NBA
July 30, 2020
BY Jason Michael Sanin

Every NBA Bubble Team's Starting Lineup, Ranked

The NBA season restarts Thursday and things are going to look a lot different. 

The biggest difference, of course, will be that 22 teams will be playing in a bubble in Orlando. With all but eight NBA teams relocating to the bubble for seeding games and the playoffs, there will be plenty of growing pains as teams knock off the rust from a four-month layoff. 

To get you ready for the playoff push, we have ranked every starting lineup of the remaining NBA teams.

22. Brooklyn Nets

You have to feel bad for the Nets heading into the rest of the NBA season. Last offseason, they put together a team with title hopes that featured Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Instead, they're probably going to be starting 40-year-old Jamal Crawford, Joe Harris and Rodions Karucs.

While Jarrett Allen is a solid big, this team is likely going to get decimated in the first round of the postseason, assuming they hold onto one of the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.

21. Washington Wizards

The Wizards pretty much need to run the table to have a chance at the playoffs. Unfortunately for Washington, injuries will sideline John Wall and Bradley Beal — two of the best guards in the NBA — for the rest of the season. 

With Davis Bertans also out for Washington due to coronavirus concerns, a starting five highlighted by rookie Rui Hachimura is not going to get the job done.

20. Sacramento Kings

After the bottom two, the quality of starting lineups in the bubble drastically increases, as teams like the Kings have not been as greatly impacted by injuries and the coronavirus as the Nets and Wizards.

Sacramento will have De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield and Harrison Barnes on the floor to start games, with options like Bogdan Bogdanovich and Nemanja Bjelica to join them as the Kings look to make up ground in the West and build on a 7-3 run in their last 10 games prior to the halting of the season.

19. Phoenix Suns

Phoenix is six games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth spot in the Western Conference and they need a miracle to get into the playoffs. Fortunately, they have all of their key starters at their disposal.

The dynamic duo of Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton are both available, along with Ricky Rubio and Dario Saric. Kelly Oubre’s health is a question mark, with his presence being a valuable one for a Suns team that will need to get plenty of help to sneak into the playoffs.

18. San Antonio Spurs

The San Antonio Spurs' starting lineup in the bubble is somewhat of a mystery. DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay will lead the way, but the loss of LaMarcus Aldridge to injury will be a huge hurdle to overcome.

Instead, an unimpressive Bryn Forbes, Trey Lyles and Dejounte Murray will try to help San Antonio get into the playoffs, which will be a difficult task from four games back of the eighth spot heading into the restart.

17. Orlando Magic

While the entire NBA restart is held in Orlando, the Magic won’t have a home crowd to give them an advantage. They will, however, have Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic to lead them. Those two are joined by Markelle Fultz, Evan Fournier and James Ennis in their starting lineup, which is unchanged from what it was pre-restart.

Unfortunately, Fultz, Ennis and Fournier just aren’t good enough to rank higher. Not to mention, Gordon is one of the more overrated players in the NBA. The Magic might struggle as a result of their lack of quality in the starting five aside from Vucevic.

16. Memphis Grizzlies

Ja Morant is undoubtedly a great talent, but Memphis might not be ready for the big stage just yet. Morant is joined in the starting lineup by Jaren Jackson, Dillon Brooks and Jonas Valenciunas. But they will be without Justise Winslow as their fifth starter and are likely to replace him with Kyle Anderson.

The Grizz currently hold the eighth seed in the West, but won’t be much of a threat even if they hold onto it, as their young stars require some additional seasoning.

15. Indiana Pacers

We're assuming Victor Oladipo will be playing in Orlando or else the Pacers would rank near the bottom of this list. Unfortunately, that's not the only injury concern the Pacers have. Domantas Sabonis injured his foot and could miss the remainder of the season.

The combination of Dipo and Malcolm Brogdon and Myles Turner could make Indiana a sleeper if Sabonis can come back healthy. 

14. New Orleans Pelicans

All of the hype surrounding the Pelicans in the bubble will be thanks to Zion Williamson’s presence. But the Pelicans have so much more to enjoy than Williamson in their starting lineup. All-Star Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Jrue Holiday and Derrick Favors are all quality players around Zion, and the Pelicans shouldn’t be ruled out from making up their four-game deficit to the Grizzlies in their quest for the eighth seed.

But with the Pelicans giving up 117 points per game this season, this starting five will need to dig in defensively to get there.

13. Portland Trail Blazers

The duo of CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard might be the best guard tandem in the NBA, but the Portland Trail Blazers are going to have to figure the rest of their starting five out in a hurry.

Sitting 3.5 games behind the Grizzlies for the eighth seed, Portland is likely to use a combination of Carmelo Anthony, Zach Collins, Hassan Whiteside and Jusuf Nurkic in their starting lineup. Collins and Nurkic are both returning from injury, and their lack of game readiness could torpedo the playoff chances of the Blazers in the bubble.

If the Blazers get in, they'll be an enticing matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers

12. Miami Heat

Miami is led by Jimmy Butler, who has been instrumental to their success this season. But the are also loaded with players with virtually no big-game experience in the NBA. Kendrick Nunn, Bam Adebayo and Duncan Robinson were all great stories this year, but have never been key pieces to a playoff contender.

While it is certainly possible that they change that this year, it will take some convincing to believe that the Heat’s starting five deserve a better ranking than this even with Butler at the head of it.

11. Dallas Mavericks

At the top, the Dallas Mavericks have some elite talent in their starting lineup. Most notably, Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis are as good as it gets on the offensive side of the floor. Dallas is likely to use Porzingis as a center during the playoffs, with Dorian Finney-Smith playing the four and Seth Curry and Tim Hardaway Jr. filling out the rest of their starting five.

That group would be capable of scoring from anywhere on the floor at all five positions and could be a surprise team in the bubble if they can avoid the Lakers and Clippers in the first round.

10. Philadelphia 76ers

The Philadelphia 76ers might have the most hyped starting lineup in the Eastern Conference, but it is far from the best. Philly is going to go with Ben Simmons at the four for the playoffs, with Shake Milton poised to play point guard.

The Sixers will be joined by an excellent cast in Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris and Josh Richardson. But the uncertainty of moving Simmons off the ball and putting in a less-than-stellar Milton to run the show could cost Brett Brown his job if it backfires.

9. Oklahoma City Thunder

When Chris Paul was traded to the Thunder, Oklahoma City was expected to be in the rebuilding phase. But Paul and the Thunder have been propelled by their starting lineup, which includes Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Steven Adams alongside Paul.

For the playoffs, it looks like Luguentz Dort will be joining them in the starting five, which will be a question mark relative to the other solid pieces in their starting lineup.

8. Houston Rockets

Houston’s headlining players are the reason that they are so high in these rankings, as James Harden and Russell Westbrook are capable of carrying the Rockets to victory by themselves.

The questions for the Rockets are twofold, though. First, can Robert Covington and PJ Tucker be productive enough to keep the Rockets competitive with the West’s top teams? And second, can Tucker compete on the interior with true big men as the Rockets’ small-ball center?

The answer to those questions will determine how far the Rockets soar in the bubble. 

7. Denver Nuggets

While it lacks the size of the big-man-heavy starting lineup that the Nuggets used in the scrimmages — which featured Nikola Jokic at point guard — Denver's regular starting lineup is special all the same.

Jamal Murray and Gary Harris are an explosive guard tandem, while Jokic plays his unconventional point-center role. With Will Barton and the veteran Paul Millsap at the forward spots, all five positions can hurt you equally in this starting lineup.

6. Toronto Raptors

The Raptors had to do some switching around of their starting lineup after the departure of Kawhi Leonard last summer, but they have assembled another special starting five in the North this year.

Returning starters Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam work so well alongside the likes of Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby. The one concern here may be Lowry struggling in the playoffs historically, without Leonard to bail him out. But Siakam might be ready to leap into Leonard’s place as Toronto’s hero this year.

5. Boston Celtics

Boston’s starting five is one of the best in the bubble, despite its one glaring weak link in Daniel Theis. Kemba Walker plays the point for this group, which includes Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward. That is four players who can beat you in a number of ways, with size and length that allows for fluid switching across multiple positions on defense, especially from the two to four positions.

Boston’s bench might hold them back in the playoffs, but their starting lineup will take them far in the East — if Walker's knee holds up. 

4. Utah Jazz

The Utah Jazz are in fourth place in the Western Conference heading into the seeding games, but their starting lineup is lethal. An experienced point guard in Mike Conley leads a group headlined by Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, who provide great balance between perimeter scoring, slashing and paint play.

With tough guy and perimeter ace Joe Ingles and Royce O’Neale also in the team’s starting five, the Jazz might be able to overcome the loss of Bojan Bogdanovich to make a deep run this postseason.

3. Milwaukee Bucks

The Milwaukee Bucks wind up at the bottom of the list of the three favorites to win the NBA Finals in terms of the strength of their starting lineup. Soon to be two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo is certainly the best player on the floor every time he is out there, and Khris Middleton has emerged as a talented sidekick.

But Eric Bledsoe’s health has been in question, and Brook Lopez and Wes Matthews are not the best complementary players among the top contenders for the title. Fortunately, the depth of the Bucks more than makes up for their flawed, yet talented starting five.

2. Los Angeles Clippers

Having Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in one starting lineup is always a recipe for an elite ranking. But the Clippers have so much more than that. The Clips also have a tenacious defender in Patrick Beverly at the point guard position, as well as a seasoned vet who can stretch the floor in Marcus Morris.

The question mark for this team will be Ivica Zubac at the center spot. Montrezl Harrell is a better player at that position for the Clippers, who will need Zubac to be just good enough to keep them moving forward in the playoffs.

The Clippers' lack of size hurts them when compared to their crosstown rivals, who just so happen to be No. 1 on our list...

1. Los Angeles Lakers

While advanced metrics tend to favor the starting lineups of the Clippers and Bucks over that of the Lakers, the Lakers have the best pairing in the NBA leading their starting five.

LeBron James and Anthony Davis are too hard for any team to guard and have advantages over both the Clippers and Bucks if James and company were to take them on in the late rounds of the postseason. Add in a legitimate rim protector in JaVale McGee, and a great shooter in Danny Green and the Lakers could ride their starting five all the way to the title.

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