The NBA season is less than two months away, and for the most part, we know what teams will look like heading into the season. Kyrie and Carmelo are still floating in the trade rumor ethers, but for many reasons, it’s possible both players won’t be traded any time soon. So, assuming the NBA is more or less settled at this moment (famous last words), did any team come closer to beating the Warriors this offseason? Well, some certainly came closer, though it’s far too early to deem anyone a legit challenger to Golden State as title favorites.
The NBA’s summer arms race did make things more interesting, though. And all the superstar movement means we’re going to see some star-studded games come October. Here are five lineups The Crossover (and by The Crossover, I mean me) can’t wait to see take on the Warriors.
Rockets: Chris Paul, James Harden, Trevor Ariza, P.J. Tucker, Clint Capela
The Paul-Harden experiment will arguably be the best subplot of the upcoming season, because it has equal chances of being an unequivocal success and spectacular failure. Assuming the two guards can play nice, I’m really intrigued by this lineup. There is great three-point shooting from one-through-three, while Tucker can also hold his own in the corner. Capela can protect the rim and is nimble enough to chase Stephen Curry on pick-and-rolls, and even switch late in the clock. I like Tucker over Ryan Anderson for defensive purposes, even though Anderson is the better shooter. Paul can run high pick-and-rolls with Capela, penetrate the lane and be surrounded by marksmen in a way he never was in Los Angeles. Harden can be devastating off the ball, or initiate the offense himself. The only way this lineup works versus the Dubs however, especially if Golden State is playing its Death Lineup, is if Harden accepts the challenge defensively. He may be able to hide to a degree on Andre Iguodala, but his attention can’t wane as a possession progresses.
Here’s a prediction for one of the Rockets-Warriors games this season: The teams will combine to break the record for most threes attempted in a game. I'm calling it.
Thunder: Russell Westbrook, Alex Abrines, Andre Roberson, Paul George, Patrick Patterson
The Thunder made arguably the most game-changing move of the offseason by trading for Paul George, but they still have the same problem that’s plagued the franchise this entire decade: Finding a fifth player that makes sense on the floor. The lineup above is probably OKC’s best from a shooting standpoint, but it leaves one of its better players—Steven Adams—on the bench. Playing two non-shooters against the Warriors puts teams at a serious handicap, which is why Adams is split from Andre Roberson here. What this lineup does have is way more shooting than anything the Thunder deployed last season. Patrick Patterson can hit from the corners, and he’s a dependable enough defender to make this work. George and Abrines have to be respected from the outside, and while Westbrook isn’t exactly at their level, uh, he’s going to let it fly anyway. Between Roberson and George, the Thunder may have the best perimeter combo to throw at the Warriors defensively. Roberson can take Steph and George can match up with Kevin Durant, which would leave Abrines on Iguodala, the hinge point that would probably determine this lineup’s success. Like practically every team in the league, the Thunder could still use one more 3-and-D type, though.
Wolves: Jeff Teague, Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins, Taj Gibson, Karl-Anthony Towns
The Wolves really frustrate me. You already know I think they made a regrettable move by signing Taj Gibson, money that would have been better spent on a shooter. This lineup will probably be Minnesota’s starting five, and it will be hard for Tom Thibodeau to make tweaks to better adjust to the Warriors. This group has potential though, especially if Towns and Wiggins continue to improve as a three-point shooters. If those guys are hitting their outside shots, Gibson’s ground-bound, close-to-the-hoop game becomes a bit more tenable. And though it hasn’t exactly worked yet, a player as skilled and sized as Towns could be the key to throwing the Warriors off their game.
Celtics: Isaiah Thomas, Gordon Hayward, Jae Crowder, Jaylen Brown, Al Horford
Thomas and Hayward can provide plenty of scoring punch, and Hayward, Crowder and Brown should be able to switch fairly seamlessly on defense. If Horford has his outside shooting touch, this lineup becomes even more potent. The key will be Thomas’s defense and how well he holds up on that end of the floor. Eventually, Jayson Tatum could take one of the forward spots in this lineup, maybe even replacing Horford.
Nuggets: Jameer Nelson, Gary Harris, Wilson Chandler, Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokic
The Nuggets’ likely starting five. Nelson is getting pretty long in the tooth, but he can still connect from three, which makes him a nice fit with this group. Harris is one of the league’s most under-the-radar gems, and Millsap and Jokic should be a devastating frontcourt on offense. This group will have enough shooting and offensive creativity to keep up with the Dubs, but their bigs will be challenged defensively.
Any Heat Lineup Including Dion Waiters
From Jan. 23 through the end of the NBA Finals, the Warriors lost only twice when fully healthy. Once to the Cavaliers in the playoffs. And once to the Miami Heat. Just saying.