Every NBA Team's Best 5-Man Lineup This Season

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistApril 16, 2021

Every NBA Team's Best 5-Man Lineup This Season

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    The NBA Lineup Rankings Machine is officially reporting for duty.

    Annual disclaimer: Five-man units lend themselves to a certain unpredictability. So many different factors can skew the results and create wonky returns. Chief among those tipping points are sample size and the quality of opponents.

    Like last year, this lineup check-in won't pretend to solve or exist above those issues. It is instead meant to identify the most effective quintets for each squad in a way that goes beyond baseline results and does so as objectively as possible.

    A Bayesian adjustment will be made to every five-man combination that has logged at least 15 possessions this season. This is an attempt to weigh a group's net rating against its sample size and the performance of the team's average lineup. That will leave us with an adjusted net rating, which should be a friendlier way of pitting combinations against one another.

    From here, only five-person gaggles that have racked up at least 50 possessions or the average number of possessions logged by groups from their team (whichever's lower) will be eligible for final selection. Subjectivity creeps in with that ruling, but I wanted to give an extra fist bump to lineups that have spent more time on the floor.

    Players that have suffered season-ending injuries will still be included in the results. This is a uniform evaluation of minutes already played. With that said, in a shift from last year's installment, lineups featuring players who have since been traded or waived will be bounced from the running. It feels a little icky discussing combinations that would no longer exist even if everyone was healthy, and this still left pretty much every team with double-digit possibilities.

    Brace yourself for some bizarre results. This method does not factor in the quality of opponent, leaving the door open for lineups featuring only one star or no star at all. Potential context behind unexpected returns will be discussed wherever necessary.

    Remember: This exercise is not supposed to be gospel. Squads riddled with availability issues will yield lineups they wouldn't dare use to close tightly contested playoff games if their roster was at full capacity. This is exclusively a look at the formations that have, relative to their own team, done the most with their minutes.

    *Possession data comes from Cleaning the Glass and is accurate as of games entering Wednesday, April 14.

Atlanta Hawks

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    Lineup: Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, Tony Snell, Danilo Gallinari, Clint Capela

    Possessions Played: 78

    Adjusted Net Rating: 20.5

    John Collins' absence isn't as egregious as it seems at first glance. The Atlanta Hawks offense stands to be a hair more dynamic when they detach him from Clint Capela, and that separation happens fairly often. About 40 percent of Collins' possessions this season have come at the 5. Atlanta's selection was bound to include one big rather than both.

    A Capela-in-the-middle lineup feels right. He still provides more frontline defensive value than Collins, and this unit, not surprisingly, is skating by with top-notch rim protection. Opponents are also shooting under 24 percent from long distance against this group, an absurdly low mark that has zero chance of sustaining across a much larger sample but offers quite the boon here.

    Appearances from Trae Young, Kevin Huerter and Danilo Gallinari come as no surprise. Tony Snell's cameo is a tad disarming but makes total sense. Atlanta has dealt with injuries galore on the wings. Kris Dunn (right knee/right ankle) has yet to play this season. De'Andre Hunter (right knee) has appeared in two games since Feb. 1. And Cam Reddish (right Achilles) hasn't taken the floor since Feb. 23. Bogdan Bogdanovic and Gallinari himself have dealt with their own issues.

    Snell doesn't fit the "dynamic" bill shared by every other perimeter player within this unit. He is, however, downing over 57 percent of his threes. And this combination overall is converting 40.9 percent of its treys while flame-throwing from mid-range—the result of which is a 123.1 offensive rating.

Boston Celtics

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Lineup: Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Grant Williams, Tristan Thompson

    Possessions Played: 64

    Adjusted Net Rating: 25.1

    Injuries, absences due to COVID-19, topsy-turvy play from Kemba Walker, a lack of pressure on the rim, questionable depth beyond the starting unit and a slump here and there have all contributed to the Boston Celtics' lackluster season. They have picked up the pace more recently, winning six of their last seven games, but their performance is so far uninspiring when gauged in totality.

    On the bright side, Boston still has Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Jayson Tatum. These three, together, will always make noise at both ends. This season has been no different—though most of their ruckus comes when they operate independent of Walker.

    Tristan Thompson and Grant Williams are the real eyebrow-raisers. Well, Thompson not so much. The Celtics' decision to trade Daniel Theis at the deadline nudged lineups with him in the middle outside of the picture. Robert Williams III-at-the-5 arrangements are the expectation, but it's very much an either-or proposition.

    Williams' inclusion is the actual kicker. That tracks. Boston has spent a majority of the season trying to flesh out intriguing four-man combos with a dependable fifth. Anything goes with Walker all over the place. Williams completes what is a seriously versatile defensive quintet, and his 38.7 percent clip from three allows the Celtics to roll four-out at the other end.

    How much time this quintuple sees in the long run is anyone's guess. A healthy Walker and Evan Fournier give Boston more fifth-wheel options, and the Celtics center rotation for now seems very matchup-dependent. 

Brooklyn Nets

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Lineup: James Harden, Tyler Johnson, Joe Harris, Jeff Green, Nicolas Claxton

    Possessions Played: 60

    Adjusted Net Rating: 31.0

    Churning out a one-star lineup for the Brooklyn Nets is at once weird and very apropos. They have three top-20 players on their team—and two top-seven dudes. James Harden shouldn't be headlining a statistical powerhouse on his own.

    Then again, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving have been lineup inconstants. The Nets have only seen their three megastars play together in seven games—and really only six-and-change. 

    This group is actually the eighth-most used arrangement among combinations that feature Harden, and its makeup genuinely tantalizes. Joe Harris is a good-lineup staple given his off-ball lethality, and the Jeff Green-Nicolas Claxton duo represents Brooklyn's most interesting defensive partnership on the frontline.

    A gaudy offensive rating (130) helps float this quintet's candidacy, but its biggest outlier is opponent shooting. Rival teams are connecting on just 56.2 percent of their looks at the rim and a brain-bendingly low 12.5 percent of their threes.

Charlotte Hornets

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    Nell Redmond/Associated Press

    Lineup: Devonte' Graham, Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward, Miles Bridges, P.J. Washington

    Possessions Played: 139

    Adjusted Net Rating: 25.4

    LaMelo Ball, who is currently sidelined with a fractured right wrist, registers as the most notable exclusion in the Charlotte Hornets' alpha lineup. That's not really an indictment of this process.

    This particular group received ample run earlier in the season, when everyone except Miles Bridges was starting. And it remains one of Charlotte's five most played units on the season. (A LaMelo-headlined lineup makes the cut if we remove the sample-size benchmarks.)

    The Hornets' offensive display during these minutes aligns with the personnel. Using Miles Bridges and P.J. Washington up front lets them stretch the defense across every position. None of Devonte Graham, Terry Rozier or Gordon Hayward will use that space to put high-end pressure on the rim, but they are all threats to work off the dribble and stroke standstill jumpers.  

    Charlotte's offensive rating settles at 126.6 with these five on the floor, through which time it's shooting 40 percent from long distance and 67.7 percent at the rim.

    Success at the other end is tougher to explain and much less tenable. Opponents are taking a lot of threes but draining them at a 21.4 percent clip, and this lineup currently profiles as decidedly above average on the defensive glass.

Chicago Bulls

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Lineup: Coby White, Zach LaVine, Troy Brown Jr., Lauri Markkanen, Daniel Theis

    Possessions Played: 48

    Adjusted Net Rating: 42.4

    Pretty much any Chicago Bulls combination with Zach LaVine would have tracked, so this passes that sniff test. Thaddeus Young's absence is a mild surprise. Nikola Vucevic's exclusion is a smidgen disarming, especially when two other trade-deadline acquisitions, Troy Brown Jr. and Daniel Theis, make the cut.

    At the same time, this isn't some fly-by-night return.

    Brown, LaVine, Theis, Lauri Markkanen and Coby White make up Chicago's second-most played quintet since the trade deadline. Their sample size is tiny relative to the entire season but not so much in the pantheon of Bulls lineups.

    Only 15 of the team's other combinations have logged more court time for the entire year. None leap off the page as demonstratively. This clique has a raw net rating of 77.4 and offensive rating of 162.5, marks anchored by their 53.8 percent shooting from downtown (7-of-13) and 84.6 percent conversion rate around the rim.

Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Lineup: Collin Sexton, Lamar Stevens, Dylan Windler, Cedi Osman, Jarrett Allen

    Possessions Played: 46

    Adjusted Net Rating: 8.6

    Other, slightly more predictable options abound if we include players no longer on the Cleveland Cavaliers—namely, Andre Drummond and JaVale McGee. Even by those measures, though, Darius Garland, Larry Nance Jr. and Isaac Okoro loom as noticeable absences.

    It is difficult to say whether the Collin Sexton-Lamar Stevens-Dylan Winder-Cedi Osman-Jarrett Allen fivesome checks the go-to-lineup box. They haven't played together since the trade deadline, in large part because Windler (right knee) has made just one six-minute appearance during that time.

    Still, this is a configuration that should work together over an extrapolated sample, albeit maybe not to the tune of a 19.6 net rating. Sexton gives them their every-level scorer, Allen and Stevens put different forms of pressure on the rim, and both Osman (30 percent) and Windler (33.8 percent) can prop up three-point volume despite unsavory long-range clips.

Dallas Mavericks

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    Richard W. Rodriguez/Associated Press

    Lineup: Jalen Brunson, Tim Hardaway Jr., Luka Doncic, Dorian Finney-Smith, Willie Cauley-Stein

    Possessions Played: 94

    Adjusted Net Rating: 30.1

    We might need to pour one out for this five-person compilation, at least on nights when the Dallas Mavericks are fully healthy up front. Willie Cauley-Stein has fallen on the outskirts of the rotation since just before the trade deadline and doesn't have a clear path to reentry with Kristaps Porzingis, Maxi Kleber, Dwight Powell and, apparently, both Nicolo Melli and Tyler Bey in front of him.

    Anyway: Sweet mother of offensive firepower.

    Dallas has pumped in 157.4 per 100 possessions with these five on the court while notching an absurd 48.8 percent clip (21-of-43) from beyond the arc. That isn't quite predictable, but it also doesn't come out of nowhere. The blend of floor spacing, self-creation and in-between touch the Mavericks get from the Jalen Brunson-Tim Hardaway Jr.-Luka Doncic troika is hell on opposing defenses.

    Subbing out Cauley-Stein for Porzingis has neither elevated nor preserved the sanctity of this lineup's returns. That version of this arrangement has coughed up a 157.3 defensive rating across 76 possessions. Kleber has proved to be the better option over a much smaller sample, so Dallas might want to explore his fit if Cauley-Stein is banished for good.

Denver Nuggets

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Lineup: Jamal Murray, Will Barton, P.J. Dozier, Michael Porter Jr., Nikola Jokic

    Possessions Played: 50

    Adjusted Net Rating: 26.5

    Nearly every possible Denver Nuggets lineup was going to bring a pang of sadness with it. Jamal Murray is a staple of their most dangerous units, and he's now out for the season after tearing the ACL in his left knee.

    Granted, this lineup probably ran out its shelf life before then. Denver became more likely to polish off the Murray-Will Barton-Michael Porter Jr.-Nikola Jokic quartet with Aaron Gordon, Paul Millsap or Monte Morris. The version with Morris actually placed second in adjusted net rating among all qualified Nuggets combinations.

    This exact group delivered at both ends during its limited stints but was most flammable on offense. The Nuggets scored at a rate of 148 points per 100 possessions with these five in the game, over which time they drilled 47.1 percent of their threes and 60 percent of their mid-range attempts.

    Realistically, Denver's offense maintains its nuclear appeal no matter who they play beside Murray, Barton, Porter and Jokic. But while losing Murray doesn't damn the team to irrelevance, his absence is a void that can't be filled by any singular player on the roster.

Detroit Pistons

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    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    Lineup: Saben Lee, Saddiq Bey, Josh Jackson, Jerami Grant, Isaiah Stewart

    Possessions Played: 65

    Adjusted Net Rating: 3.6

    Ruling out players no longer on the Detroit Pistons created quite the pickle.

    Blake Griffin, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Derrick Rose and Delon Wright are wearing different uniforms and all made appearances. The selection pool was further narrowed by the sample baseline. So many of Detroit's best five-man units have seen fewer than the team's average number of possessions per lineup (roughly 41).

    Saben Lee, Saddiq Bey, Josh Jackson, Jerami Grant and Isaiah Stewart eventually met criteria. And though they have not been a recent mainstay, they do form one of the Pistons' 11 most-used combinations.

    Poor three-point shooting within this group has not slowed its offensive progression. Nearly 40 percent of this quintet's looks are coming at the rim, where it's admittedly finishing at a below-average clip. The defense, meanwhile, has done a nice job limiting looks at the rim while coaxing opponents into mid-range jumpers.

Golden State Warriors

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    Carmen Mandato/Associated Press

    Lineup: Stephen Curry, Kent Bazemore, Kelly Oubre Jr., Draymond Green, James Wiseman

    Possessions Played: 96

    Adjusted Net Rating: 13.3

    Accepting any Golden State Warriors return first requires we ask a question: Does the lineup include Stephen Curry? If so, then we're good.

    Ergo, we're good.

    James Wiseman's torn right meniscus likely prevents this group from sponging up any more court time, but these five were already a memento of Golden State's rotation. The Curry-Wiseman-Kent Bazemore-Kelly Oubre Jr.-Draymond Green fivesome hasn't seen the floor for over a month.

    Rationalizing this unit's inclusion still isn't hard. It ranks as the Warriors' seventh-most used lineup on the season and features three of their most important players in Curry, Green and Wiseman.

    Less explainable is their offensive rating, which comes in at 125 on the back of a 41.7 percent success rate from distance (15-of-36) and 82.8 percent clip at the rim.

    Point-blank looks can be gimmes across confined samples, so Golden State's finishing around the hoop is believable during these stretches. But this lineup has, like, 1.5 above-average shooters within it depending on how you feel about Bazemore. The man-myth-legend that is Stephen Curry must be ferrying this clique's outside accuracy almost entirely on his own.

Houston Rockets

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    Troy Taormina/Associated Press

    Lineup: John Wall, Kevin Porter Jr., Jae'Sean Tate, Christian Wood, Kelly Olynyk

    Possessions Played: 192

    Adjusted Net Rating: 17.2

    Finding the Houston Rockets' lineup du jour wasn't all that difficult despite their gradual quasi-teardown.

    John Wall, Kevin Porter Jr., Jae'Sean Tate, Christian Wood and Kelly Olynyk already populate their most-used grouping, and only six combinations finished with a higher adjusted net rating—all of which failed to meet the team's average-possessions-played criteria. We should be impressed.

    Whether the success of this arrangement can endure is a separate matter.

    These five players are shooting a blistering 69 percent at the rim and 37.8 percent from behind the rainbow during their time together. Their defensive rating has also somehow cracked the 94th percentile of all lineups who have logged at least 15 possessions … despite opponents connecting on 44.2 percent of their above-the-break treys.

    Logistically speaking, this lineup needs no context. The Rockets are rolling out four of their five best players—Eric Gordon is the most prominent absence, and he's shelved with a groin strain—and a high-risk, high-reward proposition in KPJ who has given the offense another effective downhill component.

Indiana Pacers

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    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    Lineup: T.J. McConnell, Aaron Holiday, Justin Holiday, Doug McDermott, Goga Bitadze

    Possessions Played: 78

    Adjusted Net Rating: 20.0

    Um, awkward.

    Injuries have ripped through the Indiana Pacers roster, and there's the Victor Oladipo trade to consider, too. You'd still expect to see at least one of Malcolm Brogdon, Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner, maybe even Caris LeVert, appear within Indiana's crowning lineup.

    Or perhaps not.

    T.J. McConnell, Aaron Holiday, Justin Holiday, Doug McDermott and Goga Bitadze haven't soaked up reps versus rival starters. They're technically not seeing much time together, period. Shifts in player availability have left Jeremy Lamb and Edmond Sumner to supplant Justin Holiday's minutes within this group. But the results these five have yielded during their stretches together is hardly farfetched knowing they get the chance to tussle with opposing second-stringers.

    Not that this much success should be the standard. The Pacers are posting a 143.6 offensive rating with these five, a mark buoyed by an incomprehensibly high second-chance rebounding rate (38.5) and nonsensical 55.6 percent shooting on above-the-break threes.

    Their defensive tenability is equally surprising, although not entirely unfathomable. Holiday has long been a whiz at guarding up versus non-stars, Bitadze moves a lot better in the half-court, and McConnell camps out underneath his opponent's skin.

Los Angeles Clippers

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    Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

    Lineup: Reggie Jackson, Nicolas Batum, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Serge Ibaka

    Possessions Played: 157

    Adjusted Net Rating: 26.2

    Zero surprises here. Sort of.

    Few could have predicted Nicolas Batum would be second—second—on the Los Angeles Clippers in total minutes played for this long. That Reggie Jackson leads all point guards in court time is easier to accept given Patrick Beverley's injury issues, but it still registers on the "Um, what?" scale.

    Perception is otherwise reality. This group was the Clippers' second-most used lineup prior to Serge Ibaka's lower-back injury and remains third overall. And with both Paul George and Kawhi Leonard occupying slots, this unit has no eye-widening exclusions.

    Much like the Clippers at large, this fivesome is doing the damn thing on the offense. It's downing 52.5 percent of its triples (32-of-61) and 52.6 percent of its long mid-range attempts. The offensive rating sits at 138.2, which pairs nicely beside a defense that has supplemented spotty rim protection with pressure on the perimeter.

    Beverley's availability and the arrival of Rajon Rondo will invariably knife into the amount of time Jackson logs with the other four. Overall, though, this is a lineup configuration that should stick into the postseason.

Los Angeles Lakers

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Lineup: LeBron James, Alex Caruso, Wesley Matthews, Markieff Morris, Montrezl Harrell

    Possessions Played: 56

    Adjusted Net Rating: 32.4

    Lineup data for the Los Angeles Lakers is all over the place. Anthony Davis' absence from this group sticks out like Kyle Kuzma with blonde hair, but he's now missed more than half of the season (right calf strain).

    LeBron James himself is (kind of lucky) to snag an appearance. Some of the Lakers' most-used lineups have yielded less-than-stellar results, and he hasn't played since March 20 after suffering a high right ankle sprain.

    This result still isn't as obscure as it might seem. It basically amounts to LeBron-plus-the-bench when the Lakers are at full capacity, a recipe that tends to work out quite well. Los Angeles is outscoring opponents by 9.9 points per 100 possessions whenever he plays without the other most common starters (Davis, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marc Gasol, Dennis Schroder).

    This lineup is an extension of that success. It is just the seventh-most used fivesome among LeBron-and-second-stringer combinations (note: Markieff Morris has now started 24 games), but what it lacks in pure volume it makes up for with an offensive rating verging on 148.2 and raw net rating of … 57.0.

    Debate the sustainability of those numbers as you will. This quintet is shooting 75 percent at the rim and nearly 58 percent from distance. More reps will drag those splits down, but the overarching takeaway remains the same: LeBron-plus-the-bench is a model that just works.

Memphis Grizzlies

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Lineup: Tyus Jones, De'Anthony Melton, Desmond Bane, Brandon Clarke, Xavier Tillman

    Possessions Played: 55

    Adjusted Net Rating: 21.6

    Ja Morant's absence would be a bigger deal if the Memphis Grizzlies' winning lineup primarily consisted of starters. It doesn't. This is an all-bench mob, a collection of replacement-level-or-better players who get to face off against other, mostly inferior backups.

    Total sustainability is, as always, in question. This fivesome is scaring offenses into low-percentage floaters and downing 62.5 percent of his its own threes despite being built around mostly afterthought shooters. Something would give if we expanded the sample—potentially opponent three-point accuracy.

    By the Grizzlies' lineup standards, though, this arrangement isn't a flash in the pan. It ranks as one of the team's 11 most played groupings across seven separate appearances.

    That might be teensy-tiny enough to write off, particularly on offense. (De'Anthony Melton's scattered availability has played a huge part in reducing their reps.)  But ask yourself: Would you, as an opposing offense, want to go up against a lineup that includes the collective nastiness of Melton, Tyus Jones, Brandon Clarke and Xavier Tillman?

Miami Heat

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    Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    Lineup: Tyler Herro, Jimmy Butler, Duncan Robinson, Trevor Ariza, Bam Adebayo

    Possessions Played: 52

    Adjusted Net Rating: 41.0

    Trevor Ariza is clearly the glue holding the Miami Heat together. He has yet to crack 15 appearances for them this season and is already a part of their most effective lineup. Coincidence? I think not.

    For real: It probably isn't a coincidence. The Heat spent the first part of the season searching for someone to fill the Jae Crowder void. Ariza has come closest, even with his shaky three-point shooting. (He's hitting 44.4 percent of his looks from deep over the last seven games.)

    Just so we're clear: Ariza is not the reason this quintet lands where it does. Better availability is a larger part of the equation. Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson didn't get a ton of time together before the start of March, and that foursome has long been Miami's most dangerous grouping—unless you're higher on a healthy Goran Dragic over Herro.

    Sample-size disclaimers in mind, the vitals on this lineup smack you in the face. The Heat are posting a 151.9 offensive rating and 78.4 defensive rating. My brain is a puddle right now.

    To what extent this unit becomes a go-to option likely depends on the play of Victor Oladipo. He's out with a right knee injury, but Miami is hell-bent on bringing Herro off the bench. Kendrick Nunn has moved into Oladipo's starting slot. That preference to some degree leaves the Herro-plus-starters blueprint at the mercy of the latter's play upon return and even Dragic's own floor time.

Milwaukee Bucks

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    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    Lineup: Jrue Holiday, Donte DiVincenzo, Pat Connaughton, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo

    Possessions Played: 66

    Adjusted Net Rating: 23.5

    And now you know why Giannis Antetokounmpo at the 5 is so darn mesmerizing.

    Though the Jrue Holiday-Donte DiVincenzo-Pat Connaughton-Khris Middleton quartet is the most deployed foursome within Giannis-as-the-lone-big arrangements, the Milwaukee Bucks acquired P.J. Tucker to change that up. He should get the long-term nod over Connaughton, health- and performance-permitting.

    This exact mix provides a nice fallback option if Tucker's struggles with the Houston Rockets weren't the byproduct of a crummy situation and had more to do with his approaching age 36. With these five on the floor, Bucks have a raw net rating of 37.3 and are downing 47.1 percent of their threes (8-of-17) and 96 percent of their free throws (24-of-25).

    Giannis-at-the-5 lineups have proved unstable defensively. This group doesn't shield Milwaukee against the trade-offs. It struggles on the glass and to protect the rim. Its defensive success rests on opponents canning an unsustainably low 21.4 percent of their above-the-break threes.

    Playing Giannis alongside Bobby Portis is an alternative that enables the Bucks to downsize without actually downsizing. Lineup data bills Porter as the 5 in those spots, but he and Giannis are interchangeable, and Porter has fared better than expected when switching.

    Indulging the pocket-sized combinations is still a worthwhile endeavor. Portis needs to defend well in the playoffs before earning the benefit of the doubt. The Bucks are more switchable with Connaughton on the floor—and up their snarling factor with Tucker in the fold.

Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Craig Lassig/Associated Press

    Lineup: Ricky Rubio, Malik Beasley, Anthony Edwards, Jarred Vanderbilt, Karl-Anthony Towns

    Possessions Played: 223

    Adjusted Net Rating: 10.1

    Anyone who knows about my affinity for Jarred Vanderbilit will accuse me of manipulating the process in his favor. I'm not saying I'm above that, but no special adjustments were made on his behalf.

    While Vanderbilt is basically out of the Minnesota Timberwolves' rotation—he's played recently because Karl-Anthony Towns has not—this lineup ranks as the team's second-most played this season. If you're thinking they could replicate this success by plugging in Jaden McDaniels for Vanderbilt, you're not alone. But that version of this group has fallen on its face at the defensive end.

    It is the complete opposite for this unit. The Timberwolves are allowing 107.8 points per 100 possessions with these five on the floor, putting them in the 87th percentile of all lineups that have logged at least 15 possessions. Any aggregation in Minnesota that hints at defensive competence has a leg-up in this exercise.

    This doesn't mean the Timberwolves have punted on some diamond in the rough. Opponents haven't struggled to hit shots when going up against this arrangement. Minnesota has merely forced a bunch of turnovers and controlled the defensive glass. That is valuable but not exactly telltale.

    Experimenting with Beasley (out with a left hamstring strain), Edwards and Towns is the real appeal within this unit. They have every level of the offensive end covered, and their suuuper limited run with D'Angelo Russell has been volcanic.

    Peppering in stronger defensive presences should technically be the endgame. Rubio fits that bill, but he hasn't tilted the scales on his own. Giving another shot to the Vanderbilt version of this lineup is worth a try, but the Timberwolves may be more inclined to focus on players who forecast as mainstays or lean into their greatest strength: offensive talent.

New Orleans Pelicans

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    Lineup: Kira Lewis Jr., Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Josh Hart, Zion Williamson, Jaxson Hayes

    Possessions Played: 125

    Adjusted Net Rating: 18.2

    Zion Williamson plus bench combinations?

    Yes, please.

    Injuries to Nickeil Alexander-Walker (ankle) and Josh Hart (thumb) have put this lineup out of commission for the time being, but their usage is through the roof. Only four other New Orleans Pelicans units have logged more possessions together, and the crux of their court time has coincided with Zion's additional reps on the ball. This will be an arrangement that rides again.

    Good thing, too. It's running roughshod over opponents at both ends.

    This group wants for proven volume from the perimeter but makes up for it tenfold with rim pressure. More than 47 percent of its shot attempts are coming at the hoop, and it lives in transition.

    Getting stops has been a non-issue (so far). Playing enemy second-stringers helps, but Hayes has improved as a decision-maker around the basket, and both Hart and Alexander-Walker are long enough to bust up plays. 

    Opposing offenses won't shoot 50 percent at the rim and 27.3 percent from long range until the end of time. That's fine. The Zion-plus-bench mob has margin for error—plenty of it.

New York Knicks

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    Wendell Cruz/Associated Press

    Lineup: Derrick Rose, Immanuel Quickley, Alec Burks, Obi Toppin, Taj Gibson

    Possessions Played: 208

    Adjusted Net Rating: 12.6

    So maybe this is why New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau insists upon starting Elfrid Payton: to preserve the holiness of the bench mob.

    That kind of makes sense until you remember Frank Ntilikina exists.

    But seriously: This group is the Knicks' third-most played lineup for the season, and it's pummelling opponents to the tune of a 17.2 raw net rating.

    Chugging along on offense may prove difficult. This unit is feasting on long mid-range jumpers and shooting under 33 percent from beyond the arc. But it is getting to the charity stripe at a lucrative clip—51-of-55 (92.7 percent) in 15 minutes—and posting a decent finishing rate around the basket.

    Just as much, if not more, credit goes to the defense—which is unequivocally wild given how awkward and out of sorts Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley look at times. Opponents are shooting under 50 percent at the rim and sub-32-percent from downtown.

    How responsible the Knicks are for the former remains a source of debate. I lean toward rival three-point shooting being more strategy than fluke. There is a rhyme and reason to how the entire team—not just this lineup—guards the arc. They swarm above the break and will help off weaker snipers in the corners.

    Put another way: This bench mob's success seems for real. And nobody should interpret its triumph as RJ Barrett and Julius Randle erasure. They would make appearances if we ditched the sample baseline. More than that, the sheer amount of minutes they've racked up, including within starting units, expose them to more of New York's ebbs and flows.

Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Garett Fisbeck/Associated Press

    Lineup: Theo Maledon, Luguentz Dort, Aleksej Pokusevski, Isaiah Roby, Moses Brown

    Possessions Played: 46

    Adjusted Net Rating: 13.4

    The Oklahoma City Thunder didn't make identifying in-house royalty times five easy on us. Trading Hamidou Diallo and George Hill nixed a bunch of possibilities. Waiving Justin Jackson turned out to be sneaky annoying relative to our results. Shutting down Al Horford plus Shai Gilgeous-Alexander's right foot injury complicated matters, creating an environment in which sample sizes were on the teensier end of the spectrum.

    Spotlighting a lineup that doesn't include SGA is the cost of this all-over-the-place team. He was compromised by a modest sample and desultory lineup distribution without Diallo, Hill, Horford and Jackson.

    That beckoned more recent revelations—including this one. Theo Maledon, Luguentz Dort, Aleksej Pokusevski, Isaiah Roby and Moses Brown have pieced together their entire (three-game) sample since just before the trade deadline.

    Extreme newness casts doubt. This quintupling relies on a 42.9 percent offensive rebounding rate to get by on the more glamorous end and has seen its opponents shoot under 17 percent from behind the three-point line.

    None of which is to say this lineup is a sham. Everyone within it intrigues. Maledon knows how to run an offense and will be a force if he can channel his inner scoring aggression more often. Brown revels in the defensive dirty work. Pokusevski's confidence is aspirational. Roby knows no position (almost). Dort is a scorer now, apparently, in addition to being one of the NBA's most terrifying defenders.

Orlando Magic

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Lineup: Michael Carter-Williams, Terrence Ross, James Ennis, Chuma Okeke, Wendell Carter Jr.

    Possessions Played: 20

    Adjusted Net Rating: 27.7

    Concessions needed to be made on the Orlando Magic's behalf after they gutted their team at—and further after—the trade deadline. Only one lineup this season has cleared 50 possessions without all of Al-Farouq Aminu, Khem Birch, Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic. Overall sample size was thrown by the wayside for sanity's sake.

    That leaves us with this masterpiece featuring Michael Carter-Williams, Terrence Ross, James Ennis, Chuma Okeke and Wendell Carter Jr. They have played a very substantial, not-at-all-insignificant nine minutes across three games together.

    And oh, what a glorious nine minutes it has been.

    Orlando's GOAT lineup is shooting 65 percent on two-pointers, including 78.6 percent at the rim, and has limited opponents to sub-34-percent clips at both the rim and from beyond the arc. This is obviously sustainable, and we should totally expect it to hold over the bigger picture.

Philadelphia 76ers

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Lineup: Ben Simmons, Shake Milton, Seth Curry, Tobias Harris, Joel Embiid

    Possessions Played: 102

    Adjusted Net Rating: 32.0

    Confirmation bias feels great!

    Going into this shindig, the Philadelphia 76ers ranked among the more predictable situations. Their best five-man cabal would include Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris at the 4, and then probably Ben Simmons because of how much time he's spent alongside both. The final two spots would then go to some mix of Seth Curry, Danny Green, Shake Milton and Matisse Thybulle.

    So, this checks out.

    Milton's inclusion is the closest thing to a surprise, but it's the mildest of shocks. He's beefed up his efficiency from the floor since the start of March. Curry came close to a no-brainer, as Philly's resident fire-spitter.

    More surprising than anything is the Sixers' modest reliance on this unit. Embiid has missed a bunch of time, but he's logged almost 1,200 possessions next to Curry, Harris and Simmons. Green has seen the most time as the fifth wheel since he rounds out the starting lineup, but there should be room to finagle more Milton-plus-the-bigwigs minutes.

    The Milton-plus-starters group—which is Philly's ninth-most played cohort—has a raw net rating of 53.6 and is liquidating defenses from the perimeter, finding nylon on 45 percent of its threes and 55.4 percent of its long mid-range jumpers.

Phoenix Suns

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Lineup: Cameron Payne, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, Dario Saric

    Possessions Played: 58

    Adjusted Net Rating: 34.4

    Chris Paul's absence is hardly indefensible. The Phoenix Suns' most-used lineups went through a visible feeling-out process at the beginning of the season, and every combination that didn't have Dario Saric manning the 5 was put at a disadvantage. That structure has flat-out annihilated the opposition, which helps explain Deandre Ayton (playing well right now!) missing the cut.

    Make of this particular grouping what you will. It hasn't seen the floor since the trade deadline despite every member remaining part of the rotation. That comes across as egregious when this fivesome is detonating from all over the floor and "holding" opponents to sub-30-percent shooting away from the rim. Phoenix has simply been more inclined to partner the Booker-Payne-Saric minutes with Torrey Craig and Cameron Johnson.

    If you want to take away something from this, let it be that the Suns are more than CP3. They are outpacing opponents by 11.2 points per 100 possessions during Booker's solo reps, which is why the recent clamoring for Paul to receive cursory MVP consideration feels a bit odd.

    Phoenix didn't travel to these heights before him, and he deserves a mountain of credit. Without him, though, this would still be the best supporting cast Booker has ever played beside. That matters.

Portland Trail Blazers

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    Craig Mitchelldyer/Associated Press

    Lineup: Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Norman Powell, Robert Covington, Jusuf Nurkic

    Possessions Played: 217

    Adjusted Net Rating: 14.1

    The Portland Trail Blazers have wasted little time milking their new starting five. They didn't have Norman Powell on the team or Jusuf Nurkic back in the rotation until after the trade deadline yet this group is on pace to be their most played lineup by the end of the season.

    As someone who wasn't a proponent of the Powell deal, I'm starting to see the light—aka the Blazers' vision.

    Over 38 percent of their looks are coming at the rim with this quintet on the court. Powell gives the offense a greased-lightning downhill element it didn't have before and was never going to get from Gary Trent Jr. His three-point shooting has dipped a tad but remains decidedly above board, too.

    Attaching Robert Covington to all Powell-Damian Lillard-CJ McCollum triplings feels non-negotiable. The Blazers need someone to throw at bigger wings, and Powell stands only 6'4". But the Blazers showed no qualms about closing with Carmelo Anthony over Covington in their April 13 loss to the Boston Celtics. They acquired Powell to juice up their offense and appear unafraid to lean into it.

    This group is thriving on the less-glamorous end thanks to opponents shooting 26.7 percent on non-corner threes. That number should climb and eat into the sub-101 defensive rating, but this lineup is so stacked with offensive firepower it might not matter. These five are scoring 119.4 points per 100 possessions and nailing 44.7 percent of their above-the-break threes—and it feels sustainable.

Sacramento Kings

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

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

    Possessions Played: 886

    Adjusted Net Rating: 7.6

    De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes, Marvin Bagley III and Richaun Holmes just so happen to be the Sacramento Kings' most-used five-man alignment. They also edge out the second-most played combination, which features rookie Tyrese Haliburton instead of Bagley and has an adjusted net rating of 6.4.

    The winning lineup is kaput for the time being. Bagley is out indefinitely with a fractured left hand, paving the way for the Kings to downsize arrangements that include Fox, Hield, Barnes and Holmes.

    Functionally, this doesn't profile as the Kings' best lineup. The version with Haliburton offers more defensive zest, though the numbers have the two combinations neck-and-neck and, ultimately, sucking at the less glamorous end.

    Offensively, this five-person combo is a well-balanced machine. It could stand to take more threes but ranks in the 88th percentile or higher in efficiency from every scoring level among lineups to record at least 15 possessions.

San Antonio Spurs

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Lineup: Dejounte Murray, Patty Mills, Devin Vassell, Rudy Gay, Jakob Poeltl

    Possessions Played: 184

    Adjusted Net Rating: 24.8

    Props to anyone who had expectations for the San Antonio Spurs heading into this exercise. You could have told me any combination of players graded out as No. 1 beforehand, and I'd have bought it.

    Defaulting to a bench mob, even with the second unit's recent slippage, would have been the smartest call. This group is kind of, sort of, just that.

    Most of its minutes came before Jakob Poeltl entered the starting five, making it a Dejounte Murray-plus-backups special. Its breadth of success is easy to buy within that context. This unit isn't going to allow 43.9 percent shooting at the rim forever (related: !!!), but it strikes a balance of positional defenders and floor spacers, lacking only someone to put pressure on the rim outside Poeltl's rolls.

    Of note: This group may have already played its swan song unless head coach Gregg Popovich tinkers with his rotations. It continues to be the Spurs' third-most used cohort of the season, but Murray, Poeltl, Rudy Gay, Patty Mills and Devin Vassell have logged just five minutes since Poeltl was promoted to the starting unit.

Toronto Raptors

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Lineup: Malachi Flynn, Gary Trent Jr. OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Chris Boucher

    Possessions Played: 103

    Adjusted Net Rating: 14.7

    It is fitting that the bee's knees of Toronto Raptors lineups grades out as one that didn't exist before the trade deadline.

    Sketchy availability from Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet has foisted a heavier workload upon the combination of rookie Malachi Flynn, Gary Trent Jr., OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and Chris Boucher. They already form one of Toronto's six most played lineups, and more importantly, they're working. Their raw net rating slides in at 20.5, with an offensive rating of 127.2.

    Ridiculously accurate mid-range shooting won't hold over the longer haul, but the skeleton of this lineup is one the Raptors can fiddle with to create equitably dangerous combinations. Yank Flynn for VanVleet, and you get a lineup with an adjusted net rating of 21.6 that only failed to qualify for the average court time from Toronto units by four possessions.

    Jettisoning Norman Powell at the trade deadline cost the Raptors a north-south element to their offense, but Trent is just as equipped to knock down looks from the perimeter and provides a dab more defensive range when it comes to pestering wings.

    This lineup, and ones of similar construction, remain proof that Toronto is better than its record. The Anunoby-Boucher-Siakam trio provides a nice base alone. It doesn't solve the team's warts on the defensive glass but has a raw net rating of 13.9 this season.

    A fully healthy Raptors squad gets to fill out five-man blocks with two of Lowry, Trent and VanVleet. Flynn's defensive tenacity earns him an honorary spot in that club. If Toronto brings everyone back—a big, fat if with Lowry and Trent (restricted) hitting free agency—it will be a forced to be reckoned with next year. It might even still have time to upend the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff picture this season.

Utah Jazz

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Lineup: Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Royce O'Neale, Joe Ingles, Rudy Gobert

    Possessions Played: 116

    Adjusted Net Rating: 28.6

    Figuring out the Utah Jazz's most effective lineup was a straightforward process before digging into the granular details. A league-low 39 combinations have logged at least 15 possessions—a testament to their good health—and their final pick was always going to include Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, then be filled out by two players from the Bojan Bogdanovic-Joe Ingles-Royce O'Neale triumvirate.

    Ingles and O'Neale ended up as the finishing touches. The resulting five-person composition hasn't received much run since the trade deadline but is still one of Utah's 10 most played amalgams on the year.

    Two-way dominance is a given of basically every heavily played Jazz lineup. This is no exception. These five players combine to shoot 68 percent at the rim and 40.4 percent on threes and are holding opponents to—*quadruple-checks notes*—a mind-meltingly low 38.9 percent clip around the rim. (Not sure who needs to hear this, but Rudy Gobert is really good.)

    Utah has so many different ways it can complete arrangements around Conley, Mitchell and Gobert. Going with Bogdanovic and O'Neale seems to be the default; it is the Jazz's most-used starting five. But subbing out Bogdanovic for Ingles creates a mix of talent that deserves more time.

Washington Wizards

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    Geoff Burke/Associated Press

    Lineup: Russell Westbrook, Bradley Beal, Isaac Bonga, Deni Avdija, Thomas Bryant

    Possessions Played: 55

    Adjusted Net Rating: 19.0

    If you had to guess before the start of the season, you'd probably assume any top-dog lineup from the Washington Wizards included Bradley Beal, Thomas Bryant and Russell Westbrook. Factor in the Westbrook skeptics, and you'd still be left with a Beal-and-Bryant-plus-point-guard framework.

    Seeing Isaac Bonga and rookie Deni Avdija here is genuinely shocking. Equally surprising is the fact no lineup has usurped this group. Bryant hasn't played since early January after tearing the ACL in his left knee.

    Clearing the 50-possession touchstone earned this unit entry into the possibility pool no matter what, but it actually owns the sixth-highest adjusted net rating of all Wizards lineups. And the surprises keep on coming with how they arrive here: thanks to a defensive rating of 75.

    Alarms should be sounding in our heads. A fivesome with Beal, Bryant, Westbrook and a rookie wing would in no way have kept delivering on defense. Opponents were generating just 20 percent of their looks at the rim and burying only 13.3 percent of their threes. This lineup was worth testing out in bunches with everyone healthy, but its brand of "dominance" was more likely than not a gift from the small-sample gods


    Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.comBasketball ReferenceStathead or Cleaning the Glass and accurate through Tuesday's games. Salary information via Basketball Insiders and Spotrac.

    Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale), and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by NBA Math's Adam Fromal.


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