Power Ranking Every NBA Team's Starting Lineup So Far

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistNovember 19, 2021

Power Ranking Every NBA Team's Starting Lineup So Far

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    NBA heads will tell you it's not about who starts games, it's about who finishes them.

    While the adage exists for a reason, that doesn't diminish the importance of the opening group.

    The first five on the floor are tone-setters. Sure, this might be a proverbial league of runs, and the Association perpetually leaning heavier into three-point shots and analytically smart shot profiles is changing our perception of what—if anything—constitutes an insurmountable advantage. Still, all teams would prefer to play from ahead rather than behind, so a starting spot is more than a badge of honor.

    With teams approaching the quarter mark of the 2021-22 campaign, it's time to take stock of what each team puts on the floor for the opening tip. Before power ranking all 30 starting fives, let's put a few parameters in place.

    We're focusing only on units that have started at least one game together this season, so players who have yet to hit the hardwood won't be included. Since some squads are still experimenting with their new rosters, they may not have a consistent starting group yet, so we'll aim to decide which of their lineups is their preferred choice.

    Finally, while our primary focus is on what's happening this season, we won't clear our memory banks of track records. That means players who are off to uncharacteristically slow starts—looking at you, 38.7 percent shooting Damian Lillard—won't be treated as if they are suddenly dramatically diminished versions of themselves.

30-26

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    30. Houston Rockets

    Starters: Kevin Porter Jr., Jalen Green, Jae'Sean Tate, Daniel Theis, Christian Wood

    Six players in the entire league are taking at least 12 shots per game and shooting 37 percent or worse from the field. Only two of the six are teammates: Porter and Green. No wonder this lineup has a grotesque 80.9 offensive rating across 160 minutes so far.

                

    29. Detroit Pistons

    Starters: Killian Hayes, Cade Cunningham, Saddiq Bey, Jerami Grant, Isaiah Stewart

    Offensively, the Pistons are about as threatening as a baby bunny. Grant is the scoring leader at just 18.0 points per outing. Cunningham paces them in assists with a meager 3.9. Stewart is the only player here clearing 41 percent from the field. The growing pains are real.

              

    28. Oklahoma City Thunder

    Starters: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Luguentz Dort, Josh Giddey, Darius Bazley, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl

    Gilgeous-Alexander and Dort are the lineup's only players averaging better than 11 points. Bazley and Giddey are both shooting worse than 40 percent. The young Thunder have heart, but they face a pretty severe talent disadvantage more often than not.

                  

    27. San Antonio Spurs

    Starters: Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Doug McDermott, Keldon Johnson, Jakob Poeltl

    The issue here—and with San Antonio's rebuild at large—is a lack of star power, although Murray is doing everything he can to silence that concern. But White is in a rut, McDermott and Poeltl are specialists, and Johnson's scoring encounters peaks and valleys.

                

    26. New Orleans Pelicans

    Starters: Devonte' Graham, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Jonas Valanciunas

    The Zion Williamson-sized hole in this lineup is a killer, as the Pels' 2-14 start can attest. Still, Ingram is a former All-Star pumping in a career-high 25 points per game, Valanciunas has star-caliber (or at least star-adjacent) averages of 19.4 points and 13.2 rebounds, and Hart is crushing his glue-guy role. Now would be a great time for Alexander-Walker to discover the key to consistency, though.

25-21

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    David Dow/Getty Images

    25. Orlando Magic

    Starters: Cole Anthony, Jalen Suggs, Franz Wagner, Wendell Carter Jr., Mo Bamba

    If Anthony, Carter and Bamba are all making a leap like the stat sheet says they are, then this ranking is far too low. But it's fair to be skeptical about prospects who all carried underwhelming resumes into the campaign and aren't contributing to wins. Throw in Suggs' struggles (32.0 percent shooting overall, 23.5 percent from range), and there's enough to keep expectations tempered in the Magic Kingdom.

               

    24. Minnesota Timberwolves

    Starters: Patrick Beverley, D'Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards, Jarred Vanderbilt, Karl-Anthony Towns

    This quintet has been a statistical buzzsaw (plus-37.4 net rating), but only across 50 minutes. Towns, Edwards and Russell can all score in bunches, but they don't really elevate each other with passing, and there isn't nearly enough defense between them.

              

    23. Sacramento Kings

    Starters: De'Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton, Harrison Barnes, Chimezie Metu, Richaun Holmes

    Fox has started slowly, but Barnes, Haliburton and Holmes all sprinted out of the gate. Sacramento was smart to swap Maurice Harkless out of its opening group, but it's far too early to know if Metu is the best option to finish this five. Spacing could be an issue if Metu cools down, and this isn't the most defensively versatile unit around.

                 

    22. New York Knicks

    Starters: Kemba Walker, Evan Fournier, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, Mitchell Robinson

    This is the season's most heavily used lineup, and it has been pretty abysmal (minus-16.3 net rating over 257 minutes). There is enough established talent on paper to give the 'Bockers some benefit of the doubt, but they need better shooting out of everyone not named Kemba, better ball movement from everyone and better defense in the backcourt.

                    

    21. Charlotte Hornets

    Starters: LaMelo Ball, Terry Rozier, Miles Bridges, Gordon Hayward, Mason Plumlee

    Ball and Bridges are either stars-in-the-making or just full-fledged stars. Hayward has become an expert at filling in the cracks. Rozier is better than he has shown, though that only does so much to forgive his 38.9 field-goal percentage and 26.9 percent three-point splash rate. Plumlee is an upgrade over former Hornet Cody Zeller, but center remains the soft spot in Charlotte.

20-16

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    20. Cleveland Cavaliers

    Starters: Darius Garland, Collin Sexton, Lauri Markkanen-Evan Mobley-Jarrett Allen

    The torn meniscus in Sexton's left knee took some of the fun out of this five, but his offense was way behind where it has been. The real draws here are Garland, who could average 20 points on 50/40/90 shooting as soon as this season, and Mobley, who was brilliantly defending and flashing high-level offensive skills before a right elbow sprain forced him off the floor. These injuries could sink Cleveland's ranking going forward, but it earned a top-20 spot for now.

                

    19. Los Angeles Clippers

    Starters: Reggie Jackson, Eric Bledsoe, Paul George, Marcus Morris Sr., Ivica Zubac

    Is George doing all of the heavy lifting here with his MVP-caliber start? Kind of. He ensures the Clippers will have the best player on the floor most nights, and then it's just a matter of coaxing a good game out of Jackson or Morris, whenever his left knee cooperates. It also helps that Bledsoe is using a solid stretch of performances to distance himself from his disastrous start.

              

    18. Indiana Pacers

    Starters: Malcolm Brogdon, Chris Duarte, Caris LeVert, Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner

    The individual pieces should add up to a greater sum than this, and it could over the course of this campaign. For now, though, there hasn't been enough shooting—only Duarte and Turner are clearing 30 percent from three—the defense can only be so flexible with the Sabonis-Turner frontcourt, and you wonder if Indy would benefit from one of these five emerging as the go-to option on offense.

                   

    17. Portland Trail Blazers

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

    The Blazers are tricky to rank because they can be one of the NBA's most explosive offenses, and they would be right now if Lillard (of all people) wasn't in a funk. However, defense has never been (and arguably never will be) a strong suit for this group, and you wonder if the Lillard-McCollum-Nurkic trio has run its course.

                  

    16. Washington Wizards

    Starters: Spencer Dinwiddie, Bradley Beal, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, Daniel Gafford

    Washington snagging the No. 16 spot when Beal hasn't been himself (career-worst shooting rates from the field and from three) says all you need to know about the newcomers. Dinwiddie has masterfully shifted between featured and supporting roles depending on what the team needs, Kuzma has impressed at both ends and Caldwell-Pope has locked up the perimeter. The Wizards could skyrocket whenever Beal gets on track.

15-11

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    Brandon Dill/Getty Images

    15. Dallas Mavericks

    Starters: Luka Doncic, Tim Hardaway Jr., Dorian Finney-Smith, Kristaps Porzingis, Dwight Powell

    This lineup works on paper, especially when Doncic and Porzingis are clicking. They aren't right now—their shooting rates are down across the board from last season—so the lineup isn't working. More specifically, it's being outscored by a whopping 14.6 points per 100 possessions over 96 minutes. That won't continue when (not if) Doncic and Porzingis find their touch, which feels likely enough for this relatively lofting rank.

                   

    14. Memphis Grizzlies

    Starters: Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks, Jaren Jackson Jr., Steven Adams

    A month ago, this might have seemed like a best-case scenario in Bluff City. Now, it's debatable whether this is even high enough. Morant is rocketing toward basketball's galaxy of stars, Bane is launching up to 2020 re-draft boards and Brooks looks no worse for the wear after recovering from a broken left hand. Jackson has another level he can reach, and the Grizzlies will shatter even the most optimistic expectations if he does.

               

    13. Toronto Raptors

    Starters: Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam

    Buy the Raptors' stock while it's low now, because this group has the talent to take off sooner than later—provided Anunoby's hip injury doesn't cost him too much time. There really isn't a weak link in this group. VanVleet is rock-solid, Siakam has been hooping since his return, Barnes looks skilled beyond his years, Trent can catch fire from range and Anunoby was keeping on the Kawhi Leonard 2.0 track with early signs of a fifth-year leap.

                   

    12. Boston Celtics

    Starters: Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, Robert Williams III

    This group was made to bottle up opponents defensively, and it has (94.4 defensive rating across 51 minutes). But the offense has encountered more turbulence than expected, as Tatum is having the worst shooting season of his career, and only Brown is converting 33-plus percent of his threes (or was before being sidelined by a right hamstring strain). Once Tatum gets right and Brown returns, though, the offense should do enough to complement this dominant defense.

                   

    11. Los Angeles Lakers

    Starters: Russell Westbrook, Avery Bradley, Kent Bazemore, LeBron James, Anthony Davis

    This is impossible. The lineup hasn't earned a ranking this high (plus-1.3 net rating over 34 minutes), and the awkward fit with Westbrook might always be an issue. Even still, this seems too low for any fivesome that includes both James and Davis, who can dominate like few others. Plus one (or both) of Bradley or Bazemore probably doesn't belong, but since James and Talen Horton-Tucker haven't shared the floor yet, this had to do.

10. Atlanta Hawks

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    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    Starters: Trae Young, Bogdan Bogdanovic, De'Andre Hunter, John Collins, Clint Capela

    Fresh off a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals, the Hawks have so far struggled to take flight this season, but they can't blame their starting group.

    Before losing Hunter to right wrist surgery, this quintet had comfortably kept its head above water and outscored the opposition by 2.7 points per 100 possessions across 214 minutes. It's actually surprising that number isn't even higher when all five players are averaging double digits and everyone but Capela is shooting better than 36 percent from range.

    Defense has been a challenge, though, as their 114.3 defensive rating ranks second-worst among all lineups that have logged at least 100 minutes. Losing Hunter, a suffocating stopper with some positional flexibility at that end, could be a big blow.

9. Philadelphia 76ers

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    Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

    Starters: Tyrese Maxey, Seth Curry, Danny Green, Tobias Harris, Joel Embiid

    It's hard to look at this lineup and not think about what could be happening if it included either Ben Simmons or whatever the trade market will give up for him in it.

    Having said that, the stat sheet has no clue Philly is missing anything. While these five have only played six games together, they steamrolled opponents by 16.6 points per 100 possessions in those contests, the best such mark among all lineups that have played at least 75 minutes together. Maxey and Curry are shooting roughly 1,000 percent on everything, Green is bagging nearly 42 percent of his threes and Harris somehow finds ways to keep getting better.

    The holdup here is Embiid hasn't quite been himself since bumping his right knee on opening night. If the campaign closed today, he'd have the worst true shooting percentage of his career and match his second-fewest win shares per 48 minutes. Medical maladies are always hard to ignore with him, especially when they're clearly impacting his production.

8. Denver Nuggets

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    Justin Tafoya/Getty Images

    Starters: Monte Morris, Will Barton, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, Nikola Jokic

    The Nuggets should have no business being ranked this high. Not when Jamal Murray is stuck on the sideline recovering from a torn ACL in his left knee and Porter is posting a grisly 35.9/20.8/55.6 shooting slash.

    Then again, they have Jokic, and that's kind of a historically massive deal.

    "Jokic currently has the highest single-season PER and WS/48 marks ever," The Ringer's Dan Devine wrote. "Like, 'higher than young Kareem and Wilt, three-peat MJ, Big Three LeBron, or anybody. Ever."

    With Jokic as the fulcrum, this lineup has trounced teams by 11.1 points per 100 possessions. That's largely a reflection of their center's dominance, but it doesn't hurt that Barton might be turning his age-31 season into a career year, Gordon is thriving as a hyper-athletic glue guy and Morris never turns it over. Now, just imagine what happens if Porter can get himself right.

7. Phoenix Suns

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Starters: Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, Deandre Ayton

    Suns fans will see this ranking and wonder why their team isn't getting the benefit of the doubt after winning the West last season. But here's the thing: They are.

    Statistically, this lineup hasn't been great. Its minus-5.6 net rating is sixth-worst among all lineups with 100-plus minutes of floor time. The offense in particular is having trouble shifting out of first gear, as Booker, Paul and Crowder are all averaging fewer points than last season, and everyone has a worse true shooting percentage than in 2020-21.

    The Suns are too talented, and this lineup fits together too seamlessly to rank it any lower. Other than maybe Crowder's shooting (he can be really erratic), it seems safe to assume these five should at least match their production from last season. That's why Phoenix earns a top-10 nod, but the offensive issues prevent it from landing higher.

6. Milwaukee Bucks

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    Starters: Jrue Holiday, Grayson Allen, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez

    All is not well in Milwaukee, in no small part because this lineup has been seen together once all season. That was back on opening night, when the Bucks received their championship bling and promptly ripped apart the visiting Brooklyn Nets. This lineup played six minutes together that night and won them by nine points.

    But back problems have shelved Lopez ever since, and only Allen has appeared in all 14 of Milwaukee's contests. The Bucks must have wronged a family member of the injury bug, because its attacks have been cruel and constant. They're still waiting on the return of Donte DiVincenzo from the left ankle injury that knocked him out of last season's playoffs.

    When this group is whole, though, it has best-in-the-league upside. The Holiday-Middleton-Antetokounmpo trio can cover a ton of ground defensively, Lopez bides his time blocking shots and burying triples and Allen, the NBA leader in catch-and-shoot threes (40 through 15 games), feasts on open jumpers. The pieces fit tightly together; it's just unfortunate they haven't been together more often.

5. Brooklyn Nets

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    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    Starters: James Harden, Bruce Brown, Joe Harris, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin

    This lineup might have the highest ceiling of any mentioned in this exercise, and that's without accounting for Kyrie Irving or whatever he could fetch in a theoretical trade.

    Durant is as unguardable as it gets in this league, Harden can be that way (assuming he hasn't lost a step) and the role players make sense around them. Harris is a sniper from distance, Brown does all the dirty things, and even a ground-bound Griffin can be a reliable source of spacing and secondary playmaking.

    It's a juggernaut on paper, but that hasn't translated to major on-court success. These five have been fine (plus-5.1 in 171 minutes), but the offense has been stuck in the mud (103.0 offensive rating, would rank 26th overall). Getting Harden up to speed and Griffin at a respectable level (or swapped out for someone else) could help the Nets make a push for the No. 1 spot.

4. Miami Heat

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    Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

    Starters: Kyle Lowry, Duncan Robinson, Jimmy Butler, P.J. Tucker, Bam Adebayo

    Miami's starting five is interesting, because it might not include the top scoring threat on the roster. At the very least, Tyler Herro seems the most naturally inclined to score, a mentality helping make him the early favorite for Sixth Man of the Year honors.

    This Heat quintet can sometimes hurt for scoring, which is the biggest reason its ascension stops at No. 3. In 118 minutes together, they have averaged 104.1 points per 100 possessions, or about what the Pelicans put up every night. But Miami can have electric moments on that end, since Butler, Adebayo and Lowry are all capable shot-creators, Robinson is one of the best shooters in the business (even if he hasn't been in this young season) and Tucker can still cook from the corners.

    This group, though, was made to demoralize opponents on defense, and it has done that on a near-nightly basis. These five are allowing just 96.7 points per 100 possessions—for context, the Golden State Warriors lead the league with a 98.9 defensive rating—and since Lowry and Tucker are 27 combined games into their tenure, this probably isn't the defense's final form yet.

    The Heat could have better balance with a more explosive offense, but the defense is so ferocious that a top-three spot is warranted.

3. Utah Jazz

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    Joe Murphy/Getty Images

    Starters: Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Royce O'Neale, Bojan Bogdanovic, Rudy Gobert

    The Jazz are about a half-step behind last season's pace, but the starting five deserves no blame for the mini-slide. The second unit has failed to pack the same punch with Jordan Clarkson shooting an atrocious 36.0 percent, and Georges Niang's departure looming large over this frontcourt (particularly with Rudy Gay out of action for the first 14 games).

    As for Utah's openers, though, this group is still bulldozing team's like last year's wins leader did. That group posted a plus-10.8 a plus-10.8 net rating over 593 minutes. This group is at plus-9.0 over its first 161 minutes. The Jazz have room to elevate, too, since Mitchell and O'Neale are both shooting below 33 percent from three-point land after topping 38 percent last season.

    The win column may not show a mirror's reflection of last season, but when the Jazz starters hit the floor, it's been business as usual in Salt Lake City. These five can dominate either end of the floor, and when they have Mitchell and at least one support player in a groove, they're almost unbeatable.

2. Chicago Bulls

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    Starters: Lonzo Ball, Zach LaVine, Javonte Green, DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic

    Chicago's new-look lineup is statistically ridiculous, and that's true with virtually any formation of it. This quintet—chosen for the possibility that opening-night starter Patrick Williams never makes it back from left wrist surgery—has pounded opponents by 12.6 points per 100 possessions. Swap Williams in for Green, and the Bulls are at plus-9.6. Add Alex Caruso instead, and it's a plus-10.1.

    Coach Billy Donovan can do no wrong with his rotation. Potential "there's-only-one-ball" concerns have been erased, as everyone has been involved with scoring, shooting, distributing or all of the above. And while this unit (and, frankly, this roster) doesn't look great on paper defensively, it has allowed an even 100 points per 100 possessions, or fewer than every team not named the Golden State Warriors.

    "We're all comfortable," DeRozan said, per K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. "First and foremost, just the friendship that all of us, the respect we have for one another. ... We're playing for one another. When you have that type of chemistry, it's easy to pull off victories."

    The Bulls haven't even played their best basketball yet, as Vucevic has uncharacteristically struggled with his shot and the fifth starter spot hasn't necessarily been decided. Chicago has done more than enough to earn this spot; it just falls a hair short of the world-beater at No. 1.

1. Golden State Warriors

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    Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

    Starters: Stephen Curry, Jordan Poole, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green, Kevon Looney

    This shouldn't make sense. Poole can't quite solve the puzzle of inconsistency. Looney is an undersized center whose best skill is hustle. Wiggins flashes a few moments of brilliance but often fades into the background.

    Sixty percent of this lineup is nowhere near elite. It's just that the other 40 percent features arguably the NBA's most potent offensive weapon and its most versatile defender. The Curry-Green connection played such a critical role in Golden State's previous three championship runs, and it's once again operating at cheat-code capacity.

    Green's value to the Dubs defense is obvious and staggering. He can switch onto any position and is just as likely to finish possessions with a rebound, a steal or a block. Curry's importance on offense is even greater. The Warriors have scored an extra 18.3 points per 100 possessions with him than without, as defenses can't account for his range, handles and relentless off-ball activity.

    "He's a master at what he does...," Kevin Durant told reporters. "Just a crafty player who can pretty much do anything off the ball, can cut to the rim, shoot floaters, shoot threes and can handle the basketball too and get down to his spot."

    Golden State is missing Klay Thompson and James Wiseman, and this lineup is still smoking opponents by 11.0 points per 100 possessions. That's a credit to all five players, but it's really a testament to the fact the Curry-Green tandem remains a partnership like none other.

                    

    Statistics used courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted and current through games played Nov. 17.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.

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