NBA Trade Deadline 2017: Ranking Every Team's Starting 5, Post-Deadline
The NBA's Feb. 23 trade deadline came and went with the usual mix of bluster and bust. Breathless tweets of Jimmy Butler and Paul George getting measured for new jerseys with the league's coastal elites gave way to the likes of P.J. Tucker and K.J. McDaniels changing teams' fortunes on the fringes.
That said, there were plenty of deals that impacted starting lineups all over the Association: Nerlens Noel will now be running center for the Dallas Mavericks. Taj Gibson is poised to take over at power forward for the Oklahoma City Thunder. More than a week prior, the Orlando Magic professed their love to Serge Ibaka by sending him to the Toronto Raptors on Valentine's Day.
Oh, yeah...and DeMarcus Cousins now plays for the New Orleans Pelicans, so there's that.
All told, the seismic shifts on this season's trade market left some teams with dramatically different groups to trot out at tip-off. To figure out who went where and what it all means, we've ranked all 30 of the NBA's projected starting fives—built with players who should be available before season's end—according to a combination of talent, potential and (where applicable) past performance together.
30. Sacramento Kings
Point Guard: Ty Lawson
Shooting Guard: Darren Collison
Small Forward: Ben McLemore
Power Forward: Anthony Tolliver
Center: Kosta Koufos
The Sacramento Kings didn't kick off the post-DeMarcus Cousins era with Vivek Ranadive favorite Buddy Hield starting at shooting guard. Nor did they hand Boogie's old spot at center to Willie Cauley-Stein.
Instead, head coach Dave Joerger put Kosta Koufos in the middle and fielded a trio of guards...none of whom were Hield.
The strategy seemed to work for Sacramento. The Kings crushed the Denver Nuggets at the Golden 1 Center with Cauley-Stein and Hield shining off the bench.
It's entirely possible that this one showing will wind up as an aberration, a sigh of relief from a team that had been waiting months (if not years) to exhale with Cousins around. Don't be surprised, then, if Joerger juggles the roster he has left to see what talent the Kings have on hand as they head into yet another rebuild.
And don't be surprised when that means Hield and Cauley-Stein are starting sooner rather than later.
29. Brooklyn Nets
Point Guard: Jeremy Lin
Shooting Guard: Randy Foye
Small Forward: K.J. McDaniels
Power Forward: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
Center: Brook Lopez
The Brooklyn Nets might not be the worst team in the league from here on out, thanks in part to Sacramento's decision to wipe its Monopoly board clean. The Nets, unlike the Kings, still have a star (Brook Lopez) around whom to organize.
And now, they'll have Jeremy Lin due back soon. He and Lopez won't have the goods to lift Brooklyn out of the NBA's basement, but they should give fans at Barclays Center something worth watching. As Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks said when addressing the trade deadline, per NBA.com:
To have a healthy Jeremy and a healthy Brook out there together with this team, it’ll be nice to evaluate that. It’s something we started the season off with and unfortunately only got a handful of games under our belt seeing it.
This will be nice and I think we all know what those two bring to the table, they lift everybody else’s play. Not only for myself, my staff and Kenny and his staff, but also for the players I think they’re also excited about the possibilities with Brook and Jeremy.
Among those who could be most excited: K.J. Daniels, who could go from an afterthought in Houston to a heavily used two-way wing in Brooklyn.
28. Orlando Magic
Point Guard: Elfrid Payton Jr.
Shooting Guard: Evan Fournier
Small Forward: Terrence Ross
Power Forward: Aaron Gordon
Center: Nikola Vucevic
The Orlando Magic worked the phones aplenty but ultimately cut their wheeling and dealing short after sending Serge Ibaka to the Toronto Raptors. In return, they nabbed a late first-rounder and Terrence Ross, who shot 4-of-17 from the field en route to 13 points, five rebounds and three steals in his Magic debut: a 112-103 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers Thursday.
The bigger and potentially more impactful change will be what happens to Aaron Gordon. The 21-year-old spent most of the season at small forward but can now slide back to the 4 with Ibaka out of the picture.
The early returns weren't great: Gordon finished Orlando's first post-All-Star loss with just nine points on nine shots to go with nine rebounds, two assists and two blocks.
The Magic figure to spend the rest of the 2016-17 season seeing if he has what it takes to star at power forward—and, perhaps, kicking themselves for missing on a golden opportunity to upgrade their overall talent level prior to the trade deadline.
27. Phoenix Suns
Point Guard: Eric Bledsoe
Shooting Guard: Devin Booker
Small Forward: T.J. Warren
Power Forward: Marquese Chriss
Center: Tyson Chandler
There was no fire sale for the Phoenix Suns this season—save for P.J. Tucker's last-second swap to Toronto for Jared Sullinger and two second-round picks. In terms of magnitude, even that beat out the news that Mike Scott, the rights to Cenk Akyol and some cash would be coming to the Valley of the Sun from Atlanta in exchange for a second-rounder that won't likely ever convey.
Nor do the Suns figure to feature Sullinger or Scott at power forward, if at all. That spot is reserved for Marquese Chriss, for better or worse. That fivesome of Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, T.J. Warren, Tyson Chandler and Chriss has posted a net rating of minus-7.1 points per 100 possessions.
But Chriss, whose 7.6 points and 3.5 rebounds are nothing to write home about, could be a key cog in whatever future Phoenix fashions for itself. Booker almost certainly will be, with his 21.1 points and 36.7 percent shooting from three during his sophomore season.
Who else will join them when the Suns start winning again? That might not be known for years to come, until Phoenix's front office has had a chance to draft another star or two.
26. Miami Heat
Point Guard: Goran Dragic
Shooting Guard: Dion Waiters
Small Forward: Rodney McGruder
Power Forward: Luke Babbitt
Center: Hassan Whiteside
The Miami Heat have barged their way back into the playoff hunt, though not by dint of their makeshift starting lineup. According to NBA.com, the Heat have been outscored by 5.0 points per 100 possessions whenever Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside have been flanked by Dion Waiters, Rodney McGruder and Luke Babbitt since Miami's fortunes turned in mid-January.
How have the Heat made it happen?
By digging even deeper into their grab bag of a bench. They've been far more effective when switching Babbitt out for James Johnson (plus-29.8 net rating in 35 minutes) or having Dragic or Waiters pilot more reserve-heavy units.
If Miami is going to strengthen its starting five, it can do so internally. There was no need for team president Pat Riley to be all that aggressive ahead of the trade deadline—not that he could've been, with the Heat hurting for fungible assets.
25. Detroit Pistons
Point Guard: Reggie Jackson
Shooting Guard: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Small Forward: Marcus Morris
Power Forward: Jon Leuer
Center: Andre Drummond
The Detroit Pistons emerged from the All-Star break with a 114-108 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Thursday—no thanks to the starters. It was Tobias Harris and Stanley Johnson, not Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond, who led the charge to erase an 18-point, second-half deficit en route to an overtime win. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the team's top shooting guard, hit a trio of huge triples down the stretch and scored seven points in the extra frame amid a 33-point performance, but finished as a net negative (a plus-minus of minus-3).
That's hardly the first time Detroit's new arrangement has struggled. According to NBA.com, the lineup of Jackson, Drummond, Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris and Jon Leuer has been outscored by 2.2 points per 100 possessions.
Then again, the previous group, with Harris in Leuer's spot, got crushed by 15.7 points per 100 possessions.
This all makes more sense when you consider the team-wide profile ESPN's Zach Lowe put together, to whom Stan Van Gundy described his relationship with Drummond as a "tug of war."
24. Los Angeles Lakers
Point Guard: D'Angelo Russell
Shooting Guard: Nick Young
Small Forward: Brandon Ingram
Power Forward: Julius Randle
Center: Tarik Black
The Los Angeles Lakers opted not to sacrifice their future for a present star—not DeMarcus Cousins, not Paul George, not anyone. But the Lakers' failure to land Cousins, in particular, may have been the last straw for team president Jeanie Buss before she officially ousted her brother Jim and general manager Mitch Kupchak from the front office, as USA Today's Sam Amick recounted:
Jeanie’s determination to make the Lakers a superstar destination again is at the heart of this issue. That’s why Magic [Johnson] is running point again, promising to recruit top-tier talent the way Kupchak and Buss couldn’t...
Jim was known to be the driving force behind the pursuit of Cousins, and Jeanie had previously been known to be confident that Laker Land would have a calming effect on the mercurial big man, but Kupchak refused to include Ingram, and now it becomes a great what-if.
Ingram could grow into a star. So might D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and whomever the Lakers extract from their 2017 first-round pick—if it lands in the top three of the draft. To date, L.A.'s starting lineup with Ingram and Tarik Black standing in for Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov, respectively, has posted a slightly negative net rating, albeit over a 60-minute sample.
But with Lou Williams now in Houston, the Lakers can't turn quite as confidently to their bench to clean up whatever mess the starters make.
23. New York Knicks
Point Guard: Derrick Rose
Shooting Guard: Courtney Lee
Small Forward: Carmelo Anthony
Power Forward: Kristaps Porzingis
Center: Willy Hernangomez
Carmelo Anthony is still a Knickerbocker. So is Derrick Rose. The New York Knicks held onto Courtney Lee, as well, despite overtures from the Los Angeles Clippers, per the New York Post's Marc Berman.
"It's always a relief not getting traded," Rose told ESPN's Ian Begley.
The Knicks, though, won't find much relief with the group they have. Their more recent starting lineup—with Willy Hernangomez at center—gave up an astounding 120.8 points per 100 possessions in 79 minutes prior to the All-Star break and didn't find much more success during Thursday's loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
That arrangement could be subject to change whenever Brandon Jennings and Joakim Noah return from their respective injuries. Then again, when (or if) the Knicks turn their attention toward building for the future, they may do better taking their lumps now with the inside duo of Hernangomez and Kristaps Porzingis, who played together in Spain.
22. Chicago Bulls
Point Guard: Cameron Payne
Shooting Guard: Dwyane Wade
Small Forward: Jimmy Butler
Power Forward: Nikola Mirotic
Center: Robin Lopez
The Chicago Bulls didn't tank at the trade deadline, but they didn't exactly help themselves either. They did well to get something for Taj Gibson, who was bound for unrestricted free agency this summer, but in doing so jettisoned the heart and soul of their squad.
Anthony Morrow and Joffrey Lauvergne could help off the bench, at least until they hit the market in July. The biggest chip headed to Chicago is Cameron Payne, a 2015 lottery pick who was less than inspiring in OKC, per Sports Illustrated's Jeremy Woo:
He missed two months this season with a broken foot and has struggled to make a serious impact off the bench for the Thunder. Some were high on his upside out of college, pegging him as the backup point guard OKC had searched for as the Westbrook-Durant era waned.
But he has yet to deliver on that promise either as a scorer or playmaker, and has not been a consistent three-point threat. Chicago inherits Payne under a few years of cheap team control, but adds him to a glut of uninspiring young point guards amid what remains a half-baked rebuild.
That said, Payne seems as decent a choice as any to assume the spot from which Rajon Rondo was demoted earlier this season.
How Chicago fills the void at power forward is tougher to tell, though Nikola Mirotic, who logged 38 starts last season and was on the block prior to this year's deadline, might give the Bulls their best chance—among a host of underwhelming options—to hang onto a playoff berth in the East.
21. Dallas Mavericks
Point Guard: Yogi Ferrell
Shooting Guard: Wesley Matthews
Small Forward: Harrison Barnes
Power Forward: Dirk Nowitzki
Center: Nerlens Noel
The Dallas Mavericks' small-ball experiment was fun while it lasted. They won six of 10 before the All-Star break with a starting lineup that featured Dirk Nowitzki at center flanked by Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews on the wings, and Seth Curry next to either Deron Williams or rookie Yogi Ferrell in the backcourt.
Williams has already been waived and could be on his way to Cleveland, per the Associated Press' Jon Krawczynski. As for the size up front, Andrew Bogut is out as part of a deadline-day trade to bring in Nerlens Noel.
The former Philadelphia 76ers big man was superb during his seven starts in the City of Brotherly love this season (14.4 points on 65.6 percent shooting, 7.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 2.4 steals, 1.4 blocks in 27.6 minutes). The Mavs have every reason to plug him into that role from the get-go.
Strategically, Noel gives Dallas a sturdy pick-and-roll finisher (1.10 points per play on 57.1 percent shooting) who can cover Nowitzki's backside on defense amid a late playoff push. For planning purposes, the Mavericks will want to see what they have in Noel now before they determine whether to shower him with cash in restricted free agency this summer.
20. Denver Nuggets
Point Guard: Jameer Nelson
Shooting Guard: Gary Harris
Small Forward: Danilo Gallinari
Power Forward: Kenneth Faried
Center: Nikola Jokic
The dust settled in the Mile High City without any more major moves.
Danilo Gallinari is still with the Denver Nuggets. So are Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried and Jameer Nelson. Some of that could change as the buyout market heats up, though the Nuggets, with their sights set on the West's eighth seed, seem unlikely to pay anyone to go away.
Ten days before the trade deadline, the Nuggets did flip Jusuf Nurkic and the Memphis Grizzlies' 2017 first-rounder to Portland for Mason Plumlee, a 2018 second-rounder and some cash.
In his first appearance as a Nugget, Plumlee racked up 11 points, nine rebounds and three assists while generally acquitting himself well as a starter, albeit during a double-digit loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. As SB Nation's Ryan Blackburn detailed:
He had a Jokic-like backdoor pass on the baseline, and his screens consistently generated open pathways to the basket for the guard. As a solid screener, passer, rebounder, and scorer around the rim, Plumlee looks like a great find by Tim Connelly and Michael Malone.
Despite getting off on the right foot, Plumlee got plunked on the bench to start Denver's second-half sprint in favor of Kenneth Faried. If not for a surprising playoff chase, the Nuggets might prefer to feature the Duke product before they have to decide his fate in restricted free agency this summer.
19. Portland Trail Blazers
Point Guard: Damian Lillard
Shooting Guard: C.J. McCollum
Small Forward: Evan Turner
Power Forward: Al-Farouq Aminu
Center: Jusuf Nurkic
It may be a while before we see the Portland Trail Blazers' best starting lineup fully intact.
Al-Farouq Aminu remains sidelined by a left knee sprain. Evan Turner won't be back until some point in March after breaking a bone in his right hand in early February.
In the meantime, the Blazers will be busy shimmying Jusuf Nurkic into Mason Plumlee's old spot after swapping centers with the Nuggets. Nurkic's second game for Portland ended with a double-double (12 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks) during a 112-103 win over the Orlando Magic on Thursday.
Of course, all of this looks like window dressing around Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. That pair combined for 55 points in the Blazers' post-All-Star opener and will have to be just as prolific going forward for Portland to succeed in its pursuit of the West's eighth seed.
18. Philadelphia 76ers
Point Guard: T.J. McConnell
Shooting Guard: Gerald Henderson
Small Forward: Robert Covington
Power Forward: Dario Saric
Center: Joel Embiid
The Philadelphia 76ers' starting five is, admittedly, difficult to predict, let alone project.
Joel Embiid is slated to return from a knee injury March 3, per CSNPhilly.com's Jessica Camerato. Ben Simmons, the No. 1 pick in 2016, remains without a timetable for his NBA debut. Ersan Ilyasova, who logged 40 starts at power forward in Philly after being dealt by the Oklahoma City Thunder, is now in Atlanta.
Dario Saric is currently far from the shooter Ilyasova was, but he could be a dynamic option up front next to his fellow All-Rookie performer. Embiid, the only Sixer with a positive net rating, would make just about any lineup he's in playable.
The biggest question mark is Simmons. Does Philly start him at point guard, as Brown said he would? Would Simmons slide in at forward, with T.J. McConnell holding onto his spot in the backcourt? Heck, will the Australian sensation play at all this season? That seems in doubt at this point, per Sports Radio WIP's John Barchard.
Either way, Embiid may be good enough to make any lineup more than respectable, with or without Simmons by his side.
17. Utah Jazz
Point Guard: George Hill
Shooting Guard: Rodney Hood
Small Forward: Gordon Hayward
Power Forward: Derrick Favors
Center: Rudy Gobert
The only change to the Utah Jazz's starting lineup will come when Rodney Hood recovers from a bone contusion and sprain in his right knee.
Not that the Jazz have set the landscape ablaze with Hood at shooting guard. According to NBA.com, they've been outscored by 4.7 points per 100 possessions with the above arrangement but have obliterated the opposition by 22.2 points per 100 possessions when Joe Ingles gets the call.
Perhaps Quin Snyder will take it as a sign that he should keep the sharpshooting Australian out there to stretch the floor (43.9 percent from three) for a slasher like All-Star Gordon Hayward and the paint-packing pair of Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert.
If not, it's tough to put Utah anywhere near the top 10 on this list unless the stats start to tell a different story once Hood returns.
16. Milwaukee Bucks
Point Guard: Matthew Dellavedova
Shooting Guard: Khris Middleton
Small Forward: Michael Beasley
Power Forward: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Center: Thon Maker
Odds are, Khris Middleton will be back in the Milwaukee Bucks' starting lineup at some point, though head coach Jason Kidd likes what the team's sharpshooter can do off the bench.
"We're very comfortable with Khris having the ball in a two-man game with Moose [Greg Monroe] or finding the open guy," Kidd told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Charles F. Gardner. "That's who Khris is."
K-Midd's also stuck under a minutes limit after missing the first four months of the season with a torn hamstring. Between his eye-opening performance at Brooklyn before the All-Star break (20 points on 7-of-13 shooting in almost 26 minutes) and the loss of Jabari Parker amid Milwaukee's push for the East's eight seed, there may be no keeping Middleton down.
If that's the case, how would the Bucks make room for him? Do they keep starting Tony Snell, who's become an effective three-and-D option (40.1 percent from deep)? Do they stick with Michael Beasley, who's been even hotter from beyond the arc (43.2 percent)?
Seeing as how Milwaukee intends to install rookie Thon Maker at center over the long haul, attaching Beasley, a bigger body and better scorer than Snell, to Giannis Antetokounmpo and Co. atop the depth chart looks like the best bet.
15. Minnesota Timberwolves
Point Guard: Ricky Rubio
Shooting Guard: Brandon Rush
Small Forward: Andrew Wiggins
Power Forward: Gorgui Dieng
Center: Karl-Anthony Towns
The Minnesota Timberwolves played footsie with a potential Derrick Rose-Tom Thibodeau reunion before pulling away from a trade involving Ricky Rubio going to New York, as the New York Post's Marc Berman revealed:
According to NBA sources, some members of the Timberwolves organization were against dealing for Rose because his playing style could hurt the growth of young studs Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns.
But more so, Thibodeau, the Timberwolves coach and president, feared it would be too difficult to re-sign the point guard because of his potential max-contract demands, and it did not want him as a rental despite their playoff push.
As far as Minnesota's desire to win now, standing pat might be for the best. The Wolves went a respectable 11-9 just prior to the All-Star break and have seen their starting lineup sans Zach LaVine outscore opponents by 8.8 points per 100 possessions.
Keep that up for long enough, and the gap between Minny and the West's eighth seed could shrink considerably between now and mid-April.
14. Atlanta Hawks
Point Guard: Dennis Schroder
Shooting Guard: Tim Hardaway Jr.
Small Forward: Kent Bazemore
Power Forward: Paul Millsap
Center: Dwight Howard
Mike Scott's move to Phoenix won't affect how the Atlanta Hawks look at opening tip. What could change that is how head coach Mike Budenholzer is to reinstall Thabo Sefolosha as his starting shooting guard upon return from a groin injury.
In Sefolosha's absence, the Hawks turned to Tim Hardaway Jr. next to Dennis Schroder. Hardaway averaged 19.4 points and 3.7 assists during that nine-game stretch, giving Atlanta another legitimate (and much-needed) playmaker.
As NBA.com's David Aldridge recently noted, Atlanta could use Sefolosha's skills on the other end: "Need Thabo Sefolosha [groin] to get back to his disruptive defensive ways after the All-Star break."
Whether that means he has to start is another story. According to NBA.com, the Hawks have posted a slightly better net rating with Hardaway next to their other four usual starters.
13. Oklahoma City Thunder
Point Guard: Russell Westbrook
Shooting Guard: Victor Oladipo
Small Forward: Andre Roberson
Power Forward: Taj Gibson
Center: Steven Adams
Domantas Sabonis has done an admirable job holding the fort at power forward. But the rookie out of Gonzaga is still wet behind the ears (20), both for the NBA at large and for someone in transition from collegiate post-up specialist to professional stretch 4.
That doesn't mean Sabonis is destined for a demotion now that Taj Gibson is en route to Oklahoma City. It's possible Gibson goes back to the bench, just as he was during most of his tenure with the Chicago Bulls.
"I'm like a kid going to a new school," Gibson told ESPN's Nick Friedell. "I don't know where to sit on the bus."
Chances are, Russell Westbrook will save him a seat at the front. Aside from bringing veteran knowhow, a nose for rebounding and two-way toughness to the table, Gibson goes way back with OKC's triple-double machine.
"That's my boy," he told The Athletic's Sean Highkin. "I've known him since high school. He's always shown me love."
The Thunder now have some actual depth to draw from, with Doug McDermott adding punch to a bench that's eagerly anticipating Enes Kanter's return.
12. Memphis Grizzlies
Point Guard: Mike Conley Jr.
Shooting Guard: Tony Allen
Small Forward: Chandler Parsons
Power Forward: JaMychal Green
Center: Marc Gasol
The Memphis Grizzlies' revamped starting lineup has hardly blown the doors off the competition. According to NBA.com, the additions of a young JaMychal Green and a hobbled Chandler Parsons to the core trio of Mike Conley Jr., Marc Gasol and Tony Allen has yielded a 1.3-point advantage per 100 possessions.
It doesn't help that Parsons has been slow to recover from knee surgery last spring. He's yet to play more than 26 minutes during a game, with just 6.5 points on 35 percent shooting (27 percent from three) in 27 appearances prior to the trade deadline.
Memphis still has high hopes for Parsons—as well it should after shelling out $94 million to sign him this past summer.
His playmaking, along with Green's improvement as a stretch 4, offers upside on a squad that, thanks to the holdovers from Grit-N-Grind, could be a bear to deal with in the postseason.
11. Boston Celtics
Point Guard: Isaiah Thomas
Shooting Guard: Avery Bradley
Small Forward: Jae Crowder
Power Forward: Amir Johnson
Center: Al Horford
In the end, those rumors were all full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Instead, the Boston Celtics will await Avery Bradley's return to the lineup while Danny Ainge sits on his treasure trove of tradable assets.
By and large, Boston has made due without its top 2-guard. According to NBA.com, the Celtics have posted a plus-14.7 net rating with Marcus Smart next to Isaiah Thomas in the backcourt—more than double the edge they have with Bradley in there.
But neither quintet can quite solve the trio of troubles that will dog Boston come playoff time. Both leave Thomas as the lone reliable shot creator, without much in the way of rim protection or rebounding on the other end.
10. Charlotte Hornets
Point Guard: Kemba Walker
Shooting Guard: Nicolas Batum
Small Forward: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Power Forward: Marvin Williams
Center: Cody Zeller
On paper, the Charlotte Hornets have one of the strongest starting fives in the NBA. The grouping of Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams and Cody Zeller has posted a robust net rating of plus-8.9 points per 100 possessions.
Trouble is, that fivesome has seen the light of day just once during the last month due to a nagging contusion in Zeller's quadriceps. The Indiana product could be out for a bit longer into the post-All-Star portion of the schedule.
As ESPN's Zach Lowe noted, Zeller is such a key cog in head coach Steve Clifford's machine. And that may not be the best sign for Charlotte going forward:
"The Hornets really miss Cody Zeller. He's their Patrick Patterson—a middling stats jack-of-many-trades who makes life easier for everyone around him with vicious screens and relentless rim-running. But a 24-32 team counting on Cody Zeller as a savior is in a dark, dark place."
9. New Orleans Pelicans
Point Guard: Jrue Holiday
Shooting Guard: E'Twaun Moore
Small Forward: Solomon Hill
Power Forward: Anthony Davis
Center: DeMarcus Cousins
"They're a very tall basketball team," Clippers head coach Doc Rivers told Bleacher Report, "very talented guys."
Those basic facts should help the Pelicans punish opponents on the interior. According to NBA.com, New Orleans ranked 18th in points in the paint per 100 possessions, 24th in free-throw rate and 29th in rebound percentage prior to the All-Star break.
That should all change now that DeMarcus Cousins has the Anthony Davis' back. At the very least, it would make sense for that duo to lock up the lane on defense and clean the glass on offense, depending on who's manning which position at any given moment.
The key to making it all work, though, will be Jrue Holiday. It'll be up to New Orleans' stellar floor general to feed his beasts up front and keep them happy.
Boogie and The Brow combined for 56 points in their first game together Thursday, but Holiday's rough night (3-of-12 shooting, 0-of-6 from three, four assists, seven turnovers) left New Orleans well behind during a 129-99 loss to the Houston Rockets.
8. Indiana Pacers
Point Guard: Jeff Teague
Shooting Guard: Glenn Robinson III
Small Forward: Paul George
Power Forward: Thaddeus Young
Center: Myles Turner
The Indiana Pacers fielded plenty of overtures for Paul George, including a "monster offer" from the Denver Nuggets, per ESPN's Marc Stein and Chris Haynes. But rather than pull the trigger, Larry Bird opted to stand pat.
That could bode well if the Pacers are able to fit in some real run with a starting five featuring Glenn Robinson III at shooting guard. Statistically speaking, the newly minted Slam Dunk champ has been a boon to Indy's top group.
With Monta Ellis starting next to Jeff Teague, the Pacers have been outscored by 4.9 points per 100 possessions. Swap Ellis out for Robinson, and Indy trounces the competition by 8.9 points per 100 possessions—a 13.8-point swing, for those keeping track at home.
According to USA Today's Sam Amick, George is "hellbent" on joining the Los Angeles Lakers if the Pacers can't built a contender around him. If the numbers hold, Indy might have something interesting, with youngsters like Robinson and Myles Turner teeming with upside.
7. Toronto Raptors
Point Guard: Kyle Lowry
Shooting Guard: DeMar DeRozan
Small Forward: DeMarre Carroll
Power Forward: Serge Ibaka
Center: Jonas Valanciunas
The Toronto Raptors came into February with a gaping hole at power forward and a defense that had slipped to the middle of the pack. By acquiring Serge Ibaka from the Orlando Magic for Terrence Ross and a late first-round pick, general manager Masai Ujiri may not have killed two birds with one stone, but he likely maimed them.
The incumbent starting quartet of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll and Jonas Valanciunas has had no trouble scoring (113.2 points per 100 possessions) but has struggled mightily to stop even their own shadows (110.0 points allowed per 100 possessions).
Ibaka hasn't looked like an elite rim protector for a while (52.9 percent shooting allowed at the hoop with 1.6 blocks), though merely plugging a competent player into a spot once occupied by the likes of Jared Sullinger, Lucas Nogueira and rookie Pascal Siakam could be a significant boost to Toronto's on-court bottom line.
As for Sullinger, he's off to Phoenix with two second-round picks in exchange for P.J. Tucker, who should further fortify Toronto's overall cache of physicality and toughness to eventually throw at Cleveland's king of wing-forwards this spring.
6. Houston Rockets
Point Guard: Patrick Beverley
Shooting Guard: James Harden
Small Forward: Trevor Ariza
Power Forward: Ryan Anderson
Center: Clint Capela
There was some chatter about Patrick Beverley being on the block prior to the trade deadline, but ultimately the Houston Rockets held steady with their speedy starting five.
With James Harden and Clint Capela running pick-and-roll while surrounded by the shooting of Beverley, Ryan Anderson and Trevor Ariza, the Rockets have piled up 121.5 points per 100 possessions—well ahead of the Golden State Warriors' league-leading mark.
The bigger shakeup in Space City came on the bench. Houston snagged Lou Williams from the Los Angeles Lakers for Corey Brewer and a 2017 first-round pick, then sent out K.J. McDaniels (to Brooklyn) and Tyler Ennis (to L.A.).
As easily as Harden and Co. can rack 'em up, the Rockets' second unit should have no trouble its own getting buckets with Williams and Eric Gordon, the NBA's top two reserve scorers, in the fray.
Defense remains a source of serious concern for Houston. But between Beverley bulldogging opposing point guards, Ariza hovering on the wing and Capela (48.9 percent opponent shooting at the rim) patrolling the paint, the Rockets at least have some capable stoppers around whom to improve.
5. San Antonio Spurs
Point Guard: Tony Parker
Shooting Guard: Danny Green
Small Forward: Kawhi Leonard
Power Forward: LaMarcus Aldridge
Center: Pau Gasol
The San Antonio Spurs are on pace to top 60 wins yet again behind the NBA's best defense, despite losing franchise stalwart Tim Duncan to retirement this past summer.
Danny Green's rediscovering of his outside stroke (40.5 percent from three) has helped. So has LaMarcus Aldridge's steady play, along with the twilight contributions of Tony Parker and Pau Gasol.
As much as those guys have done to keep the good times rolling—Gasol less so since injuring his hand in mid-January—the Spurs wouldn't still be the Spurs without Kawhi Leonard's MVP-caliber campaign.
"I did some of his games for TV when he was at San Diego State, and I didn’t see this coming, most people didn’t," Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr told the San Antonio Express-News' Nick Moyle. "He wouldn’t have been drafted 15th overall if people knew what was coming."
Folks in San Antonio would probably say the same—right after they thank their lucky stars for landing a two-time Defensive Player of the Year who now averages nearly 26 points per game with shooting splits approaching 50/40/90 territory.
4. Washington Wizards
Point Guard: John Wall
Shooting Guard: Bradley Beal
Small Forward: Otto Porter Jr.
Power Forward: Markieff Morris
Center: Marcin Gortat
It didn't look that way to start the season. For the first month or so, Washington wallowed in the league's bottom 10 defensively amid a bumpy transition under head coach Scott Brooks.
Then came a moment of bliss, led by the team's MVP, John Wall.
"Everybody just looked themselves in the mirror and challenged themselves to be better," Wall told NBA.com's David Aldridge in January. "I had to get in better shape so I can be better at both ends of the floor. When I’m in shape I can be aggressive and create shots for everybody and be active on defense, and that helps us as a team."
Now, the Wizards sport one of the stingiest defenses in the Association, strengthened by a switch-tastic starting five featuring the NBA's sharpest three-point shooter (Otto Porter Jr.), a versatile two-guard (Bradley Beal) and two bruisers up front (Markieff Morris, Marcin Gortat).
3. Cleveland Cavaliers
Point Guard: Kyrie Irving
Shooting Guard: J.R. Smith
Small Forward: LeBron James
Power Forward: Kevin Love
Center: Tristan Thompson
The Cleveland Cavaliers haven't seen their top five in action together since Dec. 20, when J.R. Smith broke his right thumb in Milwaukee. With Kevin Love now recovering from knee surgery, it's possible the defending champs won't get to see their starting group together until their title defense begins in earnest come spring.
The Cavs, though, know full well what they'll have when everyone's right. Last season, LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Love and Smith sparked Cleveland through the playoffs en route to the city's first major pro sports crown in over half a century. This season, they'd outpaced their competition by 9.3 points per 100 possessions prior to Smith's misfortune.
The key for the Cavs is to make sure everyone gets healthy in time for the playoffs—and that those left standing don't get worn down in the interim.
"I'll rest when I retire," James said, per ESPN's Dave McMenamin. "As long as I'm in the lineup, we've got a chance. We good. Kev is out. Kev is out for an extended period of time. J.R. has been out. But I'm in the lineup. I'll be suiting up, we've got a chance against anybody. I ain't worried."
2. Los Angeles Clippers
Point Guard: Chris Paul
Shooting Guard: J.J. Redick
Small Forward: Luc Mbah a Moute
Power Forward: Blake Griffin
Center: DeAndre Jordan
The Los Angeles Clippers hadn't seen their starting five in action since a Dec. 18 road loss to the Washington Wizards. In truth, that group hadn't been right in nearly three months, before Blake Griffin's knee started giving him issues.
Now that Chris Paul is back from thumb surgery, the Clippers could have the goods to compete with just about anyone in either conference.
"We like our team," head coach Doc Rivers told Bleacher Report at practice Wednesday, prior to the trade deadline. "I would not be upset if tomorrow I wake up and everyone’s the same. I would be fine with that."
And for good reason. Prior to L.A.'s rash of injuries, the fivesome of Paul, Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Redick and Luc Mbah a Moute had dominated the competition by 16.2 points per 100 possessions in 447 minutes.
Adding a wing scorer like Carmelo Anthony or Wilson Chandler might've helped the Clippers—had there been enough in their war chest to acquire either one. As it stands, though, L.A.'s starting unit is as well-balanced group replete with unselfish ball-handlers (Paul, Griffin), shooters (Paul, Redick, Mbah a Moute at 41.9 percent from the corners) and guys willing and able to do the dirty work (Jordan, Mbah a Moute).
1. Golden State Warriors
Point Guard: Stephen Curry
Shooting Guard: Klay Thompson
Small Forward: Kevin Durant
Power Forward: Draymond Green
Center: Zaza Pachulia
You or I could suit up at center for the Golden State Warriors and they'd still rake the rest of the league over the coals.
Through 508 minutes with Zaza Pachulia in the middle, they've outscored the opposition by 23.0 points per 100 possessions. Swap in JaVale McGee for Pachulia, and that gap expands to 32.1 over a 126-minute sample, per NBA.com.
So long as Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are all healthy and playing well, there's no stopping Golden State. That All-Star quartet has blasted past its foes by 22.7 points per 100 possessions over 920 minutes.
Which, compared to how McGee and Pachulia shift the numbers when added to the mix, makes it look like the Dubs' pivots are doing some heavy lifting.
For them, it's all about being the open man who's closest to the cup.