Just this offseason alone, the NBA witnessed — no pun intended — the most significant and active free agency period in League history.
The city of Cleveland now loathes their once beloved LeBron James, while Chris Bosh was put on the Toronto hit list right alongside Vince Carter. On paper, the Miami Heat now have the best “Big Three” in the NBA, but as Kevin Garnett noted when he changed his jersey number in Boston, five is a team.
Judging the best starting fives in the NBA needs a little more than just the “on paper” eye test. Through a little research, I found exactly which teams have the best five-man lineups going into the season:
ATLANTA HAWKS (53-29, 34-7 at home)
The Hawks are one of the most talented teams in the League, but when it comes to the playoffs, they just seem to fade away. Jamal Crawford, who won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award last season, was a big reason why the Hawks posted their best record since ’97. With JC in the lineup, the Hawks Off shoots up to 1.20, opposed to 1.09 with Marvin Williams in the lineup. As for their Def, it goes from 1.03 to 1.09 with Crawford starting over Williams. There’s no question that the Hawks win more and lose less with Crawford (36-22, 62.0 win percentage compared to 38-34, 52.7 win percentage), but he’s better suited coming off the bench. Crawford wants a contract extension, Al Horford is an All-Star, Josh Smith has a chance at Defensive Player of the Year, and with Joe Johnson signing his mega-deal this summer, there’s no telling how this team will fare.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS (57-25, 34-7 at home)
If it weren’t for the Lakers’ bench help, they wouldn’t be where they are now as two-time defending champions. With a lineup of Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, this starting five posted a record of 25-15 while playing 668.3 combined minutes. They managed to win their games at a 62.5 percent rate with an Off of 1.15 and Def of 1.03. There’s no question that Lamar Odom has a chance to win the Sixth Man award, but when the Lakers put him in and take Bynum out (unless he’s injured), they’re actually worse in every statistical category (Off 1.09, Def 1.05, Rec 21-23) but seemingly better with both Odom and Bynum in the lineup (Off 1.07, Def 1.02, Rec 20-13). Even with that said, the Lakers still remain the team to beat due to their deep bench, and I expect their defense to be even better with the addition of Matt Barnes.
DALLAS MAVERICKS (55-27, 28-13 at home)
Want to know how bad the Mavericks are going to miss Erick Dampier? In just 343.3 minutes, a lineup that consisted of Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki and Dampier managed to post a 25-12 record with a 67.5 win percentage, and an Off of 1.14 and Def of 0.95. If you switch Terry for Caron Butler and Dampier for Brendan Haywood, their Off drops to 1.11 and their Def shoots up to 1.07 and finish with a 10-8 record while winning at 55.5 percent of their games. Defense wins championships, and if Dallas plans on doing so, they better hope Haywood steps up on that side of the ball. If it makes Dallas fans feel any better, Haywood did boost his Defensive Warp to 7.1 with Dallas after posting a 0.5 with the Wizards.
BOSTON CELTICS (50-32, 24-17 at home)
When Kevin Garnett came to Boston, they instantly turned into a defensive-minded team. How do you think they won an NBA title the same season? After logging 1,179 minutes last season, Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins posted a record of 38-19 (66.6 win percentage) with an Off of 1.13 and a Def of 1.00. Unfortunately, Perkins went down in the playoffs with a major knee injury, so what did the Celtics do? They went out and signed (and drafted) nothing but defensive players. With ‘Sheed Wallace retiring — although he made their defense worse when he was in the lineup — and even with Perkins out until February, I expect Shaq, J.O., Big Baby and rookie Avery Bradley, to help keep the Celtics’ defense in lockdown mode until Perkins comes back.
ORLANDO MAGIC (59-23, 34-7 at home)
Unfortunately for the Magic, with Matt Barnes playing in Los Angeles, their numbers significantly drop unless someone steps up. When Barnes was there, the Magic conjured up a 35-13 record (72.9 win percentage) and an Off of 1.15 and Def of 0.99. Mickael Pietrus will more than likely start in Barnes’ place, which puts the Off at 1.09 and Def at 1.03, and a record of 15-13 (53.5 win percentage). Even though his Defensive Warp is at a -0.1, Pietrus is Orlando’s best wing defender and can be very relentless, but sometimes lets his offense dictate his defense. Pietrus values his defense and don’t forget whom he guarded against Cleveland, but even if he struggles, he still has Dwight Howard to watch his back.