One Weakness Every NBA Team Must Address Before Being a True Contender
Every NBA team has a weakness. Some have a lot of them.
We're going to explore the weaknesses that every team needs to address to compete for a championship.
Some, like the Bobcats, Wizards and Hornets, need more than just an on-court tweak. For these teams to contend, they'll have to shake up the roster and build through the NBA draft or free agency.
Other teams, like the Knicks, Nets and Grizzlies, require less drastic measures to improve their chances at contending.
Then there are teams like the Clippers, Thunder, Heat and Spurs—well, you already know they're contenders. But they do have weaknesses that could keep them from hoisting the championship trophy in June.
Stats updated through January 4.
New York Knicks: Rebounding
New York ranks in the bottom five in the league in rebounding, which is most likely a result of playing Carmelo Anthony at power forward.
It's a sacrifice the Knicks have been willing to take, and while it's paid off so far, a matchup with the wrong team, say the Bulls, in a seven-game playoff series could be trouble.
With a lineup of Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler, Anthony goes back to small forward and Stoudemire moves to power forward.
However, none of this makes any difference under the boards at the moment. As long as Stoudemire's explosiveness is not fully back and Rasheed Wallace remains on the shelf, the Knicks are vulnerable to giving up second-chance opportunities.
They can get away with it during an 82-game season, but they'll need to address the issue for the playoffs.
Minnesota Timberwolves: No Wing Scorer
Minnesota has its future point guard in Ricky Rubio and its All-Star power forward in Kevin Love, but it doesn't have a wing who can create his own offense.
It doesn't appear that Derrick Williams is ready to play that role. Alexey Shved has been a pleasant surprise, but he's more of a playmaker than play-finisher.
With Nikola Pekovic looking like the real deal and long-term answers at the point guard and power forward, Minnesota could use a scorer to produce offense from the wing.
Philadelphia 76ers: Offensive Efficiency
Philadelphia needs Andrew Bynum because this team struggles to consistently execute offensively. It ranks in the bottom third of the league in offensive efficiency, true shooting percentage and field-goal efficiency.
Jrue Holiday has been fantastic, but he's being relied upon too heavily to generate the offense. Evan Turner is much improved as well, but he's not a realistic No. 2 scoring option for a team looking to contend.
This team only averages 93.1 points per game, which lands it in the bottom five in the NBA. It's tough to judge whether Bynum alone could catapult them up the rankings, but better consistency and execution will be needed with or without him in the lineup.
Boston Celtics: Frontcourt Athleticism
The Celtics are the worst rebounding team in the NBA because of their inability to play above the rim.
They're last in the league in offensive rebounding, which means they rarely get second-chance opportunities and go one-and-out on most of their possessions.That's because they lack that above-the-rim athleticism inside, with Kevin Garnett losing lift and Jared Sullinger and Brandon Bass never having much to begin with.
Boston needs an injection of athleticism up front to give its frontcourt more punch.
Relying on Paul Pierce to make difficult perimeter shots is not a formula for winning a championship. Better athletes in the frontcourt will result in easier baskets at the rim and more effective slashing from the wing.
Portland Trail Blazers: No Go-to Scorer
Portland found its point guard of the future in rookie Damian Lillard, but still need a scorer alongside him who can get his own points. It just makes Brandon Roy's career-threatening injuries and subsequent departure from the Trail Blazers even more disappointing, knowing how perfect he'd fit alongside Lillard.
Nicolas Batum is an extremely effective off-ball scorer, but he's not the answer when Portland is down one with the ball and a few seconds remaining.
LaMarcus Aldridge is a nice secondary scorer, as Portland hasn't been able to get over the hump with him as the top option.
The Blazers have top-notch complementary scorers, but are missing that guy you want featured in the offense.
Brooklyn Nets: Depth
Brooklyn's bench is not exactly lethal.
If this team is looking to contend for a championship, it will need to do better than Andray Blatche as its key reserve.
MarShon Brooks seemed like a logical answer, but he's struggled to stay healthy and contribute reliable offensive minutes. That the Nets are playing Jerry Stackhouse and Reggie Evans substantial minutes shows just how shallow this bench really is.
Brooklyn is too reliant on its Big Three to generate offense and will need more firepower from the bench to contend with the league's better teams.
Miami Heat: Inside Presence
The Miami Heat don't have a legitimate NBA-caliber center on the roster.
Defensively, Chris Bosh bares no resemblance to a rim protector, and Joel Anthony isn't overly intimidating.
Offensively, most of the points Miami scores in the paint come off penetration from LeBron James or Dwyane Wade. Rarely does it get the opportunity to dump the ball into a big man for an easy finish at the rim.
A true center would make life easier for the Heat on both sides of the ball. With Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka playing inspired offensive basketball, this is an issue Miami needs to address before the NBA Finals in June.
Indiana Pacers: Consistency
With Danny Granger sidelined, and even with him healthy, the Pacers have too many streaky performers.
Roy Hibbert has been a mystery. Normally guys on the upswing don't prematurely stop on the way up and take the elevator back down.
Paul George is a nice young talent, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. He's still years away from being a consistent secondary scorer for a team that's trying to contend for a championship.
With the way the roster is constructed, the Pacers need both of these guys to become constants in the box scores to have a shot at competing in the playoffs.
Utah Jazz: Backcourt Firepower
Utah's backcourt is beyond underwhelming, with Mo Williams, Jamal Tinsley, Randy Foye and Alec Burks.
Without the ability to score or defend the perimeter at high levels, this group hurts the Jazz on both sides of the ball.
Utah is loaded up front. It has so many talented big men that there aren't enough minutes for them all. Before the Jazz even think about making a move in the playoffs, they'll have to add firepower to their backcourt.
The Jazz have assets they don't want to use in a trade, with the promising Enes Kanter stuck behind Al Jefferson, Paul Milsap and Derrick Favors in the frontcourt. But they might have to sacrifice one of them to find an established offensive-minded guard to guide them to the next level.
San Antonio Spurs: Athleticism
The Spurs don't have the athletes of some of the other teams contending for a championship.
A team like the Thunder will always give the Spurs trouble, especially in a seven-games series when they'd have to keep up with OKC's explosive fresh legs.
This is important enough to Spurs coach Gregg Popovich that he was willing to sacrifice early games by resting his stars.
The Spurs will need to rely on the athleticism of Kawhi Leonard and Manu Ginobili to keep up with the high fliers around the league.
Memphis Grizzlies: Three-Point Shooting
The Grizzlies make the second-lowest number of three-pointers in the NBA at only 5.1 per game.
They don't have many players, particularly in the frontcourt, who can stretch the floor playing off the ball. Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay do most of their work 20 feet or closer to the basket, and typically need to use the dribble before taking a shot.
Without Wayne Ellington on the floor, the opposing defense can afford to collapse in the paint and make life difficult for Gay as a scorer. Knocking down spot-up three-pointers or adding long-range specialists would give the Grizzlies a new avenue for points and help create better spacing for teammates.
Detroit Pistons: Scoring
Detroit's offensive firepower couldn't put a hole through a pillow.
The Pistons need to add substantial offensive talent and give up on guys like Tayshaun Prince, Charlie Villanueva and Rodney Stuckey. This team isn't going anywhere with these three in the core.
Brandon Knight and Andre Drummond are nice building blocks, but neither is a guy you build around. Rather, they are guys you build with.
Atlanta Hawks: Inability to Create Easy Scoring Opportunities
The Hawks don't have that player who can get you an easy bucket in the half court.
Lou Williams can pose as that go-to guy off the bench, but he's a 42 percent shooter and a 6'1'' guard. Josh Smith continues to contribute across the board, but he's an off-ball scorer, not a go-to one. And as good as Al Horford is, he needs someone to feed him the ball before he puts in the hole.
They made the right move by dealing Joe Johnson, as his production wasn't worth the value of his contract. But they do need to replace his lost scoring, just with a more efficient delivery.
Orlando Magic: No Go-to Scorer
Orlando doesn't have a long-term fixture at any position. It didn't acquire any franchise-altering talent over the summer, which seems inexcusable when you consider they sold an asset as valuable as Dwight Howard.
Orlando has a few players who could win games in the NBA, but not a playoff series. That's a dangerous zone to be in—the back of the lottery zone.
Like many of the other teams, Orlando doesn't have just one weakness to fix to be a contender. But finding a guy who can consistently put points on the board is a start.
Denver Nuggets: No Primary Scoring Option
The Nuggets don't have a go-to guy who can get high percentage looks down the stretch of a close game.
Danilo Gallinari has played that role, but most of his shots come from 20 feet or farther. Andrew Iguodala isn't a go-to guy, rather a complementary wing who can spot up or slash off the ball.
The Nuggets have a plethora of solid No. 3 scoring options, but none is a qualified primary scorer. Without one, it becomes tough to sustain offensive consistency.
Chicago Bulls: Second Scoring Option
With or without Derrick Rose, you have to wonder whether Luol Deng is a championship-caliber No. 2 scoring option.
With Deng, the Bulls haven't been able to get over the hump in the past,. So they need that secondary scorer who will allow Rose to concentrate on playmaking.
The Bulls win games primarily with defense, but that becomes difficult when facing teams like Miami and Oklahoma City, who have players capable of navigating through any maze thrown at them.
Chicago needs a more potent secondary scorer to take the pressure off Rose and put it on the opposing defense.
Dallas Mavericks: Team Defense
Dallas ranks 25th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, just in front of bottom-of-the-barrel teams like Phoenix, Cleveland, Sacramento, New Orleans and Charlotte.
The Mavericks just doesn't have many ball-stoppers on the perimeter or rim protectors inside.
Though O.J. Mayo has been solid offensively and Dirk Nowitzki has returned, this team isn't deadly enough offensively to make up for the 103.3 points per game they allow, the third most of any team in the league.
The Mavs needs better athletes and stronger defenders to make this a more two-way roster.
Milwaukee Bucks: Inside Scoring
The Bucks don't have anyone in its frontcourt capable of posting up and creating scoring opportunities inside.
Most of Larry Sanders' offensive production comes as the result of a tip-in or finish above the rim. With Ersan Ilyasova and Mike Dunleavy both stretch-forwards, the Bucks are just too one-dimensional offensively.
Milwaukee should look to add someone who can generate his own offense inside, which should help them improve upon their 23rd-ranked field-goal efficiency rating.
With Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis now taking most of the shots, easier scoring opportunities will always be welcome.
Phoenix Suns: No Long-Term Building Blocks
This offseason, Phoenix drafted Kendall Marshall and signed Michael Beasley. Marshall hasn't got any burn and looked lost in preseason, while Beasley has been atrocious.
Goran Dragic has played well, but other than that you have Marcin Gortat and Luis Scola—both nice players, but both expendable.
This team doesn't have any long-term building blocks it could use to help construct a roster than can contend.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Turnovers
Oklahoma City coughs up the second-most turnovers of any team in the NBA. Obviously, it doesn't seem to hurt its chances of winning. But in a seven-game series, every possession counts.
Russell Westbrook will have to take care of the basketball as if it's his own child. Channeling his elite athleticism and maintaining control will give Oklahoma City its best shot at maximizing its offensive potential and dethroning Miami.
Sacramento Kings: Roster Balance
The Kings have brought in several shoot-first point guards over the past few years, including Aaron Brooks, Isaiah Thomas and Jimmer Fredette. We're still not sure what position Tyreke Evans plays, or if Thomas Robinson has a future.
All we know is that DeMarcus Cousins is not qualified to lead this team, even if his production suggests he should.
The Kings have no balance in any dimension of the game. There's an uneven ratio of young guys to veterans, scorers to role players and point guards to shooting guards. This roster needs a makeover to build around DeMarcus Cousins.
New Orleans Hornets: Secondary Scoring
Assuming Eric Gordon is in the picture, someone else has to step up to help form a potent one-two punch for the Hornets.
Ryan Anderson is more a third scoring option because of his inability to create offense off the dribble, and Anthony Davis is more of an off-ball scorer. Austin Rivers has been a major disappoint thus far, while Lance Thomas, Al-Farouq Aminu and Robin Lopez are simply mid-level reserves.
The Hornets need a secondary scorer to pair with Gordon to make this team more of a threat offensively.
Better perimeter defenders couldn't hurt either.
Los Angeles Lakers: Offensive Balance
The Lakers just can't find the right way to play to everyone's strengths.
Pau Gasol has been a complete non-factor offensively. He didn't just suddenly become awful. He's lost in the offense, and the Lakers can't find him.
Kobe Bryant leads the NBA in field goals attempted, taking 21.9 shots per game. It's tough to generate much offensive balance that way.
With a first-class point guard, a premier scorer and the most dominant inside presence in the game, the Lakers have a championship-caliber roster.
The puzzle pieces are there. The Lakers just need to put them together.
Los Angeles Clippers: Free Throw Shooting
The Clippers have a championship-worthy roster with a top-five player in the game in Chris Paul. But the 71.3 percent they shoot from the foul line is going to haunt them one of these days.
With Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan generating all sorts of attention inside, this team gets to the line at a high rate, but doesn't do a good enough job of taking advantage.
They miss 7.2 free throws a game. That's a lot of free points to be giving up on a nightly basis.
This team is stout defensively and deadly offensively. As long as they don't shoot themselves in the foot, the Clippers have a real shot at winning it all this year.
Houston Rockets: Interior Scoring
Most of Houston's offense comes off the dribble, either in transition or off half-court penetration. Rarely do the Rockets get points by feeding the post.
If you stop Houston's guards, you stop Houston. It needs to find a big man who can pose a threat to opposing interior defenses as a scorer down low. It will give the team better floor balance and not force the Rockets to play 100 miles per hour.
This team is still a player away from entering the contender conversation. A scoring big man should be the target moving forward.
Charlotte Bobcats: No Franchise Player to Build Around
Kemba Walker looks great this year, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will be a long-term piece down the road. But neither is the franchise player every team needs to build around.
The next two drafts will be crucial for Charlotte, which must find the new face of its franchise. Without much star power in the 2013 draft, the 2014 draft will be the event to target for Michael Jordan.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Frontcourt Firepower
The Cavs have plenty of firepower to build with in the backcourt, but that frontcourt is awfully dull.
Cleveland doesn't get much scoring production from either forward position, which will be something it likely will address through the draft or free agency.
Anderson Varejao has been incredible when healthy, but he's still not a guy you give the ball to for a basket. Rather, he's someone who earns his points from hustle, instincts and effort.
Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller don't have the upside to anchor an interior offense.
A skilled wing or power forward would take this team to the next level.
Washington Wizards: Go-to Scoring Wing
Moving forward, the Wizards need to pair John Wall with a go-to guy on the wing.
When healthy, Wall is relied upon to provide every possible dimension of offense. He needs someone alongside him who can generate points without the need of an assist.
You can bet Washington's scouting department has its eyes on UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad, who can put points on the board from the wing and could be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.
Toronto Raptors: Interior Presence
Andrea Bargnani only gets labeled a center because of his 7'0'' height. He's more of a small forward on both sides of the ball. Neither him nor Jonas Valanciunas intimidates much inside, and Toronto can't rely on Amir Johnson or Ed Davis for consistent production.
The Raptors are missing an interior presence to help get them easy baskets on offense and protect the rim on defense.
Golden State Warriors: Team Defense
You can attribute Golden State's hot start to its balanced offensive attack, but the defense still has kinks that need to be worked out.
Without Andrew Bogut, the Warriors lack interior intimidation. David Lee is a liability defending the post, Festus Ezeli is just a rookie and Andris Biedrins is Andris Biedrins. Only three teams block fewer shots a game than Golden State.
The Warriors also don't have anyone who can lock down an opposing team's top scorer.
Offensively, they can outscore any team on any given night, but it's the defense that needs finetuning to propel them onto the next tier of the pyramid.
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