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Every NBA Team’s Most Potent Lineup: Western Conference

Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

Jalen Rose often states that positions were invented to help the novice fan follow the game, and that statement stands truer in today’s “pace-and-space” NBA more than ever before, where positional boundaries are being blurred and stretched beyond recognition.

LeBron James somehow exists as a point forward, who spends the majority of the time as his team’s primary ball-handler, while also guarding the opposing team’s most physical player. Kevin Durant dominates at four positions and can break down any defender off the dribble despite standing nearly seven-feet tall. Draymond Green floats across numerous positions as freely as he sends out confrontational tweets.

The list goes on and on, and because it does, teams are becoming more and more willing to trot out unconventional units to exploit matchups. It’s no longer uncommon to look up and see three guards on the court at once, or to see prototypical small forwards sliding over to the 4 to exploit bigger, slower guys. It’s a game of mismatches, and the team that’s able to take advantage of those most effectively, typically wins.

Northwest Division

Denver NuggetsEmmanuel Mudiay, Randy Foye, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Jusuf Nurkic

With three excellent three-point shooters (Foye, Chandler, Gallinari) anchoring this lineup, plus a point guard (Mudiay) with great size and excellent court vision who can put them in position for open looks, the Nuggets would have an advantage on the perimeter over many teams with this look. Throw in Nurkic, who can dismantle opponents in the post with his deceivingly quick post moves, and who’s also demonstrated a willingness to get out and run in transition, and this lineup could be a potent one indeed.

Minnesota TimberwolvesRicky Rubio, Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad, Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns

Talk about potential to be an offensive juggernaut. There will probably be nights next year where this lineup is virtually impossible to defend, but there will also be nights where they completely fall apart. There may not be much consistency with this group yet, but there aren’t many lineups that have the potential to wreak more havoc offensively. LaVine and Muhammad have both demonstrated ability to be knock-down shooters, and Wiggins can get to the rim seemingly at will. Most importantly, they’ll dominate their defender in terms of athleticism on any given night. Rubio remains one of the league’s most prolific passers and Towns has the potential to be one of the best offensive bigs in the NBA. This group could be special.

Oklahoma City Thunder Russell Westbrook, Anthony Morrow, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Enes Kanter

There are only two lineups that have two of the top 10 players in the league, and the Thunder are one of them. It’s certainly hard to deny the offensive potency of this group. Morrow, Durant and Ibaka are all deadly from long range, Westbrook can physically dominate anyone he’s put up against and Kanter is one of the best offensive bigs around. I don’t think there’s a defense around that can hold this group under the century mark.

Portland Trail BlazersDamian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Gerald Henderson, Meyers Leonard, Noah Vonleh

The Blazers may have lost a ton of talent in the offseason, but they can still put out a pretty formidable offensive crew. Lillard, McCollum and Leonard can absolutely fill it up from beyond the three-point line and can make life hell for opposing defenses. Henderson has developed into a league average shooter from deep, but is a really solid scorer overall. Vonleh is the wildcard here. He’s raw, but he has all the physical tools to become a monster on the offensive end.

Utah JazzAlec Burks, Rodney Hood, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert

There may not be many teams who can trot out a more potent trio of shooters than the Jazz can with Burks, Hood and Hayward. This has the potential to become one of the more deadly combinations in the league, especially if Hood continues where he left off at the end of the year, where he averaged 52 percent from three-point range in February and March. Add in Favors, one of the best finishers at the rim in the league, and Gobert, the cleanup machine, and you have an offense to be reckoned with.

Southwest Division

Dallas MavericksDeron Williams, Devin Harris, Wesley Matthews, Chandler Parsons, Dirk Nowitzki

Although extremely undersized and overmatched on defense, this lineup would definitely cause problems for opposing defenses. With five above league average three-point shooters on the floor at the same time, there should always be a high percentage shot to be had, which is good since offensive rebounding isn’t exactly this group’s strong suit. I could see this lineup being extremely potent in short stints; very short stints.

Houston RocketsTy Lawson, James Harden, Trevor Ariza, Donatas Motiejunas, Dwight Howard

This could become one of the Rockets’ most utilized lineups in pretty short order. With two of the better ball distributors off of penetration in the lineup at the same time — Lawson and Harden — and four players who can knock down open shots, there are plenty of corner threes to be had. Howard may not be the offensive force he once was, but he can still operate out of the post when needed, and will absolutely own the glass to provide this group with second chances. Plus there’s always the option to just give it to Harden and get out of the way. That seems to work pretty well, too.  

Memphis Grizzlies Mike Conley, Courtney Lee, Jeff Green, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol

Offensive potency and the Memphis Grizzlies aren’t often spoken in the same sentence, so it’s difficult to put together a group who instills fear into opposing defenses. That said, if Green can even approach the player the Grizzlies thought they were getting when they acquired him midseason, this group can put up some points when needed. Lee was quietly one of the best three-point shooters in the league last year, and Conley is above league average in this department as well. Plus, Randolph and Gasol still make up one the most potent traditional frontcourts around. They can flat out get buckets when they need to.

New Orleans PelicansTyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, Quincy Pondexter, Ryan Anderson, Anthony Davis

This is no affront to Jrue Holiday; he’s a really good point guard when healthy. I just have never liked him and Evans in the lineup at the same time. The pieces don’t fit together. And last year, Evans showed me that he belongs on the court as much as possible. He has such a unique combination of size and speed, and he can get to the rim seemingly at will. He also proved to be equally good at setting the table for his teammates as Holiday. With Gordon, Pondexter and Anderson on the court to stretch the floor, and with Davis continually extending his range, this lineup provides the perfect combination of outside shooting and ability to attack the rim.

San Antonio SpursTony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan

Few teams can boast that their starting lineup is actually their most offensively imposing unit. The Spurs are one of these teams. Not much else needs to be said.

Pacific Division

Golden State WarriorsStephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green

There isn’t a team around who can stop this group from scoring. Just ask the Cleveland Cavaliers. When we look back, this may be the lineup that ultimately shifted the pendulum towards the small ball movement.  It’s truly a revolutionary group.

Los Angeles ClippersChris Paul, J.J. Redick, Lance Stephenson, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan

This may end up being the Clippers’ most utilized lineup when all is said and done. They certainly offer the most in terms of versatility and explosive offensive ability. It’s hard to argue against a lineup with two of the top 10 players in the league, and another who can make a case for a spot in the top 25. A lot of the success for this combination rests on the ability of Stephenson to adapt and return to the efficient scorer he was two years ago, a proposition that’s anything but assured. But let’s not forget that in his last year in Indiana, his true shooting percentage was 57 percent, which fell to 41 percent in Charlotte. It’s hard to believe he can’t elevate that number once again in the right system.

Los Angeles LakersD’Angelo Russell, Lou Williams, Jordan Clarkson, Kobe Bryant, Julius Randle

I know. I know. This lineup would get absolutely murdered defensively, but that’s not what this piece is about, is it? You’d be hard pressed to find a group with more potential to explode offensively on a given night. Of course, they’d be even more likely to completely fall flat on their face, but if everything is clicking, and if Kobe has a night where he’s a willing facilitator, this group could be deadly.

Phoenix SunsBrandon Knight, Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, Mirza Teletovic, Markieff Morris

I’m going out on a couple of limbs here. One, I think Booker will be an absolute offensive force, and I think he’ll be one almost immediately. Two, I think Morris will ultimately be moved, but if he’s forced to stick around, I’m assuming he does so as a willing contributor. Those are two pretty big leaps of faith, neither of which will probably happen exactly as I just stated, but if they did, this is one of the most deadly offensive lineups in the league.

Sacramento KingsDarren Collison, Ben McLemore, Omri Casspi, Rudy Gay, DeMarcus Cousins

This may be the same lineup that helped them win 29 games a year ago, but at the end of the day, it’s an extremely difficult one to defend. Collison and Casspi are knock-down shooters. McLemore made great strides in that department last year, but he can always utilize his remarkable athleticism to get to the rim as well. Gay is a prototypical “playmaking 4” and can operate the offense from that position with great effectiveness. And then there’s Cousins, who’s as unstoppable of a force in the paint as anyone in the league. This is a tough lineup to stop.

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