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Best Starting Lineups

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Tony Mejia of Sportsline.com has been ranking players at each position in the NBA.  He completed his series with the list of top Shooting Guards on Tuesday.

It occurred to me that one could use his list to get an overview of the teams in the NBA, specifically of the quality of their starting lineups.  Obviously, it's just one man's opinion, but at least it's one man other than me.  You all must get tired of hearing my opinion all the time.

He included 20 names on his list by position.  Now, because of the nature of the NBA, this resulted in some pretty dreggy centers cracking the top 20 (Nazr Mohammed 15, Kwame Brown 16, Joel Przybilla 18, etc.) and some pretty good wings being left off the list.  Certainly there are some dubious inclusions (Channing Frye is one of the top 20 4's in the league?  Really?), and understandably there are no rookies listed, so if Randy Foye or Adam Morrison break out, that will help their teams a lot.  

There are 30 teams in the NBA.  If the talent were evenly distributed across all 30 teams, each team would have either 3 or 4 players on the lists.  But of course the talent is NOT evenly distributed.  Moreover, team balance can have nothing to do with winning a championship.  Detroit managed to win a ring with a terrific 5 man team, but the defending champion Heat have a grand total of 2 positions represented on Mejia's lists, scoring goose eggs at the Power Forward, Small Forward and Point Guard.  It remains a superstar driven game, and Miami won with two superstars and a bunch of role players.

Still, I'd rather have good players at all five positions than not, and based on Mejia's rankings, here are some observations.

Four teams in the league have a top 20 player at each position (Phoenix, Detroit, Sacramento and the Clippers).  In addition to these 4, Dallas has 5 players listed, but they have 2 point guards in the top 20, and no centers (hard to imagine that, given the dearth of centers, but oh well).  Adding the positional values af each player, Phoenix and Detroit have the strongest starting lineups in the NBA, followed by the Clippers.

Detroit

  • Mohammed 15

  • Sheed 8

  • Prince 7

  • Rip 4

  • Billups 3

  • Total 37

Phoenix

  • Amare 3

  • Diaw 13

  • Marion 6

  • Bell 14

  • Nash 5

  • Total 37

Clippers

  • Kaman 5

  • Brand 4

  • Maggette 15

  • Mobley 16

  • Cassell 10

  • Total 50

Sacramento

  • Miller 12

  • Shareef 16

  • Artest 4

  • Martin 20

  • Bibby 7

  • Total 59

Other top teams in the NBA missed out by having one weak position.  We've already mentioned defending Western Conference champion Dallas.  In addition, San Antonio has top 10 players at three spots (Duncan 3, Ginobili 8 and Parker 6) plus Bruce Bowen at 16, but they truly have no center now that Muhammed and Nesterovich are gone.  New Jersey is the only other team in the league (along with Detroit) with top 10 talent at 4 positions (Krstic 8, Jefferson 10, Carter 5 and Kidd 4), but they have Uncle Cliffie playing Power Forward, and that's not a good thing.

Certainly Sacramento, an eighth seed in last year's playoffs, is the surprise on this short list.  And the inclusion of Kevin Martin as a top 20 shooting guard is debatable.  But the Kings starting lineup is pretty solid, and their problem is really depth and defense, while these types of lists always favor offensive minded players.

Which is also why Phoenix is rated so highly.  Don't get me wrong - I think all 5 of the players on this list are terrific, although if you'd predicted that Raja Bell would be a STARTER, much less a top 15 2 guard a couple of seasons ago, you might have had your meds taken away.  But it's a list about 95% about offense (as is All Star voting, MVP voting, All NBA voting, etc.)  It's no surprise that Phoenix is the best offensive team in the league.  But it doesn't make them the best team.

Detroit of course is expected on a list of top starting lineups, returning 3 All Stars and Tayshaun Prince.  Mohammed is the new guy, and his 17 min. and 6.2 point averages last year were actually below his unimpressive career averages of 19 min and 7.1 points.  So I'm pretty sure I wouldn't call him a top 20 center, even in today's NBA, but I suspect the Pistons will start Sheed, McDyess and Prince up front, so Mohammed isn't really going to be a starter anyway.  Detroit's problem is depth, and unless Carlos Delfino and Flip Murray surprise a lot of people, their problem will remain depth.

Of all of the team's with top 20 players at every position, the Clippers are easily the deepest.  In fact, they are so deep that I predict Elton Brand is the only player on the team who will start every game this year when healthy.  Sam Cassell, as good as he is, will eventually hand the keys to Shaun Livingston, who will soon be better.  And defensive specialist Quinton Ross started most of 05-06, and will probably start again this season, relegating either Maggette or Mobley to sixth man.  Meanwhile, in the small ball Pacific Division, the Clippers will play lots of games with Brand at the 5 and Tim Thomas at the 4.  Kaman will start most of the time, but one could argue that they'd be better with Brand and Thomas.  

It should also be noted, based on Mejia's lists, that the Clippers have the best 'bigs' in the NBA.  Of course, that's no surprise, but it's not even close.  Brand and Kaman are both top 5 in their respective positions.  No other team has two top 5 bigs.  No other team has two top 10 bigs.  Phoenix has Amare (3) and Diaw (13), but of course they are two completely different types of 'bigs'.  Utah has Okur (9) and Boozer (14).  And of course Miami has Shaq and whoever, which makes them pretty good.

On the other end of the spectrum, Atlanta (Joe Johnson, the 7th rated shooting guard) and Toronto (Chris Bosh, the 5th rated power forward) each had only one player on the lists.  Ouch.