This off-season saw major changes to starting lineups across the league, and the upcoming trade deadline may throw a few curveballs too. Two dominoes have already fallen, as Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby moved to the Pacers and Knicks, respectively. Which teams currently field elite starting fives? Get the top ten NBA starting lineups below, along with strengths and weaknesses for each unit.
10. Indiana Pacers
- Tyrese Haliburton
- Buddy Hield
- Aaron Nesmith
- Pascal Siakam
- Myles Turner
Although the new-look Pacers have barely played together, they still crack the list over a number of qualified candidates. Tyrese Haliburton is a top offensive engine who leads the NBA in assist points created per game by a wide margin. The abundance of shooting enhances Haliburton’s wizardry, especially in transition. Pascal Siakam’s ability to create off the bounce and attack the basket adds another dimension to the lineup too, thus boosting their scoring versatility.
Defensively, concerns still plague the unit. Haliburton and Buddy Hield routinely die on screens and cannot stop pick-and-roll ball handlers from penetrating the paint. Aaron Nesmith is a touch too small against the bigger wings, and Myles Turner’s lack of discipline leads to a plethora of free throw attempts for the opponent. Indiana is seeking to exchange Hield for an upgrade, so another trade could move this lineup up a few spots.
9. New York Knicks
- Jalen Brunson
- Donte DiVincenzo
- OG Anunoby
- Julius Randle
- Isaiah Hartenstein
It’s still early, but the results are staggering since New York acquired OG Anunoby from Toronto. Across 180 minutes together, this lineup has outscored opponents by 16.6 points per 100 possessions (via NBA.com).
Jalen Brunson’s drive-heavy approach now has decent spacing with Donte DiVincenzo (42.6 3PT%) and Anunoby (37.9 3PT%) behind the arc. Isaiah Hartenstein’s crushing screens and ability to pass out of the roll increases the lethality of New York’s pick-and-roll too. Meanwhile, Julius Randle is a wild card scorer who could turn in an All-NBA performance on any given night. Their strong offensive rebounding also provides second chance opportunities, which leads to more scoring opportunities and fewer opponent transition possessions.
On the other end, Anunoby can stick to guards and wings like glue while deterring passing lanes. Hartenstein drastically reduces opponent shot quality inside the paint and moves well defending the high pick-and-roll. Randle’s size is an asset against teams that frequently trot out two-big lineups too. Finally, Brunson and DiVincenzo are not on-ball stoppers or particularly adept at navigating screens, but they essentially hold their own.
If Randle finds a semblance of offensive consistency and plays like an All-Star plus, then this Knicks squad will climb the rankings.
8. Phoenix Suns
- Devin Booker
- Bradley Beal
- Grayson Allen
- Kevin Durant
- Jusuf Nurkic
Phoenix scores 130 points per 100 possessions with these five on the court, which is historic efficiency. Devin Booker and Kevin Durant are both unstoppable isolation scorers with the passing chops to orchestrate possessions, while Bradley Beal isn’t far behind them. How can defenders cheat with Grayson Allen lurking? He leads the NBA with a 49.8 three-point percentage on 5.4 attempts per game. Jusuf Nurkic completes the lineup with tough screening, ferocious offensive rebounding, connective passing, and decent touch around the basket. What an offense!
Now, the defense is questionable. Their guards cannot stay in front of drivers, their length is mediocre, and they do not apply much on-ball pressure. Plus, Nurkic isn’t a viable option against the All-Star caliber bigs. However, the goal is to wind up with more points on the scoreboard, and this lineup is lethal due to their shot-making. At their best, this unit features two top ten players in the world, a fringe All-Star, a league leading sniper, and an all-around offensive center.
Calm through the chaos 🙂 pic.twitter.com/pR4WngEF62
— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) January 29, 2024
7. Oklahoma City Thunder
- Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
- Luguentz Dort
- Josh Giddey
- Jalen Williams
- Chet Holmgren
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jalen Williams form a monstrous duo that combine for 50 points per game on dominant 54/39/86 shooting splits. Their ability to create space on drives and force weakside defenders to help consistently generates excellent shot quality for the offense. Chet Holmgren’s spacing opens up the pick-and-pop, but he also has the tools to take slower centers off the dribble. Lu Dort’s catch-and-shoot impact keeps defenders somewhat honest too.
The X Factor for the lineup is assuredly Josh Giddey. His passing leads to great looks for teammates, but opponents are daring him to shoot at the moment. It compromises spacing for this drive-heavy team and leads to empty possessions. If Giddey picks up his play or Oklahoma City replaces him, then they likely move up in the rankings
Defensively, they are long, persistent, and disruptive. Holmgren ranks third in block percentage and second in contested shots per game. Meanwhile, Gilgeous-Alexander paces the NBA in steals per game and deflections per game. “SGA” and Williams absolutely haunt passing lanes. Finally, Dort is a complete pest on-ball and makes it difficult for ball handlers to shake him. Although the defense is excellent, they need to cut down on overhelping, which has led to a number of wide open threes for opponents. Plus, teams can hurt them on the boards.
6. Minnesota Timberwolves
- Mike Conley
- Anthony Edwards
- Jaden McDaniels
- Karl-Anthony Towns
- Rudy Gobert
Minnesota leads the league in Defensive Rating largely due to this group. Rudy Gobert is the favorite to win Defensive Player of the Year, but the Wolves also have Karl-Anthony Towns and Jaden McDaniels as supplementary rim protectors. As a result, they allow the lowest field goal percentage within eight feet of the basket. Anthony Edwards and McDaniels also thrive defending on the perimeter too. Scoring against this lineup is a brutal task.
Their offensive output remains shaky at times, but the talent is there. Edwards and Towns possess the creation and shot-making to perform against stingy playoff defenses. Mike Conley provides shooting and pick-and-roll handling, while McDaniels is an effective cutter and spot up shooter. To round out the five, Gobert screens hard and vertically spaces the court through lobs. Nobody wants to face this lineup across a seven game series.
5. Los Angeles Clippers
- James Harden
- Terance Mann
- Paul George
- Kawhi Leonard
- Ivica Zubac
When the lights are bright, the crowd is roaring, adrenaline is pumping, and a stifling playoff defense needs to be overcome, isolation scorers become championship currency. That’s the strength of Los Angeles’ starting lineup, as Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and James Harden all rank top fifteen in isolation possessions per game. In addition, they thrive from a points per possession perspective too, which dramatically boosts their scoring versatility.
Ivica Zubac’s feathery touch around the basket and knack for put-backs gives the Clippers somewhat of an interior presence too. Should Terance Mann rediscover his three-point shot, then it’s even more difficult for defenses to bend but not break.
On the other end, Mann, George, and Leonard are lengthy, switchable, and experienced defenders. Although none are in the upper echelon, it’s difficult for opponents to attack them. Additionally, Zubac is one of the more underrated anchors in the NBA. Per Basketball Index, he ranks fourth in rim points saved per 75 possessions behind only Walker Kessler, Kristaps Porzingis, and Rudy Gobert.
James Harden though…he is a liability, especially when defending guards in the pick-and-roll. Los Angeles hides him well, but Harden brings down the overall defensive potential of the unit.
DAT HARDEN PASS 👀
Harden ➡️ PG pic.twitter.com/szOr8TLAc4
— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) January 30, 2024
4. Milwaukee Bucks
- Damian Lillard
- Malik Beasley
- Khris Middleton
- Giannis Antetokounmpo
- Brook Lopez
Giannis Antetokounmpo leads all players in restricted area field goal attempts per game, while Damian Lillard ranks sixth in above the break three-point attempts per game. That’s the foundation of their hyper-successful offense: simultaneously applying a tremendous amount of pressure on opposite ends of the half-court, thus pushing defenses to their breaking point. Malik Beasley (45.5 3PT%) heavily deters ball watchers too, and Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez keep defenders from sagging due to their capable outside shot. Overall, the offense is incredible.
However, this is not the case on the less glamorous side. Lillard and Beasley struggle to navigate screens, and opposing guards can blow right past them off the dribble. Antetokounmpo and Lopez protect the paint at a high level, but it’s essentially impossible to keep afloat without at least a decent point-of-attack defense. Until Milwaukee irons out their defensive woes, this lineup does not crack the top three.
3. Philadelphia 76ers
- Tyrese Maxey
- De’Anthony Melton
- Tobias Harris
- Nicolas Batum
- Joel Embiid
Brace yourself – across 219 minutes, this lineup has outscored opponents by 34 points per 100 possessions! That mark easily decimates any of the 57 lineups with at least 100 minutes played. Joel Embiid remains an unstoppable scorer, but his improved midrange jumper and facilitating have defenders frustrated and helpless. Tyrese Maxey’s ascension (25.7 PPG) provides Embiid with a legitimate second option who shoots the lights out and consistently creates off the dribble. The supplementary pieces all space the court too, and they even provide a bit of self-created scoring when the shot clock winds down. If Embiid is healthy, this squad can keep pace with anyone.
Defensively, Melton is a menace that stifles the opponent’s top guard, and their wings hold their own. Embiid ranks fifth across the NBA in rim points saved per 75 possessions via Basketball Index, so Philadelphia also clamps the paint.
Sure, Maxey isn’t a good defender, and Embiid can be too reliant on drawing free throws, but this lineup will be dangerous assuming health.
2. Boston Celtics
- Jrue Holiday
- Derrick White
- Jaylen Brown
- Jayson Tatum
- Kristaps Porzingis
All five can handle, drive, pass, shoot, and create. The offensive versatility is off the charts, but they never seem to get in each other’s way. That makes them immensely difficult to defend because they do not have to force the ball to a certain player at a certain area. Therefore, opponents cannot hide liabilities solely on catch-and-shoot specialists. It’s not a perfect offense though, as Boston settles for jumpers too often instead of attacking the basket. However, that speaks more to their strategy than talent.
This unit is even better on defense. Jrue Holiday and Derrick White form the top point-of-attack duo in the NBA, and Porzingis ranks second in rim points saved per 75 possessions. Finally, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are effective wing defenders with switchability. Essentially, Boston fields high level two-way players at every position.
1. Denver Nuggets
- Jamal Murray
- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
- Michael Porter Jr.
- Aaron Gordon
- Nikola Jokic
It’s a coin flip decision, but Denver wins the tiebreaker because they have the best player in the world and just went 16-4 during the playoffs on their way to a championship. Boston may be a hair better on paper, but the Nuggets proved themselves last season.
The phrase “optimal shot quality” sums up the offense nicely, as Nikola Jokic and company are always seeking the best shot possible. His all-time playmaking and dominant around-the-basket scoring force defenses into a lose-lose situation, and the pieces are perfect around him. Caldwell-Pope and Porter Jr. scorch opponents that sag, while Gordon punishes overhelping forwards via cuts and dunks.
Meanwhile, Jamal Murray morphs into a monster when the pressure is cranked up. The only players in NBA history to average at least 25 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds while shooting 40 percent from three during the postseason are Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. It’s the perfect partnership.
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts on defense too. They are physical, long, disciplined, and rarely allow second chance points. Jokic can be exploited in the pick-and-roll from time to time, and the fastest guards can shake Murray; however, the unit is rock-solid defensively.