Every team has its worst-case scenario.
Some teams' plans can be disrupted by other, non-injury-related issues. A team's calculus for success can be broken by players' shortcomings or issues that aren't so easily measured. Also, a team that is rebuilding can be thrown off if its season isn't going quite as planned.
Follow along to see what possible occurrences or situations could keep each team from reaching its goal for the 2012-13 season.
The Atlanta Hawks missed a key player in Al Horford for 55 games last season, but still earned the fifth-seed in the Eastern Conference.
What would be far worse than losing Horford for most of the season would be to lose Josh Smith for the entire season. Smith is, by far, the best all-around player on the team. Smith has averaged at least 15 points, seven rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.6 blocks per game in each of the last six seasons.
He's the key cog in the Hawks defense. Smith has had 4.5 defensive win shares in four of his last five seasons.
Losing Smith for the season would certainly hold the Hawks out of the playoffs.
The Big Three of the Boston Celtics was broken up with Ray Allen's departure to the Miami Heat. Now, fans will be interested in seeing how Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett continue to perform in their advancing age.
To think that Pierce and Garnett could fall off this season is reasonable. Garnett is 36 years old and Pierce turns 35 in October. Pierce saw his shooting percentage drop by 5.4 percent last season. He also struggled through a knee injury toward the end of the season.
Another season in which Pierce deals with injury and sees his percentages drop significantly is quite possible. Growing old comes with its pains. Just ask Manu Ginobili.
Kevin Garnett wasn't as affected by age as Pierce was. He saw a little slippage in his field-goal percentage (from 52.8 percent in 2010-11 to 50.3 percent in 2011-12), but he was only occasionally hindered by injury.
Still, for KG, with another year could come additional injuries and a more noticeable decline in skill.
The Brooklyn Nets acquired Joe Johnson from the Hawks with playoff-contendership firmly in mind.
Johnson has been a strong scorer for several years, averaging 20 points per game for five straight seasons from 2005-06 to 2009-10. He was in the 18-point range the last two seasons, though that is partly attributable to a decline in shot attempts.
Meanwhile, Deron Williams is used to being the the main man in the backcourt. He's never had another player in his backcourt who shot quite as often as he did.
Only once has Williams had a fellow guard average 10 shots per game in a season in which Williams has been fully healthy for (Ronnie Brewer, 10.2 per game in 2008-09).
Both players are used to being the main man handling the ball. Williams had a usage rate of 30.1 percent last season, and 25.6 percent the season before. Johnson had a usage rate of 24.9 percent last season and rated in the 26 percent range the previous three seasons.
Williams decided to return to the Nets because of Johnson's arrival, as Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports pointed out . That elation could be gone once Williams realizes just how much he has to share the ball with his new teammate, which could result in a bumpy ride for the Nets.
A franchise doesn't just suddenly become a winner after a notable coaching hire. (Unless, of course, that coach is Hubie Brown.)
The Charlotte Bobcats hired St. John's assistant Mike Dunlap in hopes that he could change the culture of a franchise that has only had one winning season in its eight-year history. Dunlap, the organization's fifth new head coach, is reputed to be a smart basketball mind who can teach players.
Another move the Bobcats made to change the dynamic of the team was the pick of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with the second overall pick in the draft. MKG isn't a big-time scorer, but he's a do-it-all player who is a terrific athlete and a grinder. He can score, pass, defend and run the floor.
MKG is the type of player who can arrive at camp and wake up teammates with his hard-nosed play. A swipe of a ball handled by Kemba Walker in practice could serve as motivation for the point guard who struggled through his rookie year. Making up for a defensive lapse by Gerald Henderson could be a message sent to the young guard.
Similarly, Dunlap could help push this team in the right direction. Dunlap has already started to push the Bobcat players, schooling them on the fundamentals such as setting screens and making hard cuts to the basket, according to the Charlotte Observer. When hired, Dunlap said he'd push the pace of the offense.
Dunlap and MKG look like the right guys for the respective roles. If they can't inspire the guys to step it up this year, it'd be a disappointment. Losing 60 games is sad, but losing it while playing listlessly is even worse.
The Bulls could hardly be facing a worse situation than the one they’re in right now.
Indeed, the Bulls did manage to claim the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference while playing 27 games without Derrick Rose last season. The Bulls went 20-7 without their star point guard, but 12 of those wins came against losing teams.
Once Rose went down in the postseason with an ACL tear in the first-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers, however, they fell apart. The Sixers took four of five games, with the Bulls averaging 80.6 points per game and shooting just 40.3 percent from the field.
The Bulls can’t replace Rose’s scoring. Kirk Hinrich won’t score much at all. Marco Bellineli isn’t much more than a fourth option. Luol Deng could pick up his scoring a bit, but he won’t give much more than 17 points per game. Joakim Noah is limited offensively. Carlos Boozer is the only starter who can make a difference. He could stand to go from 15 points per game to 20.
But even if the Bulls combine a jump in production from Boozer and some scoring off the bench from Nate Robinson and Rip Hamilton, they’d still be at a loss.
Perhaps Tom Thibedeau has some hope of getting the players to grind it out to be in competition for the playoffs. They could play their hearts out in preparation for Rose’s return. But that would accomplish nothing for the future of the team, as being a fringe team this season by playing all-out doesn't get them closer to a title the way tanking to draft a backcourt scorer would.
The Cleveland Cavaliers aren't going to the playoffs this season. Kyrie Irving has been great, and Tyler Zeller should have an impact as a rookie, but there isn't much else outside those two.
Tristan Thompson is a work in progress. Dion Waiters could become a decent player, but he never played even 25 minutes per game at Syracuse. Anderson Varejao wasn't healthy the last two years and can't be fully counted upon.
That Irving has a terrific season and Zeller and another player play over their heads is possible. That could lead to them winning 35 games. Winning 35 games would be an interesting surprise for Cavs fans.
Also, it would be an unwelcome surprise for the Cavs front office. The Cavs need another high draft pick in their rebuilding process. If the Cavs win 30 or fewer games, they can guarantee themselves at least a top-six pick. That could land them a terrific prospect or a good player with some experience in a draft trade.
However, if they win 35 games, a top-10 pick isn't guaranteed. In the last five 82-game seasons, 35 wins would have earned a team a 10th or 11th pick. This might net the Cavs a nice player in a trade, but it wouldn't necessarily earn them a good draft pick.
Ultimately, the Cavs would be best off playing within themselves and ensuring that the young guys develop, without winning too many games.
Dirk Nowitzki suffered from the post-championship hangover last season.
His numbers showed it, as he shot 45.7 percent from the field—six percent worse than the year before. This was most evident early in the season. He averaged 15.1 points per game in January and shot 17.8 percent from three-point range in his first 19 games.
Dallas Mavericks fans would be right to question whether he will bounce back from that dreary season. The German is 34 years old and entering his 15th season. He's well past his prime and won't be turning back the clock. He could have been tired last year, and he might not get the energy back this season.
With that, his skills and numbers might diminish even further.
The Mavs put two solid players around him in O.J. Mayo and Chris Kaman. Still, the new Mavericks could have to push especially hard to simply support a playoff run.
Andre Iguodala played his first eight NBA seasons for the Philadelphia 76ers and was a major player on both ends of the floor for them the last six seasons. He averaged between 18 and 20 points per game from 2006-07 to 2008-09.
In the last two seasons, with more talented scorers emerging, Iguodala had less pressure to score and was able to focus more on his all-around game. He helped the team by being a supporting scorer and facilitator, as well as a leading defender.
One would expect a player to want to settle in before deciding he wants to stay around for another few years.
To be sure, Iguodala spent the first eight years of his career with a single team. Now, he's with a different team in an entirely different region. That he could find himself unhappy after the season begins is quite possible.
Even a player like Iguodala, a team player who fits into whatever role he is called to play, could fall to such a sentiment.
If Iguodala fits into the Nuggets system the way he should, he could help the team turn the corner and become a second-round playoff team. However, if he becomes despondent and doesn't gel with his new surroundings, then the Nuggets could become a stagnant borderline playoff squad.
The Detroit Pistons have a few young players in Brandon Knight, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond to watch as they try to develop into a decent team.
Monroe is a known commodity. Pistons fans can see that he's a solid rebounder who can score a fair amount. Drummond will take time to develop—if he develops, that is.
Now, Knight will be one to watch this season. He could take the chance to break out in his second season. He showed flashes of brilliance, scoring 20 points 11 times as a rookie. The 20-year-old hit at least half his shots 20 times.
After averaging 12.1 points and 3.8 assists in 32.3 minutes per game in his rookie year, the Pistons could be looking for big things from the Kentucky product.
Knight himself certainly wants more from himself. He told the Detroit Free Press that he wants to go beyond his All-Rookie Team mention last season to help the Pistons make the playoffs.
As much as Knight may push himself, it's possible that he could experience a sophomore slump. His field-goal percentage for the season was an unexciting 41.5 percent, as was his offensive rating of 97 points per 100 possessions.
If he does experience a sophomore slump, the Pistons could be a little worried about Knight.
With a cast that includes David Lee, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut and Stephen Curry, the Golden State Warriors have plenty of scorers.
That collective needs a scorer who can lead the scoring, however. Curry, Barnes and Thompson aren't exactly big-time scorers. Bogut can score a bunch, but injuries are a concern.
That leaves Lee as the only scorer with the capability to lead the team. Lee has averaged 20 points per game in two of the last three seasons. After Monta Ellis was traded in March, Lee finished the season averaging 22 points per game.
Lee could come into his own as a leading scorer once again.
On the other hand, he just might struggle in a leading role. He wasn't able to get to the rim quite as much last season, and it resulted in a slight drop in his field-goal percentage. If he continues to struggle shooting inside, Lee might not do well pushing the scoring for the team.
If they can't get scoring leadership from Lee, then the Warriors could have some issues.
Many fans who see Jeremy Lin as a star in the making point to his remarkable scoring and assist numbers in his six-game string in the first part of February. Some may even mention his 18.2 points and 7.7 assists per game in 25 games as a starter.
However, that neglects a few key facts. Lin's six-game spurt occurred with Carmelo Anthony out, leaving the garden-fresh point guard without much competition for shot opportunities. In his last 15 games as a starter, Lin averaged 14.5 points and 6.3 assists while shooting 39.3 percent from the field.
Most inconvenient of all, Lin averaged 4.7 turnovers per game as a starter.
A level-headed observer would see that Lin is an decent scoring lead guard who is mechanical in his movement and turns it over a ton. Lin can go to his right well, but his left is incredibly weak, and he isn't a creative dribbler. Indeed, he has become an impressive defender despite his relatively small size.
DraftExpress.com said last year that Lin will "need to become a reliable set shooter to give himself more staying power in the NBA." He was also described as tough around the basket and as having a high basketball IQ.
What would be a horrible disappointment for the young point guard and the Houston Rockets would be if he doesn't turn out as well as they hope—or even as well as scouts think he is. He could struggle more as a shooter, unable to succeed with his vanilla shooting style against tough Western Conference teams.
Rapacious defensive teams like the division rival Memphis Grizzlies could rip him apart, forcing him to commit several turnovers in a game. Tough Western defenders at the basket like Marc Gasol, Tim Duncan and Dwight Howard could smother his ability to attack the basket.
If the Harvard grad can't measure up to the critical scouting gazes in his direction, the Rockets will be in for a rough ride.
Paul George took a good step forward in his second season in 2011-12. He went from 7.6 points, 3.7 rebounds and a steal per game as a rookie to 12.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.6 steals as a sophomore. His three-point percentage went from 29.7 percent to 38.5 percent.
Now, the Pacers are looking for him to take that next step. Frank Vogel told the Indianapolis Star that he expects George to contribute more in the offense this season. If all goes well, George could rival Danny Granger in scoring.
However, if George doesn't progress well in his third season, it won't bode well for the team. If George's shooting percentages drop significantly, then the player that Vogel is counting on would slip the balance on a team that trends toward balanced scoring.
Generally, the team has been able to make up for lapses of one player. However, if George struggles with an increased role, it could be more difficult for Granger, Roy Hibbert and David West to make up for it.
Struggles making up for lost scoring could make it hard for the Pacers to go anywhere in the postseason.
Even though the Los Angeles Clippers finished 41-25 and made the Western Conference semifinals last season, Vinny Del Negro is far from proven. After a loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in late March, Del Negro lost it, saying, "We have to get the mentality of we have to play a certain way to win right now."
A couple days later, ESPN reported that Del Negro had lost the team. Players complained that the team's strategy was too predictable and that though he was hard on supporting players, he wouldn't criticize Chris Paul or Blake Griffin.
Del Negro could have trouble with this team again this season. Paul could decide, as he appeared to have done sometimes last season, that he needs to take things into his own hands on offense.
Then, Del Negro could become upset that things aren't going the way he wants. He could grapple with Paul, with Paul going on and doing as he sees fit. The coach could make senseless switches in the lineup. Player discontent could foment again, leading to repeated questions about Del Negro's job security.
In the end, with Del Negro persisting in pushing the team in the wrong direction, the Clippers could end up worse than it should be.
The question that many fans want answered pertaining to this Los Angeles Lakers team is whether it can fit together.
The answer in the affirmative seems fairly sensible. Kobe Bryant would let Steve Nash handle the ball a little bit more than him. Nash would pass to Kobe a fair amount to satisfy his desire to score. Still, Nash would direct the offense, sending the ball to Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol when he feels he should.
Howard would be dominant in the post. Gasol could remain a strong offensive player with Nash setting him up well.
However, this might not work out the way people envision. Bryant might become upset that Nash is controlling the offense. Bryant could try to take over the offense, scoring as he chooses and funneling the ball where he wants it to go. Gasol could play lackadaisically in the post, letting Howard take many more touches than him.
With that, Howard could face an unnecessary amount of pressure in the post.
On defense, the team could become overly reliant on Bryant and Howard. Nash could resist instruction on defense, acting as an old dog who doesn't want to learn a new trick. Metta World Peace could continue to decline defensively. The defense could end up hinging on Bryant and Howard locking down in the perimeter and post, respectively.
To say that the Memphis Grizzlies have nothing to fear heading into this season is tempting. They’ve seen a key player go down for an extended period of time in each of the last two seasons (Rudy Gay in 2010-11 and Zach Randolph in 2011-12) and adapted around the losses.
Without Gay, the Grizzlies finished the 2010-11 regular season 15-8 and made it to the Western Conference semifinals.
After Randolph went down last season, the Grizzlies reshaped their offense and went 23-14 without him to jump in the middle of the Western Conference playoff picture when he returned.
Aside from their ability to overcome injuries, the Grizzlies generally manage to score just enough to support their swarming defense. The Grizzlies were 20th in scoring average last season and 13th among playoff teams. In 2010-11, the Grizzlies were 12th in scoring average and eighth among playoff teams.
The Griz were No. 13 in points per 100 possessions among playoff teams last season and No. 11 the year before. The defense-minded team was 12th in margin of victory last season and 10th the season before, beating opponents by just a little more than two points per game.
The Grizzlies have a balanced scoring attack, but two issues could hinder them. After losing O.J. Mayo to free agency, the Grizzlies will look to relatively unproven young players to replace Mayo's scoring presence off the bench.
Josh Selby looks to take on a bigger role in his second NBA season. Even after his remarkable Summer League performance, one can’t be sure how he’ll do when it counts.
Jerryd Bayless could be key for the Grizzlies off the bench. The issue with Bayless is that while he has shown flashes of brilliance, he hasn’t averaged 10 points per game in a full season. Last season, Bayless averaged 11.4 points per game and 18 per 36 minutes, but played only 31 games due to injury. In 2010-11, he averaged 9.2 points per game, and just seven per game as a reserve.
Tony Wroten could be a significant contributor in his rookie year, but his offensive game revolves around slashing to the basket.
The other issue is whether Zach Randolph will come back to full scoring form. After returning from injury, Randolph averaged 11 points per game and 15.8 per 36 minutes while shooting just 46.2 percent from the field in 24 regular-season games.
In the playoffs, Randolph returned to form after a rough Game 1 against the Los Angeles Clippers, shooting 49.2 percent from the field before a rough Game 7. If Randolph struggles and the Memphis bench doesn’t produce, then the Grizzlies will have a hard time keeping up with opponents.
If LeBron James goes down, the Miami Heat will see their championship chances go down with him. LeBron is the unequivocal leader of the team—and that doesn't just pertain to his leadership in statistical categories.
He brought the team back when its collective back was against the wall in the Eastern Conference semifinals and finals. He refocused Mario Chalmers when Chalmers started to celebrate early in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.
Indeed, the Heat could slide Chris Bosh down a position in the lineup, put Joel Anthony in at center and it would still be a competitive playoff team. However, it wouldn't be a championship team. The Heat would be missing its leading producer and the glue guy who holds the squad together.
Bosh could step up his scoring as much as he wants with LeBron out, but the Heat wouldn't have quite enough to win a title without LeBron.
Brandon Jennings had become unhappy with the small-market Milwaukee Bucks. According to ESPN, he signaled in February that he might not re-sign with the Bucks after becoming a restricted free agent in 2013, saying, "I'm doing my homework on big-market teams."
In late August, Jennings said that he'd like to stick around Milwaukee, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, saying that he'd like to sign an extension.
However, it's possible that Jennings could become unhappy again if he doesn't get an extension soon. If he gets the Bucks to trade him, it would be a huge blow to the Bucks' future.
Not only would the Bucks have to lean heavily on Monta Ellis to lead them to the playoffs, but they'd have a hard time keeping Ellis after the season as well. Ellis has a player option for 2013-14, but may not take it up if he doesn't think he'll have sufficient help.
If Jennings and Ellis depart, the Bucks would essentially have to start from square one.
The Minnesota Timberwolves were in the middle of the playoff race when Ricky Rubio went down with an ACL tear in March. That effectively ended their chances to make the 2012 playoffs.
The T’Wolves could make the playoffs this year, but it comes down to Rubio’s timetable for return. Currently, the Spanish up-and-comer is scheduled to return in December, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. If Rubio misses just 17 to 20 games and the T’Wolves do a half decent job in that time, then they could make the playoffs.
Any thought of them playing in the postseason would be erased with another serious Rubio injury. Kevin Love can score and rebound all he wants, but as this past spring showed, he can’t carry the team.
The backcourt isn’t good enough without Rubio. Alexey Shved could be good, but he’s a project. Brandon Roy’s a huge question mark as he makes his comeback. J.J. Barea and Luke Ridnour are pretty good, but they probably won’t do much better than they did last year with Rubio out.
The New Orleans Hornets have shaped their roster to push the scoring with a few attractive offensive players. Ryan Anderson arrives from Orlando to spread the floor as a perimeter-shooting big man. Eric Gordon was an up-and-coming scorer before going through knee problems last season. Austin Rivers is a remarkable scorer coming into the league.
If Anthony Davis can do anything other than dunk, then the Hornets could be even more remarkable on offense.
However, the team could end up not scoring if things don't go well. Gordon could have recurring knee problems or have an unsuccessful comeback. Ryan Anderson could have a bad transition to the Western Conference. Also, Austin Rivers could fail at point guard or simply start his NBA career struggling to score as effectively as expected.
Anthony Davis could very well be ineffective on offense as a rookie, considering how limited his offensive skill set was coming into the draft.
Further, if two of the top three scoring options struggle, the bench isn't deep enough to plug those holes. Greivis Vasquez, who averaged 8.9 points per game in his second season last year, couldn't take on a big scoring role. Al-Farouq Aminu is light years away from being a significant scorer. Very little has been seen of Xavier Henry that shows that he'll contribute much.
Thus, if Anderson, Gordon and Rivers can't score, then the Hornets won't have much to fall back on in terms of scoring.
Mike Woodson's playoff teams have been able to play at least fairly well early in the season. In 2009-10, the Hawks started 11-2. In 2008-09, his Atlanta squad won its first six games. In 2006-07, when Woodson brought the Hawks to the playoffs for the first time in nine years, the Hawks split its first 20 games.
That this New York Knicks team doesn't manage to get out of the gate cleanly is quite possible. The Knicks will play 11 of its first 13 games against teams that had winning records last season.
If the Knicks come out unseemly, don't score well and are inefficient, it's possible that the team could lose its first 13 games.
Woodson would have an extremely tough time bringing the team back after an 0-13 start. There's no one on the team who would rally the team. Carmelo Anthony is the opposite of a glue guy. Amare' Stoudemire isn't much of a leader. Ray Felton has spent his career mostly on bad teams. Jason Kidd's a leader, but one who leads teams his own way.
That a team manages to come back from an 0-fer start of 10 games or more is rare. Such an occurrence is even more rare for a team that isn't entirely cohesive.
The Oklahoma City Thunder is a difficult team to disrupt. If any one of the trio of James Harden, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook goes down with an injury, then the other two could step up to replace the scoring.
Oklahoma City is a team that can shoot past its defensive problems and can throttle its offense with just two of its big-time scorers instead of all three.
However, if Durant and Westbrook were injured in a single accident, then the Thunder would be struck as unable to score as a team. Harden can score as much as he wants. Daequan Cook can score a bit in short spurts. Perry Jones III can score, but it's hard to tell how good he is yet.
Losing one of its premiere scorers would be a significant, but not deafening blow. But to lose both major scorers from the starting lineup would severely damage the team's ability to be competitive.
Rebuilding takes time, patience and leadership. Young players need a veteran presence to help them through the tough early years of their development. Only one veteran out of the few on the roster stands out on this Orlando Magic team. Jameer Nelson must take on the role of leading the squad for at least two seasons.
If the 30-year-old point guard suddenly retires before the start of his ninth season—after signing a three-year deal in July—the development of the young Magic players would be affected. Inexperienced scorers such as Moe Harkless and Arron Afflalo wouldn't do well if they suddenly had to feed off Ish Smith instead of Nelson.
Sure, Hedo Turkoglu and Quentin Richardson would be able to give teammates direction. They've both been around for 12 seasons and have seen a variety of situations in their long careers.
However, their experiences wouldn't be as valuable as the guiding hand that Nelson could provide through his understanding of the organization and ability to lead the offense.
If the Magic didn't have Nelson guiding the young squad for a couple years, then it would be lost during that time.
Andre Iguodala had been the leader of the Philadelphia 76ers for six of the eight years he was there. For three seasons, he filled a leading scoring role he didn't fit. He stood as a defensive leader who stuck his man and could help out others. He also facilitated on offense.
With Iguodala gone, someone has to step up and fill that void. Jrue Holiday has done a nice job at point guard. He cut down his turnovers per 36 minutes mark from 3.2 as a rookie to 2.7 in his second year to 2.2 last season. He scored a nice 13.5 points per game. He allowed a solid 101 points per 100 possessions.
However, he wasn't very efficient on offense. He produced just 99 points per 100 possessions last season. Holiday had 4.5 assists per game, down two from a year before.
Evan Turner has been a decent shooter. He knocked down 44.6 percent from the field. However, he averaged 9.4 points per game and produced just 93 points per 100 possessions. That didn't quite balance with his stellar 99 points allowed per 100 possessions.
Nick Young could take a lead on offense. He averaged 14.2 points per game last season and 17.4 per game the year before. He produced 107 points per 100 possessions in 2010-11. Young is a very efficient ball-handler, turning it over in 8.8 percent of possessions last season and eight percent the season before.
If the three of them can't figure out their roles and decide who will lead the way in which areas, then the team could be held back. Disorder in the backcourt would lead to the team stuck losing in the first round of the playoffs.
The Phoenix Suns picked up a good point guard to replace Steve Nash when they signed Goran Dragic. Dragic is a promising lead guard who shoots effectively and moves the ball fairly efficiently. Dragic averaged 18 points and 8.4 assists per game in 28 games as a starter after Kyle Lowry went down last season.
He shot a splendid 49 percent from the field as a starter.
What would be scary for the Suns would be if Dragic doesn't make it as a starting point guard for a full season. Dragic needs to push the scoring for Luis Scola, Michael Beasley and Marcin Gortat. If he can't do it effectively, then the Suns will struggle to score.
With a failure with Dragic, the Suns could turn to Kendall Marshall to run things. This could be rough from the start. Marshall has promise, but he pushes the ball a little too hard. He'd take time to develop a feel for the players around him.
Whether the Suns make the playoffs depends on Dragic's ability to run the offense well.
The Portland Trail Blazers have a chance of bouncing back to make the playoffs this year. LaMarcus Aldridge will be great as always. Wesley Matthews and Nic Batum should provide plenty of scoring. The main question lies with Damian Lillard.
The Trail Blazers drafted Lillard to plug the hole they had at point guard last season. Lillard comes in having been a star scoring lead guard at Weber State. Lillard averaged 24 points per game while dishing out a mere four assists per game. He was also very efficient, turning it over in just 10 percent of possessions.
That NBA defenses could pose a major challenge to Lillard is very possible. Lillard could get pushed around by bigger defenders. He could be pushed into committing unforeseen turnovers.
If Lillard struggles through his rookie year, then the Trail Blazers will have to set their sights back and shoot to make the playoffs later on down the road.
The balance has shifted in the past few years as far as which player is most crucial to the success of the San Antonio Spurs. Tim Duncan had been the guy for several years. However, his production has declined in recent years.
Meanwhile, Tony Parker has stayed strong. He's averaged between 17.5 and 22 points per game in each six of the last seven seasons. The Spurs have relied on balanced scoring to become dynamic offensive team, but Parker has led the way.
If the Spurs were to lose Duncan for a few weeks, then the Spurs could fit a rebounder like DeJuan Blair in his place and spread the lost scoring around.
However, losing Parker would mean losing a steady stream of energy at the point guard spot. The Spurs would have trouble replacing his scoring. Perhaps they could cobble some together while cutting off opponents' scoring.
Nevertheless, Parker has become a bit less replaceable than Duncan.
The Sacramento Kings have had tremendous difficulties outscoring opponents despite their talents on offense. They were sixth in the league with 98.8 points per game while allowing a league-worst 104.4 points per game. In 2010-11, they averaged 99.4 points per game while allowing 104.7 per game.
In 2009-10, first-year Kings coach Paul Westphal saw his team score 100 points per game while allowing 104.4 per game.
Now, Keith Smart must determine in his first full season as Kings head coach how to get his team to play just enough defense to allow the team to outscore opponents. DeMarcus Cousins and Thomas Robinson are formidable interior defenders. Marcus Thornton gets steals, but isn't much of a defender overall.
If Smart can get the team to play some amount of defense and get some stops, then they could be competitive in the playoff hunt.
If not—and this is as serious a possibility as almost any other nightmare on this list—the Kings will continue its endless cycle of scoring a ton of points and being unable to win much.
The Toronto Raptors aren't deep in the frontcourt. A huge dropoff exists at power forward where Andrea Bargnani starts and is backed up by Amir Johnson. Bargnani missed 35 games last season, leaving Johnson to start in his place. Johnson did very poorly, averaging 7.4 points per game on 57.6 percent shooting, but committing 3.3 fouls and 1.5 turnovers per game.
The Raptors' greatest hope is surely that their best player comes back in full form, posting his steady 20 points per game. If Bargnani doesn't come back well, then the Raptors would be in trouble. Without Bargnani performing well, the Raptors may be able to get scoring from Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas.
But it wouldn't be enough to make them competitive.
The Utah Jazz rely heavily on the inside scoring duo of Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. Last season, Millsap and Jefferson combined for 35.8 of the Jazz's 99.7 points per game. Jefferson and Millsap were tops on the team in field-goal attempts per game with 17.2 and 13.5, respectively. No one else took 10 shots per game.
The Jazz do have other scorers on the team. Gordon Hayward averaged 11.8 points per game last year for Utah. Marvin Williams averaged 10.2 points per game last year and Mo Williams averaged 13.2 per game.
Still, the Jazz would be devastated if their frontcourt duo of Millsap and Jefferson suddenly and unexpectedly fell off. If these two were unable to score, the team would be hard-pressed to replace their production. Hayward is a nice scorer, but not one from whom to expect 16 points per game.
Mo Williams can pop shots automatically, but he shouldn't lead a team in scoring.
Without Jefferson and Millsap leading the way, the Jazz wouldn't be able to outscore opponents.
John Wall hasn't exactly been a success in his first two seasons. He was seventh in turnovers as a rookie with 261 and was No. 1 in that category last season with 255. His assist-to-turnover ratio last season was just 2.08.
Wall often rushes the Wizards offense, putting it in a bad position.
The Wizards invested a No. 1 pick in someone they thought would be a star point guard for the future. If he doesn't turn the corner this season, then the Wizards will need to evaluate their situation at point guard.
Having an inefficient point man won't work out in the long term. If he wants to be their guy, he'll have to shape up this year.
Otherwise, the Wizards might want to explore their options.