Projecting Every NBA Team's Starting 5 for 2014-15 Season
It's all well and good that the NBA has released its schedule for the 2014-15 season, but what good is it to drool over marquee matchups if we don't know which players are actually going to be participating? After all, the NBA is a player's league; its stars are among the most marketable and popular athletes on the planet.
Granted, there's more to the Association than just the big names. Basketball's inherent fluidity makes a superstar's teammates not only of vital importance but also practically inextricable in their efforts from those of the great player they support.
But enough philosophical mumbo jumbo. The point is, if we're really going to start sizing up the best games to be played between late October and mid-April from a perch in mid-August, it would probably help to have a better picture of the specific actors who'll be at the center of the on-court drama.
With that in mind, here's a look at what each team's starting lineup could look like come the fall.
Point Guard: Jeff Teague
Shooting Guard: Kyle Korver
Small Forward: DeMarre Carroll
Power Forward: Paul Millsap
Center: Al Horford
The return of Al Horford will be the biggest storyline heading into the 2014-15 season for the Atlanta Hawks and rightfully so. The two-time All-Star, who missed 53 games last season on account of yet another pectoral tear, will provide the Hawks with the interior presence they'll need to become an elite offensive club—one capable of advancing in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
But the real story behind the Hawks' starting five is their shooting. Mike Budenholzer, a noted fan of the three-ball, would have to feel good about fielding a lineup that features four guys who range from passable (Jeff Teague) to proficient (DeMarre Carroll and Paul Millsap) to spectacular (Kyle Korver) from beyond the arc.
And don't sleep on Horford's burgeoning ability to stretch the floor. As Fansided's Adam McGee pointed out: "In only 29 games before being struck down with injury, Horford attempted eleven three-pointers, only two less than he had attempted in the previous 391 games of his career."
Most Important Bench Player: Adreian Payne
Horford's recent health woes will force the Hawks to closely monitor his progress and groom proper support at his position. Pero Antic fared admirably as a starter in Horford's stead as a rookie (9.7 points, 5.8 rebounds), but he may find himself fighting for minutes in training camp with Adreian Payne.
The No. 15 pick out of Michigan State brings an impressive package of size, length, interior skill and shooting ability to the table, and he could be called upon to start in the not-so-distant future, with Millsap's contract up after this season.
Point Guard: Rajon Rondo
Shooting Guard: Avery Bradley
Small Forward: Jeff Green
Power Forward: Jared Sullinger
Center: Kelly Olynyk
The Celtics' starting lineup could look completely different by the time the 2014-15 season tips off.
Rajon Rondo's been on the block forever, as has Jeff Green, and a frontcourt battle between Brandon Bass, Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger could very well ensue. If head coach Brad Stevens and the rest of the organization are keen to spend another year developing their youngsters—which they should be, given the makeup of the roster—they should give the nods to Sullinger and Olynyk.
Not that anyone is particularly pleased about taking a patient approach. Team owner Wyc Grousbeck told The Boston Globe's Gary Washburn:
How happy do I look? We were all patient, everybody, the fans were patient in the early 2000s and we have to believe they know how to build in the NBA isn’t a quick flip of the switch. In almost all cases, it is years of preparation in this league.
You gotta get the superstars, so you’ve got to build up the assets to get them and that’s what we’re trying to do.
Most Important Bench Player: Marcus Smart
If Boston does, indeed, part ways with Rondo within the next year, the responsibility will fall to Marcus Smart to fill the void as the future of the franchise.
The C's certainly hope the Oklahoma State product can live up to that billing while avoiding the hotheaded controversies that marred his sophomore season in Stillwater.
Point Guard: Deron Williams
Shooting Guard: Joe Johnson
Small Forward: Andrei Kirilenko
Power Forward: Kevin Garnett
Center: Brook Lopez
The pairing of Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez was far from disastrous for the Brooklyn Nets last season, though it wasn't exactly optimal for New York's other outfit either. According to NBAwowy.com, the Nets outscored the opposition by just 0.6 points per 100 possessions whenever Garnett and Lopez shared the floor.
Fortunately for Brooklyn, new head coach Lionel Hollins knows a thing or two about fashioning competitive teams around big, bruising front lines. He guided a Memphis Grizzlies squad built around Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph to three straight playoff appearances, including the franchise's first postseason-series victory and its first trip to the Western Conference Finals.
Most Important Bench Player: Jarrett Jack
The Nets hope offseason surgery will finally put Deron Williams' persistent ankle problems to rest. Brooklyn won't have to panic if Williams is still struggling this season, though.
The addition of Jarrett Jack, by way of a three-team trade with the Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers, gives the Nets no worse than someone who can ease D-Will's workload and step in as a starter if need be.
Point Guard: Kemba Walker
Shooting Guard: Lance Stephenson
Small Forward: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Power Forward: Marvin Williams
Center: Al Jefferson
The Charlotte Hornets are going to feel Josh McRoberts' absence on the offensive end. According to NBA.com, the then-Bobcats averaged 5.1 more points and 2.7 more assists, with 2.6 fewer turnovers, per 100 possessions last season when McRoberts was on the floor.
That being said, the Hornets should be able to replace McRoberts' production over the long haul—and then some.
His de facto replacement, Marvin Williams, shot nearly as well from three (.359) as McRoberts did (.361) on nearly as many attempts per game. Williams, a UNC product, also aligns more closely with the Tar Heel proclivities of team owner Michael Jordan than did McRoberts, a former Duke Blue Devil.
As far as McRoberts' offensive creativity is concerned, Charlotte shouldn't struggle to make up the difference with Lance Stephenson now in the lineup. Stephenson led the Indiana Pacers in assists (4.6) last season, albeit while turning the ball over on an unsightly 18 percent of his possessions.
How Stephenson's head-scratching tendencies mix with Steve Clifford's preference for discipline—Charlotte led the NBA in turnover ratio last season—will be worth watching in the Queen City.
Most Important Bench Player: Gerald Henderson
Chances are, Stephenson's arrival will push Gerald Henderson into a regular bench role for the first time since his sophomore season in 2010-11. Henderson's developed into a solid rotation player over the years, but, at 26, he doesn't project as a starter on a second-round squad, much less a star.
Don't expect Henderson to go quietly into that good night, though. If Michael Kidd-Gilchrist continues to struggle on the offensive end as mightily as he did in years one and two, Henderson could be the first in line to supplant him.
Point Guard: Derrick Rose
Shooting Guard: Jimmy Butler
Small Forward: Mike Dunleavy Jr.
Power Forward: Pau Gasol
Center: Joakim Noah
The Chicago Bulls' hopes of title contention will once again rest precariously on Derrick Rose's surgically repaired knee. By all accounts, Rose has performed fabulously with Team USA in camp this summer, looking much like the D-Rose of old. But there won't be any controversy concerning Rose's role in Chicago unless he gets hurt and/or his constituents grow restless again.
The bigger problem for Tom Thibodeau—and it's a good problem to have—will be figuring out the frontcourt rotation. Joakim Noah's spot is accounted for, even more so after the Florida product snagged Defensive Player of the Year honors last season. Taj Gibson would've been a lock at power forward, in the wake of Carlos Boozer's long-awaited departure, had Pau Gasol not hopped aboard.
As a result, Thibs will have to decide which, between Gibson's toughness and defense and Gasol's offensive prowess, makes for the better complement to Noah's all-around skill set.
Most Important Bench Player: Taj Gibson
Whichever of those two loses out will instantly become Chicago's go-to guy off the bench. Gasol may be better suited to the shorter supply of minutes that comes with a reserve role, though he's been accustomed to starting his entire career.
Gibson, on the other hand, knows how to handle it just fine. He was the runner-up in the most recent Sixth Man of the Year pageant after averaging 13 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 82 games last season, 74 of which came as a reserve.
Point Guard: Kyrie Irving
Shooting Guard: Dion Waiters
Small Forward: LeBron James
Power Forward: Kevin Love
Center: Anderson Varejao
On paper, the Cleveland Cavaliers would appear to have the most talented starting five in the NBA, assuming the Kevin Love trade goes through. Four of the five are capable of taking over a game at any given moment, and those not named LeBron James could just as easily feed off the four-time MVP's brilliance as a creator.
That being said, this Cavs group wouldn't be without some serious flaws, particularly on the defensive end.
Love, Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters have all proven to be sieves to some degree on that end. And while Anderson Varejao's energy and rebounding can be tremendously helpful on that end, he's far from the rim-protector this Cleveland team needs, and he can hardly be counted on to play from night to night in light of his perennial injury issues.
Most Important Bench Player: Tristan Thompson
The quality of Cleveland's frontcourt rotation will depend, to a surprising degree, on Tristan Thompson.
The Toronto native has been a reliable starter over his last two seasons, pouring in 11.7 points and 9.3 rebounds per game therein.
Thompson's not about to thrill anyone with his skill or production, but if he can take up space and create some semblance of disruption on defense, he could become a key cog in the Cavs' pursuit of a championship.
Point Guard: Devin Harris
Shooting Guard: Monta Ellis
Small Forward: Chandler Parsons
Power Forward: Dirk Nowitzki
Center: Tyson Chandler
The addition of Chandler Parsons and the return of Tyson Chandler have combined to make the Dallas Mavericks a trendy summer pick to contend in the Western Conference. But the cost of reacquiring Chandler (i.e., sending Jose Calderon to the New York Knicks) could leave the Mavs in a bit of disarray at the point.
It wasn't that Dallas was all that dependent on Calderon to create last season. Ellis led the team in assists (5.7), while Devin Harris, Calderon's likely replacement at the point, paced the Mavs in assist percentage (31 percent). Harris, though, has struggled to stay healthy in recent seasons, and neither he nor Ellis can so much as sniff Calderon's proficiency from deep.
Still, the Mavs are all about Dirk Nowitzki's production on offense and will likely revert to the defensive principles under which they thrived during Chandler's previous stint in the Lone Star State. So long as those two hold true as anchors, the Mavs will be a tough matchup out West.
Most Important Bench Player: Brandan Wright
That being the case, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle must be careful not to overextend those two. Nowitzki turned 36 in June. Chandler will be 32 before the season starts and is coming off an injury-plagued campaign.
For both of their sakes, Brandan Wright will be an important part of Dallas' rotation.
Wright has the length and leaping ability to protect the rim when Chandler needs a break. Though he can't come anywhere near replicating Nowitzki's superb shooting, he can affect the flow of the game in so many other ways, as his top-notch PER last season (23.6, per ESPN) would attest.
Point Guard: Ty Lawson
Shooting Guard: Arron Afflalo
Small Forward: Danilo Gallinari
Power Forward: Kenneth Faried
Center: JaVale McGee
If there's any team out West that's equipped to make a massive leap from last season to this one, it's the Denver Nuggets. Brian Shaw's squad was devastated by injuries, including those that cost JaVale McGee most and Danilo Gallinari all of the 2013-14 campaign. Those two should be back at full force in the fall, along with a healthy Ty Lawson and a Team USA-infused Kenneth Faried.
And don't sleep on Arron Afflalo, either. The UCLA product is coming off the best season of his career (18.8 points, 3.5 assists, 42.7 percent from three) and should be ready to serve as a veteran voice on this exceedingly deep squad.
As Afflalo told Bleacher Report at the Adidas Nations camp: "I honestly think that if we can get some good leadership out of our guys and some good coaching from Coach [Brian] Shaw that we have a lot of potential in the players we have, talent-wise, which gives me the hope and belief that we can compete."
Most Important Bench Player: Timofey Mozgov
You could take your pick here from among a handful of quality players Denver will have among its reserves in 2014-15, though Timofey Mozgov could prove to be the biggest difference-maker.
As important as it will be for Nate Robinson and Wilson Chandler to spell Lawson and Gallinari, respectively, McGee might actually be the Nuggets' most vulnerable starter. His leg injury aside, McGee hasn't performed up to par since arriving in Denver during the 2011-12 season.
Mozgov, on the other hand, has been productive when afforded the opportunity to play. His 10.8 points and 7.6 rebounds in 30 starts last season could be too much for Shaw to ignore this year if McGee fails to hold down his duties.
Point Guard: Brandon Jennings
Shooting Guard: Jodie Meeks
Small Forward: Josh Smith
Power Forward: Greg Monroe
Center: Andre Drummond
Greg Monroe's decision to accept a one-year qualifying offer all but ensures the Pistons' frontcourt will be something of a logjam next season. Detroit performed dismally on both ends of the floor when Monroe, Josh Smith and Andre Drummond were all out there, scoring just 102.5 points per 100 possessions and relinquishing 110.5, per NBA.com.
Perhaps the addition of Jodie Meeks—who hit a career-best 40.1 percent of his threes last season—among a slew of shooters will open up the requisite space for Detroit's bruising bigs to operate.
It seems likely, though, that Stan Van Gundy will have to dream up other ways to ease the team's cramped court spacing, maybe even by moving one of his giants to the bench.
Most Important Bench Player: Caron Butler
Until that happens, Caron Butler will be the key to Detroit's reserves. Butler has morphed into a deadeye shooter over the last four years (38.4 percent from three over that span), including from the all-important short corners (40.3 percent).
His marksmanship, along with his veteran leadership, could be vital to the Pistons' hopes of finally righting the ship and getting back into the playoffs.
Golden State Warriors
Point Guard: Stephen Curry
Shooting Guard: Klay Thompson
Small Forward: Andre Iguodala
Power Forward: David Lee
Center: Andrew Bogut
The Golden State Warriors could've featured Kevin Love in their top five, with Iguodala sliding over to the 2 and Harrison Barnes stepping into the other wing spot. Instead, they'll have to settle for what they've got, with the hope that Thompson can take that all-important next step.
Salary-wise, he's practically guaranteed to do so. Thompson is eligible for an extension and figures to garner a hefty one before the Halloween deadline.
Whether Thompson will live up to the contract—or to the player who he might've been traded for—is another story. Grantland's Jason Concepcion summed it up thusly: "No pressure, Klay Thompson, but you kinda have to be a soul-snatching backcourt murderer next season. At the very least, you need to tighten up that handle."
Most Important Bench Player: Harrison Barnes
Barnes struggled to adapt to his newfound role as Golden State's sixth man last season. The UNC product was slowed by injuries early and wound up shooting under 40 percent from the floor overall.
The Warriors can only hope Steve Kerr will do a better job of carving out a niche for Barnes this season than Mark Jackson did last.
Point Guard: Patrick Beverley
Shooting Guard: James Harden
Small Forward: Trevor Ariza
Power Forward: Terrence Jones
Center: Dwight Howard
Daryl Morey's plan to turn the Houston Rockets into a bona fide Western Conference power this summer backfired in a big way. Instead of landing Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh, his Rockets saw both of them re-sign with their original clubs and lost Chandler Parsons to Dallas in the process.
That's left Houston with a huge hole to fill at small forward. According to ESPN.com's Marc Stein, the Rockets might replace Parsons in the starting lineup with incoming rookie Kostas Papanikolaou. The Greek forward will arrive stateside on a two-year deal after a decorated stint with Barcelona in Spain's top league.
Chances are, though, that Papanikolaou will have to wait his turn on the wing behind returning Rocket Trevor Ariza, who signed a four-year, $32 million deal with Houston this summer.
Most Important Bench Player: Donatas Motiejunas
This could be the year that Motiejunas finally gets to strut his stuff on a regular basis.
The lanky Lithuanian could be called upon to serve as Dwight Howard's understudy, now that Omer Asik is with the New Orleans Pelicans. He may have a shot to usurp Terrence Jones' minutes at power forward.
Point Guard: George Hill
Shooting Guard: Rodney Stuckey
Small Forward: C.J. Miles
Power Forward: David West
Center: Roy Hibbert
Paul George's devastating leg injury turned what was probably going to be a tough season without Lance Stephenson into a disastrous one for the Indiana Pacers. Without George and Stephenson, the Pacers will have to lean more heavily on Hill to carry the team's creative duties, lest they implore Stuckey and Miles to supplement.
Signing Shawn Marion wouldn't change that, though it would likely push one of the two, between Stuckey and Miles, to the bench. The Pacers, for their part, aren't banking on Marion swooping in to save the day.
"What I came away with is that he’s undecided with where he wants to play and what he wants to do, but he did say he wants to play for a contender with a chance to win a championship," Pacers executive Larry Bird said at a recent press conference (via The News-Herald's Bob Finnan).
Without George and Stephenson, the Pacers would be lucky to so much as catch a stray whiff of the Larry O'Brien Trophy this season.
Most Important Bench Player: Luis Scola
Indy's losses figure to shift the team's focus even further toward the frontcourt. To that end, David West and Roy Hibbert, while strong in their own right, can only do so much before they start to wear down—a point that became all too clear during the Pacers' latest playoff run.
If those two are to survive a grueling season with their games and their bodies intact, they'll need more out of Scola than the 7.6 points and 4.8 rebounds he contributed in 2013-14, albeit in reduced minutes.
Los Angeles Clippers
Point Guard: Chris Paul
Shooting Guard: J.J. Redick
Small Forward: Matt Barnes
Power Forward: Blake Griffin
Center: DeAndre Jordan
The turbulent transition in ownership from Donald Sterling to Steve Ballmer has freed the Los Angeles Clippers of their biggest off-court burden, but there's still work to be done for this club to truly count itself among the league's select few title contenders.
As far as the starters are concerned, the Clippers will need Redick to stay healthy, after missing 47 games last season, and Barnes to contribute more consistently.
That is a more detailed way of saying L.A. could use another reliable body on the wing. A bounce-back season from Jared Dudley would help tremendously in that regard.
So long as Paul, Griffin and Jordan are healthy, though, the Clippers will have a strong foundation on which to build a championship-caliber campaign.
Most Important Bench Player: Jamal Crawford
Crawford's Sixth Man of the Year season merely reminded the basketball world of not only how good he is but also how important he is to what the Clippers do.
He averaged 18.6 points and 3.2 assists while stepping into the starting lineup 24 times amid injuries to Paul and Redick. At 34, Crawford would appear to have already played his best ball.
Then again, the extent to which Crawford's game is predicated on skill and savvy suggests he could still be a scoring pest off the bench for years to come.
Los Angeles Lakers
Point Guard: Steve Nash
Shooting Guard: Kobe Bryant
Small Forward: Nick Young
Power Forward: Carlos Boozer
Center: Jordan Hill
Predicting the Lakers' starting lineup for 2014-15 is an exercise in futility, as much for the guesswork as for the fantasy involved.
Bryant's been working out with his teammates (via ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne), and Nash is apparently pain-free, according to Lakers trainer Gary Vitti, per Mike Trudell of Lakers.com. But neither is in a place, in terms of both age and recent fitness, to be relied upon to any great extent until he's gotten back into an NBA game.
Young is probably L.A.'s best wing not named Kobe, though his career to date would suggest he's better suited to bench duty. Up front, fans may want to see more of rookie Julius Randle now, but Boozer is probably the better choice for the team at power forward, given the team's short- and long-term goals.
Strange as it may seem, Hill might be the safest bet of anyone in purple and gold to start consistently. If nothing else, that should make his new deal (two years, $18 million) easier to stomach for those who found Hill's impending salary to be a bit nauseating.
Most Important Bench Player: Julius Randle
It's possible that head coach Byron Scott will try trotting out a supersized front line of Randle, Boozer and Hill, while relegating Young back to the second unit.
If Randle doesn't start, though, he'll clearly be the Lakers' most crucial reserve—not only for his contributions as a rookie but also (and more importantly) for his role as the franchise's next cornerstone.
Point Guard: Mike Conley
Shooting Guard: Courtney Lee
Small Forward: Tayshaun Prince
Power Forward: Zach Randolph
Center: Marc Gasol
The Memphis Grizzlies didn't do anything this offseason to shake up their starting five, and they didn't need to. Chances are, they would've won more than 50 games—and wound up with a more favorable playoff matchup—had Marc Gasol not missed more than a quarter of the 2013-14 campaign.
The midseason addition of Lee added a much-needed dose of shooting to Memphis' mix. Tony Allen could still sneak his way back in, but that would require some combination of Lee struggling with his shot in training camp and Allen suddenly discovering his.
Not to mention, there's the added pressure to score that Conley might be under if Dave Joerger were to revert back to the team's previous iteration.
Most Important Bench Player: Tony Allen
Vince Carter could be a fantastic addition to the Grizzlies' second unit, if his transition into a savvy sixth man in Dallas was any indication. But Allen is a bona fide game-changer, most notably on the defensive end.
Point Guard: Mario Chalmers
Shooting Guard: Dwyane Wade
Small Forward: Luol Deng
Power Forward: Josh McRoberts
Center: Chris Bosh
One look at the Heat's projected starting five, and it's easy to see why the sky hasn't fallen on Miami since LeBron James left.
Deng is no King James, but he's no slouch, either, with two All-Star appearances and an All-Defensive selection on his resume. McRoberts is undeniably an upgrade up front over fellow Blue Devil and recently retired NBAer Shane Battier, in terms of both age and production.
If those two can contribute significantly to the cause, and Wade and Bosh can rediscover some semblance of their former selves, the Heat could be much more than just a tough out in the Eastern Conference this coming season.
Most Important Bench Player: Danny Granger
That being said, the Heat can't expect to stay in contention if Wade and Bosh have to carry loads like those they shouldered prior to James' arrival on South Beach.
Granger, a former 26-points-per-game scorer, could help tremendously in that regard, but only if he's able to cope with the leg problems that have plagued him over the past two seasons. Otherwise, Granger could wind up as Pat Riley's next failed reclamation project, alongside the likes of Michael Beasley and Greg Oden.
Point Guard: Brandon Knight
Shooting Guard: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Small Forward: Jabari Parker
Power Forward: Ersan Ilyasova
Center: Larry Sanders
It's possible that Antetokounmpo will supplant Knight at point guard, albeit more in role than in spot. Jason Kidd suggested as much during the NBA's Summer League in Las Vegas.
"With the group we have right now with B (Brandon) Knight and Giannis, we have additional playmakers," Kidd said, via The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Charles F. Gardner. "When we have that on the floor, it makes the game easy. We'll see how the roster shakes out, but we're not afraid to play him at the point, as you see."
Such an arrangement would make Milwaukee one of the more fascinating squads to watch in the NBA this coming season. After all, how often do teams have 6'11" point guards running the show?
Most Important Bench Player: Jerryd Bayless
However the Bucks' point guard situation shakes out, they're going to need at least one steadier hand around to help the young guys along and keep the offense on track. Jerryd Bayless could be just that guy.
The journeyman out of Arizona turned the ball over just 10.9 percent of the time last season—a fantastic figure, given his on-ball duties and a significant improvement over his previous years.
Point Guard: Ricky Rubio
Shooting Guard: Andrew Wiggins
Small Forward: Corey Brewer
Power Forward: Thaddeus Young
Center: Nikola Pekovic
The Minnesota Timberwolves have one of the toughest starting lineups to predict at the moment, and it's not just because of the impending Kevin Love trade. According to the Daily News (via The Philadelphia Inquirer's Mark Perner), the T-Wolves are planning to flip Anthony Bennett, one of the keys to the Love trade, to the Philadelphia 76ers as part of a deal for Thaddeus Young.
It's possible, too, that a K-Love trade could come to include more moving parts than just the reported package of Bennett, Andrew Wiggins and a 2015 first-round pick, per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports. Heck, there's always an outside chance that the trade falls through entirely before it's officially consummated.
The point is, the T-Wolves' picture should clear up considerably on or around Aug. 23, when Wiggins can be dealt.
Most Important Bench Player: Mo Williams
On a team desperate for shooting and sage wisdom, Mo Williams should strut around like manna from heaven.
The 11-year veteran has knocked down 38.5 percent of his three-point attempts for his career, and he knows a thing or two about both the power of LeBron and the pain of playing for a team that's just been spurned by its star.
New Orleans Pelicans
Point Guard: Jrue Holiday
Shooting Guard: Eric Gordon
Small Forward: Tyreke Evans
Power Forward: Ryan Anderson
Center: Anthony Davis
The New Orleans Pelicans would be nothing short of an offensive powerhouse if they were to field this starting five. According to NBA.com, the group of Holiday-Gordon-Evans-Anderson-Davis scored a scorching 123.5 points per 100 possessions last season.
This group is not without caveats, of course. For one, that fivesome surrendered an unsightly 119.8 points per 100 possessions. Moreover, they only saw the floor together for a total of 91 minutes over 12 games.
Then again, more time spent playing and practicing as a healthy unit could (and should) help New Orleans develop a greater sense of cohesion on the defensive end and, in turn, propel the team toward the playoff picture out West.
Most Important Bench Player: Omer Asik
Assuming Monty Williams wedges Evans into the starting lineup, Asik would become the key to the Pelicans' bench. The former Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets big man brings a measure of sheer bulk and physicality that Davis and Anderson both lack.
The tricky part will be figuring out which frontcourt pairings work best and how to keep Asik from completely cramping the offense when he's out there.
New York Knicks
Point Guard: Jose Calderon
Shooting Guard: J.R. Smith
Small Forward: Carmelo Anthony
Power Forward: Andrea Bargnani
Center: Samuel Dalembert
Just because J.R. Smith wants to start doesn't mean he'll get his way. He tweeted this June 10: "Nope no more bench for me!! RT @Stangg_ @TheRealJRSmith getting 6th man this coming season, mark my words."
But if Smith bounces back well from his injury-plagued 2013-14 campaign and impresses Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher from the get-go, he could very well find himself ahead of Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway Jr. on the depth chart.
What's more important, though, is how Smith (or whoever winds up starting at shooting guard for the Knicks) complements a slimmer, trimmer Carmelo Anthony in the triangle offense.
"He wants to be as athletic as he was when he was a rookie," one of Anthony's confidants told the New York Post's Marc Berman. "Plus he wants to be a facilitator in the triangle and speed will help that."
Most Important Bench Player: Tim Hardaway Jr.
Whichever player places second in the race for the starting 2-guard spot in New York will probably be the team's top reserve. At this point, Hardaway Jr. would appear the better bet than Shumpert to snag that silver medal.
The Michigan product is the far superior shooter between the two and performed like a potential team leader during his stint in the Las Vegas Summer League.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Point Guard: Reggie Jackson
Shooting Guard: Russell Westbrook
Small Forward: Kevin Durant
Power Forward: Serge Ibaka
Center: Kendrick Perkins
With Thabo Sefolosha out of the picture, look for Scott Brooks to start Jackson next to Westbrook, just as he did during much of the Oklahoma City Thunder's most recent playoff run—unless he feels a yearning for Anthony Morrow's outside shooting at the off-guard spot.
There's no need to designate positions between the two, since both are athletic combo guards who can fill both roles. In essence, Jackson might be best described as a poor-man's Westbrook.
Basketball Twitter discussions may continue to express gripe and groan over Perkins' continued presence in OKC's starting five, but his locker room leadership and on-court toughness, as both a position defender and a screen-setter, are vital to what the Thunder do on both ends.
And, really, so long as Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka are healthy, the Thunder could just as easily fill the other two spots with schlubs and still find themselves in the Western Conference Finals.
Most Important Bench Player: Steven Adams
Whatever your thoughts on Perk may be, there's no denying that Adams is the future at center in OKC.
He's not nearly as savvy or as experienced as Perkins is, but the native New Zealander is plenty tough on both ends of the floor and is far more mobile than is his aging and oft-injured teammate.
Point Guard: Elfrid Payton Jr.
Shooting Guard: Victor Oladipo
Small Forward: Tobias Harris
Power Forward: Channing Frye
Center: Nikola Vucevic
Take a look at the Orlando Magic's roster and you'll see just what a work in progress this team still is.
Oladipo and Vucevic would seem like the only locks to start for Jacque Vaughn. Frye would be, too, given the contract (four years, $32 million) he just signed, but he figures to fight for that spot with Harris, who has Maurice Harkless, Andrew Nicholson and rookie Aaron Gordon breathing down his neck.
And is Oladipo going to play as much point as he did last season? Or are the Magic going to hand the keys to Payton, another rookie?
The point being, I have little (if any) clue as to who's starting in Orlando in 2014-15, and my guess is the Magic are still waiting to see themselves.
Most Important Bench Player: Aaron Gordon
What's more certain is that the Magic aren't going to be good and that, in turn, this coming season will be another one focused on internal growth and parsing through the pieces that general manager Rob Hennigan has assembled.
Gordon might be the most important of those parts, given both where he was drafted (No. 4 in 2014) and the physical tools he brings to the table.
The 18-year-old will need plenty of minutes to acclimate himself to the NBA game and work on his suspect jump shot, but the logjam on the wing in Orlando might render playing time tough to come by for the youngster.
Point Guard: Michael Carter-Williams
Shooting Guard: Jason Richardson
Small Forward: ??
Power Forward: Anthony Bennett
Center: Nerlens Noel
The award for "Toughest Starting Five to Figure Out" has to go to the Philadelphia 76ers. As mentioned earlier, the Sixers are angling to trade Thaddeus Young to the T-Wolves for Bennett if/when the Kevin Love trade goes through.
Either way, that leaves Philly without an obvious fit on the wing next to Richardson. Names such as Elliot Williams, Hollis Thompson and Adonis Thomas might make sense, but none of those guys would seem like the sort to stick beyond a cup of coffee out of the D-League.
Maybe head coach Brett Brown will try starting Tony Wroten next to Carter-Williams and moving Richardson to the 3. Or, maybe general Sam Presti will snag another wing in the reported Bennett-for-Young swap.
The possibilities are endless...and practically impossible to predict.
Most Important Bench Player: ??
Again, good luck finding a reliable staple from among a group of guys that might not so much as set foot in the NBA if not for the generosity of the Sixers.
Point Guard: Goran Dragic
Shooting Guard: Eric Bledsoe
Small Forward: P.J. Tucker
Power Forward: Markieff Morris
Center: Miles Plumlee
The Phoenix Suns' starting five won't look like this for at least the first three games of the campaign on account of Tucker's three-game suspension for driving under the influence.
It may not look anything like this at all if Bledsoe doesn't come to some agreement with Phoenix before the season starts. According to USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt, Bledsoe, a restricted free agent, is contemplating settling for a one-year qualifying offer so that he can become an unrestricted free agent next summer.
In truth, Bledsoe's probably not going anywhere for at least another year, though the longer this situation drags on, the less likely it seems that the Suns will enjoy their two-point-guard backcourt over the long haul.
Most Important Bench Player: Isaiah Thomas
Bledsoe's shakiness, both physically and contractually, could thrust Thomas into a starring role sooner rather than later. Thomas, for his part, should be ready.
The diminutive point guard piled up 20.3 points and 6.3 assists per game with the Sacramento Kings last season while shuttling between the team's starting lineup and second unit.
Portland Trail Blazers
Point Guard: Damian Lillard
Shooting Guard: Wesley Matthews
Small Forward: Nicolas Batum
Power Forward: LaMarcus Aldridge
Center: Robin Lopez
The Portland Trail Blazers' starting unit was one of the most frequently used fivesomes in the NBA last year. And considering all the success they enjoyed, there's no reason to think that Terry Stotts is going to change things up now.
The real question is who on the bench is going to perform well enough to keep Lillard, Aldridge and Batum out of the league's top-20 in minutes per game?
Most Important Bench Player: Chris Kaman
Kaman could help, at least as far as Aldridge and Lopez are concerned. He's a big body who can score on the block, grab his fair share of rebounds and contest a shot or two at the rim from time to time.
That is more than any of Portland's other backup bigs could say with any honesty.
Point Guard: Darren Collison
Shooting Guard: Ben McLemore
Small Forward: Rudy Gay
Power Forward: Jason Thompson
Center: DeMarcus Cousins
In many ways, Collison comes off as a clear downgrade at the point for the Sacramento Kings. He's not on Isaiah Thomas' level when it comes to scoring, ball-handling and passing (i.e., the most important duties of a modern-day point guard).
On the other hand, Collison could be a better fit in Sacramento than Thomas was.
Collison's a superior shooter and defender, he doesn't need the ball in his hands to be effective—a huge plus for anyone playing alongside Cousins and Gay—and he knows what it takes to win, having been to three Final Fours at UCLA and three playoffs as a pro.
Most Important Bench Player: Nik Stauskas
The Kings' selection of Nik Stauskas at No. 8 in this year's draft was curious, if only because the team already had McLemore and Gay starting on the wings. It's possible, though, that Stauskas' arrival had as much to do with trying to light a competitive fire under those two as it did with the opinions of a handful of basketball junkies.
Either way, the Kings can take heart in the addition of another shooter and ball-handler on the wing—one who just might be good enough to break into the starting lineup before long.
San Antonio Spurs
Point Guard: Tony Parker
Shooting Guard: Danny Green
Small Forward: Kawhi Leonard
Power Forward: Tim Duncan
Center: Boris Diaw
Tiago Splitter has been supplanted from Gregg Popovich's starting five during each of the last two postseasons, including both NBA Finals.
The big Brazilian wound up as the team's top center again during the 2013-14 campaign, but he may not be able to hang onto that spot over the long haul now that Boris Diaw's so deeply embedded in the Spurs' plans, both tactically and financially.
As Bleacher Report's Stephen Babb noted of Diaw, who re-signed with San Antonio for three years and $22.5 million this summer:
He averaged 13.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and three assists per game against OKC and then 6.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 5.8 assists against Miami. It wouldn't be an overstatement to suggest that Diaw was indispensable, and that probably had a little something to do with him cashing in on a lucrative deal this summer.
Whoever winds up at center, we can be sure that the other four spots will be easily accounted for by Tony Parker, Danny Green, Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard—three of whom have been Finals MVPs and a fourth (Green) who probably would've been had the Spurs held off the Heat in 2013.
Most Important Bench Player: Manu Ginobili
Whichever big between Splitter and Diaw loses out on the starting spot will be a crucial cog on Pop's bench, though neither figures to quite measure up to Manu Ginobili.
The aging Argentine finished third in Sixth Man of the Year voting after averaging 12.3 points, 4.3 assists and one steal during the regular season and upped the ante with 14.3 points, 4.1 assists and 1.6 steals during San Antonio's sprint to the title.
If the Spurs are to defend their crown for the first time in franchise history, they'll need all they can squeeze out of Ginobili, particularly once the postseason rolls around.
Point Guard: Kyle Lowry
Shooting Guard: DeMar DeRozan
Small Forward: Terrence Ross
Power Forward: Amir Johnson
Center: Jonas Valanciunas
I'm not sure the Toronto Raptors' retention of Lowry got as much attention as it deserved. They not only kept a key piece, but they also managed to convince him to sign a shorter, less lucrative deal to stay. Remember, this is the franchise that has seen a steady stream of incumbent stars either force their way out (Damon Stoudamire, Vince Carter) or walk away via free agency (Tracy McGrady, Chris Bosh).
Of course, none of those guys had quite the same caliber of team to come back to. In the wide-open East, the Raptors could be poised to make some serious noise.
"Our high expectations are not just to be a playoff team," Lowry recently told Bleacher Report. "We want to contend. We want to have a chance to go out there and play for something special."
Most Important Bench Player: Patrick Patterson
Patterson's been a productive player wherever he's gone, and Toronto's no exception. The Kentucky product averaged 9.1 points and 5.8 rebounds and knocked down an impressive 41.1 percent of his threes after joining the Raptors as part of the return for the Rudy Gay trade last season.
Patterson, who just signed a three-year deal to stay in Canada, would be hard-pressed to push Johnson or Valanciunas out of Dwane Casey's starting five, though his inside-out game should come in handy off the pine for the Raptors.
Point Guard: Trey Burke
Shooting Guard: Alec Burks
Small Forward: Gordon Hayward
Power Forward: Derrick Favors
Center: Enes Kanter
At long last, the Utah Jazz are poised to field a starting five comprised of the young players they've accumulated over the last four years. There's no Richard Jefferson to block Burks' spot, no Marvin Williams to break up the Favors-Kanter pairing and no injury to sideline Burke.
Whether this is actually a good thing for the Jazz in the short term is another story. According to NBA.com, that fivesome was outscored by 4.8 points per 100 possessions in the 123 minutes of court time it saw last season. To be sure, that's a rather small sample, one from which it would be tough to draw any conclusions.
That is all the more reason for new head coach Quin Snyder to trot these guys out together in 2014-15, so he and the team can figure out who fits for the future and who doesn't.
Most Important Bench Player: Dante Exum
Speaking of the future, Dante Exum could be Utah's best hope for a homegrown star, and he might not even start next season. Granted, that has more to do with his youth (he just turned 19) and his attendant inexperience (he'll be a rookie this season) than with his talent.
But as Exum demonstrated during the Las Vegas Summer League, he's going to need time to develop both his body and his game to better acclimate himself to the NBA.
Point Guard: John Wall
Shooting Guard: Bradley Beal
Small Forward: Paul Pierce
Power Forward: Nene
Center: Marcin Gortat
The Washington Wizards might just have the most complete starting five in the Eastern Conference.
Speedy ball-handling and drive-and-kick creation? Wall can handle that. Pinpoint perimeter shooting? Beal and Pierce have got you covered. Crunch-time scoring? Pierce is on that, too. Interior passing, rebounding and rim protection? Nene and Gortat combine to do that better than just about any frontcourt tandem in the league.
It's no wonder, then, that the Wizards are looking like the trendy pick to make the Eastern Conference Finals next spring.
Most Important Bench Player: Kris Humphries
There will inevitably come a time when the Wizards need someone to step in for Nene. The burly Brazilian missed 29 games last season due to injury and has featured in at least 80 percent of his team's games just five times in his 12 NBA seasons.
Humphries is no "Iron Man" himself, but his size, strength and rebounding ability make him a natural to back up Nene.
Which is your "Fave Five?" Tweet me your pick!
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