In order to win in the NBA, you need a strong starting five, plain and simple. When you play over the course of a long season, you develop chemistry on the court with one another and pick up on preferred tendencies, such as where a player likes the ball on the court.
Over the course of this league's history, fans have been privileged to see some remarkable starting lineups that exhibited greatness on a nightly basis. These players were an invited guest to the homes of millions watching on television.
In some cases, there were multiple Hall of Famers in the starting lineups. Believe it or not, some even had them coming off the bench.
With so many superstars changing teams in the modern NBA, we may have to update this in the not-so-distant future. Just look at the projected Golden State Warrior lineup for the upcoming season, as they are sure to break their own record. It is a waste of time writing about the past season they had because they have the possibility of not losing a game next year. Yes, I know, it is frightening.
With that being said, here are the best 15 starting lineups that had opponents thinking they had lost before the game had even started
15 2003-04 Detroit Pistons
What made this team great was the amount of swagger and toughness they exhibited on the court on a nightly basis. Chauncey Billups was the floor general that you could count on to make a big play, as he averaged 16.9 points and 5.7 assists.
Richard Hamilton had clutch shooting and averaged 17.6 points and 4 assists. His shooting coming off screens and pick and rolls were deadly. Rasheed Wallace could shoot from both hands and averaged 13.7 points a game while also being a vocal leader.
Tayshaun Prince added a quiet confidence to the lineup and had a high basketball IQ, as he averaged 10.3 points. Ben Wallace was a beast defensively and on the glass. He averaged 3 blocks a game along with 8.4 rebounds. He also chipped in with 9.5 points a game. They upset the Lakers in the Finals, beating them 4-1 in the series.
14 1967-68 Philadelphia 76ers
This team was lethal at pretty much every position on the court. While most people identify classic Philadelphia 76er greats with the likes of Julius Erving and Allen Iverson, they actually had numerous impactful players in their history.
Wilt Chamberlain, who is mentioned on this list a few times, no surprise there, averaged 24.3 points and 23.8 rebounds. Yes, more than 20 points and 20 rebounds a game is possible, the only caveat is that you just have to be Chamberlain.
Billy Cunningham chipped in with 18.9 points and 7.6 rebounds.
Wali Jones surprisingly did not have many assists but still had 12.8 points a game.
Hal Greer was a combination player who averaged 24 points and 5.4 rebounds a game to go along with 4.5 assists.
Chet Walker, even though he was not a focal point in the starting lineup, still had stellar numbers of 17.9 points and 7.4 rebounds.
13 1994-95 Orlando Magic
If you haven't had a chance, you should really invest some time and watch the recent 30 for 30 that ESPN put out on this team.
When you have a dominant center in Shaquille O'Neal, who averaged 29.3 points and 11.4 rebounds, and combine it with the graceful Penny Hardaway (20.9 points, 7.2 assists, 4.4 rebounds), you will have a squad.
Even though there was some speculation on the relationship between O’Neal and Hardaway, you cannot ignore the lethal force they were on the basketball court. There tandem can be seen as similar to how Shaq was with Kobe.
Although he is more known for missing costly free throws in the playoffs, Nick Anderson was a fan-favorite. He had 15.8 points a game.
Horace Grant came over from the Bulls and added a winning pedigree and experience when averaging 12.8 points and 9.7 rebounds.
Shooting guard Dennis Scott was solid with 12.9 points a game.
12 2010-11 Miami Heat
While this may be one of the more disliked teams, they certainly were dominant.
It did not matter who you put at point guard or center, because when you have, at the time, three of the top 10 players in the NBA, you are going to go far.
Many people criticized the manner in which LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers, his hometown team, with a television show to announce “The Decision”. Cavs fans were seen disgusted and betrayed, as the clip of them burning his jersey was plastered all over ESPN.
This made LeBron James enter South Beach like a man possessed, as he averaged 26.2 points and 7.5 rebounds.
Fan-favorite (at the time) Dwyane Wade, continued to make the city proud by putting up 25.5 points, and 6.9 rebounds a game.
People liked to make fun of him, but Chris Bosh could ball, as he averaged 19.1 points and 8.2 rebounds.
11 1989-90 Portland Trail Blazers
The greatness of this team does not get talked about enough, especially the play of Clyde Drexler.
Drexler, a member of the Olympic “Dream Team” was a fixture with the Trail Blazers before going to Houston to ultimately team up with Hakeem Olajuwon to win a NBA title. He often would frustrate great teams like the Celtics with the way he would drive to the basket.
Clyde Drexler would glide throughout the court and put up 23.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 5.9 assists to give defenses headaches.
Terry Porter, one of the more underrated guards in history, averaged 17.6 points, 9.1 assists, and 3.4 rebounds.
Center Kevin Duckworth added to this lineup by averaging 16.2 points and 6.2 rebounds, surprisingly, the lowest rebound total of anyone in this starting five.
Power forward Buck Williams had 13.6 points and 9.8 rebounds, followed by Jerome Kersey who had 16 points per game and 8.4 boards.
10 1991-92 Detroit Pistons
This was probably the most intimidating starting lineup in history. They certainly lived up to their "Bad Boy" image, often punishing players who dared drive to the basket, including Michael Jordan. Just watch their ESPN 30 for 30 to get a glimpse of what I am talking about.
It all starts with the point guard Isiah Thomas, who averaged 18.5 points, 7.2 assists, and 3.2 rebounds.
In who might be one of the more underappreciated players in history, shooting guard Joe Dumars averaged 19.9 points, 4.6 assists, and 2.3 rebounds a game.
To add to this was a young Dennis Rodman, who averaged 18.7 rebounds a game.
Small forward Orlando Woolridge added a respectable 14 points a game.
Center Bill Laimbeer was their vocal and emotional leader, and the baddest of them all. While he is often known more for his trash talk and dirty play, he averaged 9.7 points and 5.6 rebounds a game.
9 1973-74 New York Knicks
Every member of this starting five has plaques in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Center Willis Reed had 11.1 points, 7.4 rebounds a game.
Besides maybe Zydrunas Illgauskas and Wally Szczerbiak, Dave DeBusschere might have the hardest name to pronounce, but he was a heck of a player on the court. He averaged 18.1 points and 10.7 rebounds a game.
Before he was entertaining Knickerbocker fans from his commentary, Walt Frazier was even more fun to watch on the hardwood. The point guard glided his way to 20.5 points, 6.9 assists, and 6.7 rebounds a game.
You cannot forget about Earl 'The Pearl" Monroe, who put together a stat-line of 14 points and 3 rebounds a game. He, along with Reed, had a noticeable impact on Frazier’s game and they developed a quite the chemistry on the basketball court.
By the way, they also had the great Bill Bradley, who averaged 14 points a game.
8 2002-03 San Antonio Spurs
This starting five had some of the greatest chemistry you will ever see on a basketball court. Center David Robinson was on his way to retirement, but took recently retired Tim Duncan under his wing and showed him how to be a professional. Who knows what kind of career Duncan would have without the help of one of the greatest centers ever to grace the hardwood.
Robinson averaged 8.5 points and 7.9 rebounds a game, a stat sheet that many in the league would be more than happy to have.
The reserved and respected Duncan averaged a double-double a game by going for 23.3 points, and 12.9 rebounds.
Bruce Bowen was a lock down defender that had opponents constantly frustrated.
The always reliable and consistent Tony Parker added to the lineup after having 15.5 points and 5.3 assists.
Stephen Jackson was a knock down shooter who scored 11.8 a game.
7 2007-08 Boston Celtics
Without the help of a few trades by Danny Ainge, this list could look a lot differently. The Celtics received one of the best shooters in the game in Ray Allen in a draft day trade with the then, Seattle SuperSonics which ultimately enticed star forward Kevin Garnett to come to Boston in a separate trade.
The pair teamed up with beloved Celtic Paul Pierce and would go on to win the 17th championship for the Boston Celtics.
What cannot go unnoticed are the contributions from their young point guard and center, Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins.
Rondo would set up the offense and make defenders look stupid with his wizard-like passes and energetic tempo.
Perkins was a solid center that filled his role admirably. His impact was felt the next year, as many people have said that his injury cost the Celtics back-to-back titles against the Los Angeles Lakers.
6 2003-04 Lakers
If 20% of this starting five were not on their last legs of their career, it could have possibly been the best starting five of all time.
Everyone remembers the two superheroes in Kobe Bryant (24 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.1 assists) and Shaquille O'Neal (21.5 points, 11.5 rebounds), as they dominated the league.
What made this team interesting was at the point guard and power forward positions, as they received two future Hall of Famers in Gary "The Glove" Payton and Karl "The Mailman" Malone, respectively. Even as their careers were dwindling, Payton and Malone put up respectable numbers. Payton averaged 14.6 points, 5.5 assists, and 4.2 rebounds. Malone had 13.2 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 3.9 assists.
Devean George was the shooting guard, but if we are honest, they could have had anybody out there because of their other stacked positions. He averaged 7.4 points, 4 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1 steal a game for the Lakers.
5 1969-70 Lakers
Similar to the 1962-63 Celtics, this starting lineup could hurt you from any position on the court. It all starts with one of the best centers in NBA history, Wilt Chamberlain, who averaged 23.4 points, 15.8 rebounds, and 3.5 assists.
They also had the face of the NBA logo, Jerry West, as their point guard, who averaged 26.8 points, 6.4 assists, and 3.9 rebounds.
In what is probably one of the more enjoyable names in NBA history, shooting guard Happy Hairston certainly did not let his opponents share his feelings after he put up 19 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 1.8 assists a game.
The great Elgin Baylor added to this starting five at the small forward spot, as he averaged 21.2 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 4.8 assists.
Power forward John Tresvant also filled the stat sheet, as he had 19.1 points and 10.3 rebounds a game.
Every member of the starting five averaged at least 19 points a game. I will let you try and soak that in for a second. Feel free to take your time.
4 1962-63 Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics have been the most successful franchise in the NBA, and it all started with players from this team. Whenever you have someone like Bill Russell, a player that transformed the game, you are going to be on this list.
Russell averaged 16.8 points, 23.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists per game. In case you were wondering, that rebound stat is not a typo. What also made Russell great was the way he played defense. Instead of trying to block a shot and hit it into the third row of seats like many players nowadays love to do, Russell would block the shot and hit it into the direction of his teammates as a way to start a fastbreak.
Of course, it helped to have stars in Bob Cousy (13.2 points, 6.8 assists, 2.5 rebounds) and John Havlicek (14.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists) in the back court.
You cannot forget about the great Tom Heinsohn. Before he was a fan-favorite broadcaster for the team, he was a force on the court for the Celtics, as evidenced by a stat-line of (18.9 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.3 assists).
And then there is Sam Jones, who actually led this powerhouse starting-five in scoring with 19.7 points a game.2
3 1995-96 Chicago Bulls
Before the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors came along, it was easy to see why this team had the best regular season record in NBA history.
When you have the greatest player to ever step on the court in Michael Jordan, it makes the game a lot easier. Jordan averaged an astounding 29.6 points per game that year and had a nice cast by his side.
Scottie Pippen was always seen as a sidekick to Jordan, as he found out the hard way when he went to the Portland Trail Blazers, but the dude could straight up ball when called upon, as he averaged 20.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 5.7 assists to go along with 1.9 steals.
To further compliment the lineup was none other than Dennis Rodman, who was an animal on the glass, as he averaged 16.1 a game. When opposing shooters attempted a shot, I wonder if teammates even bothered trying to grab a rebound with Rodman lurking.
2 1987-88 Los Angeles Lakers
This team was a powerhouse. The crazy thing about this team is that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was 40 years old and still managed to put up 14.6 points and 6 rebounds a game. Some younger fans may be unaware, but Byron Scott was one heck of a shooting guard, as he led the team in scoring with a stat-line of 21.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and 1.9 steals a game.
If that was not enough, they had one of the greatest point guards in the game in Earvin "Magic" Johnson who averaged 19.6 points, 11.9 assists, and 6.2 rebounds a game. He would feed his teammates with highlight-reel no look passes. James Worthy put up points in bunches, as he averaged 19.7 a game.
A.C. Green was dominant in terms of rebounding and getting the outlet passes to the guards to start the transition offense, as he averaged 8.7 a game.
1 1986-87 Boston Celtics
If this team cared more, they would have obliterated the best regular season record. They formed the original "Big Three" with the likes of Larry "Legend" Bird, Robert "The Chief" Parish, and Kevin McHale.
When you look at Bird's stats, they are eye-popping. He averaged 28.1 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 7.6 assists to lead the Celtics to the NBA Championship that year.
Dennis Johnson does not get enough credit in terms of what he meant to that Celtics team. Many have gone on the record and said he belongs in the Hall of Fame. When you look at his numbers, they certainly have a case, as he averaged 13.4 points, 7.5 assists, and 3.3 rebounds a game. He was the reliable guard that the Celtics could depend on.
Before he was making trades as an basketball executive for the team, shooting guard Danny Ainge was a sniper from the three-point line, as he averaged 14.8 points, 5.6 assists, and 3.4 rebounds.
Robert Parish, a nine-time All-Star, added grit and toughness to the Celtics squad that made other teams tremble. He averaged 17.5 points, 10.6 rebounds, and 2.2 assists to go along with 1.8 blocks a game.
The edition of McHale made the frontcourt a force to be reckoned with, as he averaged 26.1 points and 9.9 rebounds.