Deadliest lineups: Projecting the strongest 5-man units for all 30 NBA teams

In today's NBA, coaches aren't simply trying to put their best five players on the floor. That's sometimes the way to go, but it doesn't explain how J.J. Barea's presence changed the 2011 NBA Finals or Richard Jefferson became a Cleveland Cavaliers playoff hero at the age of 35. As each team tries to find its version of the Golden State Warriors' supercharged "Death Lineup," here's a look at the combinations we expect to work best in 2016-17.

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LaMarcus Aldridge, Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker make up 60 percent of the Spurs' best lineup. USATSI

SOUTHWEST

San Antonio Spurs

  • Tony Parker
  • Danny Green
  • Jonathan Simmons
  • Kawhi Leonard
  • LaMarcus Aldridge

The twin towers' starting unit likely will be great, but this may be the best unit to close games. I'm sticking with Parker despite periodic struggles when he doesn't wobble, but collapses like he got unplugged in "The Matrix." Green is a plus defender, Simmons with another year could be one as well, Leonard is DPOY and Aldridge at the 5 means you can't force a switch and get a mismatch.

Meanwhile, Simmons shot 38 percent from deep last year, Leonard was efficient everywhere and Green likely will have a bounce-back shooting season. This lineup combines their strengths without surrendering size and keeping Parker on the floor. -- Matt Moore

Dallas Mavericks

  • J.J. Barea
  • Wes Matthews
  • Justin Anderson
  • Dirk Nowitzki
  • Andrew Bogut

The Mavs' defense gets worse with Barea on the floor (by roughly three points per 100 possessions) but the offense improves. Matthews remains a good defender, and Anderson showed real ability on that end last season, while not sacrificing spacing. Nowitzki needs to be there for his offensive gravity, and Bogut needs to be there for rebounding and rim protection.

You can sub in Deron Williams and not lose much at point guard, but Barea has been good for Dallas through the years. -- Matt Moore

Memphis Grizzlies

  • Mike Conley
  • Tony Allen
  • Chandler Parsons
  • JaMychal Green
  • Marc Gasol

Yes, these are Memphis' starters, and this unit combines versatility with defense and adequate shooting. If Green takes a step backward, moving Parsons to the four and slotting in Troy Daniels works, but the ideal lineup would involve Green's stretch four versatility combined with Gasol's overall brilliance and Conley conducting the orchestra. The criticism would be Allen's poor shooting hurts spacing, but data for Allen on court vs. off over the past four years reveals the Grizzlies outperform their opponent with him on the floor.

There's a reason that, if healthy, the Grizzlies are said to be a top-four seed contender in the West. -- Matt Moore

Houston Rockets

  • James Harden
  • Eric Gordon
  • Trevor Ariza
  • Nene
  • Clint Capela

Patrick Beverley provides shooting and defense, but in terms of a unit that will be hard to handle, I think you have to like this one. Gordon and Harden are great shooters who can handle and create, and the gravity of them together will open things for the others. If you single cover them, they're going to score. If you bring help, they'll hurt you.

You can opt for Ryan Anderson at the four, as he should thrive in Mike D'Antoni's system. Yet Nene gives you a veteran presence who can finish with emphasis in the roll. While his defense has dropped off big time he still impact the game with his size. Basically, this gives you two creators, a shooter (if Ariza returns to form), and two duck-in guys who can rebound. -- Matt Moore

New Orleans Pelicans

  • Jrue Holiday
  • E'Twaun Moore
  • Quincy Pondexter
  • Anthony Davis
  • Alexis Ajinca

That's right. Alexis Ajinca. He's been the better center in New Orleans the past two years, and this unit takes advantage of the best of all worlds. I cannot stress this enough: When Holiday is healthy, he is a monster. His numbers on both ends of the floor stick out even when you're just doing league-wide analysis. Moore is a shooter who can defend, as is Pondexter. You have a lot of positional fluidity and shot-making here, along with getting to play Davis at the four, where he can play free safety and roam, or focus on pick and roll contain with pick and pop weapons defensively. Ajinca is a finisher and an athlete, and while he's not the rim protector Omer Asik is, he's better suited to Alvin Gentry's style. -- Matt Moore

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The Wolves should keep defenses off balance when Wiggins, Towns and Rubio are on the floor. USATSI

NORTHWEST

Denver Nuggets

  • Emmanuel Mudiay
  • Gary Harris
  • Danilo Gallinari
  • Wilson Chandler
  • Jusuf Nurkic

This could be a very fun and intriguing lineup. Mudiay provides the playmaking and can create his own shot. Harris can spread the floor with his shooting and is a solid defender. Gallinari and Chandler provide veteran experience and each is capable of big scoring games. And Nurkic is there to protect the rim and be a beast in the post. -- Ananth Pandian

Portland Trail Blazers

  • Damian Lillard
  • C.J. McCollum
  • Allen Crabbe
  • Maurice Harkless
  • Meyers Leonard

Harkless worked on his shot this summer and there is noticeable improvement in preseason games. So if the Blazers want to trot out a lethal 3-point shooting lineup, this is it, because all five can be a threat from downtown. This lineup will struggle defensively but if they are raining down 3s, that could help the Blazers either grow a lead or quickly get back into a game. -- Ananth Pandian

Minnesota Timberwolves

  • Ricky Rubio
  • Zach LaVine
  • Andrew Wiggins
  • Karl-Anthony Towns
  • Gorgui Dieng

With Rubio running the show, he will have plenty of offensive options with LaVine, Wiggins and Towns. Wiggins can create his own shot and Towns can post up or hit from mid-range. Top it off with some fancy aerial assaults at the rim by LaVine and this is a fun lineup. Defensively, this group is decent, especially with Dieng being a capable rim protector. -- Ananth Pandian

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • Russell Westbrook
  • Victor Oladipo
  • Alex Abrines
  • Enes Kanter
  • Steven Adams

Any lineup with Westbrook in it is dangerous, but deploying him with Oladipo, a shooter in Abrines and the Stache Bros., should be trouble for opponents. On offense, Westbrook and Oladipo can play off screens set by Kanter or Adams. Kanter provides a low-post presence while Abrines is a 3-point threat. Defensively this unit is solid, too, with Adams and Oladipo. -- Ananth Pandian

Utah Jazz

  • George Hill
  • Rodney Hood
  • Gordon Hayward
  • Derrick Favors
  • Rudy Gobert

This is Utah's starting five. Hill provides playmaking and can help spread the floor with his shooting (40 percent 3-point shooter last season). Hood is a burgeoning talent, good on defense and a capable shooter. Then there is the frontcourt, which is strong defensively, with Favors and Gobert, and offensively gifted with Hayward. The Jazz can perhaps put in Dante Exum or Alec Burks in the backcourt and still have a potent lineup. -- Ananth Pandian

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This is your power forward and center in the Warriors' Death Lineup. USATSI

PACIFIC

Golden State Warriors

  • Stephen Curry
  • Klay Thompson
  • Andre Iguodala
  • Kevin Durant
  • Draymond Green

The Death Lineup, with Harrison Barnes in Durant's place, scored 142 points per 100 possessions and allowed 95 points per 100 possessions last season. Green told Sports Illustrated 's Lee Jenkins he could sense a "panic" from opponents when Iguodala checked in. This Megadeath Lineup -- credit to ESPN's Ethan Sherwood Strauss for that one -- is, no hyperbole, the scariest lineup this league has ever seen. When the Warriors have the ball, the court seems enormous because of all the spacing. When their opponents are in possession, it seems tiny because of their length and quickness. -- James Herbert

Phoenix Suns

  • Eric Bledsoe
  • Devin Booker
  • Jared Dudley
  • P.J. Tucker
  • Alex Len

It feels wrong exclude Brandon Knight, but this is why coach Earl Watson put him on the bench. Playing him with Bledsoe and Booker compromises the defense too much. This five-man unit has some nice versatility with Dudley and Tucker at forward, and the Suns have to hope that Len makes strides as a rim protector. -- James Herbert

Sacramento Kings

  • Ty Lawson
  • Arron Afflalo
  • Matt Barnes
  • Omri Casspi
  • DeMarcus Cousins

This isn't their best defensive unit -- that would have to include Willie Cauley-Stein. It also isn't necessarily their best offensive unit -- that would probably include Rudy Gay. It is balanced, though, and will provide solid spacing when Lawson is running pick-and-rolls and Cousins is operating in the low post. -- James Herbert

Los Angeles Clippers

  • Chris Paul
  • J.J. Redick
  • Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
  • Blake Griffin
  • DeAndre Jordan

The Clippers settled on Mbah a Moute as their starting small forward last season because he was ridiculously good defensively -- this group limited teams to 91.7 points per 100 possessions. It also scored 111.1 points per 100 possessions, a better offensive rating than any team not named the Golden State Warriors last season. Coach Doc Rivers probably will experiment with Alan Anderson at the 3 to try to maximize spacing, but it won't be surprising if he returns to putting Mbah a Moute in that spot come playoff time. -- James Herbert

Los Angeles Lakers

  • D'Angelo Russell
  • Jordan Clarkson
  • Brandon Ingram
  • Luol Deng
  • Larry Nance

I want Luke Walton to put this group out there and just tell them to run. Deng is obviously best at the 4 at this point in his career, and Nance has the tools to do a Draymond Green impersonation. With Ingram's length, Russell's playmaking and Clarkson's athleticism, this lineup looks like a lot of fun. -- James Herbert

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The Celtics are bolstering an already potent lineup with the addition of Al Horford. USATSI

ATLANTIC

Toronto Raptors

  • Kyle Lowry
  • Cory Joseph
  • DeMar DeRozan
  • DeMarre Carroll
  • Jonas Valanciunas

This lineup only played 36 minutes last season because Carroll only played in 26 regular-season games. If he's able to stay on the floor, Toronto might end up relying on this group to close games. Coach Dwane Casey loves having Joseph's extra playmaking on the court in those situations, and Carroll gives the Raptors much-needed versatility and floor spacing at the 4. -- James Herbert

Boston Celtics

  • Isaiah Thomas
  • Avery Bradley
  • Jae Crowder
  • Kelly Olynyk
  • Al Horford

This lineup, with the departed Jared Sullinger in place of Horford, was Boston's fifth-most-used group last season, and it outscored opponents by 20.8 points per 100 possessions. They pushed the pace and spaced the floor while rebounding and defending well. Expect more of the same, but with the added bonus of Thomas-Horford pick-and-rolls, which will be almost impossible to contain. -- James Herbert

Brooklyn Nets

  • Jeremy Lin
  • Sean Kilpatrick
  • Bojan Bogdanovic
  • Luis Scola
  • Brook Lopez

This won't be the starting unit, but it might be the best bet when it comes to unleashing Lin in the pick-and-roll and keeping defenses on their toes. Kenny Atkinson is coming from a Hawks team that consistently overachieved because of their unselfishness and ball movement -- the shooting here will allow them to at least try to play the same way. (Apologies to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who might be Brooklyn's most exciting player but is a liability in half-court offense.) -- James Herbert

New York Knicks

  • Brandon Jennings
  • Courtney Lee
  • Justin Holiday
  • Carmelo Anthony
  • Kristaps Porzingis

Jeff Hornacek says he wants New York to run, and this is the group to do it. Anthony has long been best at the 4 spot, and playing him next to Porzingis ensures that everybody will have room to operate. This will put a lot of pressure on the 21-year-old sensation to protect the paint, but with Jennings, Lee and Holiday on the perimeter, the team defense shouldn't be compromised too often. -- James Herbert

Philadelphia 76ers

  • Ben Simmons
  • Gerald Henderson
  • Robert Covington
  • Dario Saric
  • Joel Embiid

Holy positional revolution! I love the way this weirdo lineup could switch almost anything, and I'm intrigued by the possibilities with Simmons and Saric both essentially playing point forward. It's a shame we won't see anything like this until the No. 1 pick is healthy again. -- James Herbert

The presence of Kyrie, LeBron and Love just makes life difficult for opposing teams. USATSI

CENTRAL

Cleveland Cavaliers

  • Kyrie Irving
  • J.R. Smith
  • LeBron James
  • Kevin Love
  • Channing Frye

There's no good way to defend this lineup. Few teams have the luxury of having two true big men who must be accounted for on the perimeter. With this kind of spacing, James and Irving can create for themselves or find open shots for deadeye shooters pretty much whenever they want. -- James Herbert

Chicago Bulls

  • Dwyane Wade
  • Jimmy Butler
  • Doug McDermott
  • Nikola Mirotic
  • Taj Gibson

I have no idea if Fred Hoiberg will try this, but let's get crazy. I'd have Butler bring the ball up, use Wade primarily as a cutter and run pick-and-rolls and pick-and-pops repeatedly. Defenses won't be able to ignore McDermott and Mirotic on the perimeter, which will give Wade and Butler room to get into the paint. -- James Herbert

Milwaukee Bucks

  • Matthew Dellavedova
  • Khris Middleton
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo
  • Mirza Teletovic
  • John Henson

Just give the ball to Antetokounmpo and let him create. This lineup can make him look like a superstar, and if defenses load up on him, then Middleton and Dellavedova can make plays, too. It also has the length to be disruptive on the other end. While Middleton is out, coach Jason Kidd can try Michael Beasley or rookie Malcolm Brogdon in his place. -- James Herbert

Indiana Pacers

  • Jeff Teague
  • C.J. Miles
  • Paul George
  • Thaddeus Young
  • Myles Turner

I'd be surprised if many of the Pacers' best lineups feature Teague and Monta Ellis playing together, so I've split them up. If they really do commit to the running game, then this group makes sense -- Miles can spot up in transition, Young can run the floor and Teague (or Ellis, alternatively) will push the ball at every opportunity. Coach Nate McMillan will also have the luxury of using Miles, George and Young interchangeably on defense. -- James Herbert

Detroit Pistons

  • Reggie Jackson
  • Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
  • Stanley Johnson
  • Marcus Morris
  • Andre Drummond

This well-balanced lineup was incredible last season, scoring 115.7 points and surrendering 98.9 points per 100 possessions. As well as being tough to score against, this was one of the Pistons' fastest five-man combinations. The good news: If Johnson takes a step forward in his second season, it could be even better. -- James Herbert

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Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson are key for Miami's smallball unit to flourish. USATSI

SOUTHEAST

Miami Heat

  • Goran Dragic
  • Tyler Johnson
  • Josh Richardson
  • Justise Winslow
  • Hassan Whiteside

Give in to your small-ball temptations, Erik Spoelstra! Feel the small-ball flow through you! Abandon Pat Riley and his love of traditional positions! Whenever Spoelstra concocts a small-ball rotation, it just destroys the landscape offensively. Happened in the Triad era, and it happened last season when Bosh went out ... it's a thing. The Heat have no good power forwards, so just put Winslow and his athleticism in and give up size. You're only going to run into a handful of power forwards who can really beast him, and even fewer who can do so in the post.

Richardson is 6-foot-6 which will allow him to manage defensively against most spot-up, non-ball-handler small forwards. And if they run into those types of players (Paul George, LeBron James, etc.) then Winslow can just take that assignment and Richardson can flop if they try and feed the big (pity fouls work, by the way).

Meanwhile, you put Dragic (who shot 31 percent from deep last year -- yikes) with two great shooters in Richardson (when healthy) and Johnson. Johnson can also create offense and open gaps for Dragic to cut to the basket, and Whiteside is there for rim protection and putbacks. This unit is their best talent and it also makes sense together. It should get serious time for however long Winslow and Richardson can sustain. -- Matt Moore

Atlanta Hawks

  • Dennis Schröder
  • Kyle Korver
  • Kent Bazemore
  • Paul Millsap
  • Dwight Howard

The starters. I toyed with putting Mike Scott in there with Millsap, but you just get annihilated on the glass and Millsap gets run down. I thought about putting Millsap in with Scott alongside Howard in a big lineup, but you really need Bazemore's "Bazing" just for overall impact. I thought about Thabo Sefolosha for Korver, but Korver is still a great shooter (he was hurt last season). And I would have put literally any point guard in over Schröder, who I don't believe in as a starter, but Jarrett Jack is coming off major injury.

It's analysis like this that makes me want to go back and drop the Hawks' win total. -- Matt Moore

Charlotte Hornets

  • Kemba Walker
  • Nicolas Batum
  • Marvin Williams
  • Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
  • Cody Zeller

There are a lot of intriguing options. Spencer Hawes was really good off the bench and gives them a potential five-out lineup, but almost all the starters improved when Zeller was on the floor. It looks like Roy Hibbert will start for the Hornets, but Zeller's athleticism combined with Kidd-Gilchrist as a screener in a 1-4 combo gives them the most versatility with the most weapons. Having Williams on the floor with MKG gives you two combo forwards, and Walker's numbers skyrocket with Batum on the floor. Length plus skill plus size. It's not rocket science. -- Matt Moore

Washington Wizards

  • John Wall
  • Bradley Beal
  • Kelly Oubre Jr.
  • Otto Porter
  • Marcin Gortat

There's a battle for the small forward spot between Oubre and Porter, but really, both of them bring good things to the table. This lineup excludes Markieff Morris, the starting power forward, but it gets Porter's athleticism and defense along with Oubre's shooting. You lose defense with Oubre, shooting with Porter, and you only get a little bit of both with Morris, so remove Morris and play both wings. Ian Mahinmi, currently sidelined 4-6 weeks (knee), is lurking behind Gortat but count me in on Gortat still being the superior option for his defensive smarts and rebounding. -- Matt Moore

Orlando Magic

  • Elfrid Payton
  • Evan Fournier
  • Mario Hezonja
  • Aaron Gordon
  • Bismack Biyombo

LET'S GET NUTS. No Vucevic, no Ibaka! Look, Aaron Gordon is better at the four. He just is. The Magic's efforts to convert him could be disastrous. This gets Fournier and Hezonja on the floor which balances Payton's offensive deficiencies and lets him be a playmaker with two slashers/shooters and Gordon's athleticism, with Biyombo to clean up. This puts Gordon in the best position while giving Patyon the most weapons.

Have I mentioned the Magic's roster doesn't make much sense? -- Matt Moore

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