No matter how good teams like the Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder or Miami Heat have looked in the early stages of the 2012-13 season, no NBA team is perfect. All 30 squads in the league have flaws that opponents can exploit to take them out of their comfort zone.
The problems vary; some teams have embraced small ball too fully, some squads can't get a stop to save their lives and some teams are actually too deep, if you can believe it.
Regardless of what the specific issue is, heading into the new calendar year each team has the opportunity to take stock and make some necessary adjustments.
Without further ado, let's take a look at one area each team must change as 2013 rolls around and how it can be done.
Behind strong perimeter defense and a knack for sharing the basketball, the Atlanta Hawks have thrived after Joe Johnson's departure and jumped out to a 17-9 record.
However, the team often relies on their three point guards Jeff Teague, Devin Harris and Lou Williams to win them games, and these small ball tactics leave them vulnerable in the middle.
The team often uses Al Horford as a center, and while he has a strong offensive game and is a capable rebounder, he can struggle against the larger, more physical big men in the league. In addition, Josh Smith, one of the NBA's best finishers at the rim, has been relying far too heavily on his mediocre perimeter game.
The Hawks rank a mere 22nd in the league in rebounds per game and while they have no glaring flaws, they may have trouble winning in the postseason with such little inside presence.
It was expected to be a transition year for the Boston Celtics as they retooled around Rajon Rondo, Paul Piece and Kevin Garnett, but the early returns have not been great for the C's as they have stumbled to a 14-14 start to the 2012-13 season.
What has been most startling for the Celtics is that they have looked nothing like the elite defensive team they were over the past few seasons. Rotations are not as crisp, the perimeter defense is not as strong and opponents are finding themselves with uncontested shots at the rim.
When Kevin Garnett is on the court the team plays well, but he is 36 years old and is playing 29.5 minutes per game as is. Without him, this team is simply not strong defensively, not to mention its 30th overall ranking in rebounds per game.
The return of Avery Bradley should help them out on the perimeter, but this Celtics team has not looked their best in any aspect of the defensive game, and if they want to rise higher than a seventh or eighth seed they need to make some serious adjustments.
A promising start to the 2012-13 season has given way to a 14-14 disappointment and cost Avery Johnson his job. The stellar talent that Mikhail Prokhorov assembled in the 2012 offseason has failed to mesh and the Nets have looked downright terrible on the defensive end quite often.
Brooklyn has given up 100 points or more in seven games during the month of December while going just 3-10. The Nets are allowing teams to shoot an average of 46 percent from the field, and while they give up just 94.4 points per game, that is more a product of their slow pace of play.
The problem for the Nets is that they lack any quality defenders outside of Gerald Wallace. Kris Humphries and Reggie Evans are outstanding rebounders, but neither is a particularly good low-post defender or shot-blocking threat.
The backcourt tandem of Joe Johnson and Deron Williams can put points on the board, but neither is a hard-nosed defensive player or particularly disciplined; they are fairly easy to blow by and only average at creating turnovers.
Hopefully, with P.J. Carlesimo at the helm the Nets can find some cures for their defensive woes.
I promise this is not going to be a slideshow telling every NBA team to play better defense, but if the Charlotte Bobcats want to end their humiliating 16-game losing streak, they need to put in significantly more effort on the defensive end.
Everything looked great for the Bobcats as they came out of the gate 7-5 and seemed to be a fun, energetic team that played well together and shared the ball. Then, the wheels absolutely came off. Charlotte currently ranks dead last in the league in points given up, letting opponents pour in 105 per game.
The Bobcats' roster does not exactly have any dynamic defenders outside of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, but they have plenty of quick, athletic players who should be able to stay in front of their man.
Instead, the team is getting torched both inside and out, allowing opponents to shoot 39.2 percent from three-point range and not doing much to contest shots at the rim.
No one expects this young Charlotte team to be a postseason contender, but if it wants to win double-digit games, Mike Dunlap needs his young team to put forth much more defensive effort.
As expected, points have come at a premium for the Chicago Bulls without Derrick Rose. Rose has been rehabbing, but in the meantime the team needs to find a more consistent source of offense as Chicago waits for its superstar to return.
The team has actually moved the ball fairly well, ranking 10th in the league with 22.4 assists per game. Kirk Hinrich has not scored much, but he's been doing a respectable job passing the ball, and the play of Joakim Noah and Luol Deng has been essential to Chicago's decent 15-12 start.
Unfortunately, there have been several games where Chicago's offense simply could not get anything going at all. One would think Carlos Boozer would be using this opportunity to score like he did with Utah, but he has not put up impressive numbers, and former All-Star Rip Hamilton has struggled yet again with injuries.
This Bulls team has the defense to stay in playoff contention without Rose, but whether it comes in the form of getting more shots for Nate Robinson or making a trade, the Bulls need to find a way to score more consistently.
With Kyrie Irving having missed his share of time with injuries the Cleveland Cavaliers have had to make due with Jeremy Pargo at point guard, but even with Irving on the floor the team has struggled mightily to move the ball. The Cavs currently rank last in the league in assists at 19.2 per game.
Irving leads the team at 5.5 dimes per game, but has been asked to be a scorer primarily due to Cleveland's lack of finishers. Dion Waiters has been solid at creating off the dribble and Anderson Varejao can make plays out of the post, but this team has some serious trouble sharing the rock.
It is not necessarily a selfishness thing, but the Cavaliers' roster seriously lacks in playmakers and with such a young team, that often leads to major breakdowns offensively.
Rumor has it the Cavs could trade Anderson Varejao, and if so they would do well to land a true facilitator who can be the passing complement to Irving's scoring prowess and help them win a few more games.
Without Dirk Nowitzki's stabilizing presence offensively for much of the season Dallas has looked shaky in its entire 2012-13 campaign and has struggled to take care of the rock. The team turns the ball over 15.9 times per game, tied for 29th in the NBA.
The Mavericks have the talent to make the postseason, but several times this season they have cost themselves games by making ill-advised passes and coughing the ball up in key situations.
In a two-point double-overtime loss at Boston, Dallas turned the ball over a mind-boggling 27 times, squandering strong performances from Darren Collison and a resurgent O.J. Mayo.
Nowitzki's return should calm the Mavs down offensively somewhat as he gives them a clear first option to throw the ball to, but a team that can be turned over so easily will seriously struggle to win games at a slower playoff pace.
The team is relying on young guards to handle the ball that do not have a ton of starting experience. Rick Carlisle needs to do a better job of preaching ball security to his team.
The Denver Nuggets are one of the deepest teams in the league, but while depth is a great thing during the grueling NBA season it can also be somewhat of a curse. The Nuggets' disappointing start to the 2012-13 season has largely been due to a brutal, road-heavy schedule, but they have also dropped a number of close games.
One of the main problems for a team like this is establishing which player should be the primary creator in the fourth quarter. Andre Iguodala has hit big shots in his career and can pass, but he is not always the best decision-maker. Ty Lawson is great at getting into the lane and can hit from outside but also can turn the ball over a bit too much.
The Nuggets have plenty of talent and should be in the playoffs, meaning that they will likely be facing some huge late-game situations in the near future. George Karl is a talented offensive coach, but he needs to make a decision on who is going to be the so-called "closer" for Denver with games on the line.
There is no right choice necessarily, but the wrong choice is to leave the situation ambiguous and let the players sort it out.
The Detroit Pistons started the 2012-13 season horrendously, but they have righted the ship somewhat subsequently behind the stellar play of Greg Monroe. However, this team will not be going anywhere until it makes some decision about the future of the shooting guard position.
The Pistons are currently starting sophomore guard Brandon Knight at the point and Rodney Stuckey at the off-guard, but the 26-year-old Stuckey does not have a future with Detroit.
Stuckey does not have the size to play shooting guard full time, and his scorer's mindset makes it very difficult to trust him to run a team's offense. With a small point guard like Knight, it is essential to have a big, physical guard opposite him that can defend the league's stronger wing players.
Kyle Singler is better suited for small forward and Tayshaun Prince is not a part of the team's future, making it imperative that the Pistons make some change going forward. Whether it is giving Kim English minutes to prove himself or pulling the trigger on a trade, the team must find a solution at the position.
This criticism comes with the obvious caveat that Andrew Bogut has barely played for Golden State, but his ongoing health issues make it impossible for the Warriors to confidently plan for his return.
The Warriors, despite lacking their coveted big man, have done a commendable job rebounding the basketball, but their defense at the rim leaves something to be desired. They rank second-to-last in the league with just 3.8 blocks per game and their best post defender is rookie Festus Ezeli.
David Lee has played very sound offensive basketball, but he is a mediocre defender at best and is not much of a factor in protecting the rim. Lee needs to be more aggressive guarding the block.
If Bogut can come back and be the dominant defensive anchor he was for the Milwaukee Bucks then the Warriors may have nothing to worry about, but that is a big if.
Behind the phenomenal play of James Harden and a slew of young pieces like Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin, the Houston Rockets have exceeded all expectations and appear poised for a potential playoff run. Omer Asik has done a sensational job of protecting the rim, but this team has done a horrendous job of guarding on the perimeter.
Harden and Lin, for all of their offensive skills, are decidedly average perimeter defenders and have trouble checking the better outside scorers in the Western Conference. They can create turnovers, but they are not great at staying in front of their men.
Toney Douglas might be the best perimeter defender on the roster right now and that simply will not do for a team that could be playing the Los Angeles Clippers or Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the postseason.
The Rockets can score with anyone, but they need to play much more aggressive perimeter defense if they are going to make any noise in 2012-13.
The fact that the Indiana Pacers are an upper echelon playoff team in the Eastern Conference with their outright anemic offense is pretty remarkable. With Danny Granger sidelined due to a knee injury, the team has had serious problems putting points on the board, despite the best efforts of a resurgent David West and budding star Paul George.
The biggest problem for Indiana has been the dreadful play of All-Star center Roy Hibbert, who is averaging 8.2 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game but just 9.9 points on 40.4 percent shooting from the field. Hibbert, a center renowned for his post scoring, has had great difficulty finishing at the rim and has not been nearly aggressive enough offensively.
The team plays every facet of defense well, but it needs to find a way to score the ball more effectively and efficiently soon. If West or George were to go down with an injury this team would struggle to score 80 points per contest.
The Los Angeles Clippers are playing basketball at a level higher than any other team in the league. They are rolling offensively and defensively, utilizing every player on their roster well and appear to be headed for a division crown and an extended playoff run.
The only actual concern for L.A. going forward is not so much an area of improvement but an issue that will arise in the near future. The team will eventually get veterans Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill back from injury, and while depth is always helpful, it can potentially cause some issues.
This Clippers rotation is as close to perfect as it can be, and incorporating two more players, both of whom deserve their minutes, could ruffle some feathers and potentially mess with the tight cohesion of the squad.
Still, this is hardly a bad problem to have and Vinny Del Negro simply has to be smart in his divvying of minutes once the two former All-Stars return.
The Los Angeles Lakers have had a number of problems in 2012-13, but the most glaring one is easily their transition defense.
One of the league's older, slower teams, the Lakers are absolutely horrid at getting back in transition, making themselves very susceptible to easy run outs and fast break points.
This team has plenty of interior muscle, but it has very few explosive athletes who are willing to sprint back to prevent a layup. Even off of made shots, teams have been able to exploit the plodding Lakers.
There is not much to else to say about this one; until the Lakers can consistently hustle back defensively they will struggle against the league's youthful, explosive teams.
When the Memphis Grizzlies win, and they win most of the time, it is because they pound the ball inside, run their offense through Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, and use their size to their advantage.
However, in most of their losses they rely far too heavily on outside shooting. The team's clear forte is their interior play, but, as many teams do, the Grizzlies can often get a bit too jump shot happy and lose sight of their strengths.
Mike Conley has worked diligently on his outside shooting but is not an elite perimeter scorer. Rudy Gay can heat up from outside but is at his best when slashing to the hoop or pulling up from mid-range. Tony Allen is explosive at the rim but is a mediocre jump shooter at best.
In the 2012 playoffs the Grizzlies fell in love with outside shots after hitting plenty of them in Game 1, and that was ultimately their undoing as they fell 4-3 to the Clippers.
If they want this season to end differently, they need to stay disciplined and continue working the ball inside.
The Miami Heat have looked pretty good in their title defense, but the one major Achilles' heel in their game plan is their woeful rebounding. The Heat are currently ranked 29th in the league with a mere 38.7 rebounds per game.
The Heat spend a good deal of time playing small, and that leaves them susceptible to getting hammered on the boards by bigger, more physical teams. LeBron James is a gifted rebounder and Chris Bosh does his share, but the team lacks a true center that can dominate the glass.
In a December 18 game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Miami managed to win despite being outrebounded 53-24.
This strategy works in the regular season, but it will be harder in the playoffs when the game slows down, fast break points are harder to come by and getting an extra possession can be the difference between a win and a loss.
The Heat love to use their athleticism and push the pace, but they should be putting a little bit more emphasis on crashing the glass than they currently are.
The Milwaukee Bucks have played well to open the 2012-13 season, jumping out to a 15-12 record behind their high-octane backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis.
The two guards have been playing up to their usual standards, drilling shots from all over the court, making their share of flashy passes and knifing their way into the lane.
However, they are shooting a combined 40 percent from the floor and that inability to shoot at a high clip or make good decisions is going to doom the Bucks down the stretch as they make a push for the playoffs.
The Bucks' backcourt can shoot them into games, but it can also shoot them out, and there will be nights where the two cannot get anything going and are settling for contested shots.
At that point, Milwaukee needs to have another option offensively that they can throw the ball to. Ersan Ilyasova broke out in 2011-12, but he has not been the same player since receiving a hefty contract extension.
Somehow, the Bucks need to find a clear third and fourth option so that they can distribute shots more equally and not expect Jennings and Ellis to shoulder the load every single night.
The Minnesota Timberwolves' horrendous luck with injuries has hurt them in 2012-13, but their terrible three-point shooting has also done them in at times too. The Timberwolves rank dead last in the league with 29.9 percent shooting from deep, making just 5.9 of 19.7 attempts per game.
With the attention defenses pay to Kevin Love and his passing ability, this team should be knocking down plenty of open looks from three-point range, but their shooters are failing to convert and it is hurting the team's offense.
Without the threat of the three ball teams are packing the paint, focusing in on Love, who is shooting a career worst 35.5 percent from the field, and Nikola Pekovic, making life difficult for them around the basket.
The fact that the team is missing normally reliable outside shooters like Brandon Roy and Chase Budinger hurts, but the reality is that no NBA team should be shooting below 30 percent from three-point territory, and until the Wolves can find their shooting touch their offense will continue to be stagnant quite often.
The New Orleans Hornets have looked pretty poor thus far in the 2012-13 campaign, but the reality is it is impossible to judge a team when its best and second-best players have yet to actually set foot on the court together.
Lingering knee issues have kept Eric Gordon from playing one minute this season and that has seriously hurt the Hornets offense, which ranks 29th in the league in points per game at 91.2. Gordon's ability to create his own shot off the dribble, hit shots from three-point range and bully his way to the basket makes him absolutely invaluable offensively.
Meanwhile, the Hornets have not had their prized first overall draft pick Anthony Davis available for much of the season. When he has been on the court he has provided New Orleans with rebounding and a strong interior presence, essential for a team that ranks 25th in rebounds at 40.2 per game.
Until the Hornets get both of their stars on the court it is difficult for the organization to truly assess where they are.
The New York Knicks have been moving the ball brilliantly in the early part of the 2012-13 season, but their offense is still a little too reliant on the three-point shot.
The Knicks have players in Jason Kidd, Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith that can light it up from beyond the arc, but the problem with living by the three is that defenses will really key in on contesting jumpers and not giving them a clean look at the rim.
Tyson Chandler is a dynamic pick-and-roll finisher, and the team is often at its best when he's getting several point-blank looks at the rim. Amar'e Stoudemire spent the offseason honing his post game and deserves his share of looks close to the basket as well.
Even Anthony has a renowned high-post game that he can use to punish smaller forwards trying to guard him.
The three-point shot should be a by-product of working the ball inside and forcing a defense to collapse. It should not be the primary option for putting points on the board.
Despite OKC trading for Kendrick Perkins at the 2011 trade deadline, it has become clear that Perkins is not the answer at center for the Thunder. Though he is a dominant low-post defender, he lacks the offensive game and athleticism possessed by his Thunder teammates.
Often, he looks out of place on the court and has trouble keeping up with the likes of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. In addition, this team could use another scoring option since James Harden was dealt to Houston, but Perkins lacks any semblance of a face-up game and cannot score in the post, making him more of an offensive liability than an asset.
Perkins is owed $9.7 million in 2013-14, and the Thunder, who will need to re-sign Kevin Martin as a free agent, should look to rid themselves of Perkins' contract to free up cap flexibility and possibly acquire a big man who better fits their style of play.
One possibility is making a play for Anderson Varejao of the Cleveland Cavaliers, but the reality is that they simply need to move Perkins, regardless of the cost.
The Orlando Magic were not expected to succeed in their first season without Dwight Howard, but they have rode their depth to a respectable 12-16 start to the post-Howard era.
They do a good job of crashing the glass and moving the ball, but one area they struggle with is forcing turnovers.
The Magic lack a dominant shot-blocker, with only Nikola Vucevic being a reliable option to challenge people at the rim. Glen Davis is a decent post defender, but he is not explosive enough to truly protect the basket effectively.
The real problem is that they fail to read passing lanes and get out on the break. They have plenty of guards with active hands and a roster that would really thrive playing more in transition, but they cannot come up with the steals necessary to get out and run more..
The Magic are a few years away from a playoff push, but they would help themselves greatly by working more to force turnovers and take opponents out of their offensive rhythm.
The Philadelphia 76ers' blockbuster acquisition of Andrew Bynum has blown up in their face as the All-Star center has yet to log a minute of playing time. The team has struggled as a result, playing tight defense but starting the 2012-13 season with a 14-15 record.
The Sixers have been using Spencer Hawes and Kwame Brown as stopgaps at center, but the reality is playing with mediocre big men is not going to help this team win games in an Eastern Conference where many teams are going small.
The Sixers have a number of young, explosive athletes like Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner that can contribute to the game in multiple ways, and they need to embrace the idea of using their youth to push the pace, trap on defense and attack off the dribble.
The 76ers' season can still be saved, but until Bynum suits up they should not be trying to replace him with plodding big men. Instead, they should adopt an offensive and defensive strategy that allows them to thrive in spite of his absence.
The Phoenix Suns have never been a strong defensive team, and their current incarnation is no exception.
Their inability to get stops both in the halfcourt and transition has been their undoing several times this season, including in a home game against New York where they squandered a brilliant performance by Jared Dudley because they could not lock down J.R. Smith in the fourth quarter.
With the exception of Dudley, who is far from an elite athlete, the Suns lack any truly defensive-minded players. They are yet another "seven-seconds-or-less" Suns team that fires on their first good look at the basket.
The problem though, is that even though Goran Dragic has done a nice job at the point, this team is not nearly good enough offensively to play this kind of lackadaisical defense. To turn their season around, Alvin Gentry needs to do preach defense as much as he preaches offense.
The Portland Trail Blazers are actually playing fairly well, standing at 14-13 and in the hunt for a seventh or eighth seed. What has hurt them this season is that they have had very little consistency from night to night.
What separates the decent teams from the elite teams is their ability to play well night-in and night-out, putting in solid effort and giving themselves opportunities to win every game. However, Portland will look great one night, running the floor and making plays at the rim, and the next night will be incapable of taking care of business on the defensive end.
Still, for a young team this is not particularly surprising, and while Damian Lillard has been nothing short of sensational he is still a rookie starting point guard.
However, with LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum putting up great numbers this Blazers team has the opportunity to make some noise if it can rally together under new coach Terry Stotts.
You can't build a franchise around a player with the kind of immaturity issues DeMarcus Cousins has. Either the team needs to deal him or he needs to change his attitude, because his questionable decision making and inability to sacrifice for his team has created a nightmare situation for Sacramento.
The Kings have other problems; they don't move the ball enough, they lack a true point guard and they have lots of positional overlap, but the issue with Cousins, a former fifth overall selection by the team, takes precedent over all else.
He is a unique talent, an athletic big man with great hands that can score, block shots and rebound, but he has become a distraction and a nuisance for the Kings. At this point, it might be beneficial for them to start fresh and part ways with the former Kentucky superstar.
Yet again, the San Antonio Spurs are quietly going about their business, winning games and looking like every bit the dominant team they have been for ages. One area of concern going forward though, is the production from their frontcourt outside of the resurgent Tim Duncan.
DeJuan Blair is averaging just 5.7 points and 4.4 rebounds on 46.6 percent shooting, while Boris Diaw is posting six points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists per contest.
The league's better defensive teams will key in on stopping Duncan, and the Spurs would benefit greatly from having another big man that could make them pay offensively.
Blair is a nice hustle player that can finish around the rim, but Diaw, a talented stretch-4 who can make plays for his teammates and shoot from outside, has not looked particularly good and is still struggling with conditioning issues.
Tiago Splitter is improving, but if this team wants another shot at a championship it may want to find some more consistent frontcourt offensive production.
When the Toronto Raptors made a trade for versatile but disgruntled Houston Rockets point guard Kyle Lowry, fans expected the team would immediately look to deal incumbent starter Jose Calderon.
Calderon is a talented passer, but an inconsistent scorer and a poor defender, making him a questionable fit for this young Raptors team that is filled with athletes and should be looking to get out and run.
However, Calderon remains on the roster despite many teams needing a quality point guard that can run the pick-and-roll and create offense for his teammates. Toronto has plenty of problems, particularly in the frontcourt, and could certainly use immediate help.
Lowry is a better fit as the Raptors' lead guard going forward, but it is difficult to gain confidence and familiarity with the team when your minutes are constantly being jerked around. The two are both fairly small in stature and cannot play together on the court.
2012-13 may be a wash for the Raptors, but they still need to remedy this point guard situation.
The Utah Jazz, since dealing Deron Williams, have focused on playing aggressive, old-school interior basketball. They pound the ball inside to Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors, letting them work on their men, and crash the glass looking to earn themselves some extra possessions.
However, this has become a point guard league and while talented big men will win a team a lot of games the Jazz's point guard situation, made all the more cloudy by Mo Williams' bad thumb injury, will likely cost them plenty of contests.
With Williams sidelined for the foreseeable future, the Jazz will rely on Jamaal Tinsley as their primary facilitator, and while he is a talented passer, he has a ton of mileage and is not the consistent producer he once was. He is also a fairly unreliable shooter, and that will enable teams to pack the paint against Utah.
The Jazz could simply wait out Williams' injury, but it might pay dividends for them to move one of their big men for a top-shelf point guard.
John Wall's knee injury was expected to hurt Washington's offense, but they have looked more horrendous than anyone expected early in the 2012-13 season. Their inability to score, get high percentage looks and move the ball have all been huge reasons they own the league's worst record.
Currently, their offense consists of Jordan Crawford jacking up whatever shot he pleases and the rest of the team trying desperately to rebound it. Bradley Beal has had some solid moments as a rookie, but he is prone to inconsistency and relying on him to carry the offense is just unfair.
The Wizards did a good job of retooling and getting rid of their knucklehead contingent over the past few seasons, but they still make poor decisions quite often, and without their star guard they struggle to score.
Wall's return should help somewhat, but this team needs a complete offensive overhaul if it is going to salvage this season in any way.