We are now three-and-a-half weeks into the 2017-18 season, and NBA head coaches are just getting a good idea of what lineup combinations are working best for them.
In the event that you too want to get up to speed with each team’s best combos, read on, my friend.
Read on …
30. Chicago Bulls
With four Bulls sidelined with injuries (Zach LaVine, Nikola Mirotic, David Nwaba and Cameron Payne), it has been difficult for head coach Fred Hoiberg to get any continuity out of any lineup thus far. That sais, his best bed may come with the four-man combo of Jerian Grant, Justin Holiday, Lari Markkanen and Robin Lopez, who have a net rating of -1.3 point margin per 100 possessions in 216 minutes together. When playing with a healthy Nwaba, that five-man unit was Chicago’s best lineup, posting a +14.3 net rating in 63 minutes.
29. Phoenix Suns
Now that Suns longtime starting point guard Eric Bledsoe has been traded to Milwaukee for Greg Monroe and draft picks (a protected first and second rounder), Phoenix head coach Jay Triano can settle into his best lineups, which involve new point guard Mike James, alongside wings Devin Booker, T.J. Warren, center Tyson Chandler and one of either two second-year power forwards, Marquese Chriss or Dragan Bender. The Chris plus Suns quartet lineup has a +4.4 net rating in a team-high 100 minutes together; the Bender plus Suns quartet has a +31.6 net rating in 28 minutes.
28. Sacramento Kings
Kings fan favorites De’Aaron Fox and Skal Labissiere also happen to be a part of Sacramento’s best lineup with the rookie point guard and the sophomore power forward teaming with older teammates Garrett Temple, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Kosta Koufos. In 29 minutes together, the quintet has a +15.5 net rating together. Will Fox and Labissiere start seeing more than the customary 26.7 and 19.5 minutes per game? In time. In due time.
With bigs Mike Muscala, Ersan Ilyasova and Miles Plumlee sidelined, expect rookie power forward John Collins to get some deserved run with the starters now (he is logging only 20.3 minutes per game, despite registering a 20.5 Player Efficiency Rating). Meshed with starter Kent Bazemore along with fellow reserves Luke Babbitt, Marco Belinelli and Isaiah Taylor, Collins’ unit off the bench has been tallying a +13.1 net rating in 23 minutes together.
26. Brooklyn Nets
With point guard Jeremy Lin going down for the season Week 1, the Nets have been toying with various combos and may have settled on its most-popular unit of De’Angelo Russell, Caris LeVert, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, DeMarre Carroll and Timofey Mozgov. The squadron has a -2.1 net rating per 100 possessions in 47 minutes together. Part of this group’s appeal is that scoring guard Russell was able to easily transition over to point guard, thanks in part to his Lakers experience, while the other four Nets are defense-first type players.
It is only natural that Coach Rick Carlisle’s most-popular unit would be his team’s lottery-pick rookie Dennis Smith Jr., veterans Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes, Dirk Nowitzki and Nerlens Noel. But that quintet has struggled, posting a -16.7 net rating in 47 minutes. That said, so too has Dallas’ second, third and fourth most-used units. Carlisle may be able to tinker with that lineup whenever guard Seth Curry returns, but as long as Matthews, Barnes and Nowitzki struggle together (-25.0 net rating in 175 minutes), it’s tough for any newcomer to positively affect that nucleus (that trio had a -8.1 net rating in 746 minutes in 2016-17).
Miami’s second- and third-string units are so often the key to whatever success they have and this season is no different with Tyler Johnson, Wayne Ellington, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow and Kelly Olynyk having success with a 8.1 net rating in 41 minutes together. Their 83.6 defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) says what they’re all about.
23. Philadelphia 76ers
Head coach Brett Brown’s well-constructed starting lineup is followed in popularity by three more even better constructed reserve-laden lineups that totally explain how Philly is maximizing their young roster. First the starters—Ben Simmons, Jerryd Bayless, J.J. Redick, Robert Covington and Joel Embiid—have a +6.5 net rating in 58 minutes. The Plan B starting lineup with Dario Saric subbing in for Bayless has a +39.9 net rating in 25 minutes. The Plan C starting lineup with Saric subbing in for Bayless has a +20.6 net rating in 19 minutes. The Embiid-rests lineup with T.J. McConnell, Bayless, Covington and Simmons has a +22.2 net rating in 19 minutes.
Indiana’s collection of newbies is gelling well together in place of traded All-Star Paul George and Company. Ex-King Darren Collison, ex-Wizard Bojan Bogdanovic, ex-Thunder Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis and longtime Pacer Thaddeus Young have united to produce a +2.7 net rating in 148 minutes together. You might be surprised to learn that these five men together have a .576 true shooting percentage as a unit.
Due to injuries and what-not, Orlando head coach Frank Vogel has not been able to play his main starting lineup, but those days are done, as we are now seeing Elfrid Payton, Terrence Ross, Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic post a +27.3 net rating in 34 minutes. Their 129.0 offensive rating really shows you how well they are playing together, not to mention how the career-best PERs of Fournier (19.9), Gordon (23.2) and Vucevic’s standard high output (20.2) spotlights their individual improvement as well.
20. Charlotte Hornets
Head coach Steve Clifford has to be happy that his two most-used units are both succeeding, thanks to the four-man nucleus of Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb, Marvin Williams and Dwight Howard. When that fifth man is rookie wing Dwayne Bacon, the Hornets have a +12.4 net rating in 104 minutes this season. When that fifth man is Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the Hornets have a +10.2 net rating in 67 minutes.
19. New York Knicks
Head coach Jeff Hornacek has seen a change in the outlook of his team ever since he inserted Jarrett Jack into the starting point guard position seven games ago. The three-guard lineup, which also features Courtney Lee and Tim Hardaway Jr., gives 7-3 stretch forward Kristaps Porzingis and 6-11 center Enes Kanter all the space they need inside to put in work. As a unit, this quintet has a +2.6 net rating for 123 minutes.
The combo of DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis is working really well in New Orleans, most notably their starting lineup that also features Jrue Holiday, E’Twaun Moore and Dante Cunningham that has a +9.5 net rating in 134 minutes together. But what is truly noteworthy is that the Pelicans’ most popular five-man lineup sans Cousins does even better with Davis at the helm, alongside Holiday, Jameer Nelson, Tony Allen and Darius Miller with a +22.4 net rating, albeit in only 14 minutes together. And even more amazing than that, the most popular five-man lineupo sans Davis does even better with Cousins at the helm, along with Nelson, Holiday, Moore and Cunningham at 30.6 net rating in 21 minutes.
17. Los Angeles Lakers
Now that power forward Larry Nance Jr. is out until December with a broken thumb, the Lakers’ next most popular lineup features Lonzo Ball, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Brook Lopez, which is a quintet with a +2.5 net rating in 77 minutes together. The next most popular lineup, comprised mostly of Lakers subs, has surprisingly even had a bit more success, with a +6.8 net rating in 52 minutes. That lineup features Jordan Clarkson, Josh Hart, Corey Brewer, Kuzma and Julius Randle.
None of Cleveland’s five most popular lineups are working. None. Not one of them. All-Stars LeBron James and Kevin Love are the common links to all five units, but that successful duo pairing in years before (they had a +8.9 net rating in 1466 minutes together last season) simply is not working in 2017-18, whether they play Love at center or power forward alongside LeBron (-9.9 net rating in 292 minutes together). Perhaps we need to chalk this up to LeBron’s own admission that he came to camp out of shape due to injuries and he still is not back to his old standards. After all, his subpar -3.7 on-court rating per 100 possessions is the first time he has maintained negative numbers in that metric since his rookie season.
Now that Eric Bledsoe is in the fold, one has to wonder about the lineup diversity head coach Jason Kidd now sports at his fingertips with four elite defensive guards (Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon, Matthew Dellavedova and Tony Snell), three of the best all-around prodigies-turned-studs in the game (Giannis Antetokounmpo and injured Jabari Parker), not to mention two young defensive anchors at center (Thon Maker and John Henson) to take up Greg Monroe’s departed minutes. If you thought Lineup 1 was tight (Brogdon, Snell, Middleton, Antetokounmpo and Maker; +8.8 net rating in 88 minutes) and Lineup 2 was twice as tough (sub in Henson for Maker; +17.6 net rating in 85 minutes), you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Utah’s two two-center lineups of 50-plus minutes are not working, and one must wonder when either head coach Quin Snyder is going to split Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors up, or whether GM Dennis Lindsey is going to trade one of them, most likely the latter in Favors, who is in the last year of a $12 million contract. Something needs to be done. The giant pair is struggling with the wing-guard sets of both Joe Ingles, Rodney Hood and Ricky Rubio (-11.2 net rating in 108 minutes), along with Ingles, Donovan Mitchell and Rubio (-22.4 net rating in 50 minutes). The two-man combo of Favors and Gobert has a -5.8 net rating in 216 minutes together.
Even though Detroit put feelers out for Phoenix trade bait Eric Bledsoe—perhaps looking for a point-guard upgrade from Reggie Jackson—it appears head coach/GM Stan Van Gundy has to be happy with most of his main five’s nucleus in quartet Jackson, Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris and center Andre Drummond The four have a -1.1 net rating in 227 minutes together, while SVG splits his time there trying to decided who his fifth Beatle is, whether it is big Anthony Tolliver (moving Harris to small forward), or wings Stanley Johnson or Reggie Bullock (moving Harris to power forward). No matter what, the 8-3 start has to be a vindication for now on keeping this team intact.
It will be nice when JaMychal Green and Ben McLemore join the team for the first time this season, but head coach David Fizdale has to be ecstatic that his Grizzlies have come out the games 7-4, thanks not only to the dominating ways of center Marc Gasol and point guard Mike Conley, but also the surprising lineup combinations of Dillon Brooks, Mario Chalmers, Tyreke Evans, James Ennis, Chandler Parson and Brandan Wright. Most of these defensive collectives have kept the ship afloat and moving on to greater destinations.
11. Minnesota Timberwolves
Coach/GM Tom Thibodeau is maximizing his starting lineup, getting good production from the collective of Jeff Teague, Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins, Taj Gibson and Karl-Anthony Towns, who have a +9.7 net rating in 215 minutes together. Consequently, Minnesota is 7-4. It is a good, all-around crew that is especially dominant when it comes to rebounding (54.4 percent).
The nucleus four (guards Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, wing Mo Harkless and center Jusuf Nurkic) have fit in especially well with forward Al-Farouq Aminu (+4.0 net rating in 109 minutes together) as well as power forward Noah Vonleh (+12.8 net rating in 40 minutes together). Coach Terry Stotts and GM Neil Olshey have to be especially pleased how they’ve trimmed money off the salary cap at no expense to winning.
Perhaps the best under-the-radar lineup thus far has been Toronto’s second-string unit of little-known names, featuring Fred Van Vleet, Delon Wright, C.J. Miles, O.G. Anunoby and Jakob Poeltl. These prospects—plus one vet (Miles)—attack the game with a defensive tenacity (89.1 points allowed per 100 possessions) and pace (103.42) not often seen from young reserve units. That attitude translates to the metrics that show the Raptors with a +11.8 net rating in 57 minutes together.
Washington’s go-to lineup has been without former starter Markieff Morris for most of the season, but that has made the Wizards no worse for the wear. The starting crew of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Kelly Oubre, Otto Porter and Marcin Gortat had a +21.8 net rating in 128 minutes together. With Morris back in the fold, we shall see if Oubre’s return to the bench helps solidify some of those units up.
7. Denver Nuggets
It must be nice for Denver coaches and management to see point center Nikola Jokic working so seamlessly with both the starting and second-string units in Denver. Whether he is playing with starters Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Wilson Chandler and Paul Millsap, or reserves Emmanuel Mudiay, Will Barton, Malik Beasley and Kenneth Faried, the results seem to always positively favor the Nuggets (+9.1 net rating in 182 minutes together for the former; +12.9 net rating in 40 minutes for the latter).
Though we are not getting to see what greatness could become of Milos Teodosic playing with Patrick Beverley, Danilo Gallinari, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan—the quintet had a +43.4 net rating in 25 minutes together before Teodosic went down with plantar fascia—we are seeing signs of a playable Austin Rivers when he teams up with the same four. These latter Clippers have a net rating of +8.3 in 147 minutes together.
The Thunder either win by blowout or lose when the going gets close. As a result, the numbers show OKC’s lineups are working, even if the win-loss record tells a different story (4-6). For now, we’ll stick by head coach Billy Donovan’s side because we like the Andre Roberson lineup when Roberson actually has a go-to player to guard; otherwise, he is mostly an offensive liability (Roberson with Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony and Steven Adams is at a +3.0 net rating in 137 minutes). I like Westbrook, George, Adams staying in the game and working in the subs (the trio with Alex Abrines and Jerami Grant have a +24.2 net rating in 30 minutes, with a 75.4 defensive rating). Then, when Melo subs back in to give the trio a rest, he plays with Raymond Felton, Abrines, Grant and Patrick Patterson (+4.5 net rating in 37 minutes). Though I’d prefer to see more Patterson, less Roberson when the defensive-specialist wing has no one to guard, these lineups still can work.
4. San Antonio Spurs
Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and rookie Derrick White are not expected to make their season debuts until sometime after Thanksgiving, but the Spurs have been managing just fine (7-4) with Gregg Popovich’s tinkering with lineups like how a sixth grader gets along with a Rubik’s Cube. The starting lineup could be better with 21-year-old Dejounte Murray teaming up with Danny Green, Kyle Anderson, LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol (-3.8 net rating in 89 minutes); perhaps that’s why Pop has gone back-and-forth by using Patty Mills at times in the Murray space (that quintet has a +9.5 net rating in 54 minutes). Though the younger, wing-spanned Murray helps the Spurs D (103.1 defensive rating)—and gets valuable experience points playing with the starters—there is no replacement for Mills’ instant offense, boosting the Spurs starters’ net rating to +9.5 in 54 minutes, with a 116.7 offensive rating.
3. Boston Celtics
Speaking of D, nobody saw it coming—how Boston would become a defensive juggernaut, simply with the additions of Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Aron Baynes to Al Horford in the starting lineup (+17.2 net rating in 71 minutes together with an outstanding 85.4 defensive rating). But head coach Brad Stevens has taken unfortunate injuries to Gordon Hayward (possibly out for the season) and Marcus Morris (rejoined team last week), and gotten his young remainder to respond to a season-opening challenge. Insert sixth man Marcus Smart for Tatum or Baynes, and the small-ball Celtics are just as satisfying for Boston, who is now 8-2.
Who knows if the Chris Paul injury was a blessing in disguise, but the Oct. 18 knee contusion that has kept CP3 out of basketball for three weeks gave birth to the NBA’s best starting lineup to date (tied with Washington): James Harden, Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson and Clint Capela. The quintet has a +23.3 net rating in 106 minutes together, with them posting 125.9 points per 100 possessions as a unit. Their collective true shooting percentage is .665, which is downright unbeatable when you sit down and think about it.
1. Golden State Warriors
Ho-hum. The Big Dub Machine keeps rolling along, with the traditional starting lineup posting a +18.9 net rating in 133 minutes together, culminating with a .674 true shooting percentage thanks to the synergy of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Zaza Pachulia. Lineup 2 is pretty killer (+11.8 net rating in 35 minutes) with old-heads Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and David West replacing Curry, Green and Pachulia, while Lineup 3 again may be the Warriors’ best yet (+20.3 net rating in 30 minutes) with Iguodala simply replacing Pachulia in the starting lineup.