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Does Rajon Rondo Trade Give Dallas Mavericks Best Starting Lineup in the NBA?

Sean Highkin@highkinFeatured ColumnistDecember 20, 2014

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When the Dallas Mavericks traded for Rajon Rondo on Thursday, they strengthened an already-loaded Western Conference and gave themselves a lineup with the potential to be the best starting five in the NBA.

In upgrading from Jameer Nelson to Rondo at the starting point guard position, Dallas now has a star at every position—at least on paper.

The lineup of Nelson, Monta Ellis, Chandler Parsons, Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler put up an outstanding 116.4 points per 100 possessions in 21 games, but it lacked on defense. The Mavericks haven’t been the dominant force at both ends of the floor that the Golden State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers have been, but they have no shortage of offensive firepower.

Rondo adds an interesting dimension to the Mavs’ starting unit, one that wasn’t there before. He could take time to mesh with Ellis, who also likes to have the ball in his hands a lot. Ellis has posted a usage rate of 28.8 percent this season.

Since Rondo is an abysmal shooter (40.5 percent from the field this season and a career mark of 25.2 percent from three-point range), he isn’t going to be useful as a threat off the ball. He has to play with the ball in his hands, setting up the offense for Dallas’ other scorers.

And the Mavericks have plenty of those. There’s no one better suited to set up Chandler for lobs or to kick out to Nowitzki, Parsons and Ellis for shots on the perimeter than Rondo. He’s also a better defender than Nelson; he won’t entirely solve their problems on that end, but he gives the Mavs another capable player on defense outside of Chandler.

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TeamPlayersORtgDRtgNetRtg
Golden StateStephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, Andrew Bogut117.689.628.0
SacramentoDarren Collison, Ben McLemore, Rudy Gay, Jason Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins106.785.321.3
LA ClippersChris Paul, J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan115.898.417.3
PortlandDamian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez107.696.511.1
DallasRajon Rondo, Monta Ellis, Chandler Parsons, Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson ChandlerTBDTBDTBD

Offensive rating, defensive rating and net rating statistics courtesy of NBA.com.

"Of course he's known for his defense, and he'll bring that intensity," Chandler told reporters on Friday. "He'll shake some things up for us, which will be good. We're going to need it, especially in the Western Conference, the type of guards that we face on a nightly basis."

"With Monta being a ball-handler a lot for us and Rondo's going to need the ball some in his hands, we're just going to put the ball in the playmakers' hands," added Nowitzki. "You can never have enough playmakers off the dribble in this league, guys that can break down their guys and get in the lane; you can never have enough of those guys."

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

The problem with definitively naming the best starting five in the NBA is the injury trouble some of the top teams have suffered.

No team has been close to the Warriors’ ideal lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut; in 19 games together, they’ve produced 117.6 points per 100 possessions while giving up just 89.6, giving them a net rating of plus-28, per NBA.com. But Bogut is out indefinitely with a knee injury, and it's unknown how he’ll look when he comes back.

Likewise, the Trail Blazers’ starting lineup of Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez has put up an excellent plus-11.1 net rating, but Lopez’s broken hand is expected to keep him out at least six weeks.

The Sacramento Kings’ starting five (Darren Collison, Ben McLemore, Rudy Gay, Jason Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins) has a net rating of plus-21.3, second among starting units behind Golden State. Cousins is proving himself a clear-cut franchise player, while Gay is 13th in the league in scoring at 21.1 points per game.

But the firing of head coach Michael Malone has thrown Sacramento’s season for a loop after a strong start. The Kings have lost their first two games under interim coach Ty Corbin, and Cousins has just returned from a bout with viral meningitis that sidelined him for 10 games.

In the Western Conference, it’s tough to see how they make the playoffs, before you even consider the chemistry shift that comes with changing coaches in the middle of the season.

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

The Los Angeles Clippers’ starting lineup, purely by the numbers, is up there with the league’s best, putting up a plus-17.3 net rating. But there are serious issues on the wing; Matt Barnes is the starter by default at small forward, and the Clippers can do better. It wouldn’t be a shock to see them look for an upgrade at the trade deadline.

And as good as DeAndre Jordan is defensively, his terrible free-throw shooting and limited offensive skill set make it difficult for the Clippers to play him late in games.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the single-best starting five in the NBA. When everyone is healthy, it’s the Warriors, but that simply isn’t the reality in the NBA. It’s into that landscape that Rondo is introduced to Dallas, giving the Mavericks a strong contender not only as the best starting lineup in the league but also as a contender for the championship.

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