Ranking every starting lineup in Orlando

(Photo via WEEI)

Last week, Bleacher Report took on the task of evaluating the starting lineup of every team competing in the Orlando bubble and ranking them based on net rating based on time spent on the floor together. Naturally, social media did not take kindly to some of the appearances on this ranking.

While we can go on about how powerful basketball statistics are and which ones correctly represent the success of the team, it’s fairly obvious to most that this one-dimensional method of ranking leaves plenty to be desired. In particular, the lack of credibility in these results based off their sample size makes this a rather useless compilation. The full list according to BR can be viewed (and laughed at) here. Some notable appearances in this list include your Boston Celtics at #5, the powerhouse Lakers outside the top 10, and the New Orleans Pelicans at #1.

Today, I’ll fix the list and fairly evaluate the 22 lineups by their productivity, chemistry, and talent available in the bubble. It is to be noted that this list is based off of expected performance and trustworthiness from the starting unit only and ignores factors such as endgame coaching and weapons off the bench. In parentheses, I have included Bleacher Report’s rank for comparison’s sake.

#22: Washington Wizards (Bleacher Report: 22)

Do I need to explain? While Rui Hachimura, the 2019 first round pick for Washington, is a talented player and has shown spots of brilliance in the starting lineup, there is no premium talent anywhere else on this roster with Davis Bertans opting out and Bradley Beal sitting out with a shoulder injury. Bleacher Report nailed last place!

#21: San Antonio Spurs (BR: 19)

With all-star LaMarcus Aldridge missing the remainder of the season due to shoulder surgery, the Spurs have little to look forward to around DeMar DeRozan. He'll be lucky to get some help from Rudy Gay. Not much to talk about here.

#20: Orlando Magic (BR: 20)

On paper, a starting lineup that includes all-star Nikola Vucevic, a breakout Markelle Fultz, and a solid athlete in Aaron Gordon is not all that bad. But with young defensive stud Jonathan Isaac still not cleared to play, the Magic are going to need to continue overperforming offensively to stay afloat with the competition in Disney World. This could be a fun team to watch but the starting lineup isn’t going to carry them into too many wins.

#19: Brooklyn Nets (BR: 21)

A team that’s built around the offseason acquisitions of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, Brooklyn has neither in Disney World but just edged out the Magic due to their recently-acquired veteran Jamal Crawford, making their starting lineup quite serviceable in attempts to shock a couple of teams. They have an elite scoring ceiling with Crawford, TD Garden menace Caris LeVert, and former 3-point champion Joe Harris, and some rim protection with Jarett Allen and his top-tier fro.

#18: Memphis Grizzlies (BR: 16)

Future superstar Ja Morant is the sole reason the Grizzlies are relevant. Apart from the rough-around-the-edges due of Morant and an inconsistent Jaren Jackson Jr., the Grizzlies starting lineup can make some noise against some solid teams on both ends of the basketball but not much more.

#17: Indiana Pacers (BR: 17)

An asterisk for Bleacher Report due to some doubt about whether Victor Oladipo will play in Orlando or not, the Pacers have their best player in VO back but have lost all-star Domantas Sabonis, a carrier for them in the paint and pick-and-roll game on offense.

#16: Sacramento Kings (BR: 13)

Getting value offensive possessions shouldn't be much of a problem for the talents of De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic. But Bleacher Report somehow still put them near the top 10 despite the current starting unit playing 28 minutes. What the hell am I missed? Is Harrison Barnes suddenly NBA Finals material? Is Richaun Holmes supposed to be the next great big man of the league? 

(Photo: USATI)

#15: Phoenix Suns (BR: 15)

While mediocrity might seem like the MO for the Suns, their power duo in Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton is enough to supply an offensive attack that could carry them into some surprise wins in Disney. In fact, before the suspension, the Suns were fourth in the league in points per game from their starters, only behind Houston, Portland, and Boston. They aren't getting much defense from the unit as a whole but scoring could come easy to this unit at times.

#14: Utah Jazz (BR: 9)

With Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert back together and Royce O'Neale complementing them for some extra defense in the frontcourt, the Jazz have immense upside from their starters. But will Mike Conley suddenly get his season together after the suspension? Will Mitchell and Gobert be the same after recovering from COVID-19? Joe Ingles is going to have to step back up to his full potential for the Jazz to not seriously miss the presence of their second option scorer Bojan Bogdanovic, who is out due to wrist surgery. Too many question marks for me to lock them into the top 10 right now.

#13: Oklahoma City Thunder (BR: 18)

The disrespect to the duo of Chris Paul (still an all-star), breakout stud Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Steven Adams in one lineup is absurd. While the Thunder do heavily rely on their bench, led by Dennis Schröder, being third in the NBA in winning since Thanksgiving is virtually impossible without the strong play and clutch minutes from the Thunder starters, that also possess one of the league’s most respected shooters in Danilo Gallinari.

#12: Dallas Mavericks (BR: 7)

With the offense run by arguably the most electric young talent in the game and the player closest in style to the LeBron James playmaking self in Luka Dončić, the Mavericks have an absurd offensive starting lineup with a healthy Kristaps Porzingis providing size and shooting to space the floor for Seth Curry and Tim Hardaway Jr.. But the defense as a starting unit has been unreliable for Dallas and is one of the reasons the Mavericks are only mustering a seventh place conference standing, despite having an MVP candidate in their 21-year-old. A presence in the paint is only worth so much on defense when you are lacking athleticism across the floor when it matters in clutch minutes. 

#11: Portland Trail Blazers (BR: 14)

Similar to the Mavericks, the Blazers are just not trustworthy in defense, despite having presence in the paint in the Jusuf Nurkic/Hassan Whiteside platoon at the 5. In fact, despite Hassan Whiteside leading the sport in blocks per game, the Blazers allow an abysmal 115.2 points per game and a ton of the onus should fall on the lackluster defense in their starting unit. The difference between Portland and Dallas? Their offensive versatility in the starters are elite enough to lead them into such shootout victories, including against some contending teams including the Heat, Jazz, Rockets, and Lakers. You can't really argue with the offensive talent in the healthy background in the NBA (Dame, CJ) and the return of the year in the NBA via Melo. 

#10: New Orleans Pelicans (BR: 1)

I’m quite high on the future of the Pelicans. They already have one of the most balanced starting lineups in the NBA, one that can upset some really good teams. With Lonzo Ball coming to his own since leaving Los Angeles, the continued solid play of veteran Jrue Holiday on both ends of the floor, the all-star rise of Brandon Ingram to give them buckets at will, and the arrival of their franchise cornerstone in Zion Williamson, the Pelicans can be good for a long time. #1 already is ludicrous, though, when you have so many MVPs in the lineups I have ahead of the Pels. As the great philosopher and thinker Draymond Green once said, “that’s just ridiculous to say, bro.”

#9: Philadelphia 76ers (BR: 12)

Perhaps the most underwhelming, yet intriguing, roller-coaster of the NBA season thus far, Philly has 0 reliable depth and can’t win on the road. Their home record of 29-2 compared with their road record of 10-24 is just a glimpse of how physically draining their losses have been. Granted, they have looked soft and unmotivated at times. But don’t let their lackluster coaching and 6-seed distract you from the starpower in their starting lineup. While Tobias Harris is arguably the most overpaid man in the league, he still provides a valuable ceiling. Their roleplayers Shake Milton and Josh Richardson have proven to be valuable when they have been on the floor together, and have complemented the play of their franchise cornerstones Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid well. Make fun of Embiid’s durability or Simmons’ jump shot all you want but when they are on, they are capable of taking over the game. Philly starters are second in the league in assists per game and fourth in the league in steals per game, mostly thanks to all-star Simmons. If they can up their seed a bit come playoff time and steal some extra games at home, don’t sleep on Philly.

#8: Houston Rockets (BR: 8)

I didn’t move this one around a disturbing amount? It's a Saturnalia miracle. It’s no doubt that if the Rockets are to be competitive in a playoff setting, it has to be on the back of their starting lineup. The duo of MVPs in James Harden and Russell Westbrook is the backbone of a Rockets team that has seen a good bit of regular season success against other Disney World teams. They lead the NBA in minutes from starters on their way to a (currently) 6-seed in the conference. Despite the double-MVP danger the lineup possesses, their weaknesses go beyond just lack of size and can certainly be brought to the forefront against a championship-ready team. If Westbrook and Harden are not turning the ball over and making the most of their possessions, the Rockets can beat the best. But that’s never a shoe-in with them.

#7: Denver Nuggets (BR: 10)

When you have the best playmaking center in the NBA in Nikola Jokić, you’re going to be good. When you have one of the best defensive starting units in the league as well, you’re going to be elite. That’s exactly what the Nuggets have. Apart from their obviously-balanced offense, they are top 5 in the NBA in steals per game by starters, assists per game by starters, and top 10 in the NBA in points allowed per game overall. The bench presence is a plus for Denver, which is why they currently sit with a 3 seed, but the starters can clearly get it done when it matters.

#6: Toronto Raptors (BR: 6)

The defending champion Raptors are the 2-seed in the Eastern conference despite losing one of the best players in the world in Kawhi Leonard and, like Boston, being consistently beat up across the roster throughout the season. If you expected Toronto to be this good despite that loss on the roster, I want your submission for the next lottery. The Raptors’ continued success has been primarily due to the strong, improved play of their starting lineup, led by all-star Pascal Siakam and NBA Finals hero Fred VanVleet. The Raptors are a balanced attack at every position on the floor and their starters are third as a team in assists per game and steals per game. Toronto is clearly the biggest pleasant surprise of the East.   

#5: Miami Heat (BR: 4)

When Miami took to a four-team sign and trade to acquire Jimmy Butler, they were hoping he would bring them a culture of grit on both ends of the basketball. With Jimmy on the floor, Miami is capable of beating any team and they have proved they can topple giants with their 2-0 record against the Milwaukee Bucks this year. While the Heat have some young talent off the bench that make them as dangerous they are, it is their starting lineup that makes them an immediate threat in a playoff setting. Behind Butler and his co-all-star Bam Adebayo, who will likely be a finalist for the Most Improved Player award, the Heat also have elite shooting from their starting lineup. Duncan Robinson has been the most consistent 3-point shooter in the NBA all season, rookie Kendrick Nunn can get hot at will, and even Meyers Leonard, coming back from injury, is efficient from beyond the arc. As a starting unit, Miami is the second best deep shooting team in the NBA. In an era tattooed by the 3 ball, I’m going to say that’s elite. 

(Photo: AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

#4: Boston Celtics (BR: 5)

The big moment is here. Boston is clearly a contender in the East and if you think a deep bench is heavily responsible for the danger they pose for good opponents, you’re probably overly optimistic. Boston's starter squad features two all-stars, but it could very well have been three with the breakout of Jaylen “Underpaid” Brown. Boston averages over 113 points per game, and 76% of those points come via starters. Boston’s backbone is their big 3 but if Marcus Smart gets some starts, it’s game over against most teams. If Boston wants another banner, they are going to have it to get it done with their stars, but they will also probably roll out Daniel Theis at the 5, who has been one of the most underrated big men in the league this year. For me, the biggest talking point about a real playoff run for Boston is the fact that they are top 10 in the league in turnovers per game, a bug that can come back to bite some of the best teams come crunch time.

#3: Los Angeles Clippers (BR: 2)

This offseason, reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard gave the Clippers one message — get me Paul George and you have me. The Clippers responded by doing just that to complete one of the best duos in the NBA. It's no secret that the Clippers starting unit is elite on offense and defense, beyond just The Claw and PG. Bad Boy Patrick Beverley just adds to the mix of pests on the floor for a championship-ready Clippers, who commit the third-fewest turnovers per game as an offense. I’m sure you can understand when you scroll down why they aren’t #1.

#2: Milwaukee Bucks (BR: 3)

Perhaps the most balanced starting lineup in the NBA from 1 through 5, the Bucks have a roster built to dominate in the modern NBA. Third in the NBA in blocks per game and top 10 in turnovers per game, assists per game, and points per game from starters, don't let the Bucks' depth that has aided them to the best record in the NBA fool you into believing the starters can’t get the job done by themselves. When you have the MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo and he has played better than he did in his MVP year, that alone gets you respect. It's just ridiculous that he also has a balanced support staff in D̶r̶e̶w̶ Eric Bledsoe and Celtics nemesis Khris Middleton, one of the best shooters in our game. Bledsoe’s health will be key, however, and he is currently out due to a recent COVID-19 test. This is probably the only thing holding me back from securing them into the 1 spot. 

(Photo: Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images)

#1: Los Angeles Lakers (BR: 11)

Disney is mostly about the playoffs. When you are the 1-seed by 6.5 games, the regular season games that remain are mostly about warmup for the biggest minutes of the year. If you were to draw one name out of a hat to lead your team in a playoff setting to guarantee success and instantly make you a candidate to hold a trophy, who is the jackpot pick? It’s needless to say that LeBron James is capable of leading any NBA lineup into the Finals. It almost becomes easy when you give him the best true big man in the NBA in Anthony Davis

While the Lakers did lose an old friend Avery Bradley when he opted out of the restart, the team has proven they can win with any lineup on the floor as long as they have their big two. It’s even more frightening to think about how well the likes of Javale McGee and Danny Green have played on both ends of the basketball against extremely competitive teams. Defensively, they are arguably the most well-oiled machine in our sport. Their starters are top 10 in steals per game and second in blocks per game, and as a team they allow only 106.9 points per game, topped by only Boston and Toronto. 

The Lakers’ only flaw might be that they can get ice-cold from 3 but when you have two cheat codes on the floor to draw attention in the most clutch minutes of the season, is there really a spot on the floor where they have a significant disadvantage? Probably not.

Did I get it right? Which spots would you switch around? Should the Celtics get more credit for their starting lineup carrying them through the season? Who do you think has the most overrated/underrated starting 5 in Disney World?

Follow the author at @AhaanRungta, listen to his sports podcast, and read more Celtics content here.

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