Now we can really see where the Denver Nuggets stack up against the rest of the league.
While the bench of an NBA team can affect a game, as can the environment, the coach, and other extenuating circumstances, I have always felt that the teams with the most talented starting lineups are the most likely to win any given game. If I had to pin a number to it, 70 percent of any given game is based on the quality of the starters of the team in question. My opinion of course.
This is why so many are high on the Golden State Warriors. They have a top five player at four different positions. Now that James Harden has moved to point guard, they are closer to having the top player at all four positions than ever before. This is what most of the projections are based on. Not the depth at the end of the bench or the coaching staff, but the players they will start every night.
Are there any teams that come close to the quality of lineup that they have? Well, find out below as I rank each team’s starting lineup from 1 to 30.
A couple of notes before I start though:
5 points if top 5 at their respective position.
4 points if 6-10.
3 points if 11-15.
2 points if 16-20.
1 point if 21-25.
0 points if 26-30.
(In case of teams tied in points, the team with the highest rated player will advance.)
It is simple, but it gets the job done in most aspects.
Second, a couple of lineups have been changed since the beginning of the series. I will amend where I see fit, but if I miss something, don’t go for the jugular. I will also be keeping James Harden at shooting guard because it would reclassify too many guys at this stage.
Onto the rankings!
1. Golden State Warriors - 21 points
|Point Guard||Stephen Curry||1||5|
|Shooting Guard||Klay Thompson||2||5|
|Small Forward||Kevin Durant||3||5|
|Power Forward||Draymond Green||1||5|
2. San Antonio Spurs – 20 points
|Point Guard||Tony Parker||16||2|
|Shooting Guard||Danny Green||6||4|
|Small Forward||Kawhi Leonard||2||5|
|Power Forward||LaMarcus Aldridge||4||5|
3. Cleveland Cavaliers – 19 points
|Point Guard||Kyrie Irving||8||4|
|Shooting Guard||*J.R. Smith||13||3|
|Small Forward||LeBron James||1||5|
|Power Forward||Kevin Love||5||5|
*This ranking assumes that J.R. Smith will eventually pull a Tristan Thompson and re-sign late.
4. Utah Jazz – 19 points
|Point Guard||George Hill||13||3|
|Shooting Guard||Rodney Hood||10||4|
|Small Forward||Gordon Hayward||7||4|
|Power Forward||Derrick Favors||7||4|
5. Los Angeles Clippers – 18 points
|Point Guard||Chris Paul||2||5|
|Shooting Guard||J.J. Redick||8||4|
|Small Forward||Wesley Johnson||26||0|
|Power Forward||Blake Griffin||6||4|
6. Toronto Raptors – 17 points
|Point Guard||Kyle Lowry||4||5|
|Shooting Guard||DeMar DeRozan||3||5|
|Small Forward||DeMarre Carroll||15||3|
|Power Forward||Patrick Patterson||22||1|
7. Boston Celtics – 17 points
|Point Guard||Isaiah Thomas||6||4|
|Shooting Guard||Avery Bradley||15||3|
|Small Forward||Jae Crowder||11||3|
|Power Forward||Amir Johnson||18||2|
8. Memphis Grizzlies – 16 points
|Point Guard||Mike Conley||7||4|
|Shooting Guard||Tony Allen||17||2|
|Small Forward||Chandler Parsons||13||3|
|Power Forward||Zach Randolph||13||3|
9. Portland Trailblazers – 15 points
|Point Guard||Damian Lillard||5||5|
|Shooting Guard||C.J. McCollum||5||5|
|Small Forward||Evan Turner||24||1|
|Power Forward||Al-Farouq Aminu||24||1|
10. Washington Wizards – 15 points
|Point Guard||John Wall||9||4|
|Shooting Guard||Bradley Beal||12||3|
|Small Forward||Otto Porter||12||3|
|Power Forward||Markieff Morris||17||2|
11. Detroit Pistons – 15 points
|Point Guard||Reggie Jackson||11||3|
|Shooting Guard||Kentavious Caldwell-Pope||18||2|
|Small Forward||*Tobias Harris||14||3|
|Power Forward||*Marcus Morris||15||3|
*I realize now that I switched Marcus Morris and Tobias Harris’ positions, but they serve the same role under Stan Van Gundy.
12. Oklahoma City Thunder – 14 points
|Point Guard||Russell Westbrook||3||5|
|Shooting Guard||Victor Oladipo||9||4|
|Small Forward||Andre Roberson||19||2|
|Power Forward||Joffrey Lauvergne||29||0|
13. Houston Rockets – 13 points
|Point Guard||Patrick Beverley||18||2|
|Shooting Guard||*James Harden||1||5|
|Small Forward||Trevor Ariza||17||2|
|Power Forward||Ryan Anderson||19||2|
14. Indiana Pacers – 13 points
|Point Guard||Jeff Teague||15||3|
|Shooting Guard||Monta Ellis||19||2|
|Small Forward||Paul George||4||5|
|Power Forward||Thaddeus Young||16||2|
15. Chicago Bulls – 13 points
|Point Guard||Rajon Rondo||20||2|
|Shooting Guard||Dwyane Wade||7||4|
|Small Forward||Jimmy Butler||5||5|
|Power Forward||Taj Gibson||21||1|
16. Charlotte Hornets – 13 points
|Point Guard||Kemba Walker||10||4|
|Shooting Guard||*Marco Belinelli||27||0|
|Small Forward||Nicolas Batum||10||4|
|Power Forward||Marvin Williams||9||4|
*If Michael Kidd-Gilchrist starts instead of Marco, then so be it. It’s not what I would do with a player has as much injury history as MKG, but to each his own.
17. Denver Nuggets – 12 points
|Point Guard||Emmanuel Mudiay||30||0|
|Shooting Guard||Gary Harris||20||2|
|Small Forward||Danilo Gallinari||8||4|
|Power Forward||Kenneth Faried||14||3|
18. Dallas Mavericks – 12 points
|Point Guard||Deron Williams||19||2|
|Shooting Guard||Wesley Matthews||14||3|
|Small Forward||Harrison Barnes||16||2|
|Power Forward||Dirk Nowitzki||10||4|
19. Atlanta Hawks – 11 points
|Point Guard||Dennis Schroder||24||1|
|Shooting Guard||Kyle Korver||16||2|
|Small Forward||Kent Bazemore||23||1|
|Power Forward||Paul Millsap||3||5|
20. Minnesota Timberwolves – 11 points
|Point Guard||Ricky Rubio||14||3|
|Shooting Guard||Zach LaVine||24||1|
|Small Forward||Andrew Wiggins||22||1|
|Power Forward||Gorgui Dieng||25||1|
21. Orlando Magic – 10 points
|Point Guard||Elfrid Payton||28||0|
|Shooting Guard||Evan Fournier||11||3|
|Small Forward||Aaron Gordon||18||2|
|Power Forward||Serge Ibaka||11||3|
22. New York Knicks – 9 points
|Point Guard||Derrick Rose||21||1|
|Shooting Guard||Courtney Lee||21||1|
|Small Forward||Carmelo Anthony||6||4|
|Power Forward||Kristaps Porzingis||12||3|
23. Miami Heat – 8 points
|Point Guard||Goran Dragic||17||2|
|Shooting Guard||Dion Waiters||28||0|
|Small Forward||Justise Winslow||25||1|
|Power Forward||*Josh McRoberts||26-30ish||0|
*I’m so sorry Chris Bosh. You would have kept this team in playoff contention. As it is, this ranking is this high entirely due to Whiteside.
24. Phoenix Suns – 8 points
|Point Guard||Eric Bledsoe||12||3|
|Shooting Guard||Devin Booker||23||1|
|Small Forward||P.J. Tucker||20||2|
|Power Forward||Jared Dudley||20||2|
25. Sacramento Kings – 7 points
|Point Guard||Darren Collison||26||0|
|Shooting Guard||Arron Afflalo||25||1|
|Small Forward||Rudy Gay||21||1|
|Power Forward||Willie Cauley-Stein||26||0|
26. Milwaukee Bucks – 7 points
|Point Guard||*Matthew Dellavedova||23||1|
|Shooting Guard||Rashad Vaughn||26-30ish||0|
|Small Forward||*Giannis Antetokoumnpo||9||4|
|Power Forward||Jabari Parker||28||0|
*Yes, I do know the Greek Freak will be the ball handler. I will consider him the point forward until he defends the opposing point guard as well.
27. New Orleans Pelicans – 6 points
|Point Guard||*Jrue Holiday||23||1|
|Shooting Guard||Buddy Hield||30||0|
|Small Forward||Solomon Hill||28||0|
|Power Forward||Anthony Davis||2||5|
*Jrue Holiday is the most underrated player on my list. I realize that now. I’m not changing it because Pelicans fans need to quantify how bad their situation is right now though.
28. Brooklyn Nets – 5 points
|Point Guard||Jeremy Lin||25||1|
|Shooting Guard||Bojan Bogdanovic||29||0|
|Small Forward||Rondae Hollis-Jefferson||27||0|
|Power Forward||Trevor Booker||27||0|
29. Los Angeles Lakers – 3 points
|Point Guard||D'Angelo Russell||29||0|
|Shooting Guard||Jordan Clarkson||22||1|
|Small Forward||*Luol Deng||16-20ish||2|
|Power Forward||Julius Randle||30||0|
*It’s scary that the Lakers need to insert an aging Luol Deng into the starting lineup to actually beat the 76ers in terms of a starting lineup.
30. Philadelphia 76ers – Ehhhhhhhhhh.
|Point Guard||Jerryd Bayless||27||0|
|Shooting Guard||Gerald Henderson||26||0|
*We think that Joel Embiid is the starting center, but given the injury to Ben Simmons, I don’t know what to believe anymore.
Three big takeaways from this exercise:
1. Ranking the Nuggets is hard. I tried to put my homer-ism for the Denver Nuggets aside during this task, and I believe it worked. They come in at 17th on the rankings overall, including ninth in the Western Conference. That seems pretty fair to me, and given the strength of the bench, it may be possible to push for a seven or eight seed.
Also, in a tweet I put out earlier:
Predictions for starter rankings in 2017-18:— Ryan Blackburn (@RyanBlackburn9) September 23, 2016
Mudiay - 20
Harris - 14
Gallo - 8
*Millsap - 5
Jokic - 6
*Denotes trade and re-signing. https://t.co/zpFreZmy02
The Paul Millsap trade was my personal touch, as it was a prediction, but if that lineup were to be assembled just like that, it would accumulate 18 points, good for fifth in the NBA.
Of course, it involves projection of growth, something that isn’t guaranteed, but it goes to show just how quickly the Nuggets could leap up the standings if they have some internal and external growth. Good things are on the horizon for this team...eventually.
2. There are several teams I am high on for the upcoming season:
- The Utah Jazz
- The Washington Wizards
- The Detroit Pistons
Each team still features young talent with an upward curve. Players like Dante Exum, Rodney Hood, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Tobias Harris, and Stanley Johnson are not in their final forms. Harris is the oldest at 24, but it’s clear that his game is just now being unlocked as a floor spacer at power forward.
On the other side, if Utah and Washington don’t make the playoffs this year, then they are seriously going to look different the following year. Gordon Hayward can walk, John Wall can demand a trade. Both franchises are in the precarious position of a required development jump. If that doesn’t happen, expect a blow up.
Detroit is in a better position because of the youth of the Jackson-Harris-Drummond trio, but if they don’t win a playoff series within the next two years, they may be asking themselves similar questions.
On the flip side, I’m low on several teams:
- The New York Knicks
- The Atlanta Hawks
- The Dallas Mavericks
All three have factors in common: an older star who can leave in a year or two, a young player the team is relying on for a big jump in production, and older complementary veterans who used to be stars that only hold name value as of now.
The Knicks are in the best position because they have the best young player to eventually build around in Kristaps Porzingis, but judging from the starters around him, it’s not happening anytime soon.
The Hawks are in an odd position where they turned over the keys to the convertible to Dennis Schroder, but they also have Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap, and Dwight Howard, all with over 20,000 minutes on their mileage counter.
Lastly, the Mavericks have $123 million guaranteed to Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews. Both guys looked like the future of the NBA at one point, but extenuating circumstances have changed that. We will see what the future looks like in Dallas when Dirk Nowitzki finally hangs up the sneakers.
3. How long will the distinct tiers of the NBA last?
It’s pretty blatant that the Warriors, the Spurs, and the Cavaliers are the class of the NBA. Some people will remove the Spurs from that list now that Tim Duncan has retired, but Pau Gasol is no slouch. He’s actually a better player right now.
But that’s beside the point. It’s the Warriors, the Spurs, the Cavs, and everyone else. There will be the occasional team in the Eastern or Western Conference Finals that breaks through and takes one of those teams deep in the series, just like the Thunder last year.
Does anyone really believe that the Warriors and Cavaliers won’t rematch this next summer? Warriors-Cavaliers III sounds like a series of movies that I don’t have any interest in. The NBA has to be grateful that the teams showcase drama and marketable, if not controversial stars in LeBron James, Kyrie “Uncle Drew” Irving, the Splash Bros, Kevin Durant the joiner, and Draymond Green, just a sack of fun.
How long will it take before the NBA world will stop appreciating greatness and beg for something new? Will viewership go down? Will changes be made to the next CBA? I for one see this as the circle of life for star teams. The question is, who will be there to take the torch in a few years?
Well that wraps it up for me. I hope you guys enjoyed the series. I know I did. The Nuggets are in a good place right now. I like to analyze types of changes they could make that would either speed up the process or make the process more likely to result in playoff wins. In spite of that, let’s just enjoy the internal development we are bound to see this year.
As you guys know, I’m excited for this team. Keep spreading the word to everybody you know: the Nuggets aren’t just the next dark horse, trendy playoff pick. They are for real, and once they arrive, they are staying for awhile.