Ranking each NBA starting lineup for opening night: Warriors lead way; how
Gradelo Staff
4 months ago


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Well folks, we’re less than a month from real, actual, regular-season NBA basketball games. Hard to believe, right? With that, our focus turns from offseason maneuvers to season projections as we try to figure out how all the new pieces will fit together. The biggest piece of all, LeBron James, changed the landscape of the league by taking his talents West to revitalize the Los Angeles Lakers, while DeMarcus Cousins dropped perhaps the biggest bomb of the offseason by joining the already dynastic Warriors.

Now that most rosters are close to set, we decided to rank every NBA team‘s potential starting lineup for the 2018-19 season. Of course, things can still change as training camp battles are won, injuries strike and locker room cancers reveal themselves, but this is our educated guess about who will be on the court for tip-off on opening night. So that means players like Cousins and Kristaps Porzingis, still recovering from injury, weren’t factored into these lineups.

Obviously better teams tend to have better starting lineups, but there are some teams that have a huge discrepancy between their starting unit and their bench, and some teams whose starting lineup isn’t as effective as their roster as a whole — so these rankings are different than simply ranking the best teams in the league.

Here’s a ranking of all 30 potential NBA starting lineups for opening night. Enjoy.

30. New York Knicks

Potential starting lineup:

The Knicks are pretty much a one-man show offensively, so when that one man (Kristaps Porzingis) is out of the lineup, it gets ugly. Burke and Hardaway had dazzling offensive moments last season and Kanter is always consistent when it comes to scoring and rebounding, but this is going to be rough. Knox is extremely promising as a young wing, but he likely won’t be an impact player until later in the season at the earliest. Even if this lineup manages to stay afloat offensively, defense is going to be a major issue. Kristaps can’t come back soon enough.

29. Sacramento Kings

Potential starting lineup:  

This lineup with Skal Labissiere in place of Bagley was a plus-two last season in 82 minutes, which bodes well for this year’s unit. It will depend on how Bagley fits in offensively, and whether he’s able to disprove his poor defensive reputation. They’ll be able to play at a fast pace with shooters on the wings and energy in the frontcourt, so at the very least they’ll be a fun League Pass drop-in from time to time.

28. Atlanta Hawks

Potential starting lineup:  

With Dennis Schroder in the place of Young, this lineup was actually quite effective (plus-8.1 net rating in 118 minutes), but the learning curve for Young is going to be steep. That could be offset, however, by Collins taking a step forward on both ends of the court and another year of development from Prince on the wing. It’s possible that the Hawks start veteran Jeremy Lin instead of Young to start the year, but that wouldn’t make much difference in the ranking.

27. Orlando Magic

Potential starting lineup:

For all the high lottery picks the Magic have had over the past several seasons, this lineup is pretty uninspiring. They were a minus-0.4 last season in 191 minutes, which is not what you want from a starting unit. Gordon could continue to improve and eventually Jonathan Isaac could slide in there somewhere, but this is one of the least intimidating starting units in the NBA.

26. Phoenix Suns

Potential starting lineup:  

In February this lineup could be a lot more imposing, but there are a ton of question marks to start the season. Even assuming Booker will be in the opening night lineup after recovering from hand surgery (he may miss a few weeks to start the season), there will be chemistry/fit issues with new vets Ariza and Anderson, and unproven rookies at both point guard and center. The Suns definitely improved from seasons past, but it’s going to take some time for this unit to jell.

25. Chicago Bulls

Potential starting lineup:  

The elbow injury to Lauri Markkanen is a blow for the team, but should actually help with the starting unit, at least positionally. Parker was slated to play out of position at small forward, and now they can slide him to his more natural four spot while inserting Holiday (who will help defensively) or Denzel Valentine (who adds spacing with is 3-point shooting). LaVine will presumably be back to full strength alongside an improved Dunn in the backcourt, but this team is going to struggle on both ends. Wendell Carter Jr. could also slide into the starting center role for Lopez at some point, which would make things even more intriguing.

24. Brooklyn Nets

Potential starting lineup:  

In a small sample size (85 minutes), this lineup was an absolute beast last season at plus-15.8. They played at a break-neck pace with athletes and length all over the court. Head coach Kenny Atkinson is building something in Brooklyn and, if they’re all healthy, this could be a difficult starting unit to play against.

23. Cleveland Cavaliers

Potential starting lineup:  

So basically the Cavs replaced LeBron James with Rodney Hood. That tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the 2018-19 Cleveland Cavaliers. Love will have to bear the brunt of the offensive workload, while Hood will have to take a major step forward offensively. The good news is, they’re all veterans who will share a “nobody believes in us” attitude in a weak Eastern Conference … but it’s certainly a new era in Cleveland.

22. Detroit Pistons

Potential starting lineup:  

This lineup only played 32 minutes together last season, but it blew away the competition with a whopping plus-26.7 net rating. You can all but throw that out the window due to the tiny sample size, but at least it gives the Pistons hope that under new coach Dwane Casey they can start to turn things around in Detroit. The Griffin/Drummond dynamic went downhill after a hot start, so they’ll have to try to regain that chemistry. If nothing else, the unit leads the league in Reggies.

21. Dallas Mavericks

Potential starting lineup:  

Luka fever is upon us, and the Mavs have their hopes riding on the 19-year-old Slovenian wunderkind. If the skill set he displayed overseas transfers to the NBA, Doncic will be the de facto point guard, throwing lobs to Jordan and hitting shooters on the wings. It will also take some offensive pressure off of Barnes, and allow Smith to use his athleticism in more of a slasher role off the ball. Jordan will also solidify a defense that allowed opponents to shoot the highest field-goal percentage in the league from less than five feet last season.

20. Los Angeles Clippers

Potential starting lineup:  

Looking at this starting lineup, one word comes to mind: solid. There are no gaping holes, but there’s also nothing that knocks your socks off. This is a veteran unit that should have great perimeter defense with Bradley and Beverley and versatile frontcourt offense with Gallinari and Harris, but health is going to be a major issue. Beverley, Bradley and Gallinari are all coming off significant injuries last season, so we’ll have to see how many minutes this unit can actually log together.

19. Memphis Grizzlies

Potential starting lineup:  

The Grizzlies don’t have much name recognition outside of their two franchise leaders, Conley and Gasol, but Anderson is a nice addition as a do-everything point forward and solid defender. Temple probably isn’t a starting-caliber wing in today’s NBA, but he’s smart and will defend, while Green has improved his scoring and rebounding numbers every year that he’s been in the league. If Conley and Gasol stay healthy, the Grizz will be interesting.

18. Minnesota Timberwolves

Potential starting lineup:  

Uh, we’re not really sure what to do here. In theory, Jimmy Butler will start on opening night unless he’s traded, but it appears he’s doing everything in his power to make sure that doesn’t happen. In our Top 100 NBA players list, the Wolves were the only team besides the Warriors, Rockets and Thunder to have two players in the top 16 — pretty good company. But obviously it looks like Butler and Towns will not play together this season. We’ll have to wait on the Butler trade situation to see what Minnesota’s starting lineup eventually looks like, but right now it seems like Rose is the most likely candidate to start at shooting guard, which is a huge downgrade for Tom Thibodeau’s crew.

17. Charlotte Hornets

Potential starting lineup:  

This lineup with Dwight Howard in place of Zeller logged the second-most minutes of any five-man unit in the NBA last season with decent results (plus-3.3 net rating). While Zeller won’t put up Howard’s numbers, he’s more mobile on both ends of the floor and could open things up for Charlotte. It’s still the Kemba Show offensively, but there are more shots to go around with Howard’s 11.2 field-goal attempts per game out of the mix.

16. Miami Heat

Potential starting lineup:  

The Heat have already said Dion Waiters is unlikely to be ready for the start of the season, and Ellington may actually be a better fit with this group because of his shooting ability. It sounds crazy, but Whiteside might be the third-best center on the team now, behind Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo, so it might only be a matter of time before he finds himself on the bench. Like last season, this unit will be strong defensively but will probably lack scoring punch.

15. Portland Trail Blazers

Potential starting lineup:  

Any momentum built by earning a No. 3 seed in the brutal West was destroyed when the Blazers were swept by the Pelicans in the first round of the playoffs. The team made no upgrades to the starting unit this offseason, and will stick with the core that’s been good, but unremarkable over the past few seasons. There are much worse places to be in the NBA.

14. San Antonio Spurs

Potential starting lineup:  

The Spurs’ starting unit was absolutely devastated by the loss of Dejounte Murray to an ACL injury. Last season they somehow pulled out 47 wins and a No. 7 seed in the West without Kawhi Leonard for essentially the entire 2017-18 campaign, so it’s hard to count them out, but Murray was an All-NBA defender and a prime breakout candidate. Mills is a solid replacement, but adds more value as a spark-plug bench player. With the addition of DeRozan, the Spurs now have two All-NBA players in their starting five to go along with veteran leadership in Gay and Gasol. Combine all that with Gregg Popovich’s system and you’ve got a starting lineup that, despite Murray’s loss, will probably still win a lot of games.

13. Washington Wizards

Potential starting lineup:  

It’s hard to draw up a starting lineup that fits together more perfectly than the Wizards … on paper, at least. You’ve got a penetrator/distributor at point guard, a flat-out scorer at two, a do-everything 3-and-D guy at small forward, a stretch-four with toughness and now a rim protector and rebounder at center. Unfortunately for Washington, basketball isn’t played on paper, and they’ll have to work out their chemistry issues — no easy task with Howard thrown into the fray — if they’re going to improve on the disappointment of the past few seasons.

12. Indiana Pacers

Potential starting lineup:  

A familiar group, this unit played more minutes together than all but three lineups across the NBA last season. It’s also the core that led Indiana to a surprising 48 wins and a near-upset of LeBron James’ Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs. An Oladipo regression seems unlikely, and a breakout season from the 22-year-old Turner could make this one of the best starting lineups in the league.

11. New Orleans Pelicans

Potential starting lineup:  

This is basically the lineup that set the league on fire in the second half of last season following the DeMarcus Cousins injury … with one notable exception. Replacing Rajon Rondo with Payton is a significant blow given Rondo’s impact on the team last year (plus-9.3 net rating with him on the court after the All-Star break). New Orleans will also have to deal with the Mirotic/Julius Randle power forward timeshare, which could lead to a matchup-based platoon in the starting lineup. But the Pelicans have Davis and Holiday, among the best two-way, one-two punches in the NBA, which will make them a fun team to watch as they try to build off of last season’s success.

10. Los Angeles Lakers

Potential starting lineup:  

My, how things can change in a year. Inserting LeBron into the mix immediately makes any lineup formidable, and combining him with Ingram, one of the most promising young players in the league, means this could blossom into one of the top units in the NBA. If KCP keeps up the 3-point shooting he displayed last season, McGee continues to thrive in the role carved out for him last season in Golden State and Rondo (who may eventually be replaced in the starting lineup by Lonzo Bal when he fully recovers from his knee surgery) can play the way he did last season in New Orleans, this team could be extremely dangerous out West. We’ve seen LeBron do plenty with much less.

9. Denver Nuggets

Potential starting lineup:  

It appears that coach Mike Malone will transition Barton to a starting role to take the place of Wilson Chandler (traded to Philly) at small forward — and that will only add to Denver’s potent offensive attack. They should also be better defensively with a full season of Millsap, since Denver had its lowest defensive rating (108.9) when he was on the court last season. With Murray, Harris and Jokic all a year older and wiser, this is one of the most exciting starting units in the NBA.

8. Milwaukee Bucks

Potential starting lineup:  

The Bucks filled their gaping hole at center with Lopez, who, despite limited defensive mobility, can at least protect the rim. His bigger impact will come on offense, where he will space the floor, providing crucial room for Bledsoe and Antetokounmpo to penetrate and dish. New coach Mike Budenholzer will be asked to take this team to the next level on both ends of the court, and this is a lineup that can do it.

7. Oklahoma City Thunder

Potential starting lineup:  

Replacing Carmelo Anthony with Patterson may seem like a downgrade, but not with the way Anthony played last season. Patterson will be a ball mover and defender, while occasionally knocking down the corner 3, which is all the Thunder really need from him. Andre Roberson’s injury setback was a huge blow to the defense, but even with Anthony last season, the starting unit finished with the second-best defensive rating in the NBA. There’s no obvious candidate to replace Roberson, so the Thunder may choose to start Schroder alongside Westbrook to boost the offense along with a rock-solid Adams. With Westbrook and George leading the charge offensively and Roberson as a lock-down defender, this is unquestionably one of the best starting lineups in the NBA. Losing Roberson bumps them down a few notches, but it’s still a solid unit.

6. Utah Jazz

Potential starting lineup:  

This isn’t the sexiest lineup on paper, but you can’t argue with the results. After Gobert returned from injury on Jan. 20, this unit put up a whopping plus-20.6 net rating in 358 minutes, including a minuscule 94.1 defensive rating. Nobody wants to play against the Jazz, and Mitchell showed his mettle as a rookie by basically becoming the team’s entire offense in last year’s playoff run.

5. Philadelphia 76ers

Potential starting lineup:  

This lineup with Redick in the place of Fultz was an absolute beast last season, posting a league-best plus-21.4 net rating in a strong sample size of 600 minutes, so it’s puzzling to see Brett Brown insert Fultz in his place. He’s likely going for more playmaking since Embiid and Simmons, for all their skills, aren’t yet elite at creating their own offense. But Fultz’s shooting is one of the biggest question marks in the NBA this season, and the Sixers need shooting in this lineup. This unit could potentially be a beast defensively with Fultz’s added size and athleticism, and with Simmons and Embiid continuing to develop, the sky is the limit for the emerging Sixers.

4. Toronto Raptors

Potential starting lineup:  

This obviously comes with the huge caveat that Leonard returns to his healthy, MVP candidate self. If he does, this lineup is going to be ridiculous. They have weapons all over the floor offensively, but defense will be the calling card of the 2018-19 Toronto Raptors with the addition of Leonard and Green. OG Anunoby can also slide in for Green if matchups or injuries demand it, so there’s no considerable drop-off there. The Raptors have a chance to do something special, but it all depends on Leonard’s health and willingness to buy in.

3. Houston Rockets

Potential starting lineup:  

Carmelo Anthony has reportedly agreed to come off the bench, which is good for Houston. Most consider replacing Trevor Ariza with James Ennis a significant downgrade, but we’ll have to see it in action first. The fact is that the Rockets were nearly unbeatable with Harden, Paul and Capela on the court last season, so we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt until they give us evidence to the contrary. Ennis adds similar defensive versatility as Ariza, and has shot well from the 3-point line during stretches of his career. The Rockets might not win 65 games again, but their starting unit will be nearly as intimidating in Mike D’Antoni’s system.

2. Boston Celtics

Potential starting lineup:  

It’s certainly possible that Brad Stevens starts Aron Baynes instead of Tatum for certain matchups, but this is the lineup we all want to see. Every player in this unit shot 40 percent or higher from the 3-point line last season (Hayward did it in 2016-17), and the defensive switchability is off the charts given the size and versatility of Brown, Hayward, Tatum and Horford (Irving also improved defensively last season). If it weren’t for the Warriors we’d be handing the starting lineup trophy to the Celtics, but instead they fall a close second to the champs.

1. Golden State Warriors

Potential starting lineup:  

If DeMarcus Cousins returns to his old form when he eventually rejoins the starting lineup, this isn’t even close. As it stands, even with Jones or Kevon Looney or Jordan Bell at center, this remains the best starting lineup in the league. They’ll miss Zaza Pachulia’s screen-setting, but Jones, Looney and Bell will give them a bump offensively, while the core four remain an utter embarrassment of riches. Think about this: the Warriors have two of the league’s five best players AND two of the league’s 10 best defenders all in the same starting lineup. Only boredom can slow this unit down.

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