Rob Mahoney: Philadelphia 76ers
The best starting lineup in the league might also be its strangest: Ben Simmons, a 6-10 point guard who can do everything but shoot; Josh Richardson, a newly added wing who has spent the last few years letting out his game only to now rein it back in; Tobias Harris, a big combo forward with the versatility to turn matchups; Al Horford, a power-forward-turned-center-turned-power-forward who makes every team he plays for more cerebral; and Joel Embiid, maybe the most physically imposing and uniquely talented player in the entire league. There’s a lot to figure out in terms of how it all works. More certain is the defensive mettle of that core five, and the collective talent that should give life to an oversized, anachronistic offense.
Chris Mannix: Milwaukee Bucks
Philly has the biggest, but I’ll need to see Ben Simmons: Alpha in action before I’m sold on the Sixers. The Bucks starting lineup is largely what it was last year. Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton are coming off career-type seasons. Giannis is Giannis. Brook Lopez is the perfect pivot for Mike Budenholzer’s system. Someone will have to emerge from the Wesley Matthews/Pat Connaughton/Sterling Brown/Kyle Kover game of small forward thrones, but it says here that Budenholzer will find someone whose talents mesh best with the other four. That’s a first five that can do a little bit of everything.
Jeremy Woo: Houston Rockets
They certainly don’t have the best bench (hi, Clippers), but nobody asked me that. What Houston does have is a proven system for winning games, two MVP guards, an excellent third wheel in Eric Gordon (who is starting, at least for now), Clint Capela to clean up inside and P.J. Tucker to do the even-dirtier work. The Rockets have been hamstrung by spending limitations and a thin bench, and those issues are going to rear their heads, but if we could turn off fatigue and just play the games, Houston’s projected five holds up pretty damn well.
Rohan Nadkarni: Denver Nuggets
I’m back on the Colo kush! Here’s the thing about the Nuggets: They start their best five players. Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton, Paul Millsap, and Nikola Jokic had a 7.8 net rating in only 430 minutes together last season. (Injuries prevented Denver from putting them on the floor together more often.) That group has proven to be successful, they have experience playing together, and everyone has a well-defined role. Other teams like the Lakers and Clippers may have sexier names, but their closing fives will be better than their starting fives. The Lakers won’t put their best five on the floor until Anthony Davis shifts to center. The Clips won’t put their best five on the floor until Kawhi or PG shift to power forward. Meanwhile, the Sixers are still a bit of a mystery and their offense will have to answer some questions. Don’t be fooled by all the shiny new teams! The Nuggets will be putting their best foot forward from the opening tip, and not everyone can say that.