Ranking Every NBA Starting 5 Headed to Orlando

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterJuly 21, 2020

Ranking Every NBA Starting 5 Headed to Orlando

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    Michael Wyke/Associated Press

    For the 22 NBA teams playing in the Disney bubble, only eight games stand between them and the playoffs.

    While depth will always be important, a team's starting lineup becomes even more crucial when every game counts and rotations become shorter.

    The most important stat about the success of any lineup is net rating, or how many points per 100 possessions a team scores minus how many it allows. Teams here will primarily be ranked according to that metric since it takes into account both offense and defense.

    Getting a significant sample size is important, as well. Only five-man lineups that have spent 50 minutes or more together will be considered. Five-man lineups that have played less than 50 minutes will be listed in parentheses, as will four- or even three-man lineups that feature new players being incorporated as starters.

    Based on how they performed together earlier this year and how they project to play at the resumption of the season, here's how every team's starting five stacks up.

No. 22: Washington Wizards

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Net Rating: N/A (minus-13.3 in 78 minutes with four-man lineup of Ish Smith, Isaac Bonga, Rui Hachimura and Thomas Bryant)

    PG: Ish Smith

    SG: Troy Brown Jr.

    SF: Isaac Bonga

    PF: Rui Hachimura

    C: Thomas Bryant

    A net rating of minus-13.3 is terrible, and it should get even worse given the swapping of shooting guards in this lineup.

    The 78 minutes Smith, Bonga, Hachimura and Bryant have shared have all come with Bradley Beal at shooting guard. With Beal opting out of the restart due to a right rotator cuff injury, that means removing the best player from an already awful lineup.

    The Wizards have yet to announce who will take Beal's place, with Brown and Jerome Robinson as the most likely options.

    Given that neither will come close to matching Beal's production of 30.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game, the Wizards will have the worst starting lineup of any bubble team.

No. 21: Brooklyn Nets

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    Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

    Net Rating: N/A (7.3 in 372 minutes with three-man unit of Caris LeVert, Joe Harris and Jarrett Allen)

    PG: Jamal Crawford

    SG: Caris LeVert

    SF: Joe Harris

    PF: Rodions Kurucs

    C: Jarrett Allen

    The Nets should take some pride in knowing they won't have the worst starting lineup in the bubble even though no team will be missing more players when the season officially restarts.

    Harris is the lone healthy Net who has started every one of his games this season, with LeVert and Allen two of the three others who have been in the opening lineup 25 times or more.

    The three-man unit of LeVert, Allen and Harris has actually been quite good with a 7.3 net rating, although that mostly came while sharing the floor with Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, Taurean Prince and Wilson Chandler. All four players will not be with the Nets during the restart, either due to injury, positive COVID-19 tests or other concerns.

    Putting in Kurucs (4.2 points, 2.5 rebounds, 0.8 assists in 12.8 minutes per game) and Crawford (last played in a game almost 16 months ago and turned 40 in March) will certainly cause the five-man lineup's net rating to plummet.

No. 20: Orlando Magic

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Net Rating: minus-11.0 in 100 minutes

    PG: Markelle Fultz

    SG: Evan Fournier

    SF: James Ennis III

    PF: Aaron Gordon

    C: Nikola Vucevic

    The Magic are projected to have the worst starting lineup of any bubble team that's using the same starting five it left off with in March.

    That's not a good sign for a team that should desperately want to crawl out of the eighth seed to avoid playing the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round, even if the Toronto Raptors are extremely talented, as well.

    Getting forward Jonathan Isaac back at some point would make a huge difference as the 22-year-old is with the team following a serious knee injury suffered in January, but he has not yet been cleared to play.

    Swapping Isaac in for Ennis means a huge swing in net rating from minus-11.0 to plus-1.9.

No. 19: San Antonio Spurs

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Net Rating: N/A (minus-38.5 in 38 minutes)

    PG: Dejounte Murray

    SG: Bryn Forbes

    SF: DeMar DeRozan

    PF: Rudy Gay

    C: Trey Lyles

    Since LaMarcus Aldridge will be missing the restart due to shoulder surgery, his absence drags a mediocre Spurs starting lineup down to one of the worst in the league.

    In 505 total minutes with Murray, Forbes, DeRozan, Aldridge and Lyles, the Spurs had a somewhat remarkable net rating of exactly 0.0. For a team that's had so much success over the past 22 years, they've now become incredibly mediocre.

    Without Aldridge and with veteran Rudy Gay starting in his place, things could get ugly rather quickly. The four-man lineup of Murray, Forbes, DeRozan and Lyles has registered a net rating of minus-3.3 in 665 minutes together. Add in Gay as the fifth starter and that number free-falls to minus-38.5 (albeit in just 38 total minutes).

    Perhaps the Spurs can find some sort of small-ball approach that works, but this starting lineup will struggle mightily without Aldridge.

No. 18: Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Net Rating: minus-3.0 in 162 minutes

    PG: Chris Paul

    SG: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

    SF: Luguentz Dort

    PF: Danilo Gallinari

    C: Steven Adams

    The Thunder have been the NBA's third-best team since Thanksgiving (.723 win percentage) despite having one of the league's worst starting lineups.

    While using Terrance Ferguson and now Dort as the team's starting small forward helps them match up against teams with bigger wings, OKC's death lineup instead uses a third guard. Simply swapping in Dennis Schroder, a candidate for Sixth Man of the Year, has completely transformed this lineup.

    With Schroder in for Dort/Ferguson, the Thunder have a net rating of plus-29.9, a mark that would easily rank first among any starting lineup in the NBA.

    Combine this with some of the league's top clutch-time play and there's a reason OKC has been so successful despite having a net negative starting five.

No. 17: Indiana Pacers*

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Net Rating: minus-0.5 in 93 minutes with Aaron Holiday or 10.3 in 86 minutes with Victor Oladipo

    PG: Malcolm Brogdon

    SG: Aaron Holiday/Victor Oladipo

    SF: T.J. Warren

    PF: Domantas Sabonis

    C: Myles Turner

    The success of the Pacers' starting lineup will depend almost entirely on whether Oladipo is in it.

    After initially ruling himself out of the bubble, Oladipo has been practicing with Indiana and is now opening the door to playing.

    "I feel like if my body keeps trending and the situation keeps trending up, there's a strong possibility that I might play. So, I'm definitely trying to," he told Shams Charania of The Athletic.

    If Oladipo does play, the Pacers' starting five will become a top-10 unit in the NBA. If the two-time All-Star doesn't go, using Holiday as the team's starting shooting guard means a drop of 10.8 points per 100 possessions and a No. 17 ranking.

    Given Oladipo's slow start in his return from a leg injury (13.8 points per game on 39.1 percent shooting in 13 appearances), there's potential for this unit to become even better as the 28-year-old fully recovers.

No. 16: Memphis Grizzlies

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    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    Net Rating: N/A (2.0 in 551 minutes with four-man lineup of Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Jonas Valanciunas)

    PG: Ja Morant

    SG: Dillon Brooks

    SF: Justise Winslow

    PF: Jaren Jackson Jr.

    C: Jonas Valanciunas

    While the Grizzlies scratch and claw to fight off teams chasing them for the eighth seed, they could also be incorporating a new starter.

    Winslow's role is unclear, though he'll probably grab the starting small forward job before too long. If he's not ready right away, Kyle Anderson could keep his spot as a starter.

    The four-man unit of Morant, Brooks, Jackson and Valanciunas has been solid with a 2.0 net rating that reflects their 32-33 record. While it may take some time to incorporate Winslow, the Grizzlies should do so immediately and try to improve a net rating of minus-11.3 when Anderson starts with this group.

No. 15: Phoenix Suns

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Net Rating: 2.5 in 105 minutes

    PG: Ricky Rubio

    SG: Devin Booker

    SF: Mikal Bridges

    PF: Dario Saric

    C: Deandre Ayton

    While this is a formidable lineup as-is, the Suns' starting five can get a whole lot better if Kelly Oubre Jr. can play in the bubble.

    After having meniscus surgery in March, Oubre claims he's healthy and says whether he plays is up to the team.

    "Health status is up to the staff," he explained, per Kellan Olson of ArizonaSports.com. "I feel fine. My main focus here is to support my teammates and continue to get better and be a leader. Everything else is out of my hands."

    If Oubre moves back into the starting lineup over Saric, the Suns' net rating would spike to 20.2 (in 226 minutes). That figure would rank second among all NBA bubble teams' starting lineups.

No. 14: Portland Trail Blazers

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    Associated Press

    Net Rating: N/A (3.3 in 846 minutes with three-man lineup of Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Carmelo Anthony)

    PG: Damian Lillard

    SG: CJ McCollum

    SF: Carmelo Anthony

    PF: Zach Collins

    C: Jusuf Nurkic

    The Blazers' starting five could end up all over these rankings.

    Nurkic will be playing real games for the first time in over a year, and Portland hasn't had Collins in the lineup since last fall. Anthony has spent nearly all his time at power forward this season but has recently dropped weight in preparation to spend more time on the wing.

    We know the three-man combo of Lillard, McCollum and Anthony has been solid this season (3.3 net rating), and the four-man unit of Lillard, McCollum, Collins and Nurkic was quite good together last year (12.1 net rating), albeit in just 44 total minutes.

    Expecting Nurkic to pick up where he left off after a serious leg injury is unfair, and this starting lineup may not be at its best until the playoffs begin—should it make it that far.

No. 13: Sacramento Kings

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    Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    Net Rating: N/A (15.0 in 28 minutes)

    PG: De'Aaron Fox

    SG: Buddy Hield

    SF: Bogdan Bogdanovic

    PF: Harrison Barnes

    C: Richaun Holmes

    A rarely used lineup could be the King's secret weapon in the bubble, one that's had a great deal of success in limited use.

    Moving Hield back into the starting lineup alongside Bogdanovic and going small with Barnes at power forward has resulted in a net rating of plus-15.0 in just 28 minutes, with Fox (assuming he returns from a sprained ankle) and Holmes rounding out the opening five.

    Starting their more typical lineup with power forward Nemanja Bjelica instead of either Hield or Bogdanovic has yielded a net rating of just 1.6, which isn't going to be good enough to make up the 3.5 games by which they trail the Memphis Grizzlies for the No. 8 seed.

No. 12: Philadelphia 76ers

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Net Rating: N/A (minus-11.5 in 91 minutes with four-man lineup of Shake Milton, Tobias Harris, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid)

    PG: Shake Milton

    SG: Josh Richardson

    SF: Tobias Harris

    PF: Ben Simmons

    C: Joel Embiid

    Yet another team that could look completely different during the restart, the Sixers are moving All-Star point guard Simmons to power forward, benching Al Horford and handing the keys to Milton at point guard.

    A five-man lineup of Milton, Richardson, Harris, Simmons and Embiid has yet to share the floor together at all this season, with the four-man combo of Milton, Harris, Simmons and Embiid registering a disastrous minus-11.5 net rating.

    Despite a disappointing 39-26 start to the season, the starting unit of Simmons, Richardson, Harris, Horford and Embiid was actually pretty good together, putting up an 8.5 net rating in 244 total minutes.

    Even though they've yet to play a minute together, going to a smaller and quicker lineup should help the team overall, and Milton could be the dead-eye shooter Philly has needed next to Simmons (45.3 percent from three this season).

No. 11: Los Angeles Lakers

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Net Rating: 3.4 in 253 minutes

    PG: LeBron James

    SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

    SF: Danny Green

    PF: Anthony Davis

    C: JaVale McGee

    The Lakers' starting lineup took a huge hit when Avery Bradley announced he'd be skipping the restart due to health concerns.

    L.A.'s usual starting five of James, Bradley, Green, Davis and McGee has been one of the NBA's best lineups this season, putting up a net rating of 12.6 in 389 total minutes. With Caldwell-Pope in for Bradley, the Lakers' net rating drops by over nine points per 100 possessions.

    Having James and Davis means this starting lineup can't fall too far, and the team does feature some depth at the shooting guard position with JR Smith and Dion Waiters on board.

    Still, losing a quality two-way player like Bradley has dropped the Lakers from what would be the sixth spot to just outside the top 10.

No. 10: Denver Nuggets

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Net Rating: 7.7 in 735 minutes

    PG: Jamal Murray

    SG: Gary Harris

    SF: Will Barton

    PF: Paul Millsap

    C: Nikola Jokic

    No bubble team's starting lineup has as much experience together as the Nuggets.

    That extra time should serve as a huge advantage over teams like the Portland Trail Blazers, Philadelphia 76ers and Memphis Grizzlies, who will be debuting brand new starting lineups, especially if Millsap can stay healthy.

    While a skinny Jokic could improve this lineup even more, Millsap's defense and floor-spacing skill can't be overlooked. Just switching him out for backup Jerami Grant means a drop in net rating from 7.7 to minus-3.5—over a 10-point swing even with all four other starters on the floor.

No. 9: Utah Jazz

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    George Frey/Associated Press

    Net Rating: N/A (21.3 in 14 minutes)

    PG: Mike Conley

    SG: Donovan Mitchell

    SF: Joe Ingles

    PF: Royce O'Neale

    C: Rudy Gobert

    Losing second-leading scorer Bojan Bogdanovic to wrist surgery hurts as a starting lineup with him, Conley, Mitchell, O'Neale and Gobert was putting up a net rating of 9.7 in 381 minutes.

    The good news? Ingles is the perfect backup to replace him, a dead-eye shooter with plenty of previous starting experience.

    Mitchell may have to up his scoring in the postseason, and Conley's play has wavered, but the pairing of O'Neale and Gobert may be the best defensive two-man frontcourt in the NBA.

    The new starting lineup with Ingles in over Bogdanovic has actually been better, although in a small sample size.

No. 8: Houston Rockets

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    Michael Wyke/Associated Press

    Net Rating: 10.7 in 164 minutes

    PG: Russell Westbrook

    SG: James Harden

    SF: Danuel House Jr.

    PF: Robert Covington

    C: P.J. Tucker

    The Rockets' new small-ball lineup has already produced some impressive results.

    Using the 6'5" Tucker at center with 6'7" Covington at power forward has even been better than the previous starting unit with Clint Capela at center (7.6 net rating), which moves the Rockets a few spots up in these rankings.

    It would appear keeping Eric Gordon, a starter in 13 of his 34 games this season, on the bench is the right move as well.

    Just swapping Gordon in for Covington has resulted in a dip from a 10.7 net rating to a minus-7.5 net rating in 74 minutes, highlighting the need for a defensive-minded forward who can switch onto and guard multiple positions.

No. 7: Dallas Mavericks

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    Richard W. Rodriguez/Associated Press

    Net Rating: 11.7 in 122 minutes

    PG: Luka Doncic

    SG: Seth Curry

    SF: Tim Hardaway Jr.

    PF: Dorian Finney-Smith

    C: Kristaps Porzingis

    The Mavericks' four most frequently used lineups this season all carry net ratings between 11.0 and 34.8, which is a testament to the team's No. 1-rated offense.

    With no Dwight Powell, the Mavericks are at their best with the 7'3" Porzingis at center, giving the team ultimate spacing around Doncic. Adding in a pair of elite outside shooters in Curry and Hardaway, as well as a defensive stopper like Finney-Smith, has created perhaps the best starting five Dallas can produce.

    Going "small" with a frontcourt of Finney-Smith and Porzingis has been far more effective. Swapping out Curry for power forward/center Maxi Kleber has led to a net rating of minus-15.4 in 71 total minutes.

No. 6: Toronto Raptors

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Net Rating: 11.7 in 280 minutes

    PG: Kyle Lowry

    SG: Fred VanVleet

    SF: OG Anunoby

    PF: Pascal Siakam

    C: Marc Gasol

    Owners of the NBA's third-best record, the Raptors combine depth with a fantastic starting five.

    Despite an undersized backcourt, Toronto has plenty of championship experience on the roster and a legit No. 1 option in Siakam to go to when the team needs a basket.

    Benching Lowry and using Normal Powell along with VanVleet in the backcourt has been an even better lineup for the Raptors with a net rating of 16.1 in 192 minutes. Since Lowry isn't getting benched anytime soon, Toronto will have to settle for the sixth-best starting unit in the NBA.

No. 5: Boston Celtics

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    Mary Schwalm/Associated Press

    Net Rating: 12.5 in 188 minutes

    PG: Kemba Walker

    SG: Jaylen Brown

    SF: Gordon Hayward

    PF: Jayson Tatum

    C: Daniel Theis

    How good are Walker, Tatum and Hayward together? Swapping Brown out of the starting lineup for Marcus Smart actually improves the team's net rating (13.1 in 169 minutes), so long as those three are still on the court.

    Walker potentially aggravating a sore knee that bothered him earlier in the year should be a concern throughout the restart as a lineup featuring Tatum, Brown, Hayward and Theis with Smart in for the All-Star point guard drops the net rating to just 1.9.

    While Tatum projects as a small forward long-term and a center upgrade over Theis will probably be explored this offseason, the Celtics still boast a top-five starting lineup in the NBA despite its flaws.

No. 4: Miami Heat

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    Net Rating: 13.4 in 488 minutes

    PG: Kendrick Nunn

    SG: Duncan Robinson

    SF: Jimmy Butler

    PF: Meyers Leonard

    C: Bam Adebayo

    As part of perhaps the most surprisingly successful starting five of the season, Adebayo has blossomed into an All-Star while Robinson and Nunn have bumped more established veterans to the bench.

    The Heat do a fantastic job accounting for the lack of quality outside shooting from Adebayo and Butler with Robinson (44.8 percent) and Leonard (42.9 percent) while letting Butler serve as the team's primary scorer and playmaker.

    Even swapping in a poor outside shooter like Derrick Jones Jr. hasn't made this starting lineup skip much of a beat. He, Butler, Adebayo, Nunn and Robinson still have a net rating of 11.4 together.

No. 3: Milwaukee Bucks

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    Mike Roemer/Associated Press

    Net Rating 19.1 in 408 minutes

    PG: Eric Bledsoe

    SG: Wesley Matthews

    SF: Khris Middleton

    PF: Giannis Antetokounmpo

    C: Brook Lopez

    The Bucks have dominated with their starting unit all year long, holding opponents to an offensive rating of just 89.8. But as good as these five are together, it may not even be the best lineup Milwaukee could use.

    Although they've shared the court for just 40 minutes, a lineup of Antetokounmpo, Middleton, Lopez, Bledsoe and Donte DiVincenzo has a net rating of 22.0 this season. The Bucks are 17-1 in games during which those five share the court.

    Sticking with Matthews still means a top-three starting lineup, but swapping in DiVincenzo could make it even better.

No. 2: Los Angeles Clippers

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    Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    Net Rating: 19.4 in 124 minutes

    PG: Patrick Beverley

    SG: Paul George

    SF: Kawhi Leonard

    PF: Marcus Morris Sr.

    C: Ivica Zubac

    The Clippers had a great starting lineup before the trade for Morris, posting a net rating of 9.3 with Maurice Harkless as a starter. Now, with Morris in at power forward, L.A. has become elite.

    Leonard has proved he can carry a team to a title, and George is ready to shoulder even more of the offensive load if called upon. He's also a dark-horse candidate for Defensive Player of the Year, able to guard four different positions as needed.

    There's no individual weakness in this lineup from top to bottom, something even the Bucks can't say as long as they continue to start 33-year-old Wesley Matthews.

    Forming one of the league's best lineups on both ends of the court, these five have only played together in eight total games. Given more time and practice, this could easily become the best starting five in the entire NBA.

No. 1: New Orleans Pelicans

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    Matthew Hinton/Associated Press

    Net Rating: 26.3 in 230 minutes

    PG: Lonzo Ball

    SG: Jrue Holiday

    SF: Brandon Ingram

    PF: Zion Williamson

    C: Derrick Favors

    Surprised? Don't be. These Pelicans are for real.

    Even with Williamson playing just 19 games, this is already the most-used five-man lineup the Pelicans have. They've already spent over 100 more minutes together than the second-place Los Angeles Clippers and have produced a net rating nearly seven points per 100 possessions higher.

    Holiday is an elite defender in the backcourt, Ball has become a good outside shooter, and Ingram is already an All-Star. Mix in a defensive anchor like Favors and a budding superstar in Williamson, and New Orleans has the best starting five in the entire NBA.


    Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com or Basketball Reference.


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