NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - NOVEMBER 19: Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans racts with Brandon Ingram #14 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the third quarter of a NBA game against the LA Clippers at Smoothie King Center on November 19, 2021 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
    Sean Gardner/Getty Images

    The Lineup: Devonte' Graham, CJ McCollum, Herbert Jones, Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson

    If Zion Williamson can stay healthy, the New Orleans Pelicans have a real shot at getting back into the playoff picture. For his career, New Orleans is plus-2.5 points per 100 possessions when he's on the floor and minus-3.6 when he's off.

    When the Pelicans entrusted him to play as a de facto point center, they typically won. During the two seasons in which he appeared in a game, the Pelicans went 18-9 when Zion totaled at least five assists and 43-74 in all other games.

    Surround his barreling, unstoppable drive-and-kick game with the shooting of Devonte' Graham, CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram, and it's easy to get excited about this group.

    If Herbert Jones can add an average three-point shot to his already stifling defense, this lineup has a chance to cause some serious damage.

New York Knicks

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    DETROIT, MI - MARCH 27: Obi Toppin #1 hi-fives RJ Barrett #9 of the New York Knicks during the game against the Detroit Pistons on March 27, 2022 at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Michigan. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Brian Sevald/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Brian Sevald/NBAE via Getty Images

    The Lineup: Jalen Brunson, RJ Barrett, Quentin Grimes, Cam Reddish and Obi Toppin

    If the New York Knicks don't trade a bunch of wings for Donovan Mitchell, they'll have some fascinating small-ball options to trot out next season.

    RJ Barrett, Quentin Grimes and Cam Reddish can make up a positionless trio in the middle of this lineup that provides playmaking from Barrett, shooting from Reddish and Barrett and a little bit of both from Grimes.

    Dropping a Jalen Brunson-Obi Toppin pick-and-roll into the middle of those three will make all of their lives a lot easier.

    Last season, Brunson ranked in the 91st percentile as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, while Toppin has a career field-goal percentage of 72.0 within three feet of the rim.

Oklahoma City Thunder

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 4: Josh Giddey #3 and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 of the Oklahoma City Thunder stand on the court against the Los Angeles Lakers on November 4, 2021 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

    The Lineup: Josh Giddey, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jalen Williams, Luguentz Dort and Aleksej Pokusevski

    The Oklahoma City Thunder have positioned themselves to access the best of both the small-ball and traditional worlds by amassing a roster of big playmakers.

    Josh Giddey is 6'8" and averaged 6.4 assists as a rookie. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is 6'6" and put up 5.9 assists over each of the last two seasons. Aleksej Pokusevski is a 7-footer who averaged 5.9 assists over his final 10 appearances of the 2021-22 season.

    All three are bigger than players at their listed positions typically are, but they have the skills to stay in those spots. Or, as is the case here, they can be shapeshifters in more positionless lineups.

    Rounding out this group with another creator in incoming rookie Jalen Williams and budding three-and-D specialist Luguentz Dort only adds to the versatility.

Orlando Magic

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    ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 28: Franz Wagner #22 and Jalen Suggs #4 of the Orlando Magic are interviewed after the game against the Detroit Pistons on January 28, 2022 at Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

    The Lineup: Markelle Fultz, Jalen Suggs, Franz Wagner, Paolo Banchero and Jonathan Isaac

    The Orlando Magic are loaded with intriguing frontcourt players, but a number of them possess the perimeter skill necessary to thrive in a small-ball or positionless lineup.

    Paolo Banchero has point-forward potential that sets him apart from previous high-scoring prospects like Jabari Parker or Michael Beasley. Scoring will be his primary calling card, but Banchero showed a willingness and ability to create looks for others at Duke. When surrounded by NBA-level finishers, that skill should flourish.

    Other than Franz Wagner, who averaged 15.2 points, 2.9 assists and 1.2 threes as a rookie, most of the rest of this lineup isn't about offensive upside, though. The key to truly unlocking Banchero's potential may be surrounding him with lockdown defenders (much like the 2010-11 Dallas Mavericks did with Dirk Nowitzki).

    This group has an abundance of ability on that end.

Philadelphia 76ers

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    MIAMI, FLORIDA - MAY 02: James Harden #1 and Tobias Harris #12 of the Philadelphia 76ers look on against the Miami Heat during the first half in Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at FTX Arena on May 02, 2022 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    The Lineup: Tyrese Maxey, De'Anthony Melton, James Harden, P.J. Tucker and Tobias Harris

    The Philadelphia 76ers will play as few minutes without star center Joel Embiid as possible. But having the ability to play small is a good thing to have tucked away.

    They now have that thanks to the additions of De'Anthony Melton and P.J. Tucker.

    Melton has quietly been one of the league's better perimeter defenders over the last few seasons, and his 6'8" wingspan allows him to hold up against wings on switches. And Tucker, who gained plenty of experience as a small-ball 5 with Houston, has the strength to at least challenge opposing big men if teams counter a lineup like this with size.

    The other three inclusions here are fairly obvious. James Harden—a famously solid post defender himself—Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris can provide enough firepower for a configuration like this to dominate short spurts.

Phoenix Suns

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    PHOENIX, ARIZONA - MAY 15: Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns stands on the court with Mikal Bridges #25, Devin Booker #1 and Cameron Johnson #23 during the first half of Game Seven of the Western Conference Second Round NBA Playoffs at Footprint Center on May 15, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Mavericks defeated the Suns 123-90. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    The Lineup: Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson and Dario Šarić

    An ability to counter small-ball lineups was one of the Phoenix Suns' lone weaknesses last season, and it may have cost them the series against the Dallas Mavericks.

    Now, with Dario Šarić returning from a torn ACL, they should have that element back (or at least be closer to it).

    Phoenix has already thrived with three-wing looks like the one above. Inserting Cameron Johnson for starter Jae Crowder is mostly an effort to get more shooting on the floor, but Crowder would probably be fine there as well.

    Adding Šarić, a career 35.7 percent three-point shooter, to those wings should pull opposing 5s away from the rim and give Chris Paul a little more operating room inside.

Portland Trail Blazers

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    PORTLAND, OR - DECEMBER 14: Larry Nance Jr. #11 of the Portland Trail Blazers, Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers, and Nassir Little #9 of the Portland Trail Blazers, walk on the court during the game against the Phoenix Suns on December 14, 2021 at the Moda Center Arena in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

    The Lineup: Damian Lillard, Gary Payton II, Josh Hart, Nassir Little and Jerami Grant

    The Portland Trail Blazers knew they needed to get better defensively this offseason. The additions of Gary Payton II and Jerami Grant should help in that regard.

    The former can take on the more difficult backcourt matchups and help cover up some of the defensive shortcomings of Damian Lillard. The latter can defend multiple positions outside, but he's also big enough to be a passable small-ball 5.

    If Grant, Payton, Nassir Little and Josh Hart can provide average to above-average three-point shooting, the middle of the floor should be relatively open for Lillard's drives.

    On the other end, the switchability and versatility of the four non-stars gives this group a chance to be competitive defensively, even if opponents are matchup-hunting for Lillard.

Sacramento Kings

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    TORONTO, ON - DECEMBER 13: De'Aaron Fox #5 and Davion Mitchell #15 of the Sacramento Kings slap hands against the Toronto Raptors during the second half of their basketball game at the Scotiabank Arena on December 13, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)
    Mark Blinch/Getty Images

    The Lineup: De'Aaron Fox, Kevin Huerter, Malik Monk, Harrison Barnes and Keegan Murray

    Since just before the 2022 trade deadline, the Sacramento Kings have added Domantas Sabonis, Keegan Murray, Malik Monk and Kevin Huerter.

    Of those four, Sabonis is probably the most important for ending the Kings' 16-year playoff drought. But the other three boost the team's versatility.

    In combination with holdover Harrison Barnes, Sacramento can now deploy five-out lineups that can light it up from the outside. With De'Aaron Fox's lightning-quick first step and ability to get to the rim, five-out lineups should definitely get some run in Sacramento this year.

San Antonio Spurs

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    DETROIT, MICHIGAN - JANUARY 01: Keldon Johnson #3 and Tre Jones #33 of the San Antonio Spurs walk back to the bench during the fourth quarter against the Detroit Pistons at Little Caesars Arena on January 01, 2022 in Detroit, Michigan. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)
    Nic Antaya/Getty Images

    The Lineup: Tre Jones, Malaki Branham, Devin Vassell, Keldon Jones and Jeremy Sochan

    If the San Antonio Spurs hadn't already entered the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NBA draft, their decision to trade Dejounte Murray to the Hawks erased any lingering doubt. Now, their best small-ball lineups look like the above.

    Keldon Johnson averaged 17.0 points and shot 39.8 percent from three as a 22-year old, but this lineup is likely to be dominated if it ever sees the floor. That isn't to say there aren't intriguing pieces, though.

    Among players who had at least 100 assists in 2021-22, Tre Jones was second in assist-to-turnover ratio (behind only his brother, Tyus). If he can become an average three-point shooter, he'll at least be a solid backup 1.

    Malaki Branham is coming off a better-than-expected freshman campaign with Ohio State, where he averaged 13.7 points and 1.2 threes while shooting 41.6 percent from deep. Devin Vassell is a budding three-and-D wing who averaged 12.3 points per game and shot 36.1 percent from deep with the Spurs last season.

    The real swing player might be Jeremy Sochan, who enters the NBA with the kind of Swiss-army-knife game that lends itself to small-ball 5 minutes. In his lone season at Baylor, Sochan averaged 11.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 2.2 steals and 1.2 blocks per 75 possessions.

Toronto Raptors

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    TORONTO, CANADA - MARCH 26: Scottie Barnes #4 of the Toronto Raptors greets OG Anunoby #3 of the Toronto Raptors before the game against the Indiana Pacers on March 26, 2022 at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Vaughn Ridley/NBAE via Getty Images

    The Lineup: Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes and Pascal Siakam

    The Toronto Raptors are the one team featured here whose best small-ball lineup could very well be its starting five.

    Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes and Pascal Siakam shared the floor for 345 minutes last season. That was the the most among Raptors lineups and ranked 14th leaguewide among all five-man units.

    It isn't hard to see why Raptors head coach Nick Nurse is so fond of this group.

    Between VanVleet, Barnes and Siakam, there is an abundance of playmaking. VanVleet, Trent and Anunoby provide floor spacing. And although VanVleet is only 6'1", the group can generally switch on most screens.

    If reigning Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes takes a leap toward stardom in 2022-23, this lineup has a chance to be one of the league's best.

Utah Jazz

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    SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH - FEBRUARY 07: Bojan Bogdanovic #44 speaks with Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz during the first half of a game against the New York Knicks at Vivint Smart Home Arena on February 07, 2022 in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
    Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

    The Lineup: Donovan Mitchell, Malik Beasley, Simone Fontecchio, Bojan Bogdanović and Jarred Vanderbilt

    It seems unlikely that the Utah Jazz will enter the season with Donovan Mitchell still on their roster. But if he is, they have to start prioritizing point guard minutes for him.

    A big part of Utah's defensive struggles in recent years stemmed from having a starting backcourt with two 6'1" guards (Mitchell and Mike Conley). Sliding Mitchell down a spot and packing the rest of the lineup with switchable defenders might alleviate some of the defensive pain that comes with having him on the floor.

    Thanks to the monster haul from the Rudy Gobert trade, Utah now has more of those players. Malik Beasley theoretically fits that mold, while Jarred Vanderbilt is clearly a floor-raiser on defense. He finished the season ranked 12th in total deflections, tied for 11th in loose balls recovered, tied for 15th in steals and 18th in rebounds.

    The other two spots are filled by a pair of floor spacers. Bojan Bogdanović has averaged 18.4 points and shot 39.7 percent from three during his three seasons with Utah, while Simone Fontecchio has shot 40.8 percent from deep overseas since the start of the 2018-19 season.

Washington Wizards

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    NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 25: Deni Avdija #9 and Bradley Beal #3 of the Washington Wizards shake hands against the New York Knicks on March 25, 2021 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

    The Lineup: Delon Wright, Bradley Beal, Deni Avdija, Rui Hachimura and Kyle Kuzma

    Having incoming point guard Monte Morris in Delon Wright's spot would be fair, but Wright is three inches taller and hasn't shot much worse than Morris over the last three seasons. His inclusion makes a switch-everything scheme easier to pull off.

    Pairing Wright or Morris with Bradley Beal in the backcourt is a no-brainer. The supermax guard is coming off an injury-plagued 2021-22 campaign, but he should be able to feast in lineups like this.

    With shooting at all three frontcourt spots, everything inside the three-point line should be relatively easy for Beal to exploit.

    While this group may not have a ton of defensive upside, Wright, Deni Avdija and Kyle Kuzma all looked like plus defenders last season.


    Unless noted otherwise, all stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference, Cleaning the Glass, PBPStats.com and Stathead.

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