The NBA has released the list of the 25 most popular player jerseys sold this season. With this information, we can do mock battle between the implied starting lineups. 

Popularity Contest 

Philip Maymin
Basketball News Services  

The NBA has released the list of the 25 most popular player jerseys sold this season. With this information, we can do mock battle between the implied starting lineups.

TOP LINEUP (JERSEY SALES 1-5): LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Stephon Marbury, Tracy McGrady, and Allen Iverson
ost of the top-selling jerseys are for guards, not surprisingly. Do people somehow relate more to the achievable height? Or the quickness, slashing, and shooting? Whatever the reason, virtually all the lineups will have to play relatively small ball, though they would still likely be taller than the Dallas Mavericks. These top five players provide the smallest lineup of all, as the only frontcourt player is Anthony, and he usually plays small forward, a position in many ways indistinguishable from the shooting guard. Nevertheless, in this lineup, the rookie Nugget finds himself playing center. Marbury is the undisputed point guard, with Iverson joining him in the backcourt. McGrady gets bumped to the 3-spot, and James will have to play teammate Carlos Boozer's position of power forward.

As a lineup judged solely by talent, these guys will get the scoring job done, but would be weak defensively. While they will come up with probably more steals than any other team, opponents will likely be able to pass over them, post them up, and pick-and-roll through them. They are indeed much like the small ball lineup that Don Nelson's Mavericks play, with the same strengths and weaknesses.

LINEUP #2 (JERSEY SALES 6-10): Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, Steve Francis, Shaquille O'Neal, and Scottie Pippen
If Pippen were not on this list, this would be by far the best lineup of the league. But Pippen is a role player at best, and an injured veteran on the verge of retirement at worst. O'Neal and Duncan form the best frontline possible, and Bryant and Francis join them in the backcourt for what essentially should have been the starting lineup for the Western Conference All-Star game. Pippen at small forward is no Kevin Garnett, and that is this lineup's weakness.

We now need to choose which lineup is better: small ball rookies or these big All-Stars? Shaq would toy with Carmelo at center, as would Duncan on James at the four. Call the backcourt approximately equal, as Marbury would probably shut down Francis and AI would try to outscore Kobe and either fail or succeed with a terrible shooting percentage. There are two problems for the big lineup. One is Pippen, who would be routinely outgunned by T-Mac. The other is fouls. The big guys might get in foul trouble, and with no bench to spell them, they could easily foul out. Once either Duncan or Shaq has to sit, they are essentially playing three-on-five. The winner, by a small margin, has to be the small ball guys.

LINEUP #3 (JERSEY SALES 11-15): Gary Payton, Jermaine O'Neal, Anfernee Hardaway, Rasheed Wallace, and Vince Carter
Finally some action. The Glove takes the point and Penny takes the two. Vinsanity, Rasheed, and Jermaine form a formidable Eastern Conference bloc in the front court. Comparing this lineup to our winner so far, the Glove and Starbury would play themselves into a tie. AI would decimate Penny, but Jermaine would destroy Carmelo, so call those a wash. That leaves T-Mac against his distant cousin Vince and the well-travelled Rasheed Wallace against the Cleveland rookie LeBron James. That's actually a tougher call than expected as Wallace plays better defense than you might think, and James has a better post game than he usually gets credit for. Could we possibly have a tie here?

Nope. Penny's jersey, while popular, would just not stand up to the grueling task of guarding AI. Like the previous lineup, it has size, but ultimately suffers from having to carry an aging veteran who wouldn't be able to contain a younger, quicker player.

LINEUP #4 (JERSEY SALES 16-20): Allan Houston, Paul Pierce, Yao Ming, Kevin Garnett, and Baron Davis
The Baron and Houston start in the back court, with Pierce playing the three and KG and Yao playing up front. This is possibly the best lineup in terms of fitting stellar players still at the top of their games to the appropriate positions. Ignore Houston's injury, much like we've ignored AI's. Yao has about a foot of height over Carmelo. At this stage of their careers, KG would outplay James, but who knows how the two straight-from-high-school stars would compete in a few years? Pierce against T-Mac is a great matchup, and for argument's sake, let's give the edge to T-Mac, since the rest of the frontcourt advantage lies squarely with this new lineup. How would the backcourts match up? Baron and Stephon are probably a wash, as they are both athletic and supremely talented. Houston and AI are also probably a wash, though if you must choose, probably you would give AI a slight edge.

The conclusion? Perhaps the small ball swing players have a slight edge on lineup #4, but the point guards even out, and lineup #4's front court would simply dominate. Unlike previous lineups, there is no weak link here, and only one player prone to fouls (Yao Ming). To be fair, Carmelo would probably have his share of fouls trying to guard a guy that size too.

So we have our first upset: jersey sales 16-20 make a better team than jersey sales 1-5!

LINEUP #5 (JERSEY SALES 21-25): Latrell Sprewell, Jalen Rose, Jason Richardson, Chris Webber, and Jason Kidd
Kidd is a superstar, no question about it, and he would outplay Baron Davis by a significant margin. Plus, he does tend to make his teammates better. Richardson, Rose, and Sprewell are all excellent wing players that can shoot and penetrate and finish the fast break, but Chris Webber at center defending Yao Ming? That's got to make you shake your head. And who exactly is going to guard Garnett? His teammate Sprewell? It's just not going to happen. Even comparing them to their competing swingmen, none of Richardson, Rose, and Sprewell can hold a candle to Pierce, and are more on the level of Houston, at best.

Lineup #4 stands as the champion.

You might argue that the Shaq or Jermaine lineup would do better than the KG/Yao lineup. Not so. Shaq and Yao at best are a wash; in fact, Yao often outplays Shaq since he gets especially excited about the matchup. KG and Duncan would probably be a wash as you are comparing last year's MVP to this year's most likely winner. But Paul Pierce would school Pippen routinely, and though AI would probably own Houston, Marbury would not be able to outplay Baron Davis. That leaves a strong front court advantage to lineup #4.

Similarly for the lineup #3. Vince and Pierce cancel out. Jermaine O'Neal and Yao cancel out, for argument's sake. Allan Houston and new teammate Penny Hardaway cancel out, again for argument's sake. That still leaves Rasheed Wallace defending Kevin Garnett and Gary Payton on Baron Davis. In both cases, lineup #4 wins.

So what have we learned? That the fans don't know what they're doing? That the best lineup came from deep into the top 25 list? That these results are fairly spurious because if we had started with #5 we would have had a lineup of AI, Duncan, Bryant, Francis, and Shaq?

No. What we have learned is that any one of these lineups would be an amazing team.

OTHER NOTES: The top 10 teams in merchandise sold field a familiar list, with the Lakers, Knicks, and Sixers holding on to the top three spots, respectively. But LeBron's Cavs are fourth on the list, not having appeared on it at all last year. The Bulls, Celtics, and Nets make up spots 5, 6, and 7 as old-timers and nostalgic fans look for renewed glory from these franchises. At number eight, however, the Spurs have finally made their way into the top 10. It takes a championship to get people to buy your stuff, but they've finally done it. The list rounds out with Orlando at number nine, and Carmelo's Nuggets at number ten.