5 NBA Starting Lineups That Desperately Need a Change

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRFeatured Columnist IVNovember 21, 2022

5 NBA Starting Lineups That Desperately Need a Change

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    MINNEAPOLIS, MN - OCTOBER 28: Rudy Gobert #27 talks to Anthony Edwards #1 of the Minnesota Timberwolves in the second quarter of the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Target Center on October 28, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Timberwolves defeated the Lakers 111-102. 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 David Berding/Getty Images)
    David Berding/Getty Images

    A cohesive NBA starting lineup that blends the right amount of star power, role players, shooting, defense and ball movement can be a huge advantage to begin a game.

    The reverse is also true, as having too many mouths to feed on offense, not enough floor spacing, playmakers or defenders can doom squads from the start.

    As we near the quarter mark of the 2022-23 season, it's become clear that some teams already need to shake up their starting five.

    For the following five franchises who've had starting units rank that woefully underperformed expectations, changes need to be made.

Cleveland Cavaliers

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    CLEVELAND, OHIO - NOVEMBER 18: Caris LeVert #3 celebrates with Darius Garland #10 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the second half against the Charlotte Hornets at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on November 18, 2022 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Hornets 132-122 in double overtime. 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

    Starting Five: PG Darius Garland, SG Donovan Mitchell, SF Caris LeVert, PF Evan Mobley, C Jarrett Allen

    Net Rating: minus-4.3 in 222 possessions (36th percentile)

    Cleveland had four starters locked in the moment it traded for Mitchell, as a backcourt of he and Garland gave the Cavs a pair of All-Star guards to counter a frontcourt of Mobley and Allen, the latter of whom was another 2022 All-Star.

    The starting small forward position was an open battle eventually won by LeVert, with players like Isaac Okoro, Cedi Osman and Dean Wade all making their cases during the preseason.

    In a vacuum, LeVert is the best overall player of the group, but that doesn't mean he's the best fit amongst a core that's all under contract for the next three-to-six seasons. The Cavs need someone who can defend and hit open threes, something LeVert's only shown the ability to do in spurts.

    His playmaking is far more valuable off the bench, especially while the Cavaliers await Ricky Rubio's return from a torn ACL. The Cavs' reserves rank 27th in scoring (28.4 points per game) and 21st in assists (6.1), an area LeVert (12.3 points, 4.9 assists, 39.7 percent from three) could make a real impact on.

    Cleveland recently tried LeVert off the bench for the first time in a win over the Charlotte Hornets and inserted Lamar Stevens in his place, who's been out of the rotation for most of the season.

    Stevens is a good, multi-positional defender but a suspect outside shooter who doesn't bring much to the table offensively. It's clear the position still isn't settled.

    In a perfect world, Okoro would have secured this spot by now. Instead, the No. 5 overall pick in the 2020 draft is off to the worst start of his three-year career, averaging a measly 2.7 points, 1.3 rebounds and 0.4 assists in 16.4 minutes. He's made just two of his 16 three-point attempts (12.5 percent) and rarely even draws his defender's attention from outside the arc.

    Instead, the answer to who should start in place of LeVert is clear.

    Wade is the perfect fitting piece amongst these starters as a 6'9" forward who's knocking down 50 percent of his threes, defending at a high level and has a sparkling swing rating of plus-16.3, ranking in the 93rd percentile.

    Currently sidelined with knee soreness, Wade needs to enter the starting lineup upon his return and let LeVert lead a bench that also features Kevin Love, Okoro, Osman, Stevens, Robin Lopez, Raul Neto and, eventually, Rubio.

Chicago Bulls

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    CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - OCTOBER 24: Patrick Williams #44 and Ayo Dosunmu #12 of the Chicago Bulls looks on against the Boston Celtics during the second half at United Center on October 24, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. 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

    Starting Five: PG Ayo Dosunmu, SG Zach LaVine, SF DeMar DeRozan, PF Patrick Williams, C Nikola Vučević

    Net Rating: minus-6.9 in 290 possessions (28th percentile)

    Chicago hasn't had the luxury of using its preferred starting lineup with Lonzo Ball sidelined following knee surgery, but it's become clear the version Billy Donovan is currently using isn't working, either.

    Defensively, this group has actually been OK, allowing 107.2 points per 100 possessions (62nd percentile), but without Ball's passing and three-point shooting, the offense has sputtered with a 100.3 rating (10th percentile).

    LaVine, DeRozan and Vučević have all earned their spots, and Williams' two-way potential should keep him safe for now. This leaves Dosunmu, whose own potential hasn't resulted in winning basketball thus far.

    When it comes to point guard, the Bulls have a few options.

    Alex Caruso has been Chicago's go-to option whenever LaVine or Dosunmu have missed time, although he's been far less efficient in his five starts (5.0 points on 31.7 percent true shooting) compared to when he's come off the bench (5.1 points on 74.9 percent true shooting).

    Goran Dragić, who looked like the sand had almost run out of the hourglass last season, has been excellent as a reserve. Dragić knows his role as a table-setter and is off to the best three-point shooting start of his 15-year career by knocking down 44.0 percent of outside attempts while averaging 9.3 points and 3.8 assists in 19.2 minutes.

    With Dragić at point guard, this Bulls team looks completely different.

    Putting Dragić on the floor with DeRozan, LaVine and Vučević has resulted in a devastating net rating of plus-19.4 (99th percentile), yet is a combo Chicago has used for a total of just 36 total possessions all season.

    Dragić, 36, isn't the long-term answer for the position, but he looks like the most qualified to keep the seat warm until Ball can return.

    Losers of four straight and in danger of missing the play-in tournament in a tough East, the Bulls need to make a change.

Minnesota Timberwolves

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    MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 26: D'Angelo Russell #0, Rudy Gobert #27, and Anthony Edwards #1 of the Minnesota Timberwolves pose for a portrait during 2022 Media Day on September 26, 2022 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  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 Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

    Starting Five: PG D'Angelo Russell, SG Anthony Edwards, SF Jaden McDaniels, PF Karl-Anthony Towns, C Rudy Gobert

    Net Rating: plus-1.1 in 450 possessions (42nd percentile)

    Last season, the Wolves had one of the most successful starting fives in the league, with a core of Edwards, Towns, Russell, Patrick Beverley and Jarred Vanderbilt registering a net rating of plus-12.9.

    Despite adding another All-Star and one of the greatest defense talents in all of basketball in Gobert, these Minnesota starters have actually fared far worse. Even a three-game winning streak against teams missing key players hasn't moved the Wolves' needle past the 50th percentile.

    The main issues lie on the offensive end, where the Wolves' starters are putting up just 107.1 points per 100 possessions (20th percentile) despite possessing two elite scoring talents in Towns and Edwards and a former All-Star point guard in Russell.

    This was always going to be an adjustment by adding a second center to the floor, but patience can only go so far when an 8-8 record overall is only good enough for 10th place in the West.

    For now, the Wolves have a few options.

    Benching Edwards, Towns or Gobert is a non-starter. Even Russell is tricky, although such a move would open up more offensive opportunities for Towns and Edwards and let Russell feast against second-unit defenses.

    For now, Minnesota could continue trying to stagger its stars and see if swapping out McDaniels for a player like Kyle Anderson or Taurean Prince would make a difference.

    The pair rank first and second overall on the team in three-point shooting (42.9 percent and 40.8 percent, respectively), giving the starting unit a little more floor-spacing with McDaniels (34.9 percent) now coming off the bench.

    It's probably not time to panic just yet, although this starting five has been very underwhelming thus far.

New Orleans Pelicans

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    NEW ORLEANS, LA - SEPTEMBER 26: CJ McCollum #3, Jonas Valanciunas #17, Brandon Ingram #14, Herbert Jones #5, and Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans pose for a photograph 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images)
    Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

    Starting Five: PG CJ McCollum, SG Brandon Ingram, SF Herbert Jones, PF Zion Williamson, C Jonas Valančiūnas

    Net Rating: plus-3.6 in 208 possessions (50th percentile)

    The Pelicans are who most thought they would be entering this season, as this starting unit has feasted on offense yet possesses little ability to stop anyone on the other end.

    Jones remains one of the league's most versatile defenders, but after him, no one in this starting five is scaring anyone on the perimeter or at the rim.

    Williamson, Ingram and McCollum power this offense and must remain starters, and Jones is needed to hold any semblance of this defense together. Valančiūnas is the best center on this roster but perhaps not the best fit in a starting lineup that already features plenty of scoring options.

    For all his talents on the offensive end and the glass, Valančiūnas is allowing opponents to shoot a whopping 70.5 percent at the rim this season, while the Pelicans rank 29th in opponent shooting within five feet (67.9 percent).

    Plugging this hole in a leaky defense could go a long way in the ultimate success of New Orleans' starters—and the team overall.

    Swapping Larry Nance Jr. in for Valančiūnas may be worth trying.

    Nance has been the better rim protector (opponents are shooting 58.0 percent against him at the basket), is a perfect fill-in-the-gaps guy around star players and can still throw down some monstrous dunks over opponents.

    When Williamson and Valančiūnas share a frontcourt this season, the Pelicans have a net rating of plus-2.9. When Williamson and Nance are paired together, however, this rating jumps all the way to plus-14.2.

    Nance isn't a better overall talent than Valančiūnas, but he is a better fit against the rest of New Orleans' starters and can help improve what's been a lackluster defense overall.

Toronto Raptors

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    SAN ANTONIO, TX - NOVEMBER 2: Gary Trent Jr. #33 of the Toronto Raptors shoots a free throw against the San Antonio Spurs on November 2, 2022 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, 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 (Photos by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Photos by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

    Starting Five: PG Fred VanVleet, SG Gary Trent Jr., SF OG Anunoby, PF Scottie Barnes, C Pascal Siakam

    Net Rating: minus-7.0 in 148 possessions (24th percentile)

    Injuries have prevented these Raptors starters from getting a lot of time together, although history tells us this group just isn't meant to be.

    Last year these same five logged 700 total possessions together and still produced mild results with a net rating of plus-1.8, ranking in just the 47th percentile.

    If Toronto is to become one of the elite teams in the East, an adjustment may have to come.

    If you're head coach Nick Nurse, the question of which player to bench—and which player to replace him with—is a difficult one.

    VanVleet is needed to run the offense. Siakam is playing at an All-NBA level once again, and Anunoby has been an elite-level defender. Barnes' sky-high potential alone is enough to warrant his spot among the starters as well.

    Trent seems like the most likely candidate for a demotion, although no guards in the second unit have played well enough to take his place.

    Toronto could go with a jumbo lineup by using a player like Chris Boucher, Precious Achiuwa or Christian Koloko in place of Trent, or try Otto Porter Jr. as a floor-spacer and let Trent cook off the bench instead.

    There's no great option here, meaning the Raptors may have to turn to the trade market for help.

    Given that this team owns all of its future first-round picks and has some salary-matching pieces available, Toronto could use some outside help to cultivate a better starting lineup once everyone returns to full strength.