The concept of the NBA “superteam” has been around for a long time, but has gained ground in recent years. Franchises love to pull off blockbuster signings or trades that give them the most talented roster, supposedly ensuring championship contention.
But is assembling the most collective talent on one team really the goal?
Time and time again, less talented teams with more chemistry and a better mix of players have been victorious over said superteams. Some examples that come to mind are the Dallas Mavericks defeating the Miami Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals, the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers failing to do much of anything and the San Antonio Spurs defeating the Miami Heat in the 2014 NBA Finals.
Today, I’ve focused on creating the ideal NBA starting lineup. These are not necessarily the best players at each of the five positions, but I do believe it is the league’s best group of five that can be assembled based on the players’ complementary abilities and mentalities.
Two honorable mention teams will also be listed below the ideal starting lineup.
The Ideal NBA Starting Lineup
Point Guard: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
2014-15 per-game stats: 18.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, 10.1 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.2 blocks, 25.1 PER, 0.246 win shares per 48 minutes
Arguably the league’s best point guard (and I would argue he is), Paul provides this fictional lineup with pretty much everything it could ask from its floor general. CP3 leads the league in assists and assists per turnover while still scoring an efficient 18.8 points per game, good for fifth-best among point guards.
And did I mention his defense?
According to a paper presented at the 2015 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference by Alexander Franks and Andrew Miller, via Grantland’s Kirk Goldsberry, Paul is the best perimeter defender in the NBA. While that claim is a little bit extreme, it speaks to the 30-year-old’s dedication to the less glamorous end of the floor that he’s even in consideration for the lofty title.
Shooting Guard: Kyle Korver, Atlanta Hawks
2014-15 per-game stats: 12.3 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.6 blocks, 14.8 PER, 0.146 win shares per 48 minutes
This lineup already has the league’s most accurate passer, so why not add the most accurate shooter to it?
Korver isn’t even close to the best shooting guard in the NBA. His raw numbers of 12.3 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists per contest don’t exactly jump off the stat sheet. However, he’s one of the most valuable 2-guards to his team.
We all know about his otherworldly ability to can three-pointers from all over the court, but did you know he gets defended like a superstar? According to Stats LLC’s SportVU data (via Grantland’s Zach Lowe), Korver had the NBA’s fourth-highest gravity score last season, behind only Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George. The higher a player’s gravity score, the more closely he’s guarded.
The 34-year-old shooting guard embodies the term “floor-spacer.” His long-distance marksmanship will not only give the lineup frequent three-point baskets, but open up the court for his teammates to operate.
Small Forward: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
2014-15 per-game stats: 16.0 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.3 steals, 0.8 blocks, 21.1 PER, 0.186 win shares per 48 minutes
Like Korver, Leonard is one of those players whose impact transcends most traditional stats. He’s a relentless defender, arguably the best in the NBA, and the Spurs are still easing him into his role as a No. 1 offensive option, which prevents gaudy numbers.
Grantland’s Goldsberry wrote a feature on “The Claw” this week, specifically focusing on his defense but also the merits of his overall game. He said, “Maybe he’s not a conventional superstar, but Leonard is one of the most important players in the whole league.”
On this team, Leonard will use those gigantic mitts of his to grab the roles of defensive stopper and supporting scorer.
Power Forward: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
2014-15 per-game stats: 24.6 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.4 steals, 2.9 blocks, 31.4 PER, 0.282 win shares per 48 minutes
NBA fans, meet the future of the league.
Recently turning 22 years old, Davis is on pace for the eighth-best player efficiency rating season of all time. At 6’10”, he scores inside, protects the rim, grabs plenty of steals, runs the floor like a guard and can even hit the mid-range jumper. It’s not really fair at all.
“The Brow” was an easy choice here for his two-way dominance, and will share the brunt of the team’s offensive load with Paul.
Center: Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
2014-15 per-game stats: 7.6 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.7 steals, 2.3 blocks, 21.5 PER, 0.203 win shares per 48 minutes
With good offensive options at each position from 1 to 4, a player who doesn’t need to score to be effective is a perfect fit here at center.
Enter Rudy Gobert, the league’s best rim-protecting big man. He ranks first among power forwards and centers with at least 35 games played in field goal percentage allowed at the rim (39.5) and sixth among all players in defensive rating. (98.1) The 22-year-old’s post game is still developing, but he won’t be asked to provide much offense on this team anyway.
Why I like this lineup
Defense, defense and more defense. Four of the five players in the lineup (Paul, Leonard, Davis, Gobert) have a great shot at making an All-Defensive Team at the end of this season. Opponents would find it almost impossible to score.
The squad also has nice offensive balance, with Paul and Davis leading the attack and Leonard, Korver and Gobert supporting them as the other three options, respectively. Everyone except Gobert is a threat to score from outside the paint, which would ensure good floor-spacing. With a heavy diet of Paul/Davis and Paul/Gobert pick-and-rolls, we would see some nice alley-oop dunks, as well.
Finally, the unit would be great at creating transition opportunities with steals and blocks while making very few miscues of their own. The five players average a combined 7.0 steals and 6.8 blocks per game to go with only 8.1 turnovers per contest. Those totals would rank first, first and sixth-fewest among NBA starting lineups, respectively, per Hoopsstats.com.
Honorable mention No. 1
Point Guard: Stephen Curry
Shooting Guard: Tony Allen
Small Forward: LeBron James
Power Forward: Paul Millsap
Center: Tyson Chandler
Why I like this lineup
Players would have clearly defined roles. This squad has two designated ball handlers (Curry and James), two lockdown defenders (Allen and James), probably the league’s best shooter (Curry), a 4 who can do pretty much anything that’s asked of him (Millsap) and a great inside finisher and rim protector. (Chandler)
Curry, James and sometimes Millsap would have the ball in their hands the majority of the time. Meanwhile, Allen and Chandler would feast on cuts along the baseline and across the lane for easy buckets.
But mostly, I like this lineup for the offensive potential Curry and James would offer. Both are excellent passers and fantastic ball handlers with a flair for the spectacular, so it’s certainly fun to dream about.
Honorable mention No. 2
Point Guard: Mike Conley
Shooting Guard: Jimmy Butler
Small Forward: Kevin Durant
Power Forward: Draymond Green
Center: DeAndre Jordan
Why I like this lineup
Similar to the two lineups before it, this group has a fantastic balance of offense and defense. Conley, Butler and Durant would be quite possibly the best offensive trio in the game (not including the other made-up lineups in this article), while Green and Jordan would be an incredible 4/5 defensive duo.
Durant’s transcendent scoring ability would also allow Conley and Butler to conserve energy for the less glamorous end of the court. Both Conley and Butler are among the best defenders at their respective positions.
The one main weakness in this group is Jordan’s free throw shooting ability (40.1 percent), which would sometimes keeps him on the bench in crunch time. However, his 70.9 field goal percentage, 99.2 defensive rating and league-leading 14.8 rebounds per game would make up for that.