One Thing That Has to Go Right for Every NBA Team to Thrive Next Season
On paper, the NBA will be better than ever next season. Each team has the potential to improve vastly, and if one thing can go right for each team, we will see some of the best basketball in a long time.
Through the draft and this rampant free agency period, every team in the NBA has a potential superstar in the making. Still, a lot can go wrong over an 82-game schedule and teams will both flourish and flounder.
In order to thrive, each team will need one major thing to go their way. If that one things goes right, said team will be playoff-bound.
The Hawks lost their best offensive weapon over the offseason when they sent Joe Johnson to Brooklyn. This means for the Hawks to once again thrive in the Eastern Conference, they need to get their offense elsewhere.
Enter Lou Williams, who led Philadelphia's offense to the second round in last year's postseason. Williams is a talented scorer who averaged 15 points while playing just 26 minutes per game last season.
With the Hawks he will be seeing increased minutes. Being that he is a volume scorer, Williams will get a chance to score a lot more than 15 points a night. He will need to make up for the offensive hole that Johnson left the team in order for the Hawks to return to the playoffs.
Boston's reserves in the postseason last year didn't come close to resembling that of a championship unit. This year they appear to be much much deeper.
A major part of that depth will be the return of Jeff Green, who missed all of last season following heart surgery. In his time with the Celtics two years ago, Green was subpar and really hurt the team in the playoffs. This year he must be exponentially better in backing up both forward positions.
If he is able to lead the second unit and play as well as he did in Oklahoma City, then the Celtics will thrive even when their starters aren't on the floor.
The Nets have a very talented starting unit and three of the members have very defined roles.
Brook Lopez is a solid center who can score at will offensively. Kris Humphries is a rebounding machine who doesn't need the ball to contribute, and Gerald Wallace is a versatile wing and defensive presence.
The thing that really needs to happen if the Nets are to elevate their game to the next level, is their superstar backcourt meshing. Joe Johnson and Deron Williams need to play well off of one another and they must do it right away.
If they can both contribute and make the other a better player, then Brooklyn will be even better than most think.
Since it won't matter too much how great of a season Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has if the Bobcats don't improve elsewhere, he can't be the one requirement for a thriving team.
Instead, Charlotte needs a series of players to turn the corner in their careers and start heading towards stardom. They will be looking for bumps from Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo specifically. With one year of extensive playing time under their belts, these two must start to resemble the potential that led them both to be selected in the top-10 of the 2011 draft.
Biyombo needs to harness his explosive athleticism, while Walker must chose better shots and get his field goal percentage up in the the mid-40's. Without those two players,this team is going nowhere and the rebuilding period will be exponentially longer than anyone hoped.
For Chicago it all really comes down to one player, Derrick Rose.
With Rose in the lineup, Chicago is next to Miami as the class of the Eastern Conference. However, when he is sidelined, the Bulls can fall to a No. 8 seed in the playoffs.
He is what makes Chicago run, and if he is out for most of next season, then they will not thrive. For the Bulls to ascend anywhere near where they finished last regular season, Rose will need to be active in more than 60 percent of their games.
For a team that is struggling through a rebuilding period and just hit a home run with their draft last year, the Cavaliers took a hell of a risk this June. Dion Waiters was taken fourth overall by Cleveland.
At Syracuse, Waiters did not lead the team in scoring and only played 24 minutes per game. Still the potential is there for a lot more. The issue is that the Cavaliers can't absorb a bust right now, and as one of the top picks in June's draft, he has some of the best odds to be a bust.
For him to play well means that the meshing with Kyrie Irving has gone smoothly and they are thriving as a duo. For the next few seasons, the new backcourt mates are going to be a gauge on Cleveland's winning. If Waiters proves the Cavaliers correct, then they will thrive and return to relevance for the first time since LeBron James left.
It is no mystery what happened to cause Dallas to fall this quickly after their championship run in 2011. The departure of Tyson Chandler left a massive hole in the middle of the Mavericks defense that was not filled last season.
Dallas went out this offseason and signed perhaps the best center on the open market in Chris Kaman. He will join forces with Dirk Nowitzki, who he played with in the Olympics, to create a unique frontcourt.
For the Mavericks to thrive this coming year, Kaman will need to give them a lot of what Chandler provided in their title-winning season. This is not an impossible task, as Kaman is one of the more unheralded players in the league. He is both a defensive presence—averaging nearly three blocks per game with the Clippers a few seasons ago—and a fairly efficient post scorer.
If Kaman can do the dirty work of rebounding and altering shots, then Dallas will have rebuilt quicker than many though possible and will thrive next year out West.
The Nuggets allowed more than 101 points per game last season, good for second-worst in the NBA.
For them to emerge as a force in the Western Conference this season, their defense will need to step up. Fortunately, Denver has two rock-solid young defensive players in JaVale McGee and Kenneth Faried.
Both are talented individual defenders, but for the team to thrive, they will need to assume leadership roles on this young team and instill a more team-oriented defensive gameplan. Together, if they can grow into defensive leaders, the rest of the Nuggets will follow suit and be able to get those key stops.
They were unable to get big stops when needed in the playoffs against Los Angeles. If their defensive mindset changes, the sky is the limit.
The Pistons created very few matchup problems last season, but through the draft they may have found a recipe for success.
First-round pick Andre Drummond is their key to thriving this season. If he can be a surprise Rookie of the Year candidate and adapt to the NBA talent-wise, then Detroit will have a very young and talented frontcourt for the future.
With he and Greg Monroe patrolling the paint, the Pistons will have a big advantage over a lot of NBA teams. Drummond is a 6'10", 270 pound beast whose forte is defense and rebounding. He will play well off of Monroe, who is an efficient offensive player and also a dominant rebounder.
Golden State Warriors
Health is the operative word for the Golden State Warriors, and really the only word they should be concerned with.
The team's success will rely on the health of two oft-injured players at the point guard and center spots. Stephen Curry missed more than half of last season with injuries, and when he played, his production was hampered. Andrew Bogut played in just 12 games last season and was traded mid-season from Milwaukee to Golden State.
If the two are healthy, the Warriors have a very talented starting unit and could be playoff-bound. However, if either of them find themselves on the sidelines more often than not, this team is headed to the lottery again.
The Rockets risked a lot in letting two good point guards leave this offseason.
With Kyle Lowry in Toronto and Goran Dragic manning the point in Phoenix, the Rockets extended a big contract to Jeremy Lin.
With the weight of his predecessors, his contract, and the overall media attention on his shoulders, it will be interesting to see if Lin can hold up.
He will be responsible for making a very new group of players mesh together by distributing and carrying a decent amount of the scoring load. Pretty much, if Jeremy Lin is for real, the Rockets will be as well.
It seems odd that a team as talented and young as the Indiana Pacers would randomly switch up their floor leader after their best season. Still, they shipped away Darren Collison and signed free agent D.J. Augustin.
Augustin will pair with George Hill to man the point for Indiana after Collison started almost every Pacer game for the past two seasons. He was a great background piece and was the steadying influence on a largely young team.
Because Hill isn't a true point guard, Augustin's load will be hefty. The former Bobcat has never really played a big role on a winning team. This season, he will have an opportunity to be surrounded by much better players than he ever was in Charlotte. If he can thrive in those circumstances, Indiana will be right back in the second round of the playoffs next spring.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers were outclassed in the second round of the playoffs last season by San Antonio in four games. They were outscored by more than 11 points per game on average.
They showed their lack of depth in the low-post by their inability to dominate the area against the much slower Spurs. The biggest thing they need this season is for Lamar Odom to refocus himself and return to the solid player he was with the Lakers.
Odom gives the Clippers something they lacked last season, a legitimate big man in the second unit. Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin were nice veteran pieces, but neither has the scoring potential of Odom. Having him come off the bench changes everything about the Clippers second unit.
If he can play up to his 2010 standards, then the Clippers have a much better shot at reaching the conference finals.
Los Angeles Lakers
For the Lakers to return to the second round and perhaps beyond this coming season, Steve Nash's legs will have to hold up.
It isn't often that a successful NBA team will start a 38-year-old point guard, but that is the current plan for Los Angeles. Nash showed few signs of slowing down in Phoenix last season, when he doled out the second highest assists per game total in the league.
The worry is still there that his body will start to break down as his age increases. The point guard spot has been an Achilles' heel for the Lakers recently, and when Ramon Sessions did not work out in the postseason, the door was opened for Nash to join up.
The Lakers will still have the height advantages and Kobe Bryant will still score a lot of points, but for them to thrive and emerge to the next level, Steve Nash will have to stay healthy and produce consistently.
The Grizzlies are really hoping for addition by subtraction in that O.J. Mayo is now gone to Dallas. However, they were a fairly weak offensive team to begin with and Mayo was one of their most capable scorers.
For things to go well next season, someone on Memphis is going to have to step up. They managed to sign Jerryd Bayless who left Toronto in the offseason. He has the potential to be a solid combo guard with Mike Conley running the point more exclusively. Bayless will need to pick up some offensive slack from Mayo for this team to break through the first round of the playoffs.
In the opening round last season, Memphis scored 100-plus points just once and only managed 72 points in the deciding Game 7. The new scoring won't be coming from Tony Allen and Rudy Gay already gets his share. Therefore the new guys, Bayless and Tony Wroten, will have to step up the offense.
That should explain just how valuable those two pieces are to the Heat. When Bosh returned, even in a limited capacity, he helped negate Kevin Garnett's advantage, and the Heat fought back from behind to win the series and eventually take the championship.
Both Wade and Bosh opted out of the Olympics this summer and have devoted their time to healing up for Miami's title defense. It isn't far-fetched to think that next spring will be identical to this one with Boston and Miami fighting in the ECF.
Now it is known what Miami needs to win, and that is a healthy Wade and Bosh.
The Bucks are going to have one of the most explosive backcourts in the NBA with Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis teaming up. However, with Andrew Bogut gone, there is no leader in the frontcourt.
Ersan Ilyasova was expected to cash-in on his breakout season and head for greener pastures, but Milwaukee was able to bring back the power forward on a five-year deal. He will need to build upon this past season and become a nightly double-double for the Bucks.
While the two guards take care of the bulk of Milwaukee's offense, Ilyasova has the opportunity to become a rebounding machine and get all the spoils of the rebound put-backs.
Ilyasova has the talent and size necessary to be that type of player. If he is able to realize that and execute, Milwaukee will be a threat as a low seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
For the Minnesota Timberwolves, everything comes down to Ricky Rubio's availability. With Rubio running the offense, they were headed for the seventh or eighth seed in the west. After he was sidelined with an ACL tear, the team went in the tank and wound up in the lottery again.
Look no farther than the team's April. They lost 13 of 14 games that month, and they were all without their new floor general.
The Northwest is just too talented a division for a team to lose their second-best player and survive. Minnesota needs Rubio back early and for him to pick up right where he left off as a rookie.
New Orleans Hornets
Whether or not the new look Hornets thrive this upcoming season actually has very little to do with Anthony Davis—it has everything to do with Eric Gordon.
Gordon just signed a massive four-year, $58 million contract to stay with the team after coming over in the Chris Paul trade. This is the year he must actually prove that he is worth that money. In four NBA seasons, Gordon has had two average years, one great one and, last year, he sat out all but nine games.
If the Hornets get the 22 points per game Eric Gordon of 2010, then New Orleans has hopes of knocking on the postseason doors. However, if the Gordon who has missed 107 games in four seasons shows up, the team is in massive trouble again and Davis' debut season will be spoiled.
New York Knicks
Lost in all the noise being made about Jeremy Lin's departure is the fact that Raymond Felton played very well in New York.
With the Knicks, Felton averaged 17 points and nine assists in 54 games before being dealt in the Carmelo Anthony trade. Now after a slightly off-year in Portland, he is being written off as an out of shape journeyman.
Felton can deal with the pressure of the NY market, which will be especially threatening thanks to Lin. If he can emulate the production he gave the Knicks two seasons ago, then they may actually be better off.
Entering into year three of the Carmelo era, the Knicks need Felton to run the show. If this team is going to thrive and make noise in the postseason, their new point guard is where it will start.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder lost four straight to Miami in the NBA finals after winning the first game. The team is incredibly well put together and has a great shot to get back to the championship series next season.
So what is it going to take to get over the hump that is Miami? In order to thrive and become better than ever, Oklahoma City needs their bigs to be more consistent. Look no further than the finals series. The Thunder out-rebounded the Heat in a Game 1 victory, but lost both the rebounding battle and the game in the last four.
The bottom line is that the Thunder's big three may not be enough to get through the Western Conference again. Therefore Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison must be able to be counted on to provide a little extra.
At this stage of the offseason, all the NBA teams can start seeing their roster taking shape. The exception to that is Orlando, whose core could be drastically altered any day.
For the Magic to thrive next season, they need to settle the Dwight Howard fiasco before the season starts, preferably even before training camp.
Howard is nothing but a distraction and obstacle in Orlando's way. It is impossible to think about the next stage of the Magic while he is on the team. Couple that with the constant fear among other players of being included with him in a trade, and it is a recipe for disaster.
If the Magic can settle on a deal and have some time to unite as a team prior to the season, they will be able to flourish in the post-Howard aftermath.
Last year's 76ers had a unique makeup to them that seemed to work very well. Given their personnel switches over the offseason, one major hole emerged.
Leading scorer Lou Williams signed as a free-agent with the Atlanta Hawks. Philadelphia appears to have found an almost identical replacement with even more potential in Nick Young.
Young is a young and athletic volume scorer who can come off the bench behind Evan Turner. Since Williams was the high scorer for the 76ers, it is safe to assume that their unit only succeeds with that type of player coming off the bench and shouldering a serious load of point production.
If Young can come in and give Philadelphia everything Williams did, they should once again thrive and be a scary team in the postseason.
One would assume that filling in the hole that Steve Nash left is the biggest requisite for Phoenix' success. However, the Suns have done a fair enough job covering that base, and even with Nash, the Suns weren't going anywhere anyway.
Instead, another newcomer, Michael Beasley will be the ticket to winning consistently in Arizona. As a featured player, Beasley has the skills to be a 20 points per game scorer. The Suns did not have anything close to that last season, as they were led on offense by Marcin Gortat's 15.4 points per game.
Having an elite point guard does you little good if there is no one to score the basketball. Beasley's versatility on the wing gives the Suns a lot of looks that they can throw at opposing teams. If they can get him up to his production in year one for Minnesota, then this team has serious sleeper potential.
Portland Trail Blazers
Thanks to the Gerald Wallace trade, the Portland Trail Blazers held two lottery picks in June's draft. They appear to have taken two immediate starters in Damian Lillard at point guard and Meyers Leonard at center.
For the team to thrive, neither rookie can be a bust. Because they are so thin at both positions, it is imperative that each player live up to their draft number.
Lillard can instantly upgrade their point guard situation, as he is an elite scoring talent and could grow into one of the top combo guards in the NBA. Leonard may not be completely NBA ready, but still may be the best option for Portland at this time.
Portland had a disappointing season last year, but the benefits of that lay in the draft picks they received. Still, both must perform or the Trail Blazers will suffer a similar fate next June.
The Sacramento Kings need to make a commitment to defense. This is one of the most offensively talented groups in the NBA, but you aren't going to beat anyone while giving up more than 104 points per game.
Drafting Thomas Robinson, who was an absolute monster in the paint leading Kansas to the national title game, was a nice choice because of his defensive potential. He has the body to become a great defender in the NBA, it is all just desire at this point. From all accounts, Robinson has plenty of that as well.
This has to be a more team wide effort, though. If the Kings start getting important stops, then they instantly become dangerous in the West. It will start with DeMarcus Cousins and work its way down from there. With two years of NBA service under his belt, he should be ready to make the leap.
They already have a few elite scorers at their positions, but with no defense, it is all for naught. For the team to thrive, they need to allow a lot less easy points to opponents.
San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs core continues to get older and older, but they keep winning. That is because they have found a wonderful mix of youth to fill the holes .
For this type of play to continue in San Antonio, the younger players like Kawhi Leonard, must start shouldering more responsibility. Soon it will be their team, and this season is a perfect example of the pass-down starting.
The Spurs veterans are just getting to a point where they can't keep up with the rate of the game. This is why the young guns need take a little more control of the team and its destiny. If they can do that, the Spurs will keep right on winning.
The Toronto Raptors have found themselves in the lottery for four years running now. In order to avoid that fate for the fifth straight summer, they need a leader to emerge.
That leader has to be Andrea Bargnani. After slowly working his way off the bust label—seeing as though the first overall pick averaged just 11 points per game in his first two seasons—Bargnani turned into an elite scorer.
Unfortunately, he was forced to miss half of last season with an injury. Prior to that, he had emerged, scoring more than 21 points per game two seasons ago. He maintained close to that in 31 games last season as well.
Toronto has a lot of new faces coming in, including Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross from the past two drafts, and Landry Fields and Kyle Lowry through free agency. They will need a star to rally around. Bargnani is the best choice for that.
The Utah Jazz were a team on the verge of becoming great all last season. In the playoffs, their lack of experience showed through and they were swept by San Antonio.
In the offseason, they made some interesting moves, dealing their starting point guard, Devin Harris, for Marvin Williams, and then replacing him with Randy Foye and Mo Williams. The Jazz need these moves to work out. They will hope that a change of scenery wakes up the former Atlanta forward.
Because of where they were in the scheme of the NBA, this is a very fragile time. Making the wrong move, no matter how minor, can quickly destroy the bright future Utah once had. If either Williams doesn't work out, the Jazz will have a difficult time getting back into the postseason in a strong conference.
Bradley Beal and John Wall are going to be the bright future of the Washington Wizards organization. The duo will need to coexist almost immediately if the team is to have any chance this season.
For the Wizards to thrive, there can be no downtime as these two players get to know one another. If Washington can jump out to a hot start and gain confidence, it will do wonders for a young team.
Their identity is going to be a fast-paced run and gun team, and their starting backcourt resembles that. If Beal's shots aren't falling right away, his confidence may plummet and the Wizards season will be over before it begins. That is why it is imperative that the relationship between he and Wall is automatic.