The 1 Lineup We Want to See from Every NBA Team This Season

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistOctober 20, 2021

The 1 Lineup We Want to See from Every NBA Team This Season

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    There is a time and a place for taking the construction and performance of NBA lineups seriously.

    This is neither.

    After going through every squad's most likely starting five, potential 10-man rotation and best crunch-time unit, embracing the fun and the weird tops our to-do list. And with that comes the license to do—well, whatever we want.

    Each concocted fivesome has a specific appeal. That draw will vary. It isn't always about putting the best players on the floor or paving the way for net-positive data. Sure, stars will seldom be bounced from these theoretical units. Some may even turn out to be highly realistic setups.

    More than anything, though, this is about traveling off the beaten path. From combinations assembled around all wings or four guards to arrangements teeming with shooters, playmakers, defenders or relative unknowns, this is an exercise in curiosity, entertainment, innovation, huggable snark and at times, since yours truly is responsible for the results, a little unhinged vanity.

    Let's get weird.

Atlanta Hawks

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    Lineup We NEED to See

    • Trae Young
    • Kevin Huerter
    • Cam Reddish
    • De'Andre Hunter
    • Jalen Johnson

    I am boarding the Jalen Johnson-at-the-5 plane chartered by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Sarah K. Spencer on the Hardwood Knocks podcast (56:25 mark):

    "I get really entertained when there's a tiny lineup and then a gigantic lineup. I'm just so intrigued by how [Johnson] is going to do at this level. It might not happen too much this season. But I just think his ability to pass is going to be interesting...I want to see it. Just throw it out there one day."

    Head coach Nate McMillan sounds like he's willing to test this out. Count me in. And let the Hawks go all wings while they're at it.

    Every lineup is more fun with Trae Young, so we won't go full all-wing. Atlanta is free to pull him for Bogdan Bogdanovic or, heck, even Solomon Hill. As long as Johnson is the 5, it doesn't matter.

Boston Celtics

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    Lineup We NEED to See

    • Payton Pritchard
    • Dennis Schroder
    • Marcus Smart
    • Jaylen Brown
    • Jayson Tatum

    The sheer number of bigs on the Boston Celtics roster suggests they'll rarely, if ever, downsize to this degree.

    Do you care to sigh in exasperation right along with me?

    In the event they do embrace pocket-sized combinations, this is not the most likely route. Josh Richardson is bound to curry consideration over one of Schroder and Pritchard. But this unit offers five ball-handlers—and a whole lot of entertainment value if Pritchard brings his sugar-high dribble attacks from summer league with him.

Brooklyn Nets

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    Lineup We NEED to See

    Bouncing Kyrie Irving from this grouping is now mandatory until he's willing to rejoin the team. And even if the Nets have all three of their megastars on hand, they should still have an inkling to get weird during the stints in which they're staggered.

    Durant-at-the-5 is a concept I love, one you should too, and an easy ticket to the five-out approach. Carter's end-to-end defense and off-ball shooting fits nicely inside a lineup giving up a ton of size. Thomas, meanwhile, is a literal, actual bucket.

    To be honest, I'm not sure what winds up happening when putting those three beside Harden and Harris. I'd like to find out, though. Opposing offenses probably would, too. Whatever.

Charlotte Hornets

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    Lineup We NEED to See

    • LaMelo Ball
    • James Bouknight
    • Jalen McDaniels
    • Miles Bridges
    • Kelly Oubre Jr.

    Please, Mr. James Borrego, for the love of everything, give us this LaMelo-plus-wings lineup.

    Tinkering with this combination to include Gordon Hayward makes lots of sense. He is a more proven playmaker and shooter than just about everyone else. But throwing in Bouknight, McDaniels and Oubre caters to a go-go-go style over which I'm prepared to swoon.

    Above all, this category is meant to be experimental. Fielding this fivesome typifies that spirit.

Chicago Bulls

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    Lineup We NEED to See

    • Lonzo Ball
    • Troy Brown Jr.
    • Zach LaVine
    • Javonte Green
    • Patrick Williams

    Since we're all friends, I'll let you in on a little secret: This would also be my ideal small-ball (and five-out) combo for the Chicago Bulls. Brown has more variance in his ball-handling bag than Alex Caruso, and Green, while far smaller than Derrick Jones Jr., has shown he can tussle with bigger bodies.

    This quintet is nevertheless too off-the-walls to demand it become a staple. Brown over Caruso could be a discussion if the former's shot heads in the right direction, but running out sub-6'5" players (Green) to guard 4s isn't yet the standard.

    With all that in mind, who the capital-F cares? We need to see this fivesome in action, playing at a whirlwind pace. If nothing else, the fun factor should be through the roof.

Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Lineup We NEED to See

    • Ricky Rubio
    • Darius Garland
    • Collin Sexton
    • Isaac Okoro
    • Evan Mobley

    Selecting Rubio-plus-the-kids isn't all that methodical. I have very little idea whether this group can manufacture enough shooting and overall offense. I just want to see it.

    There is a general premise: surround Garland and Sexton with what could be three average-or-better defenders. Jarrett Allen is a safer pick than Mobely to meet that criteria, but his lack of offensive range derails his candidacy among the rest of The Kids.

    Small-ball addicts will want a more micro setup. Cleveland's roster isn't built for that brand of experimentation. Lauri Markkanen can be plugged into Mobley's spot, but he's not actually, and his floor game is worse.

Dallas Mavericks

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    Lineup We NEED to See

    • Luka Doncic
    • Sterling Brown
    • Frank Ntilikina
    • Reggie Bullock
    • Dorian Finney-Smith

    Let's call this "Luka-plus-wings-who-will-bust-their-butts-on-defense."

    Brown had a legitimately impactful year with the Houston Rockets last season. He converted more than 42 percent of his threes and guards above his 6'5" frame. Those who are out on Ntilikina will cry foul, but his best role has been that of a smaller three-and-D wing for some time. Streamline his usage on offense, and you'll have made room for a defensive workaholic.

    Sliding Bullock and Finney-Smith up to the 4 and 5, respectively, is all sorts of precarious. Head coach Jason Kidd likely isn't creative or, for that matter, fun enough to try it out.

    I will accept Kidd yanking The French Prince for Maxi Kleber, albeit begrudgingly, with an over-the-top surliness, as raw bitterness drips from every word I speak about it. OK, as it turns out, I won't accept the Kleber-for-Ntilikina swap.

    Will this group rebound? Or hold up versus burlier frontcourts? Cause Kristaps Porzingis to pout from the sidelines? There's only one way to find out.

Denver Nuggets

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    Lineup We NEED to See

    • Monte Morris
    • Bones Hyland
    • P.J. Dozier
    • Aaron Gordon
    • Nikola Jokic

    Did I consider pulling Jokic, for a split second, in favor of a smaller unit with Gordon at the 5 and Michael Porter Jr. on the court? Maybe. (I did.) But I have a tough time selling any lineup as fun, let alone more fun than usual, when Jokic isn't at the center of it.

    Sticking the reigning MVP beside Hyland and a bunch of capable defenders is instead the call. Bizzy Bones is already playing with exceptional confidence and, most importantly, substance. His off-the-dribble three is a thing. He looks the part of a deft passer. His limbs have the malleability of overcooked spaghetti on finishes around the cup—a good thing.

    Measuring the entertainment value of a lineup in which he's next to Jokic and has the absolute green light is difficult, but only because we don't have barometers that go up to infinity.

    Gordon, Dozier and Morris aren't throw-ins just because they work on defense. All of them are comfortable working off the ball yet do enough on it that they can up their responsibility in a pinch. Including MPJ wouldn't make this lineup any less fun, just so we're clear. This is all about ensuring Bones cedes touches and status to no one other than Jokic.

Detroit Pistons

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    Lineup We NEED to See

    • Cade Cunningham
    • Hamidou Diallo
    • Josh Jackson
    • Saddiq Bey
    • Jerami Grant

    All-wing lineups are the bee's knees. The thing is, most are untenable. This might not be an exception.

    Fielding five perimeter players is usually done with the intention of inundating defenses with ball-handling and shooting. This Detroit Pistons quintet doesn't follow that theme. Diallo and Jackson are iffy marksmen, and there are limits, at minimum, to how much the ball should be in the hands of them and Bey.

    Imagine giving a damn.

    Grant-at-the-5 combos are a veiled weapon head coach Dwane Casey should be willing to plumb. He showed enough comfort with the ball in his hands to be a nightmarish matchup as the pseudo 5, and Detroit should eke out just enough of an aggregative floor game between him, Cunningham and flash touches from the other three.

    This could be the rare micro-unit that endears itself on defense. Bey is no stranger to rumbling with fringe bigs, while both Grant and Diallo compete their butts off. Cunnigham has the size to disrupt, even as a rookie. Jackson is 6'8" and defends with a half-governed aggression that culminates in both measurable impact plays and frustrating fouls. I would not be opposed to subbing in two-way player Chris Smith for the latter.

Golden State Warriors

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    Lineup We NEED to See

    • Stephen Curry
    • Klay Thompson
    • Moses Moody
    • Jonathan Kuminga
    • Draymond Green

    Minutes for the Golden State Warriors' kiddos figure to be sparse even before Klay Thompson returns to the court (presumably sometime in January). They're trying to win games, and championship windows cannot be pried open while emphasizing developmental reps for three critical youngsters in Kuminga, Moody and James Wiseman.

    So how about two?

    Probably not.

    This still needs to happen. It must. It has a present-meets-future vibe. Let Golden State's Big Three try to uplift the babies amid their baptism by fire. For his part, Moody should be able to space the floor on offense even if he's not ready to guard NBA wings. And Kuminga will sprinkle big-time plays at both ends into his avalanche of mistakes and general rawness.

    Again: This isn't a lineup you lean on to win games. It's one you try out of pure curiosity. I have no idea what happens, really, good or bad. That's part of its charm.

Houston Rockets

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    Lineup We NEED to See

    • Kevin Porter Jr.
    • Josh Christopher
    • Jalen Green
    • Usman Garuba
    • Alperen Sengun

    The Houston Rockets are obligated to give us the all-kids lineup after drafting and keeping four rookies in the first round. At least, they should be.

    KPJ is the "old" head of this the age of 21. That suggests this unit will be bad. Cool. Growing pains are part of rebuilding. Get them all reps. Together.

    Besides, Houston has a fighting chance on offense with this ensemble. Green and KPJ can drill haymakers, and Sengun has looked like a vet for stretches in the preseason. We will all enjoy watching Christopher and Garuba trying to wreak havoc on defense, too.

    Play. The. Kids.

Indiana Pacers

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    Lineup We NEED to See

    • Malcolm Brogdon
    • Caris LeVert
    • Chris Duarte
    • Justin Holiday
    • T.J. Warren

    Anyone actually reading this should know by now I'm a sucker for all-wing combos. This is the Indiana Pacers' masterpiece. It has five wing-sized players (Brogdon is a 6'5" point guard)—four of whom wield an operable floor game, plus a connector in Holiday who is extremely plug-and-play at both ends.

    Indiana can go in different directions if it's into downsizing. Replacing Duarte or LeVert with Oshae Brissett or Torrey Craig ups the defensive switchability. It also lowers the offensive entertainment value.

    Because head coach Rick Carlisle clearly cares what I think, I'll allow a Brissett-for-LeVert swap. But it has to be LeVert coming off the court.

    Duarte is at once the trustier spot-up guy and the player likelier to indulge and capitalize on a more brazen shot selection from beyond the arc. Also: Rookies are mystery boxes, even old rookies. And mystery boxes are fun. The rhythm with which Duarte plays, both on and off the ball, feels less deliberate and more sudden or improvisational.

    Yell into the void if you must. I don't make the rules. There are no rules.

Los Angeles Clippers

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    Lineup We NEED to See

    • Paul George
    • Keon Johnson
    • Nicolas Batum
    • Justise Winslow
    • Marcus Morris Sr.

    Another team, another all-wing lineup.

    This is, without question, the least likely all-wing composition on which the Los Angeles Clippers would ever lean. Keon Johnson is a rookie and offensive blank slate on a team that, even sans Kawhi Leonard, has immediate aspirations. Head coach Tyronn Lue moved Justise Winslow all over the place during preseason, but he is still Justise Winslow.

    Terance Mann is the safer option over either Johnson or Winslow. Ditto for Luke Kennard. But safer is boring. Winslow gives the Clippers more options against bigger wings and bigs who aren't wings, and Johnson has a 48-inch vertical.

    I'm not unreasonable, though. Realists in the comments should rest easy knowing Mann can replace Winslow and I'll complain only a little bit. More shooting is more shooting is more shooting. But Johnson needs to be here to maximize the intrigue.

Los Angeles Lakers

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    Lineup We NEED to See

    • LeBron James
    • Kent Bazemore
    • Talen Horton-Tucker
    • Trevor Ariza
    • Carmelo Anthony

    Imploring the Los Angeles Lakers to play small toes the line of futile. We can't even get them to start Anthony Davis at center, let alone use Ariza, Melo or LeBron as the pseudo 5. Housing both Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan, two players who no doubt expect to see the floor, complicates the small-ball cause.

    Too bad. This is our world. Nearly anything goes. And there will be at least a slight impetus for the Lakers to get wonky during non-AD minutes if the defense isn't good.

    This lineup should do damage on offense. Horton-Tucker, who will be out for a bit after having surgery on his right thumb, is the sole non-shooter. He is still good for some dribble penetration and looked increasingly comfortable as last season wore on with taking baby fadeaways.

    The defense might also be...not terrible. Ariza, Bazemore, THT and LeBron are all capable of playing average-or-much-better defense. Does that extend to Ariza or LeBron guarding 5s? Is stashing Melo on true bigs an actually not-crappy decision? Let's find out.

Memphis Grizzlies

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    Lineup We NEED to See

    • Ja Morant
    • De'Anthony Melton
    • Desmond Bane
    • Ziaire Williams
    • Kyle Anderson

    What in the actual hell did I just build? Not even I know. Clearly, we have to see it.

    Anderson-at-center isn't a real thing. Yet. He soaked up a whopping seven possessions there last season. Give us more. He is strong enough to wrestle with non-elite bigs, and this lineup at large will check the defensive-effort box. Melton is exhaustive. Anderson is smart. Williams tries more than he looks lost.

    Ah, yes. Williams. If the Memphis Grizzlies are going to indulge the weird, others will prefer they turn to John Konchar's slingshot or Dillon Brooks' reckless abandon off the dribble. Works for me. Williams could be a non-shooter.

    He could also be a revelatory shot-creator. He hit some ridiculously ridiculous looks that were ridiculous during summer league. Memphis needs another from-scratch maestro beside Morant. Maybe it's him.

    Leaving off Jaren Jackson Jr. stings a tad. He drained some nifty off-the-bounce jumpers himself in preseason. I don't regret bouncing any of the other bigs.

    Steven Adams doesn't belong with this group. Xavier Tillman Sr. is a go-getter and jacked some threes last year, but he'd be replacing someone—Anderson, Bane or Williams—with more of a floor game. I'm not sure what Brandon Clarke is anymore. I stand by this quirkiness.

Miami Heat

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    Marta Lavandier/Associated Press

    Lineup We NEED to See

    • Kyle Lowry
    • Tyler Herro
    • Victor Oladipo
    • Jimmy Butler
    • Duncan Robinson

    Keeping the crux of the Miami Heat's projected starting five and crunch-time unit—Lowry, Butler, Robinson, P.J. Tucker, Bam Adebayo—intact but replacing Tucker with Oladipo was up for consideration. Bleck. That's so conventional. Sorry, Bam.

    Forcing Robinson and Butler to match up with bigger players is probably a no-no. It isn't a death sentence.

    Embrace the bizarre, Miami. It isn't like the backup-big rotation is that much of a doozy. Dewayne Dedmon was fine last season but hasn't been standout good since 2018-19. There isn't much after him unless you're an Omer Yurtseven fan or for some reason believe Udonis Haslem should play. Sliding Tucker up to the 5 is very been-there, done-that, not-enough-shot-volume. Running out Markieff Morris has a similar feel, only with more dribbling and less defense.

    Failing any can't-miss center structures behind Adebayo, why not try this? It's four-out if you believe in Herro (I do), with the potential to reach five-out status if Butler gives into peer pressure. Four players can playmake with the ball in their hands while Robinson—who, by the way, has flashed some more complicated dribbling spunk—flies around the half court and ensures his defender gets in his cardio for the month.

    Aside from, um, real life getting in the way, Oladipo's recovery from a right quad injury looms as the biggest obstacle to this lineup's existence. But he's expected to play this year. That's good enough for me.

Milwaukee Bucks

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    Lineup We NEED to See

    • Jrue Holiday
    • Donte DiVincenzo
    • Grayson Allen
    • Khris Middleton
    • Giannis Antetokounmpo

    Giannis didn't get much tick last year without another big, namely Brook Lopez or Bobby Portis, on the floor. That should change. The concept of him as the sole big is too tantalizing to roll out for under 750 possessions at this point.

    Granted, the defense during Giannis' true center minutes wasn't great. He is at his best when he can zoom around without being restricted to a singular focus. That's not enough to back-burner this concept. Giannis and the defense can handle these reps. Less Bryn Forbes will help.

    Picking a fifth wheel to pair with the four other starters is a little dicey. Allen guarantees a whole bunch of shooting, a dab of dribbling and is a defensive upgrade over Forbes in size alone. Rodney Hood has an outside shot of working himself into this convo if he's knocking down his jumpers.

    Semi Ojeleye is the higher defensive floor, much lower offensive ceiling option. Thanasis Antetokounmpo defends like he doesn't have a player option for 2022-23, but Giannis' jumpers have to be falling at preseason frequency to surrender the spacing necessary to play the former. Including George Hill for these stretches leaves the Bucks a little too small.

Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Lineup We NEED to See

    • Patrick Beverley
    • Anthony Edwards
    • Malik Beasley
    • Jaden McDaniels
    • Jarred Vanderbilt

    Excluding Karl-Anthony Towns is all sorts of icky at first glance. But this clique is pure, unadulterated chaos, and D'Angelo Russell is getting the boot, too.

    These five offer super-high energy. They should play at a frenetic pace and expend a lot of smoke on defense, even if they're inevitably a net-negative at that end.

    Tossing in Towns for Vanderbilt is reasonable but, on some level, deprives Edwards of focal-point repetitions. KAT is neither ball-stopper nor primary creator, but he monopolizes possessions by being one of the best darn play-finishers from everywhere on the court. I want to see a lineup constructed to deliver borderline bedlam, with Edwards at the top of the food chain surrounded by three shooters and a big with end-to-end stamina so every-which-way it looks and feels and actually is nihilism incarnate.

New Orleans Pelicans

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    Lineup We NEED to See

    • Nickeil Alexander-Walker
    • Naji Marshall
    • Brandon Ingram
    • Trey Murphy III
    • Zion Williamson

    Why yes, the New Orleans Pelicans should deploy a Zion-plus-wings lineup in which everyone, including himself, stands 6'9" or smaller.

    Whether this amalgam holds up on defense is irrelevant. That's a question for pretty much every Pelicans unit. Marshall and Murphy and a more engaged Ingram would go a long way.

    If New Orleans doesn't think Marshall or Murphy can handle bigger covers, subbing out the former with Herbert Jones, who played some center in preseason, is perfectly fine. This setup is just more four-out, the dream scenario around Point Zion, and built to play really fast.

New York Knicks

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    Lineup We NEED to See

    • Kemba Walker
    • Miles McBride
    • Immanuel Quickley
    • RJ Barrett
    • Mitchell Robinson

    I call this lineup "Four Guards-Sort-Of-Plus-Robinson."

    Catchy, right?

    Barrett is basically a wing now. Forgive me. But he could play the 2 if the Knicks were constructed to slot him as the shooting guard. The name of this quintet sticks.

    Youngins are not usually a favorite for head coach Tom Thibodeau, but Quickley cracked last year's rotation as a rookie. McBride's inclusion is the biggest reach. And yet, he has a solid chance of endearing himself to Thibs with his defensive energy.

    Including Kemba over Derrick Rose—D-Rose and Quickley lineups were a killer last season—is by meticulous design. The goal here is to maximize Barrett's time on-ball and out of the corner while dotting him with at least three shooters. Kemba is less possession-dominant and the more proven outside marksman.

    Replacing Robinson with Randle juices the offense. It also takes away from Barrett's on-ball usage. Obi Toppin could be dropped into the middle for maximum fun, but I'm already begging Thibs to run out three players with fewer than four years of experience. Let's not push it. Anyway, a full-strength Robinson alongside Deuce and Barrett gives this compilation a puncher's chance, however slim, of not sucking something awful on defense.

Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Lineup We NEED to See

    • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
    • Josh Giddey
    • Jeremiah Robinson-Earl
    • Aleksej Pokusevski
    • Kenrich Williams

    After way too much time staring and thinking and falling in love with this Oklahoma City Thunder lineup proposal, I should have more insight into what exactly it does. I don't.

    Excluding Lu Dort feels wrong. But I wanted five wing-sized or, in Poku's case, wing-type players on the court at once. Dort is 6'3". Give me a glimpse into what JRE can do on defense at 6'9" and whether his three-ball falls while catching pitches from SGA and Giddey.

    Poku is mandated to crack any fun-weird-quirky lineup. He's a chaos engine. That's a compliment. His own team doesn't know what he'll do with the ball, so how could the defense? That unpredictable wackiness is not purely a novelty. Poku had a strong close to his rookie season.

    Williams, at 6'6", is the smallest player in this group yet would be the theoretical center. I just wanted to point that out.

    Mark Daigneault, if you're reading this, please give the people what they don't yet know they need but definitely, totally, unequivocally need.

Orlando Magic

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    Lineup We NEED to See

    • Cole Anthony
    • Markelle Fultz
    • Jalen Suggs
    • R.J. Hampton
    • Jonathan Isaac

    This is where the infancy of the Orlando Magic's rebuild comes in handy. Their core is so scattered. This year is about self-discovery. They have the impetus to try anything, and head coach Jamahl Mosley seems more open to the offbeat than his predecessor, Steve Clifford. He paired Wendell Carter Jr. and Mo Bamba in the frontcourt during preseason.

    Isaac-at-the-5 is the unicorn of Orlando lineup possibilities. It is beautiful but allegorical. He has sponged up fewer than 110 possessions at center since entering the league in 2017-18. The Magic had Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon during those three seasons, but that's still criminal. It needs to change once he returns.

    Pretty much any Isaac-at-the-5 mashup will suffice at this point. But as long as we have the license to imagineer, let's surround him with four guards and ball-handlers, three of whom have range from beyond the arc.

    Getting excited about Orlando's offense-at-large this year is a tall task. It needs more creators and deadly shooters. This lineup isn't drowning in the latter, but it hypes up the offense, even if only on paper. That's a win.

Philadelphia 76ers

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Lineup We NEED to See

    • Ben Simmons
    • Isaiah Joe
    • Seth Curry
    • Danny Green
    • Tobias Harris

    Simmons has returned to the Sixers in some capacity, which effectively obligates us to ride the chaos wave. Lineups without Joel Embiid are inherently less fun, but it sounds like his soon-to-be-former running mate wants to have his own team.

    This actualizes that vision. Sort of. Simmons-plus-four-shooters is the standard-bearer for any franchise tailored to his functional whims. Ideally, that lineup also includes a true center who stretches defenses beyond the arc—kind of like Embiid, but with much lower usage and a less exuberant personality, apparently.

    Tough noogies. This is who the Sixers have to field around him. Georges Niang can be substituted for Joe if Philly wants someone else to guard bigs. Then again, if preseason is a harbinger of things to come, Joe is the greatest shooter alive.

    Simmons-minus-bigs is not a lineup structure the Sixers have tied themselves to in the past. The results in scant reps last season (117 possessions) weren't great. It kind of puts a damper on the disingenuous "Simmons just needs a team built around him like Giannis" arguments.

    At the same time, these groups haven't seen nearly enough reps over the years to entirely write them off. Let's see more of them...while Simmons is still in Philly.

Phoenix Suns

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    Lineup We NEED to See

    • Devin Booker
    • Mikal Bridges
    • Abdel Nader
    • Cam Johnson
    • Jae Crowder

    Small ball was a Phoenix Suns staple for much of last season. Dario Saric soaked up most of the second-center minutes and was largely successful at doing so until the tail end of the season.

    Phoenix is no longer built to play that way with the same regularity. Saric is recovering from a torn left ACL, and the backup-5 rotation is populated by JaVale McGee, Frank Kaminsky and, if head coach Monty Williams dares, Jalen Smith.

    Uncorking a Johnson-Crowder frontline follows the Saric-at-center model in spirit. And it isn't a ludicrous suggestion. Johnson and Torrey Craig logged time last season without a big on the court. The returns weren't great, but sub-100 possessions isn't a large enough sample to render a sweeping verdict.

    Dual-agendas are being served here. I want—I need—to see Booker-at-point guard combinations get a more frequent shake. He has entered All-NBA territory as a shot-maker and passer while sacrificing usage in the name of Chris Paul's arrival. Giving him run without another primary ball-handler gasses up his All-NBA case while also letting Bridges probe more of his off-the-bounce game. Never has such a painfully obvious idea felt so friggin' good.

Portland Trail Blazers

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    Lineup We NEED to See

    To paraphrase Tara Bowen-Biggs from the We Have A Take podcast: "The Portland Trail Blazers already start three guards. Why not just play four?"

    Hell to the absolute yes.

    Let's put Nance in the middle while we're at it. He has drained enough of his threes over the past two years to make this five-out, and he's a talented enough passer for this to qualify as playmakers across the board. Simons' table-setting will swing the latter.

    These four guards tallied just two possessions together last season. The defense could be rough or worse. Include Jusuf Nurkic or Robert Covington over Nance if that helps you sleep at night. I'll sleep like Kevin Durant on Team USA's plane so long as the Blazers do what's right and four-guards-it-up.

Sacramento Kings

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    Lineup We NEED to See

    • De'Aaron Fox
    • Buddy Hield
    • Davion Mitchell
    • Tyrese Haliburton
    • Harrison Barnes

    Props to The Kings Herald's Greg Wissinger for alerting me when the Sacramento Kings cut loose in preseason and played four guards. It emboldened this concoction.

    Saner people will put Richaun Holmes, Tristan Thompson or Alex Len in the middle. That's your prerogative. I prefer to maximize the disorder. Everyone here can handle the ball, and this is five-out in concept.

    Settle down "But Swipa shot 32.2 percent from deep last year!" truthers. He downed over 40 percent of his step-back triples. Those shots are hard and valuable. He meets the five-out criteria—noticeably more so if he ditches some junky mid-range clunkers for catch-and-fire treys.

    Picturing Barnes versus enemy 5s might make you queasy. Counterpoint: Is Holmes, Len or Thompson going to rescue the defensive floor of this fivesome? Barnes isn't mincemeat, and if you're going to unbottle four guards who stand under 6'5", you might as well try to spook your opponent by belly-flopping even deeper into kinky waters.

San Antonio Spurs

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    Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

    Lineup We NEED to See

    • Dejounte Murray
    • Derrick White
    • Joshua Primo
    • Keldon Johnson
    • Devin Vassell

    Go ahead and set the over/under on the number of temporal blood vessels San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich will, ahem, pop watching this lineup. Whatever number you land on isn't high enough.

    San Antonio is flush with guard and wing options at the moment. Its response should be to try playing them all together. Running with Primo over Lonnie Walker might come across as insulting. It's not supposed to be. Primo is the more slippery pick-and-roll maestro and seems like he'll be more at home playing off Murray and White, who need to headline this small-ball hodgepodge for the sake of maintaining a defensive pulse.

    Johnson is built like a bull. He can handle frontline minutes without bruising like a peach. Vassell has shown he can get down and dirty with 4s. Let him thunder around with actual bigs, too.

    Don't bother trying to narrow down the potential identity of this fivesome—fast, slow, scrappy, overmatched, four-out, three-out, five-out, whatever. It is unknowable, which means it could be anything, which means it's provocative, which means the Spurs should try it.

Toronto Raptors

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    Scott Audette/Getty Images

    Lineup We NEED to See

    • Scottie Barnes
    • Svi Mykhailiuk
    • Yuta Watanabe
    • OG Anunoby
    • Pascal Siakam

    The Toronto Raptors are clearly trying to set a record for the number of players on the roster standing between 6'7" and 6'9". They sure as hell better let loose a lineup featuring bodies measuring exclusively within that range.

    True to this brand, the Raptors have options to spare. Anunoby, Barnes and Siakam are piece-of-cake inclusions as cornerstones and half-court-offense buffers. Mykhailiuk, who is bigger than you think, started hitting his threes again during preseason. He's in, too.

    Watanabe is a not-so-guilty pleasure of mine. He defends like he's bigger than 6'9"; backtracks with the poised acceleration like someone much smaller; navigates the floor and steps into threes off the catch with a measured, uninterrupted levelness; and can actually dribble. This is to say: He's in, as well. I have high hopes for this lineup if it ever sniffs the hardwood.

Utah Jazz

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    Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

    Lineup We NEED to See

    • Donovan Mitchell
    • Royce O'Neale
    • Bojan Bogdanovic
    • Joe Ingles
    • Rudy Gay

    Please do not interpret this as an admission that Rudy Gobert is somehow a solvable defensive presence. He's not. He is a defensive system unto himself. Less-than-ideal circumstances have never once changed that. They've merely incentivized the Utah Jazz to figure out how Gobert can capitalize on puny defenders and their continued need for at least one wing with jet-pack explosion.

    Still, having the option to downsize when Gobert catches a breather isn't a bad thing. It diversifies the Jazz's portfolio of attack. They should try it, just to see what happens and whether it's a workable stopgap.

    Surrounding Gay with three wings and a superstar scorer should be option No. 1. Utah can experiment with using Eric Paschall instead of Bogdanovic or Ingles, but O'Neale (defense, defense, defense) and Mitchell (offensive engine) must remain constants.

    Perhaps the Jazz find out they're better off transitioning from Gobert to Hassan Whiteside when all's said and done. Or maybe, just maybe, they unlock an effective alternative, a functional change-up, they didn't have in their armory before.

Washington Wizards

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    Stephen Gosling/Getty Images

    Lineup We NEED to See

    • Spencer Dinwiddie
    • Bradley Beal
    • Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
    • Deni Avdija
    • Kyle Kuzma

    We finish where we started: without a big man. What a bookend.

    Few scenarios exist in which this unit plays average defense. Dinwiddie and KCP can hold it down at their slots. Nudging Avdija and Kuzma up to the 4 and 5 is infinitely combustible.

    But the offense. Oh, the offense. All five players have some trace of a floor game and can spray threes. Dinwiddie playmakes at the level of a starting point guard. Beal is a plus-passer at the 2. Avdija has more to offer as a table-setter if given the ball.

    Rim pressure will be an issue for everyone other than Dinwiddie. Washington can deal. More inviting lanes to the basket will open up organically amid a five-out structure, and additional point-blank opportunities will manifest in transition, where this lineup is made to play.

    Avdija also has a sturdy enough frame to imitate some big-man behaviors. He shot 6-of-11 as the screener in pick-and-rolls and 65 percent at the rim (59th percentile) last season.

    Intrigued yet, Mr. Wes Unseld Jr.?


    Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.comBasketball ReferenceStathead or Cleaning the Glass. 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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