The concept of ‘position-less’ basketball was born the moment Steve Kerr and the Golden State Warriors discovered the “Death Lineup” in 2015. It featured the lethal combination of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green. Since then, Golden State subbed out Barnes and brought in Kevin Durant, leaving the other 29 head coaches with the impossible task of trying to figure out how to slow this unit down. If last season’s dominant playoff run was any indication, no one has come close to cracking the Golden State code.
In this piece, we aren’t trying to crack the code either (because we firmly believe it’s impossible). For all teams, we created an intriguing 5-man lineup that we’d like to see each respective coach trot out. Teams like the Bulls, Pacers and Nets could play 7-on-5 and they still wouldn’t be able to compete with the Warriors. For some contenders, this lineup might just be able to give Golden State some issues:
Dennis Schröder-Marco Belinelli-Kent Bazemore-Luke Babbitt-Mike Muscala
Atlanta enters a rebuilding period after letting Dwight Howard and Paul Millsap walk in free agency. We now enter the era of German dynamo Dennis Schröder, and the best way to showcase his abilities is to surround him with shooters. The three wings mentioned above can also handle the ball to relieve some pressure offensively.
Kyrie Irving-Terry Rozier-Marcus Smart-Jaylen Brown-Marcus Morris
Gordon Hayward’s unfortunate and horrific injury forces the C’s to look at different options throughout the year. Brown will be afforded more opportunities in during this year, and his offensive development will be key. Smart and Rozier are terrific defenders that want to get up-and-down the floor — the perfect match of players to play alongside Irving. Morris isn’t nearly as good of an attacker off the bounce as his brother in Washington is, but he’s a capable scorer with enough grit to battle down-low with Eastern Conference big men.
D’Angelo Russell-Caris LeVert-Allen Crabbe-Rondae Hollis-Jefferson-Jarrett Allen
Brooklyn fans could be in for a treat with Russell taking over in Kenny Atkinson’s up-tempo offense. LeVert can play the secondary ball handler role with Crabbe and Allen spacing the floor. Atkinson has tried stretching out Hollis-Jefferson’s position versatility as far as possible. He logged over 900 minutes at PF last season, and there are murmurs of playing him at center this year.
Kemba Walker-Malik Monk-Nic Batum-Michael Kidd-Gilchrist-Frank Kaminsky
The Hornets might be better off taking a page out of Brooklyn’s book and trying out MKG at the 4. He’s logged nearly 90-percent of his time at SF thus far in his career, but the spacing just doesn’t work unless they have three more shooters on the floor. A Batum-MKG forward combo runs smoother with a more traditional 2-guard in Monk. Kaminsky is another shooter, allotting Kemba the full amount of floor space to do what he does best — attacking the rim. With Batum’s injury, we won’t see this lineup for the first few months, but the team won’t be truly competitive until he returns either way.
Kris Dunn-Zach LaVine-Quincy Pondexter-Denzel Valentine-Lauri Markkanen
Any intriguing Bulls lineup has to consist of the three-headed coup the Bulls got from jettisoning Jimmy Butler. Don’t expect to see this lineup take the court right away though, as LaVine has been nursing an injury that could keep him out until December. Can we please see Valentine play some small ball 4? Is that too much to ask? The Michigan State product drew comparisons to fellow Sparty Draymond Green entering the draft, but all Valentine’s rookie season consisted of was spotting-up and chucking threes (72-percent of his shot attempts came from beyond the arc).
Isaiah Thomas-J.R. Smith-Jae Crowder-LeBron James-Kevin Love
If the Cavs topple the mighty Warriors this year, it will be with this lineup. J.R. and Crowder provide proper spacing for the three stars. James can afford to roam the court with Crowder taking on the other team’s best perimeter player. Thomas is likely to be out until at least Christmas, but this lineup will be out in full force come playoff time.
Dennis Smith Jr.-Yogi Ferrell-Seth Curry-Harrison Barnes-Nerlens Noel
Rick Carlisle throws it back to 2015 with this triple point guard arrangement. DSJ and Ferrell are relentless at getting to the basket, allowing Curry and Barnes to spot up while Noel roams around the basket. On the surface, defense could be a problem, but this backcourt is far more athletic than the previous three-guard lineup of Devin Harris, Raymond Felton and J.J. Barea.
Jamal Murray-Gary Harris-Malik Beasley-Paul Millsap-Nikola Jokić
The Millsap-Jokic connection is mouth-watering for fans of big men who can dish the rock. They should fit perfectly together since they like to occupy different spots on the floor. Jokić isn’t great yet on the defensive end, but Millsap is a great team defender. He’ll help Jokić on rotations. The backcourt consists of young athletes with shooting range and ball-handling capabilities.
Ish Smith-Avery Bradley-Luke Kennard-Stanley Johnson-Andre Drummond
The Pistons might have more ball stoppers than anybody in the league. From Reggie Jackson to Tobias Harris, their projected starting lineup won’t be appealing to the eyes. When Ish Smith enters the game, the ball begins moving. Bradley and Drummond are both excellent defenders with an understanding on their respective offensive roles. Kennard is a knock-down shooter. During his last season in college, the former Duke star improved immensely at taking players off the bounce. This would be a sneaky-fun unit to watch.
Golden State Warriors
Stephen Curry-Klay Thompson-Nick Young-Omri Casspi-Kevin Durant
We already know how lethal the Curry-Thompson-Iguodala-Durant-Green lineup is, so there’s no need in picking that. Instead, this lineup features five of the best three-point bombers in the league. The chance of seeing this ensemble hinges on Steve Kerr’s leniency with playing Durant as a small ball center. Even so, replacing Durant with Draymond Green here still makes for an entertaining crew.
Chris Paul-James Harden-Trevor Ariza-P.J. Tucker-Ryan Anderson
Paul and Harden are arguably the two best playmakers in the entire league. Surrounding them with shooting will never be a bad thing. Anderson is a zero when it comes to shot blocking, but is an underrated stationary defender. Ariza and Tucker compete on both ends. Against certain teams, the Rockets can get away with Tucker guarding the other team’s center (Warriors, anybody?). As long as the leaders can keep it cordial, this will be a fun group.
Cory Joseph-Victor Oladipo-Bojan Bogdanović-T.J. Leaf-Myles Turner
Indiana’s front office isn’t overreacting to the loss of Paul George because they know they have a superstar on their hands in Myles Turner. Able to stroke threes and protect the rim, he is the quintessential modern big man. The rest of the lineup is nothing to write home about, though these teammates are at least NBA-level players able to complement Turner. It will be interesting to see if Nate McMillian can afford Oladipo more ball-handling opportunities.
Los Angeles Clippers
Milos Teodosić-Patrick Beverley-Danilo Gallinari-Blake Griffin-DeAndre Jordan
This is essentially the Clippers starting lineup — which won’t be overly interesting until you add Teodosić. The Serbian guard is a magician with the ball, and allows Beverley to slide into his natural position off the ball. Lob City lives on.
Los Angeles Lakers
Lonzo Ball-Brandon Ingram-Kyle Kuzma-Larry Nance-Julius Randle
The Lakers won’t win a whole lot of games. However as long as Ball is running the point, they’ll be fun to watch. Kuzma built a rapport with his fellow rookie over the Summer League, and is a far better outside shooter than anticipated. Randle and Nance don’t protect the rim, but they should be great receivers for Ball’s alley-oops. The duo possesses enough guard skills to keep defenses honest.
Mario Chalmers-Ben McLemore-Tyreke Evans-Chandler Parsons-Marc Gasol
Memphis will be in the playoff hunt throughout the year, but their watchability is at an all-time low. Mike Conley still makes the engine go, but the question for the Grizzlies throughout the year is how they will create offense when he sits. Chalmers will need to win over the Grizzlies faithful that are still scratching their heads over the team’s decision to waive 2016 first-round pick Wade Baldwin. Parsons is 28 and is one more 33-percent shooting season from being out of the league. McLemore picked up his play to finish last year, and a change of scenery certainly can’t hurt.
Goran Dragić-Josh Richardson-Justise Winslow-Bam Adebayo-Hassan Whiteside
The overachieving darlings of the 2016-2017 season brought back a majority of their roster. Of the new additions, the most interesting is Kentucky big man Adebayo. It was a bit of a puzzling pick when the Heat selected him in April, as most aren’t sure if he will be cutting into Whiteside’s minutes or playing alongside him. Neither big man stretches the floor, so why not go with the fully defensive lineup? Winslow is a doberman on the wing, and a terror in transition. Dragić’s craftiness with the ball — coupled with Richardson’s sneaky cuts and marksmanship — creates a nice blend of skills.
Malcolm Brogdon-Khris Middleton-Giannis Antetokounmpo-Jabari Parker-D.J. Wilson
Milwaukee added yet another rangy tweener in Michigan’s Wilson. I’m very intrigued to see what Giannis can do as the league’s only 6’11” point guard/center. The other three space the floor well and can do a bit of playmaking. A balanced lineup filled with talented, long, two-way athletes is automatic entertainment.
Jimmy Butler-Jamal Crawford-Andrew Wiggins-Nemanja Bjelica-Karl-Anthony Towns
The T’Wolves will be at their best when Butler is running the point. His polish as a scorer and ball handler — coupled with his big frame — makes him a match-up nightmare. The addition of Butler also slides Wiggins into a more comfortable tertiary scoring role. Crawford can put up buckets while being hidden on defense. Thibodeau loved Bjelica down the stretch of last season before he got hurt, and Towns is just flat-out awesome. This is a unit that will give opponents fits on both ends.
New Orleans Pelicans
Frank Jackson-Jrue Holiday-Charles Cooke-Anthony Davis-DeMarcus Cousins
Watching Alvin Gentry try to get any production out of his wings this year will be fascinating. The most interesting combination for Gentry’s squad includes his top-three guys taking the court with a pair of rookies. Jackson is a freakish athlete with great speed in the open floor. Cooke was the go-to scorer on a very good Dayton team. It may not work, but it’s surely more exciting than Rajon Rondo and Solomon Hill.
New York Knicks
Frank Ntilikina-Tim Hardaway Jr.-Doug McDermott-Kristaps Porziņģis-Enes Kanter
A McBuckets-Unicorn forward combo is exactly what the despondent Knicks faithful need right now. They wouldn’t be able to guard a high school team with this crew, but points will be aplenty.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Russell Westbrook-Paul George-Andre Roberson-Jerami Grant-Steven Adams
It will be interesting to see how often Billy Donovan keeps Westbrook, George and Carmelo on the floor during the middle of the game. Melo will likely be the first of the big three subbed out in order to lead some bench lineups as the primary scorer. In those situations, you’ll want to see Grant take Melo’s spot. Good luck scoring against these guys.
Evan Fournier-Mario Hezonja-Jonathan Simmons-Aaron Gordon-Jonathan Isaac
Fournier is capable of being a point guard in this league. The skilled 24-year old is a solid shooter, scorer and ball handler. He has the size and smarts to quarterback a team as long as he has some other skill players around him. The rest of this lineup is rounded out with above-average athletes. Gordon slides into his natural position at the four alongside rookie big man Isaac. Hezonja hasn’t gotten a fair shot in Orlando, and Simmons is coming off a career year in San Antonio. Anything is in play for the Magic, who desperately need a spark to please the fan base.
Markelle Fultz-Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot-Ben Simmons-Richaun Holmes-Joel Embiid
Health permitting, we will get to see Philly reap the benefits of The Process this season. Fultz-Simmons-Embiid is the core of this squad, and coach Brett Brown will be continuously shuffling in two other players with those guys to see what works. I like the pair of Cabarrot and Holmes to play alongside this three-headed monster, as both guys are great defenders and capable shooters.
Devin Booker-Josh Jackson-T.J. Warren-Jared Dudley-Marquese Chriss
The Suns still have Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight and Tyler Ulis, but Booker should be their go-to playmaker in crunch time. Hopefully head coach Earl Watson is open to trying this out, as Chriss and Dudley are an ideal pairing for small ball lineups.
C.J. McCollum-Evan Turner-Moe Harkless-Caleb Swanigan-Zach Collins
Portland’s season will be made or broken when Damian Lillard is watching from the sideline. Lillard and McCollum make up one of the deadliest backcourts in the league, but Terry Stotts needs to find a way to get his star players some rest during the season. Turner can serve as a secondary ball handler. It remains to be seen how much the two rookies will share the floor together, but the stretchiness, rebounding and shot blocking between the burly Swanigan and the athletic Collins should be intriguing.
De’Aaron Fox-Bogdan Bogdanović-Buddy Hield-Skal Labissière-Harry Giles
There’s a chance that all five of these guys come off the bench for Sacramento this season. Though respected veterans, nobody is filling up the Kings arena to watch George Hill and Zach Randolph play. Fox is without a doubt the main attraction. Accompanied by four other young and talented players, this will be the lineup Dave Joerger goes to when Sacramento is already 30 games out of the playoff picture.
San Antonio Spurs
Dejounte Murray-Bryn Forbes-Kawhi Leonard-Davis Bertans-Joffrey Lauvergne
The Spurs find themselves in an interesting position. They are (at best) the fourth-most talented team in the Western Conference. San Antonio’s depth will be leaned on more than ever. Murray’s development will be key, and Forbes is a knockdown shooter to put alongside him in the backcourt. Pop trusted Bertans to close out last year. Lauvergne was actually contributing when he got time in Denver, this system might be perfect for the smooth shooting Frenchman.
Delon Wright-Norman Powell-O.G. Anunoby-Bruno Caboclo-Lucas Noguiera
Toronto’s core remains intact after a minor scare this past offseason. Lowry and DeRozan will be one of the league’s most complete backcourts, but we already know what it looks like when they share the floor. They will need some help if they are to get over the Eastern Conference hump. Powell was great in the playoffs last year. Wright will have more chances to lead the offense with Cory Joseph in Indiana. The three frontcourt guys are defensive studs, though they will need to develop some sort of scoring punch if they want any meaningful minutes.
Donovan Mitchell-Rodney Hood-Alec Burks-Jonas Jerebko-Derrick Favors
The Favors-Gobert project is a mess. Utah’s top two big men can’t play together, and Gobert is far better and more valuable. Favors will need to commit to the center spot if he wants to play any meaningful minutes. Jerebko is actually a great frontcourt mate for him, given his solid defense and outside shooting. Burks returns from injury, and is ready to show why he was a lottery pick in 2011 (he’s still just 26). Hood is really the only off-the-bounce scorer they have. If Mitchell can play the pseudo-backup point guard role, Jazz fans can say goodbye to Dante Exum.
Tim Frazier-Bradley Beal-Otto Porter Jr.-Jason Smith-Ian Mahinmi
Washington sits in a similar spot to their Eastern Conference adversary Toronto. Their starting lineup can compete with virtually every team. Once Wall checks out, things get messy. Can Beal and Porter hold down the fort in these situations? They brought in Frazier — who is a far better option than Brandon Jennings or Trey Burke — to play the backup spot. With that said, it’ll be up to Beal to improve on his playmaking if the Wizards want to make a deep run in the playoffs.