Projecting Every NBA Team's Opening Night Starting 5

Mo DakhilFeatured Columnist IDecember 11, 2020

Projecting Every NBA Team's Opening Night Starting 5

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    The 2020-21 NBA season is less than two weeks away, and teams have already begun training camp after the condensed offseason. They're already hard at work putting together their starting lineups for opening night.     

    Some teams made massive changes in the offseason that will require them to rework their starting fives. A few of them have injury concerns that will force them to start players on a temporary basis, while others have maintained the status quo. 

    Each team has different aspirations. Some teams will be more focused on developing their young players and keeping an eye on the 2021 NBA draft. Others will look to make a run at the postseason with the addition of the play-in tournament. A special few will contend for a championship.

    What will each team look like come Dec. 22? Here's our projection for every starting lineup.

Atlanta Hawks

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    Todd Kirkland/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Lineup: Trae Young, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Cam Reddish, John Collins, Clint Capela

    The Atlanta Hawks were one of the few teams armed with salary-cap space this offseason, and they made great use of it in free agency.

    The Hawks signed Danilo Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kris Dunn and Rajon Rondo, and they added USC center Onyeka Okongwu with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2020 draft. That's a lot of incoming talent, especially considering Clint Capela also hasn't played a game with Atlanta since coming over at last year's trade deadline.

    Trae Young is the face of the franchise and wants the team to get into playoff contention. Paring him in the backcourt with Bogdanovic should open up more opportunities for him to operate off the ball. Having less pressure to create all of the offense should go a long way. 

    Cam Reddish started the season slowly but was beginning to come on strong before the pandemic. In the 10 games after the All-Star break, he averaged 16.4 points while shooting 50.0 percent from the field and 38.9 percent from three. The wing position is the only place the Hawks did not make a big upgrade. 

    When the Hawks signed Gallinari, they made it clear that he was coming in to back up John Collins, per Sarah K. Spencer of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. But their optimal closing lineup might have both on the floor with Capela and his lack of shooting on the bench. 

Boston Celtics

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Lineup: Jeff Teague, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Daniel Theis 

    The Boston Celtics will be missing key members to start the season. 

    Kemba Walker will be out until at least January as he recovers from receiving a stem cell injection in his troublesome left knee. New center Tristan Thompson is also set to miss most of training camp with a hamstring strain, although the Celtics are optimistic that he'll be available for opening night.

    Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are locks to start as the Celtics' biggest building blocks moving forward. Gordon Hayward's departure only cements Marcus Smart's spot in the starting lineup, too. 

    With Walker out, Smart could start at point guard and the Celtics could give second-year forward Grant Williams the nod at the 4. At that point, it would become a question of Thompson vs. Daniel Theis at center, although the latter figures to start the year at that spot given Thompson's injury.  

    The more likely route for the Celtics is starting Jeff Teague in place of Walker and bumping Williams out of the opening lineup. The Celtics played with a small lineup all of last season, and they don't have much reason to change it. 

    Depth was already going to be an issue for the Celtics this season, but they have just enough to survive until Walker returns.

Brooklyn Nets

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Lineup: Kyrie Irving, Joe Harris, Caris LeVert, Kevin Durant, DeAndre Jordan

    When the Brooklyn Nets signed both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving last offseason, they knew it would be a year before they got to see the tandem on the court. That time has finally arrived.   

    The bigger question is who will start alongside them. 

    The Nets re-signed Joe Harris after he finished tied for sixth in three-point percentage (42.4) last season. DeAndre Jordan took the starting center job from Jarrett Allen, and that should not be expected to change with the Nets moving firmly into win-now mode.

    Perhaps the most interesting spot is small forward. It will likely go to Caris LeVert, but it's unclear how productive he will be as a third ball-handler after he dominated the ball in the bubble. He shot only 33.3 percent on catch-and-shoot threes this past season, but the Nets need him to become far more efficient off the ball if he remains in the starting lineup.

    The Nets could create even more uncertainty about their starting lineup if they end up trading LeVert, Allen and Spencer Dinwiddie in a package for James Harden or another star.

Charlotte Hornets

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Lineup: LaMelo Ball, Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward, P.J. Washington, Cody Zeller

    Michael Jordan and the Charlotte Hornets made one of the boldest moves this offseason by signing Gordon Hayward to a four-year, $120 million deal. He'll slide right in as their starting small forward as they vie for a playoff spot.   

    P.J. Washington turned in a solid rookie season as an undersized power forward and has significantly raised expectations. Head coach James Borrego told reporters that Washington is "going to be one of our best playmakers." With Cody Zeller likely to start at center, the Hornets' frontcourt appears to be set. 

    The Hornets' backcourt is fairly deep as well. They drafted LaMelo Ball with the third overall pick in this year's draft, and it seems like he will be handed the keys from day one. 

    That means the final starting spot will come down to Devonte' Graham and Terry Rozier. 

    If the Hornets start Graham, they'd be going for more of an offensive punch, which he provided last season with a team-high 18.2 points and 7.5 assists. Rozier would be more of a defensive backcourt mate for Ball who can take on tougher perimeter assignments. 

    With Ball likely to take over as the primary playmaker, it makes sense to start Rozier over Graham to give the Hornets a defensive punch. However, Borrego could also go small with Washington at the 5 or go big with Zeller at the 4 and Bismack Biyombo at the 5.

Chicago Bulls

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Lineup: Coby White, Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr.

    The Chicago Bulls' biggest change this offseason came at head coach with Billy Donovan taking over for Jim Boylen. In the wake of that move, it seems as though 2019 No. 7 overall pick Coby White will take over as the starting point guard.

    Last week, Donovan told reporters that White "will be the primary ball-handler." That settled the Bulls' biggest position battle fairly quickly. The rest of the starting lineup should remain largely the same, with Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. as locks. 

    Donovan could decide to start rookie Patrick Williams over Otto Porter Jr. at the 3. Williams would have more time to get acclimated with the NBA game in a normal training camp, but he's at a disadvantage in this accelerated training camp and preseason.

    Porter already has plenty of NBA experience, so if he can stay healthy, he should win the starting job out of the gate.   

Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Lineup: Darius Garland, Collin Sexton, Cedi Osman, Kevin Love, Andre Drummond

    The Cleveland Cavaliers didn't make major changes this offseason.      

    Kevin Love remains in Cleveland, and he will remain a starter as long as that's the case, if for no other reason than to showcase his value as a trade chip. Andre Drummond opted into the final year of his contract and is still the Cavaliers' best option at center. 

    The backcourt will remain the same with both Darius Garland and Collin Sexton starting. They both started every game they played last season.

    The real battle comes at the small forward spot with Cedi Osman, Kevin Porter Jr. and rookie Isaac Okoro. 

    Osman had a decent season last year but did not show significant improvement overall. Porter is an intriguing young player with the ability to score in bunches, but at 6'4", he played out of position as a small forward. Okoro brings an interesting defensive skill set that the Cavs could use, but he does not have a high offensive upside. 

    Osman will probably begin the year as the starter at small forward, but if Okoro can develop more consistency on offense, he could end the year as the starter.

Dallas Mavericks

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Lineup: Luka Doncic, Josh Richardson, Tim Hardaway Jr., Dorian Finney-Smith, Dwight Powell   

    The Dallas Mavericks made a leap this past season, earning a playoff spot and challenging the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round. In his second season, Luka Doncic entered the MVP conversation, and he'll remain there for a long time.

    The Mavs will be down a key player at the start of the season, as Kristaps Porzingis is still recovering from the torn meniscus he suffered in the bubble. However, they will be getting Dwight Powell back after he tore his Achilles tendon in January. Powell was a particularly great target for Doncic, shooting 67.4 percent off his passes. 

    Tim Hardaway Jr. shot a career-high 39.8 percent from three last season and should stay in the starting lineup. Head coach Rick Carlisle expects newcomer Josh Richardson to be a starter as well. He will work well next to Doncic as a secondary playmaker and a perimeter defender. 

    The final spot in the frontcourt could get interesting. Dorian Finney-Smith was a starter for most of last season, but that was mostly as a wing. When the Mavs were healthy, they tended to start with a big lineup with Porzinigs and Powell, so it is possible Carlisle could turn to Maxi Kleber.

    For now, Finney-Smith gets the start with his improvement as a shooter, but this might prove to be short-lived once Porzingis returns.

Denver Nuggets

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    Kevin C. Cox/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Lineup: Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton, Michael Porter Jr., Nikola Jokic

    After their performance in the bubble, the Denver Nuggets have entered the tier of true contenders. They did take a big hit when Jerami Grant signed with the Detroit Pistons in free agency, but Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Gary Harris remain, and all three are locks to start. 

    With two starting spots open, head coach Michael Malone has a decision to make between Michael Porter Jr., Will Barton and Paul Millsap. Barton was a starter before the hiatus, but he did not play in the bubble, which opened up more minutes for Porter. The Nuggets re-signed Millsap after they lost Grant, but his minutes have decreased over his time in Denver.

    Given Porter's emergence in the bubble, it might be time for Malone to move him into the starting lineup at power forward. Keeping Barton as a starter would give the Nuggets a three-and-D option on the wing. Millsap could back up Jokic off the bench and stay fresher throughout the season.   

Detroit Pistons

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Lineup: Killian Hayes, Svi Mykhailiuk, Jerami Grant, Blake Griffin, Mason Plumlee

    The Detroit Pistons went for it this offseason, making big changes up and down the roster. 

    They shocked everyone by giving Jerami Grant a three-year, $60 million deal in free agency to steal him away from Denver. That's a huge commitment to someone who has never been more than a high-level role player, so it's safe to assume he'll start at small forward.. 

    If Blake Griffin can stay healthy, he should start at power forward. The Pistons also signed another Nugget in Mason Plumlee to a three-year, $25 million deal, which suggests he'll start at center.

    The Pistons' backcourt is more of a question mark.

    Detroit still has Derrick Rose, but he has flourished over the last few seasons as a sixth man. The Pistons took Killian Hayes with the No. 7 overall pick in this year's draft to be their point guard of the future, and they acquired Delon Wright from the Dallas Mavericks in a three-team trade this offseason. They also have Svi Mykhailiuk on the roster.

    Head coach Dwane Casey told reporters that he's planning to start Hayes for the time being, as he isn't "a typical rookie." At shooting guard, it would be tough to keep the best shooter in Mykhailiuk on the bench after he led the team last year by shooting 40.4 percent from deep.

    The Pistons might start the season with this group, but they could change it up if Hayes struggles.   

Golden State Warriors

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Lineup: Stephen Curry, Andrew Wiggins, Kelly Oubre Jr., Draymond Green, James Wiseman

    The Golden State Warriors suffered a brutal blow with Klay Thompson’s season-ending injury, but they recovered well by fitting Kelly Oubre Jr. into their trade exception. He will take the place of Thompson in the starting lineup, with Andrew Wiggins as the other wing. 

    There is no question both Stephen Curry and Draymond Green will return as starters, while No. 2 overall pick James Wiseman figures to start at center. But without Thompson, the Warriors appear to be a step below the top-tier contenders in the West.

    Both Green and Wiseman will miss a large chunk of training camp because of COVID-19 protocols, according to Wes Goldberg of the Mercury News. Although Green's experience should help him get back up to speed quickly, Wiseman needs as much time as possible to get acclimated to the NBA. 

    If Wiseman misses too much time, head coach Steve Kerr can temporarily start Marquese Chriss or Kevon Looney in his place. Ultimately, the goal should be getting Wiseman back into the starting lineup as soon as he can return safely.   

Houston Rockets

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Lineup: John Wall, James Harden, Danuel House Jr., P.J. Tucker, Christian Wood

    The Houston Rockets have endured a turbulent offseason, to say the least. 

    A new coach, a new front office and a Russell Westbrook-for-John Wall trade would be enough drama to last most teams for a few years. Unfortunately, the drama has not ended there, as James Harden’s future in Houston is far from resolved. 

    For now, it seems unlikely that Harden’s holdout will last into the season. Even if he misses most of camp, it would be hard to imagine the Rockets not starting him with Wall from Game 1. 

    The Rockets' extreme small-ball style is set to change, though. They signed Christian Wood to a three-year, $41 million contract this offseason, which suggests he'll start at center. With Wood in the fold, P.J. Tucker could slide to his more natural position of power forward.

    The Rockets also have a battle brewing at small forward. Eric Gordon has been in and out of the starting lineup over the past few seasons, and he badly struggled last year. Danuel House Jr., who started 52 of his 63 games in 2019-20, is the other leading candidate to start.

    This decision might come down to who could provide more firepower off the bench. New head coach Stephen Silas may thus decide to start House and use Gordon in a super-sub role.   

Indiana Pacers

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    Kim Klement/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Lineup: Malcolm Brogdon, Victor Oladipo, Justin Holiday, Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner

    Even though the Indiana Pacers didn't make major roster changes, they didn't go through a drama-free offseason.

    The Pacers fired longtime head coach Nate McMillan and hired Nate Bjorkgren from the Toronto Raptors. Rumors began to circulate that Victor Oladipo was hoping to be traded. They also attempted to sign-and-trade for Gordon Hayward in free agency, but the Boston Celtics were not interested in taking on Myles Turner, per ESPN's Zach Lowe (via CBS Boston).

    Instead, the Pacers are bringing back the same starting five from last year, but an injury might prevent them from using it on opening night. 

    Oladipo struggled coming back from his knee injury last season and never looked comfortable. Additionally, there was no clear sign of synergy between him and Malcolm Brogdon, who will start with him in the backcourt.

    T.J. Warren had a great season starting at the 3 for the Pacers, leading them in scoring with 19.8 points per game while shooting 40.3 percent from three. He would be a lock to start opening night, but that might be in doubt, as he is battling plantar fasciitis in his right foot. The Pacers could choose to bring him along slowly. 

    If Warren is not able to go on opening night, the Pacers have two options. Doug McDermott shot 43.5 percent from three last year, so he can help to spread the floor. The other option is Justin Holiday, who started six games last season and is a pretty good shooter in his own right. Holiday most likely would start, as he can do more on the defensive end. 

    Domantas Sabonis also had a career year that resulted in his first All-Star nod. Myles Turner will round out the starting lineup at center. He had a bit of a down year in 2019-20, but he's still a strong rim protector with the ability to stretch the floor.

    The Pacers have a lot of individual talent in their starting lineup, but their success will come down to how well they come together. It will be on Bjorkgren to make that happen.

Los Angeles Clippers

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    Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Lineup: Patrick Beverley, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Marcus Morris, Ivica Zubac

    The Los Angeles Clippers rarely had a fully healthy group this past season, whether it was Paul George coming back from his shoulder injury, Kawhi Leonard’s load-management plan or someone else missing games.

    This offseason, the Clippers brought back Marcus Morris, who was a regular starter after he arrived in L.A. at the trade deadline. Their starting unit of Patrick Beverley, Leonard, George, Morris and Ivica Zubac had a net rating of plus-22.9

    If new head coach Tyronn Lue wants to shake things up, he can replace Zubac with the newly signed Serge Ibaka at the center spot. With Ibaka joining that unit, the Clippers could run a five-out offense while keeping a rim-protecting presence. 

    If Ibaka starts, the Clippers may struggle out of the gate since he'll have had little time to get acclimated to his new teammates. But there is no reason to break up what was the most consistent lineup the Clippers had when healthy to start the season.    

Los Angeles Lakers

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Lineup: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Wesley Matthews, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol

    The Los Angeles Lakers had an amazing offseason after winning the NBA title. Although they lost three starters (Avery Bradley, Danny Green and JaVale McGee), they got younger and added more offensive firepower with Dennis Schroder and Montrezl Harrell in particular.

    LeBron James and Anthony Davis are locks for the starting lineup. Since the Lakers started games big last season, it's safe to assume Marc Gasol will be manning the center position. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who started in the bubble when Bradley opted out, should stay in the starting lineup as well. 

    That leaves the fifth starting spot up for grabs.

    Head coach Frank Vogel has a number of different ways he can go with that spot. He can opt for another ball-handler with Dennis Schroder, another wing defender in Wesley Matthews or a little more defensive presence on the perimeter with fan favorite Alex Caruso. 

    Schroder might have more value coming off the bench with Montrezl Harrell. Caruso provided a jolt of energy off the bench last season, and it is tough seeing that role changing much for him this year. That leaves Matthews, who brings all of the same skills that Green did last season. He's fairly likely to start games but not finish them.    

Memphis Grizzlies

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    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Lineup: Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Desmond Bane, Kyle Anderson, Jonas Valanciunas

    The upstart Memphis Grizzlies caught the league by surprise last season, narrowly missing out on the playoffs. But to start this year, they will be without Jaren Jackson Jr., who is still recovering from a torn meniscus, and Justise Winslow, who is recovering from a hip injury. 

    That opens up two spots, as Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks and Jonas Valanciunas are locks to begin the season in the starting lineup.

    Head coach Taylor Jenkins said he plans to "try a lot different starting lineups" in the preseason. That could open the door for rookie Desmond Bane to jump into the starting unit if he acclimates to the NBA game fairly quickly. He was a career 43.3 percent three-point shooter over his four years in college, which could help the Grizzlies keep the floor spread. 

    Kyle Anderson is likely to start at power forward until Jackson returns, keeping in line with how Jenkins adjusted when the Grizzlies lost Jackson in the bubble. They also have the option to start Brandon Clarke if they want to add more shooting.    

Miami Heat

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    Mike Erhmann/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Lineups: Tyler Herro, Jimmy Butler, Duncan Robinson, Moe Harkless, Bam Adebayo

    The Miami Heat are set on proving their success in the NBA bubble was not a fluke. 

    Jimmy Butler, Duncan Robinson and Bam Adebayo are locks to be in the starting lineup. Butler and Adebayo started every game that they played last season, and Robinson started in all but five of his games. They are the cornerstone pieces for the franchise going forward.

    Even though the Heat re-signed Goran Dragic this offseason, he came off the bench for all but three regular-season games last year, and he is coming off a foot injury that knocked him out for most of the Finals. They should take their time with Dragic and bring him along slowly. 

    At the other guard spot, Miami could go with Kendrick Nunn, who started for most of last season but struggled to return to form in the bubble, and Tyler Herro, who was phenomenal in the bubble and started in place of Dragic during the FInals. Herro was so fearless throughout the playoffs that he should start over Nunn at the beginning of the year.

    When the Heat entered the bubble, head coach Erik Spoelstra went from starting games big with Meyers Leonard to playing small with Jae Crowder. That opened things up for the Heat to play much faster and with more space, but Crowder left for Phoenix in free agency.

    The Heat should start new signee Moe Harkless in Crowder's place. He can defend 1-3 and some 4s, and he shot 37 percent from deep across 50 games with the Los Angeles Clippers last year, which should help make up for the loss of Crowder.   

Milwaukee Bucks

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Lineup: Jrue Holiday, Donte DiVincenzo, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez

    Unless Giannis Antetokounmpo signs his supermax extension before the Dec. 21 deadline, no team will have more on the line this season than the Milwaukee Bucks.

    The two-time reigning MVP will start alongside Khris Middleton at forward, and center Brook Lopez will look to rebound from a poor shooting season. Donte DiVincenzo should slide into the starting lineup at the 2 in place of Wesley Matthews, who signed with the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency.

    The big change in the lineup will be Jrue Holiday, whom the Bucks acquired from the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for a package including starting point guard Eric Bledsoe. Holiday is an upgrade for the Bucks, as he's a better, more versatile defender and should be a lethal pick-and-roll partner with Antetokounmpo.

    The Bucks may be thinner than they were last season, but they now have the ability to play multiple ways and are less dependent on Antetokounmpo's greatness.    

Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Lineup: Ricky Rubio, D'Angelo Russell, Josh Okogie, Juancho Hernangomez, Karl-Anthony Towns

    Minnesota Timberwolves team president Gersson Rosas has built an interesting roster. 

    At last season's trade deadline, he pulled off a monster deal to pair Karl-Anthony Towns with one of his closest friends, D'Angelo Russell. The Wolves then landed the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NBA draft, which they used on University of Georgia swingman Anthony Edwards.

    The Wolves got even stronger when they traded for fan-favorite point guard Ricky Rubio, who spent the first six years of his NBA career in Minnesota. The addition of Rubio will allow for Russell to play more off the ball, similar to what Rubio did in Phoenix for Devin Booker. 

    Although Edwards was the No. 1 pick in this year's draft, he isn't a lock to start at the 3. The Wolves just re-signed Malik Beasley on a four-year, $60 million deal, while Josh Okogie spent 43 percent of his 1,495 minutes at the 3 last year, according to Cleaning the Glass.

    Okogie will probably get the starting nod since Beasley can provide instant offense off the bench and it might be too soon to throw Edwards right into the fire.   

New Orleans Pelicans

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    Matthew Hinton/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Lineup: Eric Bledsoe, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, Steven Adams

    After struggling in the bubble, the New Orleans Pelicans underwent significant changes this offseason. 

    The Pelicans sent Jrue Holiday to the Milwaukee Bucks for a package including Eric Bledsoe and multiple future first-round picks, and Derrick Favors left in free agency to sign with the Utah Jazz. To replace him, they acquired Steven Adams from the Oklahoma City Thunder.

    Zion Williamson, the face of the franchise, will start whenever he suits up for the Pelicans. Armed with a $158 million extension, Brandon Ingram will be right alongside him as the team’s one-on-one guy when it needs a bucket. Lonzo Ball, who quietly had a good season in 2019-20 before the bubble, will also start. 

    Bledsoe figures to slide right into Holiday's spot in the starting lineup. With his athleticism, speed and defensive ability, he should replace most of what Holiday brought to the table.

    Adams should move into the starting center spot that Favors vacated, which should help protect Williamson against playing too many minutes at the 5. The Pelicans had a defensive rating of 100.4 when Williamson and Favors shared the court, and Adams should be similarly stingy on that end of the floor.

    The Pelicans’ starting unit of Bledsoe, Ball, Ingram, Williamson and Adams should provide both offensive fireworks and defensive intensity.   

New York Knicks

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Lineup: Elfrid Payton, Frank Ntilikina, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, Mitchell Robinson

    The New York Knicks figure to experiment a ton this season. Since they aren't likely to make the playoffs, they need to see which of their young guys are building blocks and which aren't long-term keepers.

    Between RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina, Dennis Smith Jr., Mitchell Robinson and 2020 No. 8 overall pick Obi Toppin, the Knicks have a ton of young guys to evaluate. Their starting lineup will feature a blend of them and a few veterans such as Elfrid Payton and Julius Randle.

    Ntilikina is heading into the last year of his rookie deal, so the Knicks need to gauge whether to invest in him beyond this season. Barrett had a roller-coaster rookie season and now will get a chance to play in a stable situation. Robinson is the most proven of the young guys on the roster and will continue to start at center.   

Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Lineup: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, George Hill, Luguentz Dort, Darius Bazley, Al Horford

    After a surprise run to the playoffs last year, the Oklahoma City Thunder pivoted to asset-collection mode this offseason. They’ve added some quality players over the past few weeks whom they can showcase in the hopes of flipping them for more draft compensation. 

    Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a star in the making, and Luguentz Dort is on a team-friendly, multiyear deal. Both should be locks for OKC's starting lineup.

    George Hill, Darius Bazley and Al Horford should claim the other three starting spots. 

    Bazley showed promising flashes last season, most of which he spent backing up Danilo Gallinari. With Gallinari now in Atlanta, Bazley should have a chance to move into the starting lineup.

    By starting Hill, the Thunder could showcase him to other teams who might be willing to acquire him for a draft pick at the trade deadline. The same goes for Horford, who is coming off a difficult year in Philadelphia. If he bounces back and serves as a strong locker room leader, the Thunder might be able to flip him at the deadline or next offseason. 

    The Thunder aren’t likely to be good this year, but this starting lineup features a good mix of promising young players and veterans who can help guide them.   

Orlando Magic

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Lineup: Markelle Fultz, Evan Fournier, James Ennis, Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic

    The Orlando Magic didn't change much this offseason. Whether that's a good thing is up for debate.

    This might be a good year to have continuity since both training camp and the preseason are condensed. Markelle Fultz and Evan Fournier figure to continue manning the backcourt, while James Ennis, Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic should start in the frontcourt.

    Had Jonathan Isaac been healthy, he would have supplanted Ennis in the starting lineup. Unfortunately, he suffered a torn ACL in the bubble that is expected to sideline him for the entire 2020-21 season.   

Philadelphia 76ers

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Projecting Starting Lineup: Seth Curry, Danny Green, Tobias Harris, Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid

    New Philadelphia 76ers team president Daryl Morey did not hesitate making big changes this offseason. He overhauled the Sixers' supporting cast to better complement All-Stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid by adding much more shooting.

    He cleared up the clutter in the frontcourt by moving Al Horford in exchange for a package including a three-and-D player in Danny Green. He also sent Josh Richardson to Dallas for sharpshooting Seth Curry, who is likely to start in Philadelphia.

    New head coach Doc Rivers is always looking for more shooting, and he'll be reuniting with former Clipper Tobias Harris in Philadelphia. 

    The Sixers' new starting unit will have more shooting on the wings from Curry and Green. Simmons will serve as the primary playmaker, Harris can look for opportunities to go one-on-one, and Embiid will anchor everything on both ends of the floor from the post.   

Phoenix Suns

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    Mike Ehrmann/Associated Press

    Projected: Starting Lineup: Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, Deandre Ayton

    The 8-0 darlings of the NBA bubble took a huge swing this offseason. 

    The Phoenix Suns traded a package including Ricky Rubio and Kelly Oubre Jr. for Chris Paul and signed Jae Crowder in free agency. Both new pieces should jump right into the starting lineup on opening night alongside Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges and Deandre Ayton.

    Dario Saric started in 51 of the 66 games he played this past season, but head coach Monty Williams used him as a playmaker off the bench during the bubble. He came off the bench in seven of their eight seeding games and averaged 14.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists while shooting 52.4 percent from three.

    With Paul and Booker most likely to dominate the ball in the starting lineup, it makes sense to continue bringing Saric off the bench and letting Crowder play as a three-and-D small-ball 4 in the starting unit.   

Portland Trail Blazers

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    Kevin C. Cox/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Lineup: Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Robert Covington, Derrick Jones Jr., Jusuf Nurkic

    Portland was one of the biggest winners of the offseason, as team president Neil Olshey added both depth and perimeter defense to the roster. He started it off by sending two first-round picks and Trevor Ariza to Houston for Robert Covington, and then he made several shrewd signings such as Derrick Jones Jr. 

    Head coach Terry Stotts has already stated that Jones and Covington are likely going to start alongside Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic. That makes a lot of sense with Rodney Hood coming off an Achilles injury and Zach Collins still recovering from a stress fracture he suffered in the Orlando bubble. 

    Once Collins is ready to go, the Blazers may decide to move him into the starting lineup in place of Jones to contend with the bigger Western teams.   

Sacramento Kings

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    Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Lineup: De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes, Marvin Bagley III, Richaun Holmes

    The Sacramento Kings overhauled their front office this offseason, bringing in Monte McNair to replace Vlade Divac, and he got right to work. 

    When the season ended in Sacramento, there was a logjam in the backcourt with an unhappy Buddy Hield coming off the bench. The Kings drafted Tyrese Haliburton with the 12th pick, did not match the offer sheet that Bogdan Bogdanovic signed with the Hawks and gave De'Aaron Fox a max extension. 

    Fox and Hield should now start in the backcourt, while Harrison Barnes remains the Kings' best option on the wing. The big man rotation is where it gets competitive, with Marvin Bagley III, Richaun Holmes, Nemanja Bjelica, Jabari Parker and Hassan Whiteside all vying for two spots. 

    Bagley, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 draft, figures to start if he's healthy. He is the most talented and has the highest upside of anyone in that group. The battle to start at center will likely come down to Holmes and Whiteside.

    Holmes had a good year for the Kings, averaging 12.3 points on 64.8 percent shooting, 8.1 rebounds and 1.3 blocks while starting in 38 of the 44 games he played. Whiteside rehabilitated his reputation in Portland and was a consistent double-double threat at 15.5 points and 13.5 rebounds while leading the league with 2.9 blocks per game. Whiteside has been dealing with a calf injury to start camp, so Holmes figures to get the nod to start on opening night. 

    One thing to watch: If Haliburton wows in training camp, head coach Luke Walton could decide to go small by starting him with Fox, Hield, Barnes and Whiteside. Their collective speed on the court might be unmatched.  

San Antonio Spurs

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    Darren Abate/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Lineup: Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, DeMar DeRozan, Trey Lyles, LaMarcus Aldridge

    The San Antonio Spurs brought back most of their key players this offseason other than Bryn Forbes, who signed with Milwaukee. The bigger change will be how they play.    

    Head coach Gregg Popovich said LaMarcus Aldridge has committed to shooting more threes this season. Look for DeMar DeRozan to continue his improvement as a playmaker while the young players continue to develop. 

    Dejounte Murray and Derrick White will continue to start in the backcourt. The position of interest might be the power forward spot. 

    Trey Lyles, who started 53 of the 63 games he played last season, is the favorite to start. But Popovich could also go with a small-ball lineup, putting Keldon Johnson at small forward and sliding DeRozan up to power forward. 

    Expect the Spurs to experiment throughout the season, but they figure to go with the more conventional option on opening night.   

Toronto Raptors

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    Kevin C. Cox/Associated Press

    Projecting Starting Lineup: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Aron Baynes

    The Toronto Raptors lost two key members of their roster in Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka this offseason. 

    They were able to lock up Fred VanVleet to keep their backcourt together with Kyle Lowry. OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam will continue to start at the 3 and 4, respectively, which leaves the center position to fill.

    Gasol and Ibaka were the Raptors' starting and backup centers, so Toronto had to go searching for a replacement. As good as Chris Boucher was last season, he played limited minutes, which is why free-agent acquisition Aron Baynes figures to start for the Raptors. 

    Baynes can replicate a lot of what Gasol did (minus the passing IQ), but he will be a solid back-line defender. That will allow Anunoby and Siakam to be defensively aggressive on the wing.   

Utah Jazz

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    Kevin C. Cox/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Lineup: Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Royce O'Neale, Bojan Bogdanovic, Rudy Gobert

    The Utah Jazz aren't likely to make a change to their starting lineup at the start of the season. After all, they were a last-second missed three-pointer away from eliminating the Denver Nuggets from the playoffs, and they did so without key starter Bojan Bogdanovic.   

    Mike Conley struggled early in his first season as a member of the Jazz, but he is a candidate to bounce back. Fresh off signing a five-year max extension, Donovan Mitchell is locked into Utah's starting lineup indefinitely. Royce O'Neale is a versatile defender who can handle the top opposing wings. Bogdanovic adds more offensive firepower, and potential Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert anchors the Jazz defense.

    Utah's starting lineup features a nice blend of offensive firepower and defensive ability. They can move Joe Ingles into the starting lineup if they start off slow, but they're likely to maintain status quo on opening night.

Washington Wizards

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Projecting Starting Lineup: Russell Westbrook, Bradley Beal, Isaac Bonga, Rui Hachimura, Thomas Bryant

    After the Washington Wizards traded John Wall and a future first-round pick for Russell Westbrook, they have only one spot in the starting lineup up for grabs. 

    Westbrook and Bradley Beal will start in the backcourt, while Rui Hachimura and Thomas Bryant should keep their spots at power forward and center, respectively. That leaves the small forward position, which is shaping up as a battle between Isaac Bonga and Deni Avdija.

    Bonga started 49 games last season for the Wizards and was a complementary piece to Beal. The Wizards took Avdija with the No. 9 overall pick in this year's draft, and head coach Scotty Brooks had no problem starting Hachimura as a rookie, so he might do the same with Avdija. 

    The real challenge with starting Avdija is that he's a poor three-point shooter, as is Hachimura. Playing those two with Westbrook would put three non-shooters on the court, which would allow teams to pack the paint. 

    The other challenger to Bonga will be Troy Brown Jr., who saw his minutes jump up in his second season. He provides more offensive versatility than Bonga, but the Wizards will need some more defense in the starting unit. That will tilt the position battle in Bonga's favor.


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