NBA Players Who Should Be Starting at Each Position

Jeremy Lamb
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The NBA is hard and so is coaching. It is easy to berate coaches for what we see as “stupid” decisions, but coaches must make tough choices on a moment-to-moment basis in the NBA. I get it, it’s not easy, but some moves should be clear. Moves that are necessary to make for the betterment of the team, but for whatever reason are not getting made. Most teams’ starting lineups make sense, as coaches know who their best five players are, but sometimes coaches start the wrong group over and over again, whether it’s because of ego, stubbornness, or just poor judgment. Here are five NBA players who should be starting.

Five NBA Players Who Should Be Starting

Point Guard: Tyus Jones

Jones has broken out in his third season and has excelled on defense. He has been so good defensively that he is second among all point guards in defensive real plus-minus. Jones is no slouch on offense either, as he is 12th among all point guards in offensive RPM. Add it up, and Jones is fifth among all point guards in RPM compared to the Minnesota Timberwolves‘ starter, Jeff Teague, who is 31st in RPM. That is just the start. For the season, Jones is only averaging 4.9 points, 2.7 assists, 1.7 rebounds, and 1.2 steals on 45 percent shooting from the field and 34 percent shooting from three.

Jones’ numbers aren’t jaw-dropping, and on paper are less than Teague’s. Teague is averaging 13. 4 points, seven assists, 3.4 rebounds, 1.5 steals per game on 44 percent shooting and 37 percent from three. But Teague puts up these numbers in 33 minutes per game; Jones only plays 18 MPG. Teague is the better scorer and has the better PER, but dig deeper and the signs point to Jones starting. Jones has a higher rebound and assist ratio, a higher true shooting percentage, and a lower turnover ratio. So the box score stats point to Teague, but the analytics favor Jones.

According to Synergy Sports, Teague ranks in the 45th percentile on offense and 32nd percentile on defense. Jones, on the other hand, is in the 57th percentile on offense and 65th percentile on defense. Overall, Jones is far better on defense and a little better on offense. More importantly, Jones has a net rating of +7.5, compared to Teague’s net rating of +2.8. The Wolves simply have been better with Jones on the court. Jones has started 10 games this season, in which the Wolves went 6-4. Minnesota’s main problem this season has been defense, as the Wolves are 26th in the league on that end.

Having Jones in the starting lineup would give Minnesota one more plus defender and Teague’s defense would be less exposed as a backup. Teague could then run the offense for the second unit. This move makes all the sense in the world, but unfortunately, coach Tom Thibodeau is probably too stubborn to make this move.

Shooting Guard: Jeremy Lamb

I should preface this by saying that Nicolas Batum has been better as of late and the Charlotte Hornets are turning things around. I still think Lamb is a better fit as a starting shooting guard. The raw numbers are close. Batum is averaging 11.9 points, 4.9 assists, 4.4 rebounds on 41 percent shooting from the field and 33 percent from three. Lamb, on the other hand, is averaging 13.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 2.3 assists on 44 percent shooting from the field and 35 percent from three. Lamb has shot better, his true shooting percentage is higher, his turnover ratio is lower, his rebound rate is higher, and so is his PER. Batum does have one clear advantage though, and that is passing. Batum’s assist ratio is almost double what Lamb’s is.

Batum ranks in the 31st percentile on offense, but when you combine assists, he ranks in the 75th percentile. His defense, however, stinks. Batum ranks in the 21st percentile on defense. Lamb, when you combine assists, is only in the 55th percentile, but his defense is way better ranking in the 80th percentile. So who has the more significant impact on winning? Well, RPM also points to Lamb, as he is 18th among shooting guards compared to Batum who is 31st.

Net rating points to Batum, but it is close, at +1.2 to +1.0. Lamb’s scoring and defense have a more significant impact than Batum’s passing. Batum’s distribution skills would mesh better with the second unit. Steve Clifford still believes that the old Batum will come back; I don’t think so, at least not consistently. Starting Lamb would help the Hornets make a desperate playoff push.

Small Forward: Darius Miller 

This one is interesting because Miller shouldn’t be starting for another player who plays his position, but for a point guard: Rajon Rondo. New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry, for the most part, has been sticking with a two-point guard system with Rondo and Jrue Holiday. I think Miller is the better fit, and here’s why. Rondo kills the Pelicans when he is on the court with a net rating of -4.3.

Miller helps the Pelicans win with a +3 net rating. For goodness sake, Miller ranks in the 98th percentile on offense due to his excellent shooting, and defensively, he is above average ranking in the 68th percentile. Rondo, on the other hand, still has value with passing and his individual defense has been alright, but he rates lower than Miller in both categories. Rondo’s team defense and ability to score are both terrible, and his passing isn’t enough to make up for it. That is why Rondo is 78th among all point guards in RPM, while Miller is 24th in RPM for small forwards.

Rondo has the higher PER, rebound, and assists ratio, but Miller has a far better true shooting percentage, a lower turnover ratio, and is a way better defender. Gentry often inserts Miller for Rondo to close games. Miller also gives flexibility of playing either the three or the four. This is similar to Charlotte’s situation in that Rondo and Batum offer passing but are so much worse at everything else that their playmaking doesn’t make up for it. Gentry should have started Miller months ago, and my guess is he will in the playoffs if the Pels make it.

Power Forward: Dwight Powell

The Dallas Mavericks are tanking, and that is maybe why Dwight Powell is still coming off the bench. Powell has secretly been one of the most impactful players regarding winning this year. Yeah, I said it. His team just plays better when he is on the court, and since the Mavs want to lose now, they will probably play him less. I get it, but Powell should have started the whole season and still deserves starter minutes to aid his development.

Powell is 7th in RPM among all power forwards. Dirk Nowitzki can still play, and his shooting will always be impactful, but he is only 13th. Powell can play both ends. His PER, true shooting percentage, rebound ratio, and assist ratio are all higher. Nowitzki only has him beat with a lower turnover ratio.

Nowitzki still has tremendous value offensively; he will always get buckets. He is better at center now and should play with Powell some, but Powell is the better power forward. Powell ranks in the 77th percentile on defense compared to Nowitzki, who is in the 31st percentile. That there is the main difference and why Powell has a +3 net rating and Nowitzki has a -4.1 net rating. Sure, Dallas wants to tank, but Powell has long-term potential as a starting four or small ball five. He should get some starts there, as it would only be beneficial for Powell in the long run.

Center: Larry Nance Jr. 

Nance is a new addition to the Cleveland Cavaliers, so I get bringing him off the bench at first, but now is the time to start him. Hopefully, coach Tyronn Lue realizes that Nance is way better than Tristan Thompson. This is more of an indication of how bad Thompson has been than how good Nance is. Thompson is 63rd among all centers in RPM. Nance has spent more time at power forward with the Lakers and is 11th among all power forwards in RPM. Can he handle the starting center spot?

I think so. He and Thompson have almost an identical rebound rate and true shooting percentage, but Nance has a higher assist ratio and a lower turnover ratio. Nance may not be as strong as Thompson, but he is more athletic, and his bounce helps him finish at the rim.

Nance is way better on defense, too, with the ability to switch onto smaller players. That is why he ranks in the 97th percentile compared to Thompson, who is in the 22nd percentile. Their offense is similar, but Nance is slightly better.

Here’s the biggest thing: since Nance got to Cleveland, he has a +19.4 net rating; Thompson’s for the season is -3.3. I mean, the numbers scream that Nance is a better player, a better fit, and should be the starter. Cleveland needs to make this happen sooner rather than later; I don’t care if it hurts Thompson’s feelings or how much the Cavs are paying him.


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