Christian Wood, F
Sterling Brown, G
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
PG: John Wall
SG: James Harden
SF: Eric Gordon
PF: Chris Wood
C: P.J. Tucker
What the Rockets will look like by season’s end is anyone’s guess. All we can do is analyze what this team looks like right now. And the current roster in Houston is intriguing, to say the least. Let’s start with the backcourt of John Wall and James Harden.
When healthy, Wall is one of the best passers in the NBA. He has ranked in the 94th percentile or higher in assist rate among point guards his last five seasons. He has improved his team’s offensive output in every season he has played but two. He is not the most efficient scorer (1.051 points per shot attempt in his last season), but he has the ability to attack off the bounce and finish.
Theoretically, any team should benefit from having a point guard who can run an offense the way Wall can, but with such a ball-dominant, isolation scorer like Harden, it’s hard to see this fit working. For example, when Harden is on the ball, Wall becomes almost a nonfactor unless he is consistently cutting or curling off screens into midrange shots.
Wall is a career 32.4% 3-point shooter, and while he shot 37.2% on catch-and-shoot attempts from deep in his last season, that was by far his career high, and nothing that can be counted on to continue. He’s also not an efficient shooter from midrange, hitting a career-high of just 39.8% from that area of the floor in the 2014-15 season. This lineup becomes more intriguing when Wall has the ball in his hands. Harden averaged only 1.3 catch-and-shoot 3-pointers last season, but he shot 41.2% on those attempts.
Christian Wood is a floor-spacing power forward who shot 40.4% on catch-and-shoot attempts last season and should fit nicely playing off of Wall. Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker have lived off the ball in the Harden era and would be perfectly fine with those roles continuing.
How this team operates on defense will be fascinating. When Harden, Gordon and Tucker were on the floor together last season, the Rockets gave up 112.7 points every 100 possessions. The last season in which Wall played, he finished 86th among point guards in DRPM. Those four could form a pretty poor core defensively, with Wood as the best defender among the group last season (11th power forward). If the offense is as clunky as it looks on paper and the defense ends up as bad as it projects to be, this could be a very long season for Houston.
The Rockets are really hurting for depth at point guard. Chris Clemons, who was expected to be one of the first guards off the bench after appearing in just 22 games last season, reportedly suffered a torn Achilles tendon during the preseason. He posted a low turnover rate (6.7%) last season but did not display much of an offensive game. The only other guard on this roster is Gerald Green, who is on a non-guaranteed deal and is coming off of a broken foot that caused him to miss last season.
Ben McLemore is an off-ball shooter who took 81% of his attempts from deep last season and still shot 40.8%. Sterling Brown likely will fill the same role but is nowhere near the shooter (35.7% on 109 attempts). DeMarcus Cousins is a quality backup center who could play in favor of Chris Wood, but he’s coming back from a torn ACL that sidelined him last season.
Houston needs rookie Kenyon Martin Jr. to progress as a ball handler and passer throughout the season, and if he can he’ll provide them some much-needed depth in the backcourt. He is an explosive athlete who can match up physically with both guard spots and the small forward on defense. Kenny Wooten and Bruno Caboclo make up the rest of this bench, which can be described as thin at best.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
Brad Wanamaker, G
Kelly Oubre, F
1 (2) James Wiseman, C
2 (18) Nico Mannion, G
2 (21) Justinian Jessup, G
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
PG: Stephen Curry
SG: Andrew Wiggins
SF: Kelly Oubre
PF: Draymond Green
C: James Wiseman
Steve Kerr has been clear this offseason that he wants Golden State to play fast. Not surprising, right? The Warriors have finished among the top six in points added per 100 possessions in transition every year but one under Kerr.
That one year when they fell out of the top six was last season, when Golden State finished 22nd in that category. In fact, last season was the Warriors’ slowest under Kerr. They ranked 27th in frequency of possessions starting with a transition play and 22nd in overall offensive efficiency in the fast break. It’s no wonder Kerr has emphasized playing quickly coming into a second consecutive season without Klay Thompson, and he might have the personnel to pull it off.
Steph Curry and Draymond Green have thrived in transition under Kerr. Curry has finished in the 93rd percentile or higher among all NBA players in points added per 100 possessions in transition every year under Kerr. Green’s offensive numbers in transition have fallen the last three seasons, but he still is one of the best in the league in getting a team out and running, ranking no lower than the 91st percentile in transition frequency when he is on the floor. Rookie center James Wiseman has a relatively limited offensive game but is an athletic big man who should be comfortable running the floor with Curry and Green.
Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre will fit perfectly alongside that trio when it comes to attacking in the fast break. Wiggins posted his best efficiency numbers in transition last season with Golden State since 2016-17. Oubre has been an inefficient transition player almost his entire career but showed flashes of his ability in the second half of the 2018-19 season when he was acquired by Phoenix. In 1,168 minutes, he posted a + 5.0 net differential in transition with the Suns that year, so in a system like Golden State’s he should be able to find a hint of that game.
It’s clear that running will be a strength for this team, but so much will fall on the shoulders of Curry. What this lineup boasts in speed and athleticism it lacks in shot creation. Oubre and Wiggins have never finished higher than the 67th percentile at their positions in points per shot attempt. Green finished in the 75th percentile among his position group the second year under Kerr but has been no higher than 33rd since. If Curry again goes down for an extended period, Golden State’s playoff hopes could be doomed.
The positive stemming from Golden State’s 15-win campaign last season was the experience players such as Eric Paschall gained. Paschall led the team in games played, averaging 14 points and 4.6 rebounds. It’s not all positive for the second-year forward, though. With him on the floor last season, the Warriors’ defensive rating jumped 6.2 points per 100 possessions, and as a result he posted a -4.6 efficiency differential.
The addition of Brad Wanamaker to this bench should help with the defensive problems the reserves face. Last season with Wanamaker on the floor, the Celtics posted a + 4.6 efficiency differential while giving up just 108.3 points every 100 possessions. He also fills the role of reserve point guard, something Golden State was desperately lacking.
The rest of this bench is stocked with wings who have scoring ability. Damion Lee averaged 12.7 points in 49 games for the Warriors last season. Jordan Poole played in 57 games and averaged 8.8 per game. Kent Bazemore comes aboard this season as well, giving Golden State plenty of depth at the position. With Lee and Poole on the floor together last season, Golden State posted a 117.5 defensive rating. Bazemore is this unit’s best defender, ranking 11th among shooting guards last season in DRPM, which will help offset some of the poor defensive play his teammates will surely bring to the table.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
Serge Ibaka, F
Luke Kennard, G
Nicolas Batum, F
2 (27) Reggie Perry, C (traded to Brooklyn)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
PG: Patrick Beverley
SG: Paul George
SF: Kawhi Leonard
PF: Marcus Morris
C: Ivica Zubac
Despite the extremely disappointing end to their run in the Orlando bubble, the Clippers still have the ability to roll out one of the best starting fives in the NBA. The lineup of Patrick Beverley, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Marcus Morris and Ivica Zubac ranked in the 100th percentile among all qualified lineups in efficiency differential (+ 23.5). Los Angeles averaged 122.5 points every 100 possessions while allowing just 99.0 with this group on the floor.
They were a dominant force in the halfcourt as well, limiting opponents to 86.9 points every 100 plays. Having said that, it’s not a perfect lineup. Shockingly, despite the great defensive numbers, this unit really struggled defending the rim. Opponents got only 29.3% of their attempts within four feet of the hoop against this lineup, but when they got there they finished at a 69.2% rate. In fact, all of the weaknesses of this unit fall within four feet of the rim.
Offensively, these five took just 24.8% of their attempts at the rim, and shot a lousy 62.5%. The unit lacks a real finisher. Last season Leonard took 77% of his attempts in some form of a jump shot, either midrange or beyond the arc. George took only 21% of his shots at the rim last season, Beverley was slightly higher at 22% and Morris took just 13% of his shots at the rim. When your best lineup consists of skilled midrange shooters, there will be times, like the fourth quarter of a Game 7 in the postseason, where the offense disappears. This reliance on the midrange game is why this lineup averaged just 19.4 made free throws per 100 field-goal attempts.
Therein lies the biggest weakness of the Clippers: the lack of a true point guard with the ability to attack the basket. The Clippers ranked 24th last season in assist percentage (57.1) and 20th in assist ratio (16.9). Those issues do not improve with this lineup. Beverley, their point guard in this grouping, has not finished higher than the 34th percentile at his position in individual assist percentage in his career. Last season he assisted on just 17.8% of his teammates’ baskets. That low mark was paired with a turnover percentage of 14.1%.
Beverley is a fine on-ball defender, which makes this group so deadly on that area of the floor, but he also is a microcosm of what plagues this team. If the Clippers are going to win a title this season, one would expect that a trade for a true point guard is coming before the deadline.
The Clippers’ biggest strength last season was depth, and that strength has been somewhat weakened. Serge Ibaka gives them depth at power forward or center. He is a solid rebounder — he grabbed 20.3% of opponents’ missed field goals last season for Toronto — and he has the ability to stretch the floor while providing rim protection.
Luke Kennard comes to Los Angeles off of his best season as a professional, posting career highs in usage, points per shot attempt, assist percentage, rim shooting and 3-point shooting, just to name a few. He should be an upgrade over Landry Shamet, who regressed across the board last season.
Lou Williams remains as well, providing the scoring presence he has been known for throughout his career. The question for Williams will be his role now that Montrezl Harrell is gone. Williams and Harrell created one of the most lethal pick-and-roll combinations in the league when they played together. With both on the floor, the Clippers’ efficiency differential was a very solid + 5.6, but that number dropped to just + 0.3 with Williams on and Harrell off. Williams is very much a defensive liability as well (120th of 138 shooting guards in DRPM).
Patrick Patterson also returns to provide some much-needed depth up front. The surprising move of the offseason came when former Hornet Nicolas Batum chose the Clippers once he cleared waivers, but he is a clear buy-low pickup. Batum is coming off of, by far, his worst year as a professional.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
Marc Gasol, C
Wesley Matthews, G
Montrezl Harrell, F
Dennis Schroder, G
1 (28) Jaden McDaniels, F (T-MIN)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
PG: LeBron James
SG: Wesley Matthews
SF: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
PF: Anthony Davis
C: Marc Gasol
The Bucks will get a lot of votes for Best Starting Five in the NBA, but the Lakers deserve consideration for that honor as well. Los Angeles might not have the best individual players in terms of talent, but when it comes to how these pieces fit together, there is really no argument.
LeBron James thrived in his role as the Lakers’ starting point guard, posting career highs in assists per game (10.2), assist percentage (47.7) and assist-to-usage ratio (1.32). There’s no question that James and Anthony Davis form one of the best duos in the league, and it showed when they were on the floor together. The Lakers outscored opponents by 8.0 points every 100 possessions with those two playing together. Davis really thrived with James as a playmaker. James assisted on 184 of 551 made field-goal attempts, Davis shot a career-high 43.2% on corner 3-point attempts and 36.9% on wide open 3-point attempts.
That duo is impressive, but what the Lakers did to improve this lineup is incredible. Wes Matthews is the perfect 3-and-D compliment to Davis and James. Matthews was the No. 2-ranked shooting guard in DRPM last season, giving the Lakers’ lineup more defensive flexibility when it comes to switching. Matthews did post the lowest 3-point percentage of his career last season in Milwaukee, but it was also the highest 3-point rate of his career by a mile (68%). With fewer attempts, his accuracy should bounce back, giving Los Angeles a perfect compliment to Davis and James. Marc Gasol’s addition is an upgrade at center as well. Gasol’s high ceiling on offense gives the Lakers an element they did not have last season.
The duo of JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard took more than 80% of their attempts within four feet of the basket. Gasol has the ability to stretch the floor offensively while still providing a defensive presence down low. He ranked fourth among centers in DRPM, and with him on the floor Toronto opponents saw their shooting percentage at the rim dip by 2.4%. Having said that, there is a price to pay with Gasol as your center. Last season he finished in the ninth (!) percentile of centers in offensive rebounding rate (2.8%). Howard and McGee finished in the 96th and 86th percentiles, respectively. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a known commodity for Los Angeles. He is not the most skilled defender, but he was a 38% 3-point shooter last season, and with his body type he still provides the Lakers with a wing who can switch to defend most matchups.
Dennis Schroder likely will come off the bench to give the Lakers’ reserves a floor general. Schroder was a fine passer last season for Oklahoma City, posting an assist percentage of 22.3%, his highest mark since his final season in Atlanta. Schroder can score as well, averaging 1.158 points per shot attempt last season while shooting 39% from deep. They will need his shooting with this bench unit because that really is their weakness.
Montrezl Harrell fills out the secondary big role, and his game as a roller should work perfectly with Schroder. Last season the Clippers averaged 1.31 points per possession when Harrell was the roll man in a pick-and-roll. He should be able to keep that up with Schroder as his lead ball handler. The rest of the bench we know for Los Angeles. Alex Caruso is a fantastic defender with a nose for the big defensive play. With him on the floor, the Lakers’ defensive rating improved by 3.5 points every 100 possessions and his efficiency differential when playing was a career-high + 6.6 last season.
Kyle Kuzma might actually be the odd man out. Yes, he gives Los Angeles depth at power forward, but he shot just 31% from deep last season and he posted a career-low 1.074 points per shot attempt. Add that to the fact that he is a subpar defender — the Lakers’ defensive rating jumped by 1.4 points with him on the floor — and he could be one of the last guys off the bench.
Chris Paul, G
Jae Crowder, F
1 (10) Jalen Smith, F
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
PG: Chris Paul
SG: Devin Booker
SF: Mikal Bridges
PF: Jae Crowder
C: DeAndre Ayton
This lineup has the potential to be a nightmare for opposing defenses. Let’s start with the returning trio of Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges and DeAndre Ayton. With those three on the floor together last season, the Suns outscored opponents by 7.3 points every 100 possessions. Phoenix posted an offensive rating of 119.4 with that trio, and they ranked in the 97th percentile among qualified lineups in fast break efficiency, averaging 1.433 points per transition play, according to Cleaning the Glass. It even went well when the game slowed down, as the Suns averaged 1.030 points per play in the halfcourt as well. There is not an area of the floor in which this grouping struggled offensively last season.
Now, replace Ricky Rubio with Chris Paul and you’re cooking with gas. With Paul on the floor last season, Oklahoma City saw its offensive rating jump by 13.7 points every 100 possessions. His ability to lead an offense took shape in the halfcourt for the Thunder, where their offensive efficiency increased by 13.1 points every 100 plays. Paul will likely slow things down a bit for Phoenix — the Suns ranked third in frequency of possessions starting with a transition play — but there is no question this offense will not miss a beat regardless of where they are operating.
Power forward is the interesting position for Phoenix in this lineup. For now, we’re putting Jae Crowder in that slot because it gives the Suns a bit more flexibility defensively. Crowder can defend forwards in the frontcourt and still be comfortable switching to guards along the perimeter. Having said that, it’s not like Crowder is a defensive dynamo. He ranked 91st of 99 small forwards in DRPM, but his mobility and body type allows for more fluidity on that side of the ball as opposed to the 6-foot-10 Dario Saric. Crowder’s defensive ability is actually the main question about this lineup overall.
Let’s go back to that trio of Booker, Bridges and Ayton. Yes, the offensive numbers are electric, but they also allowed 112.2 points every 100 possessions when on the floor together. They struggled almost everywhere as a unit. In the halfcourt, opponents averaged 96.8 points every 100 plays. In transition, they allowed 1.281 points per play. Surprising for a team that runs so well in the opposite direction.
Paul was a wash for Oklahoma City defensively last season (+ 0.1 change in the team’s defensive rating with him on the floor), so he won’t provide much improvement on that end of the floor. This lineup comes down to offense, but the defense will likely be their downfall in high-leverage affairs.
Phoenix ranked 27th in bench scoring last season (30.9 points per game), and there’s not much reason to think that will improve much. Cameron Payne is coming off a spectacular bubble run, in which he averaged 10.9 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game, but that was in just eight games. We have 153 other career games that say Payne is a 6.0 points-per-game scorer who shoots 39.7% from the floor and is a defensive liability.
Saric is a fine stretch four who averaged 10.7 points per game last season, and Cameron Johnson has the ceiling to be their best reserve. Johnson took 65% of his attempts from deep last season and still shot 39%. He isn’t the best defender, but he’s capable enough to not be considered a liability.
E’Twaun Moore comes from New Orleans and gives the Suns even more shooting depth behind Johnson (39.0% career shooter). The main defensive presence on the bench is Jevon Carter, who is a fantastic on-ball defender who finished 14th among point guards in DRPM and 80th among all 520 qualified NBA players. Overall, this is a bench that boasts shooting and scoring at multiple positions but, much like the starting unit, has real questions about its capabilities defensively.
Hassan Whiteside, C
1 (12) Tyrese Haliburton, G
2 (5) Xavier Tillman, C (T-MEM)
2 (13) Jahmi’us Ramsey, G
2 (22) Kenyon Martin Jr., F (T-HOU)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
PG: De’Aaron Fox
SG: Buddy Hield
SF: Harrison Barnes
PF: Marvin Bagley III
C: Richaun Holmes
Like many of the bad teams you’ll come across in this guide, the Kings are primed to be a terrible defensive team that can score in bunches. The trio of De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield and Harrison Barnes were outscored by 3.6 points every 100 possessions last season despite posting an offensive rating (115.1) that ranked in the 86th percentile of all qualified NBA lineups. These three were brutalized inside as opponents shot a staggering 67.9% inside four feet while grabbing 27.0% of their misses.
In halfcourt situations, the Kings gave up 101.4 points every 100 plays, and opponents averaged 1.234 points per putback play, which was good for placing in the 14th percentile of qualified lineups. In other words, Sacramento could not rebound and played poor defense whenever Fox, Hield and Barnes played together.
Marvin Bagley III appeared in only 13 games last season because of injury, and when he was on the floor with those three, it did not get any better. With Bagley, the Kings’ net rating plummeted (-8.6) with most of the inefficiencies popping up on offense. Sacramento’s offensive rating with Fox, Hield, Barnes and Bagley was 106.5, which ranked in the 19th percentile of lineups. The offense should be better with a fully healthy Bagley this season, but it is worth noting that when he was on the floor during his rookie season, the Kings’ offensive rating dipped by 1.4 points every 100 possessions.
But Bagley can’t be blamed for all of this lineup’s issues. Fox and Hield are likely going to be one of the worst defensive backcourts in the league. Fox was the 84th-ranked point guard in DRPM last season, and Hield was 131st among shooting guards. When they were on the floor together, the Kings gave up 118.5 every 100 possessions.
Barnes is a solid defender who finished 26th at his position in DRPM, and Richaun Holmes provides a solid interior presence. When he was on the floor last season, the Kings allowed 1.8 fewer points every 100 possessions, and opponents’ shooting at the rim dropped by 3.1 percent. He does not create much of his own offense (75% of his makes were assisted last season), but he is efficient. Holmes averaged 1.351 points per shot attempt, a statistic he has improved each season in the league, and he shot 73.3% at the rim. He’s also a very good rebounder who ranked in the 77th percentile at his position in offensive rebounding (10.5%). This lineup has upside on offense but could be a big liability on defense.
The loss of Bogdan Bogdanovic leaves Sacramento with a very shaky bench. Rookie Tyrese Haliburton is expected to shoulder a major load for the Kings this season. Some regarded the sharpshooter out of Iowa State as one of the five best prospects in the draft, and none can deny his scoring ability. Haliburton took 50.8% of his attempts last season from beyond the arc and still made 41.9% of them. He was assisted on 80.8% of his 3-point makes, so he’s better suited to play off the ball, but he is expected to play some point guard this season.
Glenn Robinson III can fill the role of bench scorer at times. He shot 39.9% from deep in his time with Golden State and was an effective finisher (82.1%). Robinson won’t be confused for Klay Thompson on defense, but will not be a liability like some of the others who will get time in the backcourt.
The Kings’ frontcourt is pretty loaded. Nemanja Bjelica can play power forward or center in small-ball lineups. He has the ability to consistently space the floor with his 41.5% perimeter shot, and he improved Sacramento’s defensive rating by 2.3 points last season. Hassan Whiteside, the traditional center of this rotation, can lack in engaged defense at times. He will spell Holmes when the Kings are in need of some rebounding. Kyle Guy and Cory Joseph will eat up some of the backcourt minutes at the back end of this rotation as well.
Josh Richardson, G
1 (18) Josh Green, G
2 (1) Tyrell Terry, G
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
PG: Luka Doncic
SG: Tim Hardaway Jr.
SF: Josh Richardson
PF: Maxi Kleber
C: Kristaps Porzingis
The Mavericks’ offense was historic last season. Dallas ended the regular season with an offensive rating of 115.9, the highest in NBA history. A starting lineup featuring Luka Doncic, Tim Hardaway Jr., Maxi Kleber and Kristaps Porzingis will go a long way.
The Mavericks were incredible in multiple offensive categories with that lineup last season, but the driving force was their shooting ability. They averaged 118.2 points every 100 possessions, took 48.2% of their attempts from beyond the arc and made 35.5%. Now, the percentages might not thrill you, but this is the new NBA. A high volume of 3-point attempts leads to lower percentages but higher scoring. Hitting 35 of 100 3-pointers gives you 105 points. To match that inside the arc, you have to hit 53 shots. Dallas personified this tactic last season and will continue to do so in 2020-2021.
The 3-point shot was not all this lineup had either. Shooting at that rate opens up the floor, allowing the Mavericks to shoot a solid 65.4% at the rim. Their accuracy from deep and ability to open the floor led to an insanely efficient halfcourt offense as well. Doncic, Hardaway, Kleber and Porzingis averaged 1.059 points per play in the halfcourt, placing them in the 98th percentile of qualified lineups. Now, all of these numbers were with those four together. Josh Richardson’s addition to this lineup likely will bring down the shooting frequency and accuracy a bit, as he was a 34.6% shooter last season, but he gives them something they desperately lack: quality defense.
Those four, as proficient as they were offensively, struggled mightily last season on defense. Imagine scoring 118.2 points every 100 possessions and only leading by 1.1 points. That’s exactly what this Mavericks lineup was posting, a + 1.1 net rating with those four on the floor despite the historic offensive numbers. Dallas as a team had a net rating of only + 4.8 despite having the best offense in the league’s history. Richardson does not fix those issues by any means, but he makes them just slightly better. Philadelphia’s defensive rating improved by 2.4 points every 100 possessions when Richardson was on the floor, and he ranked 28th among shooting guards last season in DRPM.
Opponents throttled the original four guys in this lineup, averaging 99.0 points every 100 plays in the halfcourt. They gave up 64.1% at the rim despite opponents taking just 34.4% of their attempts within four feet. Dallas also couldn’t defend without fouling, allowing 25.0 made free throws per 100 field-goal attempts, good for the 8th percentile of NBA lineups defensively.
Dallas’ bench took a massive blow in the offseason with the loss of Seth Curry to free agency, but there are some things to like here. Jalen Brunson is a quality reserve guard who can defend any guard. With Brunson on the floor last season, the Mavericks saw their defensive rating improve by 4.7 points every 100 possessions. He is limited in his offensive game, but he gives Dallas something they badly need from their bench guys.
Dorian Finney-Smith really came on last season with his shooting, hitting 37.7% his attempts from beyond the arc. He is also another quality defender, finishing 12th at his position in DRPM. The rest of the bench is somewhat shaky.
The Mavericks are hoping the lightning Trey Burke caught in that bottle in Orlando is still around. Burke, who was picked up before the bubble, went on to average 12 points off the bench for Dallas, including a 25-point showing against the Clippers in Game 4 of their first-round playoff series. Burke has never been confused for a defensive stopper, but he could be another quality scorer off the bench.
Dwight Powell and Willie Cauley-Stein make up the rotation at center, but Powell is coming off of a torn Achilles, making his effectiveness a question mark. Keep an eye on rookies Josh Green and Tyrell Terry as well, as they’re expected to play big roles off the bench.
Mario Hezonja, F
2 (10) Robert Woodard II, F (T-SAC)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
PG: Ja Morant
SG: Dillon Brooks
SF: Kyle Anderson
PF: Jaren Jackson Jr.
C: Jonas Valanciunas
The good news for Memphis is that this starting lineup was their second-most used lineup last season. In an offseason unlike any we have seen, it should be good for the Grizzlies to roll out a lineup in which the players are familiar with one another. The bad news is that this lineup stunk on offense.
With these five on the floor, the Grizzlies were outscored by 12.7 points every 100 possessions. That ranks in the 5th percentile among qualified NBA lineups. The problem with this grouping is their offensive inefficiencies. Memphis is managing just 91.2 points every 100 possessions with this lineup on the floor. It is a group that lives inside the arc. This lineup is taking 35.2% of its attempts from midrange, 37.2% at the rim.
Living at the rim is a necessity for any NBA offense in 2020, but this unit finishes at just a 59.4% clip within four feet. If you’re wondering, that’s extremely poor. The other problem is the shooting. For a team that shoots so well from midrange (49.5%), they are flat-out awful from deep (24.4%).
So, with so many negatives around this grouping why would it be the projected starting lineup? This unit is very good on defense. The -12.7 net rating comes from the poor offense because on defense this lineup is allowing just 107.6 points every 100 possessions. That is the same rating as the Pacers, who finished sixth in defensive efficiency.
This lineup also exemplifies what coach Taylor Jenkins wants on that end of the floor. Jenkins comes from Milwaukee, and his defensive philosophies mirror those of the Bucks: Cut off the rim, allow perimeter shots. These five allow opponents to take just 31.1% of their attempts at the rim while shooting just 51.9%. That is an incredible mark. They’re also very effective in transition on defense, allowing 1.056 points per play on the fast break.
This is also the Grizzlies’ starting lineup mainly out of necessity. Yes, Jaren Jackson Jr. will miss the beginning of the season with a knee injury suffered in the Orlando bubble, but at full strength the starting rotation will have Morant, Brooks, Jackson and Valanciunas. Small forward is the only real question mark, and it shows in the numbers. Remove Kyle Anderson from the floor and the quartet of Morant, Brooks, Jackson and Valanciunas have a + 1.0 efficiency differential. One would think Justise Winslow would fill that role, but he has yet to play a second with the team and will miss the start of the season with an injury.
This reserve unit has some strong upside. Memphis finished last season sixth in bench scoring at 40.9 points per game, and that will likely be the case as the bench remains largely intact. Any analysis of the bench starts with Brandon Clarke. Clarke was incredible last season, averaging 1.330 points per shot attempt, and he finished fifth among all players in field-goal percentage (61.8).
Tyus Jones is a fine reserve point guard, and when he was on the floor, the Grizzlies’ offensive efficiency increased by 3.1 points every 100 possessions. Jones assisted on 31.3% of his teammates’ baskets and his assist-to-usage ratio ranked in the 94th percentile among point guards.
Grayson Allen is a deadly efficient shooter. The former Duke star averaged 1.226 points per shot attempt last season, which placed him in the 87th percentile of his position group. De’Anthony Melton was a fantastic presence for this team overall. When Melton was on the floor, Memphis outscored opponents by 10.4 points every 100 possessions.
Winslow could be a great wing defender, which this team desperately needs, but will he be healthy? He has played in just 77 games over the last two seasons. As a whole, this bench lacks a real defensive presence, but the offensive upside is undeniable. Expect Memphis to finish in the top 10 in bench scoring once more this season.
NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
Eric Bledsoe, G
Steven Adams, C
Willy Hernangomez, C
1 (13) Kira Lewis Jr., G
2 (9) Elijah Hughes, G (T-UTA)
2 (12) Nick Richards, C (T-CHA)
2 (30) Sam Merrill, G (T-MIL)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
PG: Lonzo Ball
SG: Eric Bledsoe
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: Zion Williamson
C: Steven Adams
When Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson were on the floor together last season, magical things happened. New Orleans posted a + 13.1 efficiency differential, most of which came from their production defensively. The Pelicans allowed just 99.3 points every 100 possessions with that trio on the floor, allowing opponents to shoot just 59.2% at the rim and 31.4% from beyond the arc.
Ball and Williamson are a really solid defensive duo. When Ball was on the floor last season, the Pelicans’ defensive rating improved by 3.5 points every 100 possessions, and with Williamson, that improvement was by 5.7 points every 100 possessions. Ingram has slowly been improving his defensive game, and while he finished 72nd among 99 small forwards in DRPM, the Pelicans’ defensive rating improved slightly with him on the floor (-0.8 per 100 possessions), showing his ability as a team defender.
New Orleans has the potential to be a quality defensive team this season if those three can continue their trajectory as defenders, and if newcomers Eric Bledsoe and Steven Adams do their part. Bledsoe is a clear downgrade from Jrue Holiday on both ends of the floor. Holiday is the better shooter from both midrange and 3-point range, and he is the better defender, according to RPM, by a mile. Bledsoe finished 64th among point guards and 377th of 520 qualified players in DRPM. It was one of his poorest seasons, so one has to wonder if it was a blip on the radar or a sign of things to come for a 31-year-old point guard.
Adams is a really intriguing piece because he actually fills a rather large need for New Orleans: rebounding. The Pelicans finished 18th in defensive rebounding rate last season, pulling in just 72.9% of opponents’ misses. In halfcourt situations against New Orleans, opponents pulled in 26.0% of their own misses, good for 16th in the league. Adams is a dynamic rebounder who is coming off of a season in which he ranked in the 79th percentile at his position in individual defensive rebounding rate (21.3%). He’s also one of the best offensive rebounders in the game (8.9 offensive rebounding rate), and he joins a team that ranked fourth in that category last season. Adams runs the floor very well, too, which will allow a team that finished fourth in pace and 13th in fast-break efficiency (1.284 points per play in transition) to continue to thrive.
New coach Stan Van Gundy’s Pistons teams finished in the top 10 of transition frequency every season but one, so do not expect this Pelicans team to slow down much.
A backup point guard seems to be the biggest hole on this bench, so rookie Kira Lewis Jr. likely will have quite the load on his shoulders in that role. Lewis led Alabama in assists last season (5.2 per game) and is the only true point guard on the bench. JJ Redick likely will be one of the first guys off the bench for Van Gundy, and he will lead a unit with some potential.
Josh Hart is a fine scoring wing who can finish at the rim (67% at the rim last season) but needs work as a defender. When he was on the floor last season, the Pelicans’ defensive rating jumped by 2.2 points every 100 possessions, and that led to him being a net negative when playing. Nickeil Alexander-Walker was quite the scorer in his limited role, but he was not efficient and his defense was a bigger liability than Hart’s. With Alexander-Walker on the floor, the Pelicans’ offensive rating improved by 4.2 points every 100 possessions, but they allowed 6.3 points more defensively.
Jaxon Hayes showed promise as their reserve big and thrived in transition with his athleticism (+ 10.0 points every 100 plays in transition with him on the floor). Even better was the lack of a defensive drop-off with Hayes playing, which is big for a reserve squad whose biggest question mark is defense.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
1 (11) Devin Vassell, G
2 (11) Tre Jones, G
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
PG: Dejounte Murray
SG: Lonnie Walker IV
SF: DeMar DeRozan
PF: LaMarcus Aldridge
C: Jakob Poeltl
San Antonio finished last season as the 10th-best offense in the league, averaging 111.7 points every 100 possessions. However, a defense that gave up 112.6 every 100 possessions held them back from the postseason for the first time since the 1996-97 season. Unfortunately, this team looks like it will follow a similar path statistically, but there is some upside.
Let’s start with the new addition to the starting lineup: Lonnie Walker IV. Walker was inserted into the starting lineup for San Antonio’s seeding games in Orlando, and his presence was electric. Walker averaged 11.3 points per game, shot 41.4% on 3-pointers and was a big part of the Spurs’ 5-3 finish in Orlando.
Walker regularly started games alongside Dejounte Murray, DeMar DeRozan and Derrick White with Jakob Poeltl at center, and that lineup killed it. The Spurs outscored opponents by 8.5 points every 100 possessions, posted a 119.2 offensive rating while averaging 1.024 points per play in the halfcourt. White likely will miss the beginning of the season recovering from an offseason procedure on a toe, so bettors won’t see that bubble lineup for a while.
Really, this lineup’s success falls on the shoulders of LaMarcus Aldridge, who was not on the floor in Orlando because of an injury. Aldridge did see some time during the season with Murray, DeRozan and Walker, but it did not go well. That lineup, with Bryn Forbes, who is now in Milwaukee, posted a -12.5 efficiency differential and gave up 1.371 points per possession. That lineup was on the floor for just 57 possessions, so there is room for improvement. However, with the potential shown in Orlando, it is imperative Aldridge pulls his weight. With Aldridge on the floor last season, the Spurs were outscored by 5.2 points every 100 possessions. He was even a negative on offense, dropping San Antonio’s offensive rating by 2.9 points every 100 possessions.
Defense is going to be a massive weakness on this team, so if Aldridge is going to weigh this team down on offense, that’s a problem. Having said that, the problems with San Antonio’s starting five are not all on their power forward. Murray and DeRozan are turnstiles on defense. With those two on the floor, the Spurs had a -5.7 efficiency differential and gave up 116.0 points every 100 possessions. That is why Walker should find his way into a starting role. When he and Poeltl were on the floor together, the Spurs posted a + 11.4 efficiency differential, and their defensive rating was a rock-solid 108.0. Those two in the starting lineup give San Antonio a chance on defense.
San Antonio finished fourth in bench scoring (45.5 points per game) last season and will once again have one of the best-scoring reserve units in the league. Patty Mills is as efficient a scorer as ever, coming off of a career high in points per shot attempt (1.196) and midrange shooting (43.7%). With Derrick White coming off the bench as well, the Spurs have one of the most effective reserve backcourts on offense.
When Mills and White were on the floor together last season, San Antonio averaged 116.5 points every 100 possessions, which ranks among the 92nd percentile of all qualified lineups. White is a solid defensive guard as well, dropping the Spurs’ defensive rating by 2.9 points every 100 possessions while on the floor.
Rudy Gay has seen his offensive game slip the last two seasons, but he is still a quality defender who pairs well with White. Add Gay to the mix with Mills and White and the Spurs’ net efficiency improves to + 5.8 with that trio on the floor. Even more impressive is the 109.0 defensive rating with that trio.
Rookie Tre Jones gives San Antonio another solid on-ball defender, and Trey Lyles likely will find himself near the back end of this bench rotation. Second-year guard Keldon Johnson likely will push Lyles for those minutes after appearing in just 17 games last season.
1 (22) Zeke Nnaji, F
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
PG: Jamal Murray
SG: Gary Harris
SF: Will Barton
PF: Paul Millsap
C: Nikola Jokic
With Denver running it back this season, it makes our job pretty easy when it comes to assessing this starting lineup. Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton, Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic made up Mike Malone’s most used lineup, and for good reason.
The Nuggets outscored opponents by 8.6 points every 100 possessions with this group playing together. They thrived defensively, allowing just 104.3 points every 100 possessions. In the halfcourt, they allowed just 88.5 points every 100 plays, and overall opponents’ perimeter offenses were stifled. The Nuggets allowed opponents to shoot just 34.2% from deep, 33.6% from midrange when these five played together.
Harris and Barton form one of the most dynamic defensive wing duos in the league, and their importance to this team was on full display in Orlando. Barton did not play a single game in the restart and Harris did not return until the series with the Jazz. When those two were on the floor together last season, the Nuggets outscored opponents by 6.2 points every 100 possessions, and they allowed just 105.0 points per 100 possessions.
Opponents shot just 31.6% from deep when those two were on the floor, and any lineup with them in it ranked in the 84th and 88th percentiles in transition and halfcourt defense, respectively. Their absence was the main reason Denver ranked dead last in defensive rating (121.7) in the seeding games. With both healthy and ready for this season, the Nuggets should be a top defensive team again.
The ceiling is high offensively with these five as well, and that is because of the deadly pick-and-roll combination of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. They have arguably the best two-man game in the league, and it shows. When they are paired together, the Nuggets average 115.4 points every 100 possessions, and they boast one of the best midrange offenses in the league (45.6% on all midrange shots when Jokic and Murray are on the floor). It gets even better when Millsap is added to the equation. When that trio was together, the Nuggets owned a + 9.4 efficiency differential and limited opponents to 106.6 points every 100 possessions.
The trio of Jokic, Murray and Millsap makes for an effective rebounding team as well. Murray is a solid rebounder as a guard (2.5 offensive rebounding rate), and when all three of them are together the Nuggets snatch 29.0% of opponent misses. Put all five of these guys together and you have a lineup that can score, defend and rebound. They won’t be the fastest team in the league, but they will match up well with anyone.
Michael Porter Jr. will be in contention for the starting small forward spot, but with his shortcomings on defense, it is more than likely he remains in this role. There is no questioning Porter’s offensive ability. When he was on the floor, the Nuggets’ offensive rating improved by 4.7 points every 100 possessions. Porter is an insanely efficient scorer who averaged 1.241 points per shot, shot 67.1% at the rim and 42.9% from 3-point range. If he can stabilize his defensive game (98th of 99 power forwards in DRPM), he will be a much bigger part of the rotation.
Monte Morris is the steady hand who guides the reserves. While he is not the most skilled passer, with a 21.4 assist rate, Morris does not turn the ball over (7.6 turnover rate), which is a must for a point guard. Overall, Denver was outscored by 1.8 points every 100 possessions with him on the floor, but he is a finisher at the rim (66.1%), and an effective shooter (37.7%).
JaMychal Green comes in from Los Angeles and fits nicely into the big rotation for Malone. Green is not going to dominate within four feet, but he is a stretch four who can shoot with consistency (38.8%) and rebound well (20.4 defensive rebounding rate). Bol Bol likely will get more playing time this season, and he is part of a remaining bench that is not very experienced. R.J. Hampton and Facundo Campazzo are rookies who will have roles to play, but this bench is much shorter than in years past.
Ricky Rubio, G
Ed Davis, C
1 (1) Anthony Edwards, G
1 (17) Aleksej Pokusevski, F (T-OKC)
2 (3) Daniel Oturu, C (T-LAC)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
PG: Ricky Rubio
SG: D’Angelo Russell
SF: Malik Beasley
PF: Juan Hernangomez
C: Karl-Anthony Towns
If what we saw on Feb. 10 is a sign of things to come for the Timberwolves, Over bettors will be thrilled. On that date D’Angelo Russell made his T-Wolves debut and played 32 minutes. Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns were on the court together for just 41 possessions, according to Cleaning the Glass, but in those 41 possessions Minnesota’s offense was electric.
The Timberwolves posted an offensive rating of 121.3, had an effective field-goal percentage of 61.9 and still posted a -22.0 net rating. Yes, you read that correctly. Extrapolated over 100 possessions, Minnesota would have been outscored by 22 points despite posting an offensive rating that was in the 99th percentile of qualified lineups. Are these totals going to be high enough this season?
Having Russell and Towns on the floor together likely will be a nightmare on defense. Russell ranked 129th out of 138 shooting guards in DRPM and Towns was the worst center in that metric last season. Quality pick-and-roll attacks will feast on these two almost every night.
Having Ricky Rubio at point guard will stop some of that bleeding for Minnesota. Rubio ranked ninth among point guards in DRPM last season, and Phoenix allowed 5.7 fewer points every 100 possessions with Rubio on the floor. He should be able to defend the point of attack in a lot of pick-and-roll situations and likely will draw the best offensive guard on a night-to-night basis. Having Rubio and Russell on the floor together will help the flow of this offense as well. Rubio assisted on 37.7% of his teammates’ baskets last season, and Russell was just behind that mark in his time with Golden State last season (33.5%).
Minnesota kept Malik Beasley with a $60 million contract in the offseason, and he fits perfectly with the roster the Timberwolves are building. When Beasley and Russell were on the floor together last season, Minnesota averaged 116.1 points every 100 possessions, showing promise in both halfcourt (100.6) and fast-break situations (128.4). The problem with Beasley is the same as the Timberwolves as a whole: defense. Beasley ranked 106th among shooting guards in DRPM last season, and with him on the floor the Timberwolves’ defensive rating worsened by 4.8 points every 100 possessions.
Juan Hernangomez’s presence does not do much to raise Minnesota’s defensive ceiling either. Opponents’ shooting at the rim improved by 2.5% with him on the floor, and their 3-point percentage jumped by a whopping 6.9%. Minnesota’s front office prioritized offense over defense when constructing this roster, and it will severely limit its chances at a postseason berth.
This does not seem to be a deep team. Anthony Edwards has the potential to be a force both in transition and in halfcourt situations, but we do not know what his development will be like in this shortened season.
Jarrett Culver showed next to nothing on offense as a rookie, averaging 0.917 points per shot last season while shooting 54.2% and 28.2% from deep. He showed some stuff on defense but not much. When Culver was on the floor last season, the Timberwolves allowed 2.7 fewer points every 100 possessions, but he finished 94th among shooting guards in DRPM.
Josh Okogie has almost no offensive game. He shot just 26.8% on all jump shots last season and managed just 1.101 points per shot attempt. On top of that, Okogie was once thought to be Minnesota’s best wing defender, but he is coming off a season in which Minnesota’s defensive rating was worse with him on the floor (+ 1.9), and he ranked 78th at small forward in DRPM. The Timberwolves’ frontcourt rotation behind Towns is somewhat shaky.
Ed Davis comes in as a free agent, likely getting the first crack at center when Towns is resting. Davis appeared in only 26 games for Utah last season, but he can be a solid defensive presence down low. In his last full season, in Brooklyn, the Nets’ defensive rating improved by 6.9 points every 100 possessions. Jake Layman and Naz Reid make up the back end of the position and will get minutes sparingly. Layman likely will find himself in a stretch-four role more often than not.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
Justin Jackson, F
Trevor Ariza, F
George Hill, G
1 (25) Immanuel Quickley, G (T-NYK)
2 (23) Cassius Winston, G (T-WAS)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
PG: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
SG: Hamidou Diallo
SF: Trevor Ariza
PF: Darius Bazley
C: Al Horford
Thunder coach Mark Daigneault has quite a few options when it comes to crafting a starting lineup. However, the lineup we’ve constructed for this guide gives Oklahoma City as much balance as possible.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has emerged as one of the league’s rising young stars, and his ceiling on offense is extremely high. Last season, playing mostly off the ball, SGA averaged a solid 1.133 points per shot attempt, and the Thunder saw their offensive rating improve by 8.3 points every 100 possessions when he was on the floor. He has to work on certain parts of his game (58.6% at the rim, 34.5% from deep), and he must improve as a passer.
As mostly a shooting guard last season, SGA assisted on 14.5% of his teammates’ baskets, good for the 75th percentile of wing players. When he ran the point as a rookie with the Clippers, his assist rate (17.8%) was higher than last season but still very low for a starting NBA point guard. SGA also needs to work on his game as a defender (41st shooting guard in DRPM), but this lineup has some versatile defenders capable of picking up the opposition’s best scorer.
Hamidou Diallo has a ton of work to do to improve offensively, but there is no question that the third-year pro is a rock-solid defender. With him on the floor, the Thunder’s defensive rating improved by 5.4 points every 100 possessions. His presence was felt along the perimeter, where opponents’ 3-point shooting dropped by 3.6 percent, and midrange shooting dipped by 5.3% with him on the floor. The problem with Diallo is that he has zero offensive game. He fell into the 28th percentile or lower in all major shooting categories last season, but he makes up for it with great offensive rebounding (5.1%).
Unfortunately, Oklahoma City’s roster is full of players with Diallo’s makeup: wings who can defend like hell but cannot play offense. Darius Bazley is much of the same. Bazley is a slightly more consistent 3-point shooter (34.1%), but he shot 28.9% on midrange attempts and 52.4% at the rim. That is where Trevor Ariza comes in. Between two stops last season (Sacramento and Portland), Ariza shot 37.1% on 202 attempts. He will be a solid scorer off the ball (38.4% on catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts last season) and gives this lineup the shooting presence it desperately needs.
Al Horford’s presence defensively gives Oklahoma City a really high ceiling on that end of the floor with this starting five.
The Thunder likely will be in the bottom half of the league when it comes to offensive efficiency, but there are a few guys on this bench who will be able to provide some scoring in relief. George Hill is an insanely efficient scorer, coming off a career season in efficiency with Milwaukee. Hill averaged a career-high 1.320 points per shot attempt in 59 games for the Bucks, set another career high by shooting 46.3% from 3-point range, and with him on the floor Milwaukee’s offensive rating improved by 4.7 points. His presence will be a godsend for a team that could be desperate for points at times.
Luguentz Dort burst onto the scene as the “Harden Stopper” last season, but much like Diallo and Bazley he has many limitations offensively. Dort averaged just 100.4 points per shot attempt and shot just 30.0% from beyond the arc. He is a fantastic on-ball defender, but he will not provide much as a consistent scorer.
Justin Jackson and Mike Muscala are solid floor spacers in the frontcourt. Jackson is more of a threat from midrange, and Muscala is a career 36.8% 3-point shooter who will bring opposing centers out to the perimeter with his shot. Frank Jackson will find himself at the back end of the bench rotation, but he is a solid third option at point guard who does not turn the ball over (12.3% turnover rate).
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
Robert Covington, F
Derrick Jones Jr., F
Harry Giles, F
1 (16) Isaiah Stewart, C (T-DET)
2 (16) CJ Elleby, G
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
PG: Damian Lillard
SG: CJ McCollum
SF: Robert Covington
PF: Carmelo Anthony
C: Jusuf Nurkic
Offense is not going to be a problem for this Portland team. The Trail Blazers stole America’s heart with a run to the postseason in Orlando, leading the 22 teams in offensive efficiency (122.5) while winning six games and the final seed in the Western Conference. Damian Lillard was the catalyst, averaging 37.6 points and 9.6 assists while shooting 49.7% from the floor. Now Lillard not only has a familiar group around him, but Portland added one of the best complimentary pieces possible in Robert Covington.
First, look at the returning quartet of Lillard along with CJ McCollum, Carmelo Anthony and Jusuf Nurkic. When those four were on the floor together last season, the Blazers averaged 125.6 points every 100 possessions, placing them in the 100th percentile of qualified NBA lineups in offensive efficiency. This group scored from everywhere, shooting 66.0% at the rim and from the corners. Those four thrived mostly in the halfcourt, averaging 114.1 points every 100 plays, which is insanity. However, there was a massive weakness for this unit, and that was defense.
Despite ranking in 100th percentile in offensive efficiency, this group outscored opponents by just 0.8 points every 100 possessions. Yes, not even a full point with a record-setting offense. Opponents killed them at the rim (75.6%) and from deep (43.2%). Go back to that incredible run in Orlando. Despite leading all teams in offense by a comfortable margin, Portland outscored opponents by only 2.1 points every 100 possessions.
This is where Covington comes in. Covington by no means fixes Portland’s defensive issues, but he does give them a much-needed on-ball defender. In his 22 games with Houston last season, he improved the Rockets’ defensive rating by 15.5 points every 100 possessions. He finished 31st among all NBA players in DRPM. There is no question he raises Portland’s ceiling defensively.
Nurkic is going to be a very important piece to this defense as well. Surprisingly, when he returned from his leg injury last season, he was not impactful on defense. When he was on the floor, Portland’s defensive rating spiked by 10.4 points every 100 possessions. However, that was the first time since his second season that he did not place in the 77th percentile or higher in defensive efficiency differential when on the floor. In other words: He’s much better than what he showed last season. If Nurkic regains his defensive prowess, along with Covington’s presence, this team goes from play-in game to a top-three seed in the Western Conference.
The best part about the acquisition of Covington was the price for Portland: nothing. Well, not nothing, but not a single piece off their deep reserve unit. After averaging just 8.9 points per game over 53 games before the hiatus, Gary Trent Jr. broke out in a big way. In eight seeding games, Trent averaged 16.9 points per game and 1.467 points per shot attempt while shooting 53.1% from deep. Trent will provide a fantastic shooting presence off the bench.
Anfernee Simons will grab minutes in the backcourt, and Portland has been extremely high on him. While his numbers did not look great in his first full season off the bench (1.019 points per shot attempt over 70 games) he is a solid ball handler who can run the point when Lillard is resting (10.0% turnover rate).
In the frontcourt, the Blazers have two quality reserves behind Nurkic. Enes Kanter has the ability to stretch the floor (44.1% midrange shooter) offensively and an excellent rebounding game (16.0% offensive rebounding rate, 25.1% defensive rebounding rate). Zach Collins has yet to show any real consistency on either end of the floor, but in his 289 minutes last season, Portland did see its offensive rating improve by 11.8 points every 100 possessions. Rodney Hood comes back off an Achilles injury to give the Blazers more wing depth, and Harry Giles gives them another rebounder.
Derrick Favors, F
1 (27) Udoka Azubuike, C
2 (8) Saben Lee, G (T-DET)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
PG: Mike Conley
SG: Donovan Mitchell
SF: Royce O’Neale
PF: Bojan Bogdanovich
C: Rudy Gobert
Utah’s second-most-used lineup was one of their most effective, so it makes sense that bettors will see it to begin the season. With this lineup on the floor, the Jazz outscored opponents by 10.6 points every 100 possessions, and it showed some real promise defensively. When facing these five, opponents posted a 104.3 offensive rating and struggled to get their perimeter game working (35.1% 3-point shooting). This lineup thrived in transition defensively as well, allowing just 114.1 points every 100 plays in fast-break situations.
Offensively, there is a lot to like here too. This group took 36.3% of its attempts from deep and shot 41.5% (98th percentile). The reason this lineup works is the personnel. Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell are fantastic ball handlers who can attack off the bounce and set up their teammates with open looks. However, the Jazz need to improve in that facet as a team.
Utah ranked 25th in assist rate as a team last season, and Conley posted the worst assist rate (23.6%) of his career. Why does that matter so much? Well, this lineup is loaded with fantastic catch-and-shoot 3-point shooters. Conley (42.0%) Mitchell (43.2%) and Bojan Bogdanovic (42.6%) all shot better than 40% on catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts. Royce O’Neale was the worst of the four, and he was still at 39.8%. Ball movement will help maximize the strengths of this group, and it improves other areas of their game.
The shooting this group provided opened the floor, allowing them to shoot 68.4% at the rim despite only taking 32.6% of their attempts within four feet of the basket. This lineup won’t run up and down the floor. Utah finished 24th in pace (99.15 possessions per game) last season, and this lineup finished in the 39th percentile in offensive efficiency in transition (120.4 points every 100 plays).
Now there is a pretty glaring weakness for this starting five, and that is size. Conley and Mitchell are 6-foot-1 and 6-foot-3, respectively. O’Neale and Bogdanovich are only 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-8, leaving the Jazz at a disadvantage on the boards. Yes, they have Rudy Gobert, but their lack of size showed last season. Utah finished 20th in offensive rebounding rate (26.1%) and 21st in second-chance points per game (12.4). Furthermore, whenever Gobert left the floor, their shooting percentage allowed at the rim jumped from 63.0% to 65.7%. This group has a high ceiling offensively, but an inherent size disadvantage leaves them vulnerable to certain opponents.
This reserve unit has a big hole at point guard. Jordan Clarkson will fill the role of lead ball handler with the reserves, but he is more of a scoring guard than a facilitator. Clarkson finished his 42 regular-season games last season with an assist rate of just 9.7%, which placed him in the 47th percentile among wing players. However, he averaged 1.150 points per shot attempt and 15.6 points per game off the bench.
When he and Joe Ingles shared the floor, the Jazz were an offensive force, averaging 117.9 points every 100 possessions, shooting 69.3% at the rim and 37.1% from beyond the arc. Ingles is still a deadly shooter (40.0%) who plays fantastic team defense (-6.8 change in the team’s defensive rating when on the floor).
Derrick Favors returns after a season in New Orleans to give them depth at center behind Gobert. With Favors on the floor last season, the Pelicans’ defensive rating improved by 5.4 points and opponents saw their effective field-goal percentage drop by 1.7%. Familiarity with the system allows him to fit in seamlessly. Georges Niang gives them quality minutes at forward, and he can space the floor (39.5% 3-point shooter).
Time will tell if rookie Udoka Azubuike has a role as a third big, and guys like Nigel Williams-Goss and Miye Oni will be scrapping for the final spot in this rotation.
Tristan Thompson, C
Jeff Teague, G
1 (14) Aaron Nesmith, F
1 (26) Payton Pritchard, G
1 (30) Desmond Bane, G (T-MEM)
2 (17) Yam Madar, G
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Marcus Smart
SF: Jaylen Brown
PF: Jayson Tatum
C: Tristan Thompson
Kemba Walker will be sidelined for the start of the season as he recovers from a stem-cell injection in his bothersome left knee, but there is no doubt that this will be the optimal lineup for Brad Stevens. When these four were on the floor together last season, Boston outscored its opponents by 7.4 points every 100 possessions. This unit played fantastic defense, limiting opponents to a 105.0 offensive rating.
However, there are some issues with those four together. The first is a lack of size. Opponents truly struggled against this unit last season, shooting 54.5% at the rim and averaging just 88.0 points every 100 plays in the halfcourt. Where opponents thrived was on the offensive glass. When Stevens used this lineup, opponents were able to rebound 27.2% of their misses, placing this group in the 24th percentile in opponent offensive rebounding rate. It was even worse in the halfcourt as opponents grabbed 30.3% of their misses and averaged 1.184 points per putback play.
Marcus Smart is a brilliant defender but a poor rebounder. He never has ranked higher than the 39th percentile in defensive rebounding rate Walker is only 6-foot-1, and while he is an above-average rebounder for a point guard (10.5% defensive rebounding rate) he has never averaged more than 4.4 rebounds a game. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are plus rebounders, but they need some assistance on the glass.
Enter Tristan Thompson, one of the best rebounders in the league. Last season with Cleveland, he finished 95th percentile at his position in offensive rebounding rate and grabbed 20.5% of opponent misses. Thompson finished 21st among centers in DRPM as well. He might not be the most stout defender for a big man, but his rebounding should fit nicely in Boston’s scheme.
As far as offense goes, this lineup does have its limitations. When Walker, Smart, Tatum and Brown were on the floor together, the Celtics posted a 51.6 effective field-goal percentage. They shot just 62.5% at the rim and 33.7% from beyond the arc. They thrived in the halfcourt with that lineup, averaging 100.6 points every 100 halfcourt play, but it was because of an incredible offensive rebounding rate (30.2%).
This group also struggled getting to the foul line. They took 37.3% of their attempts at the rim but made only 18.2 free throws every 100 field-goal attempts. Thompson’s presence does not improve any of the offensive struggles the quartet of Walker, Smart, Brown and Tatum had together, so bettors can likely expect similar struggles this season.
The bench was Boston’s biggest weakness last season. The Celtics finished last in bench scoring (26.5 points per game), then, in the offseason, they lost a starter in Gordon Hayward and a prominent role player in Brad Wanamaker.
Jeff Teague comes in as Boston’s lead guard off the bench. He is a solid point guard who assisted on 32.6% of his teammates’ baskets when he was with Minnesota at the beginning of last season. His turnovers are somewhat higher than you would like from a lead guard (15.4% in 25 games with Atlanta), but he can score (10.9 points per game) and shoot (38.2%).
Robert “Time Lord” Williams really flexed his muscles in transition for Boston last season. He averaged 1.436 points per shot attempt, and the Celtics’ efficiency in transition jumped by 11.2 points every 100 plays with him on the floor. He and Daniel Theis give Boston a solid foundation of bigs behind Thompson, with Theis taking the floor-spacing role. The Celtics will need big contributions from their youth. Grant Williams showed some flashes but shot only 25% on 3-point attempts and averaged just 1.024 points per shot attempt.
First-round draft pick Aaron Nesmith will need to show the scoring ability he had at Vanderbilt (23.0 points per game), and fellow rookie Payton Pritchard will need to quickly contribute his shooting (37.9% at Oregon) and passing.
Jeff Green, F
Landry Shamet, G
Bruce Brown, G
1 (19) Saddiq Bey, F (T-DET)
2 (25) Jay Scrubb, G (T-LAC)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: Spencer Dinwiddie
SF: Joe Harris
PF: Kevin Durant
C: Jarrett Allen
Any evaluation of the Nets has to begin with their offense. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant are already the best offensive duo in the league, even before playing a second together in the regular season.
Durant is an elite off-ball scorer. In his last full season, 49% of his baskets were assisted on, and he averaged 1.264 points per shot attempt (94th percentile). Irving can definitely improve as a passer, but he has shown he can play the role of facilitator despite the public perception that the ball consistently sticks with him when he is on the floor. In his 20 games for Brooklyn last season, he assisted on 33.1% of his teammates’ baskets, and he has ranked in the 72nd percentile or higher each of the last two seasons in assist rate.
Irving, like Durant, is also an elite scorer who combines high usage with high efficiency. Last season he finished in the 98th percentile of point guards in usage (34.8%) and the 82nd percentile in point per shot attempt (118.6). His final season in Boston, he ranked in the 92nd and 95th percentiles in those categories, respectively.
With those two on the floor, Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris should thrive. Dinwiddie is a slasher who can finish and score. He took 38% of his attempts at the rim last season and shot 60.4%. Those numbers should improve with Irving and Durant. Harris is a dead-eye shooter who is likely to find plenty of open spots with the two superstars drawing so much attention. Harris averaged 1.213 points per shot attempt last season, shot 42.4% from deep and 53.9% on wide-open attempts, which he is sure to get more of. Jarrett Allen is a fine finisher at the rim, and his game should blossom even more in pick-and-rolls with Irving now that Durant is on the floor opening the lane for Allen as a roll man.
Many view the Nets as a poor defensive team, and while they certainly will not set any records for defensive efficiency, they should be average on defense. Harris ranked 37th among small forwards in DRPM last season, and Durant is an underrated defender who has improved his team’s defensive rating over 100 possessions in four of the last five seasons. Even Allen has an impact on defense. When he was on the floor last season, Nets opponents saw their shooting at the rim dip by 3.8%. Irving and Dinwiddie will be the weakest on-ball defenders of this group, but with a group this talented on offense, you only need to be average on defense to succeed.
Brooklyn’s depth is real, and it is good. Caris LeVert is the Nets’ best reserve player, and he could start with no problem. However, he’s a better passer than he’s given credit for (24.3% assist rate), and somewhat ball-dominant (30.9% usage rate). So he is better suited with a reserve unit in which he can play with the ball in his hands. LeVert needs to work on his efficiency (1.039 points per shot attempt) but is elite at drawing shooting fouls (11.5% of attempts) which makes up for it. Taurean Prince had a down year last season but was still a positive force on offense, improving the team’s offensive rating by 5.2 points every 100 possessions. Tyler Johnson provides a pure scoring presence among the reserves. DeAndre Jordan is still a fantastic rebounder who can defend at a high level when he wants, and he will be perfect in a reserve role behind Allen. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot has seemingly come along as a shooter and hit 39.4% on 137 attempts last season with Brooklyn. Bruce Brown and Landry Shamet are the two new additions, and they are polar opposites. Brown is the defensive guard who scores inside and Shamet is the poor defender with a quick release and a solid perimeter shot. Jeff Green joins the Nets this season as well and could play small-ball center if Durant is not willing to play that role.
NEW YORK KNICKS
Austin Rivers, G
Nerlens Noel, C
Alec Burks, G
1 (8) Obi Toppin, F
1 (23) Leandro Bolmaro, G (T-MIN)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
PG: Elfrid Payton
SG: RJ Barrett
SF: Obi Toppin
PF: Julius Randle
C: Mitchell Robinson
Don’t look now, but there is some potential for this Knicks lineup. Let’s start with the known commodities of Elfrid Payton, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson. Those four formed a really solid lineup when on the floor together last season. New York outscored opponents by 7.8 points every 100 possessions, and a lot of the work was done on offense. The Knicks’ 115.0 offensive rating with that group ranked in the 92nd percentile among qualified NBA lineups, so much of that success stemmed from their work down low.
With Payton, Barrett, Randle and Robinson on the floor, the Knicks took 49.2% of their shots at the rim. It’s an insane clip, but it led to an inefficient 60.6% shooting percentage within four feet. What gives? How can a lineup that is inefficient in the area in which it takes its most shots have an efficient offensive rating? It’s simple: rebounding. This lineup finished in the 100th percentile last season in offensive rebounding rate, grabbing 35.3% of its misses. The Knicks were just a dynamic force on the boards, finishing first in offensive rebounding rate (30.3%) and second-chance points per game (15.3). Those four were a big part of that success.
Robinson has quietly become one of the better big men in the league. He blocked 4.3% of opponents’ shot attempts last season (96th percentile), snatched 12.6% of his team’s missed shots (92nd percentile) and averaged 1.457 points per shot attempt (100th percentile). Randle is a great rebounder in his own right, but more so on the defensive end, where he pulled in 21.7% of opponents’ missed shots.
This lineup just has size. Payton is the smallest guy in this projected lineup at 6-foot-4, and the rest stand 6-foot-7 or taller. It is great to have offensive rebounding as such a massive strength, but to grab offensive rebounds, you have to miss shots, and this lineup does plenty of that. Payton (0.933) and Barrett (0.959) both averaged less than a point per shot attempt and Randle averaged an inefficient 1.082 per try.
When your 7-foot-1 center is your most efficient scorer, you have a problem, and that is where Obi Toppin comes in. Toppin was an efficient scorer for Dayton, finishing his senior season with the 47th-best individual offensive rating (122.4), according to KenPom. He was a 39.0% 3-point shooter with a 68.4% true shooting percentage. If he is everything he projects to be, he should bring a steady scoring presence to this unit.
New York’s bench has some interesting pieces. Alec Burks comes to New York after a solid season between Golden State and Philadelphia. He shot a combined 38.5% from deep at his two stops, averaging an efficient 1.222 points per shot attempt for the 76ers. Reggie Bullock is a career 38.5% 3-point shooter, but last season he shot the lowest mark of his tenure as a pro (33.3%) since his rookie season. He will likely bounce back from that, giving the Knicks two reliable 3-and-D wings among their reserves.
Austin Rivers is a ball handler who can run point occasionally behind Payton, but he will split those duties with Frank Ntilikina, who is the much better defender. When Ntilikina was on the floor, New York’s defensive rating improved by 3.4 points every 100 possessions, and that is enough for him to keep his spot in the rotation at point guard.
Nerlens Noel is a sneaky pickup for the Knicks, as it gives them a solid defensive big behind Robinson who can offer some of the same upside on the glass. Noel is not the same offensive rebounder, but he still managed to grab 8.6% of his teammates’ missed shots last season while averaging an astounding 1.415 points per shot attempt.
The odd man out could be Kevin Knox, who found himself averaging just 16.1 minutes per game last season. Knox is an inefficient scorer and a defensive liability (513th of 520 players in DRPM). If he cannot fix either part of his game, there just won’t be minutes for him under Tom Thibodeau.
Seth Curry, G
Danny Green, G
Dwight Howard, C
1 (21) Tyrese Maxey, G
2 (4) Theo Maledon, G (T-OKC)
2 (6) Tyler Bey, F (T-DAL)
2 (19) Isaiah Joe, G
2 (28) Paul Reed, F
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
PG: Ben Simmons
SG: Seth Curry
SF: Danny Green
PF: Tobias Harris
C: Joel Embiid
Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid fit together, but to maximize their talents they need to be surrounded by shooting. Daryl Morey did just that in his first offseason as Philadelphia’s president of basketball operations. Think back to the 2017-18 season, when the 76ers stormed into the postseason — and our hearts — on a 16-game winning streak. That team had JJ Redick, Marco Belinelli, Robert Covington and Dario Saric, all of whom shot 39% or better from deep. When Embiid and Simmons shared the floor that season, Philadelphia outscored opponents by 16.2 points every 100 possessions.
Fast-forward to present day, and the 76ers have the ability to place multiple skilled shooters around Simmons and Embiid yet again. Danny Green will need to find consistency with his 3-point shot, but still hit 36.9% from deep with the Lakers last season. Seth Curry is a lights-out shooter in his own right. He took 55% of his attempts from deep for Dallas, shot 44.4% from the corner, 48.1% on catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts and 45.4% overall. Tobias Harris will need to find more consistency in his offensive game, but he still needs to be respected by perimeter defenders (36.7%).
Those three should open the floor up for Simmons and Embiid to work their games. When on the floor together last season, and with Al Horford on the bench, the 76ers posted a + 4.4 efficiency differential. Philadelphia averaged 115.6 points every 100 possessions (89th percentile), and thrived in the halfcourt. With that duo together, the 76ers averaged 1.014 points per halfcourt play and killed opponents on the offensive glass, grabbing 30.6% of their misses.
When their minutes are staggered, Philadelphia has the opportunity to operate with two completely different offenses. With Simmons on the floor and Embiid off, the 76ers became a fast team. Philadelphia started 17.4% of possessions with a transition play and posted an offensive rating of 130.0 points per 100 transition plays. When Embiid was on and Simmons was off, they shifted to a halfcourt team, with 83.2% of their plays coming against a set defense. It’s not the ideal way to run an offense, but Philadelphia still managed 97.0 points every 100 plays in the halfcourt and crushed the offensive glass (33.0% offensive rebounding rate) without Simmons.
Defensively, this unit has high upside as well. Simmons and Green are very good on-ball defenders, and Embiid is a fantastic rim protector who dropped opponents’ shooting percentage at the rim by 4.2% last season when on the floor. This lineup should give Philadelphia a fantastic shot at a top seed in the Eastern Conference.
In order to compete for a conference title, Philadelphia needs Matisse Thybulle and Shake Milton to take another step forward in their development. Thybulle is a really fun, tenacious defender with a knack for big plays. He averaged 1.4 steals over 65 games last season, and the 76ers saw their defensive turnover rate improve by 3.4% when he was on the floor. Thybulle needs to improve his shooting (35.1%) so he can provide something on the offensive end of the floor, something Milton does with ease.
In 37 games last season, Milton averaged an efficient 1.247 points per shot attempt and shot 43.1% from beyond the arc. He was an offensive force, and Philadelphia added 4.8 points every 100 possessions with him on the floor. However, he is a poor defender, which led to the 76ers getting outscored by 5.2 points every 100 possessions with him, despite the offensive output.
Dwight Howard could be a really interesting fit with Simmons when spelling Embiid. Howard thrived in transition with the Lakers, and he could slide perfectly into the up-tempo offense when Simmons is in full control.
Mike Scott is a solid 3-and-D wing with the emphasis on 3, and Terrance Ferguson gives them depth along the perimeter. Furkan Korkmaz finds himself a little deeper in the rotation than in previous years, but his shooting (40.6%) will keep him on the floor throughout the season.
Aron Baynes, C
Alex Len, C
1 (29) Malachi Flynn, G
2 (29) Jalen Harris, G
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
PG: Kyle Lowry
SG: Fred VanVleet
SF: OG Anunoby
PF: Pascal Siakam
C: Aron Baynes
Losing Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka in free agency hurts, but the Raptors have a foundation of players that will have them competing for a top spot in the Eastern Conference. Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam made up one of the best defensive lineups in the league last season. When those four played together, Toronto limited opponents to 101.4 points every 100 possessions and forced a turnover on 17.8% of opponents’ possessions (96th percentile).
There was no area of the floor in which this lineup, or the team as whole, struggled defensively. This unit was one of the best halfcourt defenses in the league, forcing opponents to face a set defense 80.3% of the time and allowing just 88.5 points every 100 plays. They gave up just 61.3% shooting at the rim and 35.6% from beyond the arc. Ibaka and Gasol were the centers for two of the more effective lineups with that quartet on the floor, but adding Aron Baynes helps offset those losses.
Baynes is not the best defensive player (43rd center in DRPM), but he can be a solid rim protector in the right system. In his final season with Boston, the Celtics’ defensive rating improved by 3.3 points with Baynes on the floor, and opponent shooting at the rim dropped nearly 2 percent. In a defensive scheme such as Nick Nurse’s, Baynes should thrive once again on that side of the floor.
Still, this lineup must overcome its reliance on transition and 3-point shooting. With those four on the floor last season, the Raptors had one of the best fast-break offenses in the league. They averaged 129.4 points every 100 transition plays, added 4.4 points every 100 transition plays (94th percentile) and started 19.3% of possessions with a transition play. Toronto shot 38.3% from deep when those four were out there as well, but they had very little production in other areas of their offense.
The Raptors took 39.0% of their attempts at the rim with this lineup but hit just 61.2%. They were a fine midrange shooting team (40.5%), but like most NBA teams rarely took shots from that area of the floor. In losses last season, the Raptors shot an average of 31.7% from beyond the arc. In wins, they hit at a 39.5% percent clip. The evolution of Siakam and Anunoby as scorers will be critical if Toronto wants to compete for the Eastern Conference title.
In the 2017-18 season, the Raptors had the “Bench Mob,” a unit that finished fifth in scoring (41.2) with a ton of depth. Those days are long gone, and Toronto is coming off of a season in which its bench finished 21st in scoring (34.0).
Norman Powell will be one of the first guys off the bench, and rightfully so after he averaged 1.269 points per shot attempt and shot 40.8% from deep last season. Chris Boucher likely will see a bigger role now that the center depth has been thinned out, but he needs a sizable step forward in his game. He is a great offensive rebounder (12.9%) but has no real offensive or defensive game to speak of.
After Boucher, the bench has some real question marks. Behind him will be Alex Len, a true rim protector who can kind of space the floor. DeAndre’ Bembry is a solid rebounder who can fill minutes on the wing and play defense but struggles offensively (1.004 points per shot attempt last season). Stanley Johnson will be expected to play a bigger role than the six minutes he averaged last season.
Patrick McCaw is a solid passer (12.0 assist rate) who might get to run some reserve units, but he’s not the best defender. Then there are rookies Malachi Flynn and Terence Davis II, who will have roles to play on the back end of this rotation. It is a unit that is severely limited offensively.
Garrett Temple, G
Noah Vonleh, F
1 (4) Patrick Williams, F
2 (14) Marko Simonovic, C
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
PG: Coby White
SG: Zach LaVine
SF: Otto Porter Jr.
PF: Lauri Markkanen
C: Wendell Carter Jr.
Billy Donovan was one of the best stories of the NBA last season, leading a Thunder team that had traded Paul George and Russell Westbrook to 44 wins and the fifth seed in the Western Conference. Now Donovan will get his hands on a Bulls roster loaded with offensive talent.
Donovan has made it clear that Coby White will be his primary point guard this season, and White comes into the season with some positive momentum. In the final 17 games of last season, White averaged 19.1 points per game on 43.4% shooting. He found his stroke from deep, hitting 38.8% of his 3-point attempts to close the season. White really needs work on his passing (19.1 assist rate over this 17-game stretch) and his defense if he is going to be an everyday point guard.
Speaking of, defense is really going to be the issue for this projected lineup. Just start with the backcourt of White and Zach LaVine. With those two on the floor together, the Bulls gave up 120.9 points and were outscored by 11.2 points every 100 possessions. Facing two poor on-ball defenders like White and LaVine, opponents had a free run to the hoop, taking 42.9% of their attempts at the rim and shooting 68.9%.
There is no denying LaVine’s offensive talent. With him on the floor, the Bulls’ offensive rating jumped by 3.9 points every 100 possessions, and he averaged an above-average 1.147 points per shot attempt while placing in the 97th percentile in usage rate at his position. However, he was the 83rd-ranked point guard in DRPM, and despite the offensive output, the Bulls were still outscored by 3.3 points every 100 possessions with him on the floor.
A backcourt that is this limited defensively is going to be a problem, but at least they have a defensive presence behind them in Wendell Carter Jr. Chicago’s defensive rating improved by 5.3 points every 100 possessions with Carter on the floor, and opponents saw their percentage at the rim drop 2.3%. Carter needs to improve his offensive game around the rim, but his game fits well with his running mate, Lauri Markkanen.
This is a big year for the former No. 7 overall pick. Markkanen was expected to be an offensive force when he was drafted in 2017, but he has not finished higher than the 36th percentile in points per shot attempt in his young career. Otto Porter Jr. has actually been the more efficient option on offense, and he provides solid defense on top of that. This lineup might have a high ceiling on offense, but defensive play will determine how far Chicago goes in the East.
The Bulls have some quality depth in the backcourt, starting with Tomas Satoransky. The second-year player started 64 of 65 games last season, and he will provide a steady hand for the reserve unit now that White is the starter. Satoransky assisted on 26.8% of his teammates’ baskets (81st percentile), and when on the floor, Chicago’s offensive efficiency jumped by 4.5 points every 100 possessions. He’s also an above-average defender who rarely gets lost on that end of the floor (30th in DRPM among shooting guards).
Denzel Valentine is coming off of a poor shooting season (34.7%), but he appeared in only 32 games. The previous season he was a 40% 3-point shooter over 77 games, so one can expect some positive regression. Garrett Temple joins the team this season, giving Donovan a scoring combo guard off the bench. Temple is an inconsistent shooter, but with him on the floor, Brooklyn allowed 2.9 points fewer every 100 possessions. Chicago should benefit similarly.
The Bulls have a solid rotation in the frontcourt, beginning with Daniel Gafford. The second-year pro actually registered a higher PER (16.21) than Carter, and with him on the floor opponents’ shooting at the rim dropped by 6.3%. Thaddeus Young averaged 10.3 points per game last season, but he has not been the same defender the last two seasons. Ryan Arcidiacono provides more depth at guard for Donovan, who can make the most of guard-heavy lineups.
JaVale McGee, C
1 (5) Isaac Okoro, F
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
PG: Darius Garland
SG: Collin Sexton
SF: Isaac Okoro
PF: Kevin Love
C: Andre Drummond
The backcourt pairing of Darius Garland and Collin Sexton has some upside, but there are a lot of issues to work out between the two ball-dominant guards. When they were on the floor together last season, Cleveland was outscored by 10.3 points every 100 possessions. Despite Sexton averaging 20.8 points per game and Garland’s shooting ability, the Cavaliers managed only a 108.1 offensive rating when they played together.
How is it that two skilled offensive players lead an offense that ranks in the 28th percentile of NBA lineups in offensive efficiency? Well, neither guard is a great facilitator. Sexton has averaged just 3.0 assists per game in his career, and the highest assist rate he has posted through two seasons has been 15.4%, abysmal for a point guard. He was bumped to the two-guard spot with Garland in the mix, and while that helped improve his scoring numbers it did not do much to improve Cleveland’s offense. Garland showed slightly more promise as a passer, assisting on 18.0% of teammates’ baskets and averaging 3.9 assists per game. It’s clear that the more logical fit is with him leading the offense, so now it becomes a matter of evolution in their games.
One would think the presence of a veteran like Kevin Love would help, but it did not show up in the numbers. With Sexton, Garland and Love together, the Cavaliers’ offensive rating of 108.9 ranked in the 34th percentile of qualified lineups. Add Andre Drummond, and their efficiency tanks to 106.5 points every 100 possessions. Part of the problem was that Cleveland ran an inefficient scheme last season. The Cavs took 30.4% of their shots from midrange, struggled to finish at the rim (60.5%) and ranked last in free-throw rate (16.9 made free throws every 100 field-goal attempts).
The Cavaliers did show some improvement after J.B. Bickerstaff took over as coach in February. They improved their offensive rating 109.9 per 100 possessions and went 5-6 over 11 games. The obvious hope is that they continue that positive trend offensively.
Defense remains an issue, but that is where rookie Isaac Okoro comes in. One rookie is not going to turn around a unit (Sexton, Garland, Love, Drummond) that allowed a 133.0 defensive rating in 118 possessions together, but he does give them an on-ball defender to match up with the opposition’s biggest scoring threat. Okoro was widely considered the best defender in the draft, and his presence should help the Cavaliers take a step forward as a defensive team. Garland and Sexton ranked 80th and 82nd among point guards in DRPM, and Love ranked 59th among power forwards, so expect defense to remain an issue, even if Okoro is everything he is advertised to be on defense.
Bickerstaff will have some scoring options to choose from when he goes to his bench, but there is not much reliable defense to be found. Kevin Porter Jr. likely will be one of the first names called, but he is dealing with off-court issues that could affect his availability to start the season.
Porter is a high-volume, low-efficiency scorer who averaged 10.0 points per game as a rookie. He can attack the rim with consistency (65.5%) while providing enough from the perimeter to be a threat (36.5%). However, he was such an inefficient offensive player that even with those numbers, the Cavaliers’ offensive rating dropped 5.5 points every 100 possessions with him on the floor.
Cedi Osman has proved to be a consistent shooter (38.1% last season) but does not excel in any other area. Larry Nance Jr. and JaVale McGee make up the rotation at center behind Drummond. Both are above-average rebounders who can dominate on the offensive glass. The Cavaliers allowed 4.2 points fewer every 100 possessions when Nance played.
Damyean Dotson was a quality signing to give Cleveland depth on the wing. Dotson is a career 36% 3-point shooter and a good team defender. Matthew Dellavedova, Dante Exum and Dylan Windler make up the back end of the guard rotation, while Thon Maker will fight for minutes in a crowded frontcourt.
Delon Wright, G
Jerami Grant, F
Mason Plumlee, C
Jahlil Okafor, C
1 (7) Killian Hayes, G
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
PG: Derrick Rose
SG: Delon Wright
SF: Jerami Grant
PF: Blake Griffin
C: Mason Plumlee
The Pistons will have a very different look when they take the court this season as three new faces appear in their starting lineup. Delon Wright, Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee are quality basketball players who could fit nicely with Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin.
Rose and Griffin did not get much time on the floor together last season because Griffin played in just 18 games, but the small sample-size returns were positive. When the two were on the floor together, the Pistons posted a 114.0 offensive rating. It was a pairing that allowed Detroit to thrive in transition, averaging 130.0 points every 100 transition plays and starting 15.9% of possessions with a transition play. Rose was the force behind that fast-break attack, bumping Detroit’s transition frequency by 3.7% when he hit the floor. That game works well with Griffin, an athletic forward who has been known to be effective in transition himself.
Wright slides nicely into a unit that can get up and down the floor. He added 3.5 points to Dallas’ offensive efficiency in transition every 100 plays last season, and Plumlee was an effective transition player early in his career, meaning this could be a real strength for Detroit’s offense. Having said that, this group could bog down a bit in halfcourt sets. Rose is a career 30.4% 3-point shooter, and Griffin and Wright both shoot below 34% from deep. Wright has shown flashes of a consistent deep shot, hitting 37.0% last season on 1.7 attempts, but he has yet to shoot above 36% for consecutive seasons.
Grant might be this lineup’s best shooter. Yes, he has shot just 34.7% for his career, but he has greatly improved. Over the last two seasons, Grant has hit outside shots at a 39.1% clip, and last season he shot 39.0% on catch-and-shoot 3s. Those are all great numbers, but if he is your best option from beyond the arc, the lineup might have some issues with spacing.
Defense will not be the calling card of this unit either. Griffin, Grant and Rose all ranked 79th or lower in their position group in DRPM. Wright was slightly higher than Rose among point guards at 65th, and Plumlee rated as the best defender of the group but still placed 44th among power forwards. When Rose and Griffin shared the court last season, the Pistons gave up 119.7 points every 100 possessions, and now two subpar defenders are being placed around them. It does not seem like the best idea if the goal is to stop other teams from scoring.
Detroit spent most of the draft wheeling and dealing its way to three first-round selections, and as a result youth will make up a good chunk of the Pistons bench.
Rookie French point guard Killian Hayes is considered by some to be the most gifted passer of his draft class, and he can operate well in the pick-and-roll. Svi Mykhailiuk, a 38.9% 3-point shooter, who hit 42.0% of his catch-and-shoot attempts from deep last season, will fit nicely next to Hayes in the backcourt.
Sekou Doumbouya comes in off of a lackluster rookie season, in which he averaged under a point per shot attempt, and Detroit was outscored by 13.3 points every 100 possessions when he was on the floor. The Pistons need him to take a positive step in his development after taking him 15th in the 2019 draft.
Saddiq Bey is another rookie who will have to carry a large load. He is a skilled forward who can play multiple positions. He was a 45.1% shooter in his final season at Villanova, and he still assisted on 14.8% of his teammates’ baskets while on the floor. He and Hayes have the potential to form a dynamic young duo for Detroit’s bench.
Isaiah Stewart is the final member of this rookie class, but as a big man who played in Mike Hopkins’ 2-3 zone defense at Washington, it could be a while before he is a viable NBA defender.
2 (24) Cassius Stanley, G
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
PG: Malcolm Brogdon
SG: Victor Oladipo
SF: T.J. Warren
PF: Domantas Sabonis
C: Myles Turner
Not many starting lineups that rate better than this one for Indiana. The lineup of Malcolm Brogdon, Victor Oladipo, T.J. Warren, Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner placed in the 97th percentile in efficiency differential last season, outscoring opponents by 11.6 points every 100 possessions.
Opponents managed just 100.0 points every 100 possessions against this group, and that defense is the backbone of this lineup, especially along the perimeter. Brogdon is the 11th-ranked point guard in DRPM, and Oladipo is 22nd in that category among shooting guards. With those two picking up opposing guards, the Pacers allowed the competition to hit just 32.0% of their 3-point attempts.
Indiana really thrived when it was able to set its defense, allowing just 84.5 points every 100 plays in the halfcourt with this lineup on the floor. And they did so without fouling. Opponents managed just 12.3 made free throws every 100 field-goal attempts (100th percentile). Now, this is not a perfect lineup.
These five did scuffle with teams that could run. In transition, they allowed 159.1 points every 100 plays, which is an absolutely abysmal defensive rating. They also were not the most efficient offense. Their offensive rating together was 111.6, which placed them in the 56th percentile of qualified lineups, mainly due to their style of offense. Indiana operated almost exclusively inside the arc on offense, and this lineup was no different. They took 34.1% of their shot attempts from midrange and 42.5% at the rim. That’s 76.6% of their attempts.
Warren is almost exclusively a midrange scorer who took 46% of his attempts from that area of the floor. Oladipo, Sabonis and Turner all rank in 70th percentile or higher in frequency of attempts from midrange as well. This is where, hopefully, the new coaching staff will make its presence felt. The Pacers were a great shooting team last season (37.4%), but they refused to take those shots at a high clip (29th in 3-point attempt frequency). Warren has shot better than 40% from deep each of the last two seasons, and Turner posted back-to-back seasons of 37% or better from beyond the arc before last season.
If this lineup commits to attempting more perimeter shots, this offense could take off. The biggest weakness for this lineup comes at the rim. This lineup lacks a true finisher. Turner is a poor finisher for a center, connecting on only 64.2% of his attempts within four feet, and both Oladipo and Brogdon shot below 60% last season.
Indiana is deep in the backcourt. Aaron Holiday is a rock-solid backup point guard who can run the offense and score if needed. With him on the floor, the Pacers outscored opponents by 3.8 points every 100 possessions, and they lost next to nothing on defense with him playing (-0.1 defensive efficiency differential with him on). Holiday is also a fantastic shooter, who hit 40.4% from deep and improved the Pacers’ accuracy from beyond the arc by 4.9% when on the floor.
Jeremy Lamb, returning from a torn ACL, is a quality guard with size who can contribute on both ends of the floor when healthy. In his last full season with Charlotte, the Hornets outscored opponents by 4.9 points every 100 possessions. T.J. McConnell can run the point along with playing off the ball. He’s a solid passer who assisted on 35.3% of his teammates’ baskets, and he has a great drive-and-kick game. With him on the floor, the Pacers’ 3-point percentage jumped by 3.4%.
Doug McDermott and Justin Holiday are fantastic shooting wings who hit over 40% of their 3-point shots. Neither is a top defender, but they’re also not a liability on that end. Goga Bitadze and JaKarr Sampson make up the center rotation behind Turner. Sampson is the more traditional big, while Bitadze can float out to about 14 feet and hit shots consistently.
Jrue Holiday, G
Bobby Portis, F
Torrey Craig, F
D.J. Augustin, F
1 (24) RJ Hampton, G (T-DEN)
2 (15) Jordan Nwora, F
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
PG: Jrue Holiday
SG: Bryn Forbes
SF: Khris Middleton
PF: Giannis Antetokounmpo
C: Brook Lopez
Milwaukee made the biggest splash of the offseason by trading Eric Bledsoe, George Hill and three first-round picks for Jrue Holiday. With the addition of Holiday and the signing of Bryn Forbes, the Bucks have reconstructed their backcourt with their sights set on the NBA Finals. There is a real argument to be made that this lineup is better.
Let’s start with Holiday. Offensively, there is no real difference between him and Bledsoe. Holiday averaged 1.085 points per shot attempt last season, but Bledsoe was slightly more efficient at 1.148 per attempt. Holiday was the better shooter at 35.5% compared with 34.7% for Bledsoe. The real difference between the two is on defense, where Holiday ranked as the 16th-best shooting guard in DRPM (1.08), while Bledsoe was a below-average defender overall and the 64th-ranked point guard (-0.95). Holiday will be a welcome addition for the best defensive team in the league.
Forbes is a fantastic fit for this team as well. In 63 games for San Antonio last season (62 starts), Forbes took 65% of his attempts from beyond the arc and shot 38.9%. The perception last season was that the Bucks were a quality 3-point shooting team, but they actually were quite inefficient. The Bucks took 39.4% of their attempts from deep, the fourth most in the NBA, but shot just 35.9%. Forbes will fit into this offensive scheme wonderfully alongside a better defender in Holiday.
The rest of this lineup is a known commodity, and the returns were fantastic last season. When Middleton, Antetokounmpo and Lopez were on the floor together, Milwaukee outscored opponents by 18.5 points every 100 possessions. Defensively, this trio was incredible. Opponents managed an offensive rating of 93.3 when they played together.
Milwaukee’s defensive philosophy under Mike Budenholzer has been to cut off the rim and allow perimeter shots, and this group exemplifies that game plan. Opponents shot just 48.9% within four feet of the hoop (100th percentile) but hit 35.9% from beyond the arc. They thrived in all areas of the floor, placing in the 99th percentile in both halfcourt and transition defensive efficiency. Antetokounmpo is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Lopez finished fourth overall in DRPM and Middleton was the 28th-ranked small forward in that category.
The biggest question the Bucks must answer is about their defensive philosophy. In their second-round loss to Miami, the Heat shot 37.8% or better from deep in every game but one. Budenholzer’s defensive scheme has had Milwaukee at the top of the league in defense each of the last two seasons, but that glaring weakness has bit them twice in the postseason.
When the Bogdan Bogdanovic deal imploded, there was quite a bit of hand-wringing that Milwaukee had blown an opportunity to really improve. However, quite a few under-the-radar acquisitions have the Bucks’ bench stocked and ready for a title run. First, the usual suspects.
Donte DiVincenzo is a solid combo guard with the ability to score and play team defense. He averaged 1.118 points per shot attempt last season, and Milwaukee’s defensive rating improved by 2.1 points every 100 possessions with him on the floor. Pat Connaughton is still there, which is all we can really say for him. He takes 55% of his shots from deep but shoots only 33.3%. And he’s a poor defender on a great defensive team (+ 8.3 on Milwaukee’s defensive rating when on the floor). D.J. Wilson has the ability to stretch the floor but has yet to put it all together in his three seasons. Then you get to the new additions.
Bobby Portis gives them a scorer they can rely on against reserve units. His ability to hit jump shots gives Budenholzer the opportunity to pair him with Antetokounmpo in certain lineups as well. Torrey Craig is a good slasher and finisher (38% frequency at the rim, 72.6% shooting) who gives the Bucks some much-needed depth at the wing. Nik Stauskas will steal some minutes at the back end of this rotation, and rookie Jordan Nwora has potential as a stretch forward who shot 40.2% from 3-point range during his final season at Louisville.
Bogdan Bogdanovic, G
Danilo Gallinari, F
Rajon Rondo, G
Kris Dunn, G
1 (6) Onyeka Okongwu, C
2 (20) Skylar Mays, G
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
PG: Trae Young
SG: Bogdan Bogdanovic
SF: De’Andre Hunter
PF: John Collins
C: Clint Capela
The Hawks made headlines in the NBA’s shortened offseason with some eye-catching signings, but what exactly should we expect from this team? Let’s address the offense first. It’s going to be very good.
Trae Young is offense personified in a wiry, 6-foot-2 frame. Despite a usage rate of 38.7%, the second-year pro averaged 1.189 points per shot attempt, and when he was on the floor, the Hawks’ offensive rating ballooned by 11.8 points every 100 possessions. Young is already one of the best passers in the league, assisting on 42.4% of his teammates’ field goals.
That ability to find open teammates is perfect for Bogdan Bogdanovic, who plays very well off the ball. Last season, Bogdanovich was assisted on 60% of his field goals (72nd percentile), and he shot 40.7% on catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts. His presence improved Sacramento’s offensive rating by 3.3 points every 100 possessions.
John Collins is the third member of this offensive trio, and he is dynamic in his own right. He averaged 1.328 points per attempt, shot 40.2% from the arc and 74.8% at the rim last season. Collins is a quality rebounder as well, finishing in the 65th percentile of defensive rebounding rate (19.8%). He is the perfect pairing up front with Clint Capela. Those two should be a great duo on the glass. Capela has ranked in the 91st percentile or higher in offensive rebounding rate each of the last three seasons, and 88th or higher in defensive rebounding over the same stretch. It would not be surprising to see Atlanta with a top-10 offensive rating at season’s end.
The defense is where things get tricky. Young ranked last of 520 qualified NBA players in DRPM. When he was on the floor, Atlanta gave up 3.5 more points every 100 possessions, and when he and Collins played together, the Hawks posted a 114.5 defensive rating. They finished 28th in defensive efficiency (114.4) last season, and ESPN’s Kevin Pelton projects the Hawks to be the worst defensive team in the league. However, this lineup might not be as bad as some of the others we will see from Atlanta.
De’Andre Hunter looks like he will be a solid NBA defender, and the Hawks’ defensive rating improved by 2.0 points with him on the floor. Bogdanovic finished 17th among shooting guards in DRPM, and he’s a solid on-ball defender. Capela has the reputation of a rim protector, but he has not altered a team’s shooting at the rim by more than 1.4% in the last four seasons.
The Hawks’ defensive problems are even more glaring on the bench. Danilo Gallinari provides some fantastic frontcourt depth for the offense. He’s a sharpshooter who has shot over 40% from deep each of his last two seasons. Last season he bumped Oklahoma City’s offensive rating by a staggering 15.3 points every 100 possessions. The Thunder outscored opponents by just 8.0 points every 100 possessions with him on the floor, though, because their defensive rating spiked by 7.3 points when he played.
Kevin Huerter is a great shooter as well, hitting 38.2% of his deep shots. But, he finished 127th (yes, really) at his position in DRPM. As for Rajon Rondo, many will remember Playoff Rondo from the Lakers’ postseason run, but they should remember Regular Season Rondo, who finished 79th in DRPM and weighed down the Lakers’ defense to the tune of 3.8 points every 100 possessions. This trio will play big roles for the Hawks, but you can see why the defensive ceiling for Atlanta is pretty low.
Kris Dunn and Cam Reddish are the Hawks’ best defensive options off the bench. Dunn improved Chicago’s defensive rating by 6.8 points when playing, but he is an inefficient black hole on offense. Reddish needs work on offense as well (1.000 point per shot attempt), but he showed some promise as a team defender (-0.4 defensive efficiency differential when on the floor).
Rookie Onyeka Okongwu was considered the best rim defender in the draft. He and Bruno Fernando give the Hawks a couple of defensive bigs behind Capela.
Gordon Hayward, F
1 (3) LaMelo Ball, G
2 (2) Vernon Carey Jr., C
2 (26) Grant Riller, G
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
PG: Terry Rozier
SG: Devonte’ Graham
SF: Gordon Hayward
PF: PJ Washington
C: Cody Zeller
This lineup has some real potential. Terry Rozier, Devonte’ Graham, PJ Washington and Cody Zeller put plenty of time in together last season, and the result was a -1.2 net rating with a decent 110.6 offensive rating. However, James Borrego had this team playing 2020 basketball, and it showed in the tendencies of this lineup.
When these four were on the floor, they took 38.7% of their attempts at the rim and 39.7% from beyond the arc. They almost avoided the midrange entirely, taking just 21.6% of their attempts from that area. Shooting was the strength of this lineup, and altogether they shot an incredible 40.3% from deep despite the high volume of shots. They lacked a true finisher at the hoop, and that brought down the overall efficiency. This unit’s 55.6% at the rim placed them in the 3rd percentile of qualified lineups in that area, but Gordon Hayward is the perfect addition for this group.
Hayward is a career 36.6% shooter who hit 38.3% of his perimeter attempts last season. He actually took a majority of his shots from midrange last season (42%) but still finished 68.8% of his shots within four feet and can modify his attempt distribution to fit in with this lineup. Boston’s shooting percentage, in every area of the floor tracked by Cleaning the Glass, improved with Hayward on the floor. He’s also a great passer for his position. He assisted on 18.0% of his teammates’ made shots last season, and he has finished in the 90th percentile or higher in five of six seasons in assist rate.
These five should really thrive in transition as well. The original group from last season started 14.8% of possessions with a transition play and finished in the 74th percentile in points added per 100 plays in transition (+ 3.1) and 79th in points per play in transition (128.4). Hayward is a phenomenal fast-break player who added 13.2 points to Boston’s transition efficiency every 100 plays.
The fit of Hayward in this lineup seems perfect for the offense, and that should help some of the issues this defense likely will have. Charlotte gave up 111.8 points every 100 possessions with Rozier, Graham, Washington and Zeller on the floor together last season. Hayward is not a lockdown defender by any means, but he’s not a liability either. In fact, when he was on the floor last season, the Celtics gave up 1.3 fewer points every 100 possessions.
Charlotte likely will finish in the bottom half of the league in defensive efficiency, but Hayward raises their ceiling slightly, and if they improve to a top-half offense, this team can find itself in a play-in scenario for the postseason.
LaMelo Ball is the headliner of this group, of course. The 6-foot-7 point guard is an insanely skilled passer who should be able to run this unit like a veteran. His shot selection can be poor at times and his shot inconsistent, but his ceiling when fully developed made him worth the selection. The pieces around him are somewhat shaky, though.
Miles Bridges was a 13.0 points-per-game scorer last season, but he did so inefficiently. Bridges averaged just 1.047 points per shot attempt, shot 34.3% from deep and just 60.0% at the rim. He’s a solid passer for a forward (9.2 assist rate) and showed real promise as a rebounder (4.2% offensive rebounding rate).
Malik Monk is a known commodity at this point: high usage (22.5%) but low efficiency (1.078 points per shot attempt). Caleb Martin averaged an astonishing 1.253 points per shot attempt and shot 57.5% from beyond the arc last season. But that was in just 14 games and 33 shots, so major regression can be expected.
Jalen McDaniels appeared in just 14 games but showed real tenacity on the glass, finishing in the 94th and 99th percentile at his position in both offensive and defensive rebounding rate. His shooting will definitely regress from the 42.8% mark he posted over that short sample size (28.8% at San Diego State). Bismack Biyombo is a rock-solid rebounder and decent defender but has a limited offensive game.
Avery Bradley, G
Maurice Harkless, F
1 (20) Precious Achiuwa, F
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
PG: Jimmy Butler
SG: Avery Bradley
SF: Duncan Robinson
PF: Meyers Leonard
C: Bam Adebayo
Miami has a ton of options when it comes to a starting lineup. They could run it back with the starting lineup of Kendrick Nunn, Duncan Robinson, Jimmy Butler, Meyers Leonard and Bam Adebayo that carried them through the regular season with a + 13.4 net rating. Erik Spoelstra could also tinker with a lineup that lacks a true point guard but has a high ceiling defensively with Butler and Avery Bradley in the backcourt.
Personally, I love the potential of a Butler-led offense, so for the sake of this guide we are going to roll with a lineup of Butler, Bradley, Robinson, Leonard and Adebayo. Butler is an extremely underrated passer who finished last season with career highs in assist rate (28.3%) and assists per game (6.0). With Butler on the floor, Miami outscored opponents by 6.0 points every 100 possessions, and he improved the team’s offensive rating by 5.3 points. His increased ball-handling last season led to a career-high turnover rate (10.4%), but that still placed him in the 56th percentile at his position. Butler is a pain inside the arc for opposing defenses. He takes 43% of his shot at the rim and shoots an above-average 63.8%. That kind of game opens the floor up for shooters, which this lineup has in spades.
Bradley is almost exclusively a catch-and-shoot threat who hit 36.4% of those attempts last season. Robinson is the bigger threat from deep in an almost comical way. He averaged 1.391 points per shot attempt last season, shot 50.3% from the corners and 46.0% on catch-and-shoot attempts. Those two will fit perfectly alongside Butler, especially Robinson. When Butler and Robinson shared the floor last season, Miami outscored opponents by 11.6 points every 100 possessions.
Oh, and there is Leonard who is a floor-spacing 7-footer who shot 40.9% from deep, 41.0% on catch-and-shoot attempts. Adebayo has developed into a skilled center who can score (15.9 points per game) but still should be known for his defensive prowess. His DRPM ranked 11th among all NBA players, and with him on the floor, Miami’s defensive rating improved by 3.1 points.
Adebayo, along with Butler and Bradley, give this lineup three fantastic, athletic defenders who guard multiple positions. Butler finished 11th among small forwards in DRPM last season, and Bradley was 15th among point guards. Leonard is not known for his defense, but he was a great team defender who improved Miami’s defensive rating by 3.7 points when on the floor. One might consider Robinson the liability in this group, but he finished first among shooting guards in DRPM. That number might be a result of playing with a skilled defensive group, but it speaks to how good this lineup can be on both ends of the floor.
The Heat’s bench finished eighth in scoring (38.9 points per game) last season, and likely will finish in the top 10 again. Tyler Herro, a member of the All-Rookie squad, really showed his potential in Orlando over the summer.
The Baby Goat averaged 21.6 points in the final five seeding games and went on to average 16.4 in the Heat’s postseason run to the Finals. He’s a high-volume shooter who needs to improve his efficiency (1.099 points per shot attempt), but there is no doubting the scoring punch he will provide off the bench.
Kendrick Nunn is a similar type of player, but he’s less efficient. Nunn was in the 75th percentile at his position in usage last season but 52nd in points per shot attempt (1.081). He needs to work on his game as a facilitator (17.5% assist rate), but he can score from all areas of the floor. Kelly Olynyk provides spacing with his shooting, and he’s good for an occasional 20-point game. Andre Iguodala is here for the postseason, so don’t expect much during the regular season.
Maurice Harkless, one of the new faces, is not an overly efficient offensive player or a dominant defender, but he’s a decent rebounder who thrives in transition. And don’t sleep on rookie forward Precious Achiuwa. Many considered him to be the best athlete in the draft. He gives Erik Spoelstra a pure defensive wing to roll out with the reserves.
Dwayne Bacon, G
1 (15) Cole Anthony, G
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
PG: Markelle Fultz
SG: Evan Fournier
SF: Terrence Ross
PF: Aaron Gordon
C: Nikola Vucevic
Orlando’s second-most used lineup from last season likely will be the group taking the floor regularly for Steve Clifford, and it’s not a bad one. When these five played together, the Magic outscored opponents by 5.3 points every 100 possessions with an amazing 122.9 offensive rating (99th percentile). It’s a group that lived along the perimeter, taking 42.6% of its shots from there but still hitting at a 37.9% clip. That respected shooting opened the floor for Orlando, allowing this lineup to shoot 70.9% at the rim despite taking just 30.7% of attempts from within four feet.
One of those finishers is none other than Markelle Fultz, who really came on in his third season. Fultz thrived inside the arc, taking 84% of his attempts either from midrange or within four feet. He isn’t the most efficient scorer (1.039 points per shot attempt), but he really kept this unit moving on offense. Fultz ended up assisting on 27.3% of his teammates’ baskets, and he finished in the 79th percentile at his position in assist-to-usage ratio. With him on the floor, Orlando saw a 1.9 point bump in its offensive rating over 100 possessions.
Alongside him in the backcourt will be Terrence Ross, a volume shooter who can be deadly. Last season Ross shot 35.8% on 483 attempts, but the previous season he hit 38.6% on 105 more attempts. He has the potential to put together a more efficient season, and he is a decent defender and rebounder. Ross ended up pulling in 11.1 percent of opponents’ missed shots (59th percentile), and even though the Magic’s defensive rating worsened with him on the floor (+ 1.1), he had a much bigger impact on that end of the floor the previous two seasons (-1.8 in 2019; -2.6 in 2018).
Evan Fournier played the small forward role in this lineup and was a big part of the impressive shooting numbers (39.8%). Fournier also was an effective finisher at the rim (66.8%), as was Aaron Gordon (68.1%). Nikola Vucevic is a skilled big who spaces the floor (46.2% from midrange), but he averaged only 1.106 points per shot attempt.
This lineup has some real potential over the course of a season on offense, but defense is another story. These five outscored opponents by 5.3 points every 100 possessions but with one of the best offensive ratings put up by a qualified lineup. They also allowed 117.6 points every 100 possessions, which ranked in the 9th percentile of lineups in the league. Opponents shot 65.2% at the rim, 42.6% from deep and 43.8% from the corners. These five will score in bunches, but don’t expect them to offer much resistance on the other end.
The Magic’s bench is pretty thin, and injuries are already hampering this team. Terrence Ross, whom we have in the starting lineup, is dealing with a hairline fracture in his left big toe and could miss some time early. Jonathan Isaac will miss the season with an ACL tear he suffered in the seeding games, and Al-Farouq Aminu is out indefinitely after undergoing a procedure on his knee on Dec. 2.
Rookie Cole Anthony likely will play a big role because of his scoring ability. He’s a high-usage, low-efficiency scorer (97.6 offensive rating, 29.1 usage rate) who can hit the occasional outside shot (34.8% shooter). Michael Carter-Williams is a quintessential glue guy who does not have eye-popping numbers but just makes the team better. With him on the floor, the Magic saw their offensive rating improve by 5.8 points every 100 possessions, and their defense did not suffer much (+ 1.0 in defensive rating).
Mo Bamba has not been a factor on offense, but he blocked 5.1% of opponent shot attempts last season (99th percentile), and with him on the floor, opposing offenses saw their shooting percentages drop in every area. Dwayne Bacon is a decent defensive wing, but he offers next to nothing on offense. Chuma Okeke comes in finally healthy and ready to roll after missing his rookie season, but there’s a real question as to what he can offer in his first season.
Robin Lopez, C
Russell Westbrook, G
1 (9) Deni Avdija, F
2 (7) Vit Krejci, G (T-OKC)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
PG: Russell Westbrook
SG: Bradley Beal
SF: Davis Bertans
PF: Rui Hachimura
C: Thomas Bryant
The blockbuster trade of the offseason brought Russell Westbrook to the nation’s capital, giving the Wizards an intriguing team that could find itself competing for a play-in berth in the Eastern Conference. Westbrook is coming off of a season of peaks and valleys.
From Dec. 5 to March 5, Westbrook was one of the best offensive players in the league. He averaged 30.3 points per game on 50.1% shooting from the floor for 35 games. He still struggled from deep (27.6% on 3.0 attempts per game) but got to the line at a solid rate (6.7 free throws per game) and hit those free throws (79.9%). Then the hiatus came, and Westbrook suffered a quad injury that caused him to miss four seeding games and the first four games of the postseason. When he returned, his field-goal percentage plummeted to 42.1%, and his entire game suffered.
Now fully healthy, Westbrook could be an intriguing fit alongside Bradley Beal on a quick, offensive-oriented Wizards team. Westbrook is a skilled passer who ranked in the 99th percentile of players at his position in assist rate for five consecutive seasons before his one year with Houston. Beal is a fantastic off-ball scorer who was assisted on 45% of his field goals.
Washington finished last season fifth in pace and was a really good transition team on offense. The Wizards ranked in the top 10 in every iteration of Cleaning the Glass’ transition metrics. Westbrook is one of the best transition players in the league. With Westbrook on the floor, the Rockets’ frequency of transition plays jumped by 2.9%, which placed him in the 97th percentile in that category among point guards. Houston’s efficiency in transition improved by 5.0 points every 100 plays with him on the floor as well.
From an offensive standpoint, this seems like a match made in heaven. Westbrook is not the best defender (57th in DRPM among point guards), but that won’t make much of a difference for a lineup (Beal, Davis Bertans, Rui Hachimura, Thomas Bryant) that gave up 130.9 points every 100 possessions. Furthermore, the personnel around Westbrook and Beal do not need the ball in their hands to operate. Bertans averaged 1.277 points per shot attempt but was assisted on an insane 87% of his baskets.
Bryant is a monster at the rim, but he was assisted on 80% of his makes within four feet. Hachimura will need the ball more than Bertans and Bryant, but not enough for it to be an issue. Overall, the ceiling on this offense is very high, but because of their defensive issues, the Wizards will be right where they were last season: competing for one of the final two playoff spots in the East.
Ish Smith is a solid guard to have with the reserves. He is a good shooter (37.9% ) who can score, albeit not efficiently (1.025 points per shot attempt). When he was on the floor for Washington last season, the Wizards outscored opponents by 2.9 points every 100 possessions.
Troy Brown is a dynamic rebounder who finished in the 83rd and 97th percentile in offensive and defensive rebounding rate, respectively. He bumped his 3-point shooting percentage up to 35.6% as well, giving him a bit more to his offensive game.
Robin Lopez is a decent backup big who does not rebound very well (9.0% defensive rebounding rate) but can space the floor a bit (49.4% midrange). The rest of the bench is somewhat of an unknown. Rookie Deni Avdija comes in with a really high ceiling, but he needs time to develop. He can space the floor, lead the break and rebound. However, he is not the best on-ball defender and his shot can be inconsistent.
Jerome Robinson got some good run for Washington last season, but the returns were minimal. Washington was outscored by 4.9 points every 100 possessions with Robinson on the floor, and he has not shown much from an offensive standpoint to make up for the poor defense. It is not the deepest bench, and that could hold Washington back from a postseason berth.