NBA Power Rankings: Analyzing Each Team's Greatest Weakness at All-Star Break
As we head into the NBA All-Star Break, every team has something that could hold it back in the future. This applies to both playoff and lottery teams, and these voids need to be filled sooner rather than later.
Some of the biggest weaknesses are on teams that, at least on paper, look primed for a long and deep playoff run. These squads will definitely make the playoffs, but how far they get depends on how much they can compensate for glaring weaknesses.
The fact of the matter is that no matter how great an NBA team may be, its players are only human. Weaknesses are going to exist no matter how much a front office or coach tries to weed them out.
An even sadder truth is that some weaknesses are greater than others, and fans of every team should know what plagues their favorite squad so as not to be newly or continually disappointed in the future.
*- Rankings are done based off of winning percentage, in descending order. Ranking accurate as of Wednesday, February 13, 12:49 p.m. EST
1. San Antonio Spurs- Lack of Frontcourt Depth
You'd think that for the best team in the league, the Spurs would not have many glaring weaknesses. In reality, the team's frontcourt could use a bit of a tune-up, as San Antonio ranks just 25th in rebounding.
The team's issues can be attributed to the lack of a solid center. DeJuan Blair is undersized and has essentially been phased out of the rotation, and Tiago Splitter is still learning how to be a reliable presence at the 5.
It also does not help that team star and leader Tim Duncan isn't getting any younger at age 36. If the rumors are true and GM R.C. Buford is pursuing a deal for Atlanta Hawks star Josh Smith (h/t Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports), then this weakness definitely is not as obvious.
Until then, however, the Spurs' holes on defense are not ones that can be ignored.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder- No Reliable Center
The Thunder are in a definite position to make the NBA Finals yet again this season, and chances are that they would wipe the floor with any Eastern Conference opponent. However, if they were to face a team with a great presence at center, they would instantly be at a disadvantage.
This is because OKC has the slow-footed Kendrick Perkins manning the 5. The 10-year veteran can work the low post well and has solid size at 6'10", 270 pounds, but that's about it. He's only averaging 4.6 points and 5.9 rebounds this season, and faster centers like Joakim Noah and Tyson Chandler will take him to school in the paint.
Fortunately, the Thunder have a solid interior defender in Serge Ibaka, who makes up for what Perkins lacks. If he can stay consistent for the rest of the regular season and also the playoffs, then the Thunder have a strong chance of getting over this glaring weakness.
If not, it's going to be another disappointing postseason for fans at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
3. Miami Heat- Lack of Interior Defense
The defending champion Miami Heat are going to be a great team as long as their Big Three are on the court, but the fact that center Chris Bosh plays more like a scoring power forward instead of a pure defensive 5 hurts the team badly. Miami ranks dead last in rebounding, and it doesn't look like any deals are going to be made to bring in help in the paint.
Simply put, head coach Erik Spoelstra needs to find the right defensive formula before the playoffs start. The Heat struggle against teams with strong centers, and plenty of those await among the Eastern Conference squads that will make it to the next level.
Instead of trying to overwhelm the opposition with offense, smothering defense that stinks of a sense of urgency must be employed. Only then will LeBron James be able to truly walk among the NBA legends instead of just being a great player who took home one ring.
4. Los Angeles Clippers- Consistency at Center
DeAndre Jordan is a fine low post center who has shown great dunking abilities in Lob City, but has still peaked in terms of offense. He has only posted 6.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per contest for his career, and his free-throw shooting is abysmal.
It doesn't help Los Angeles that Lamar Odom is no longer the second-unit threat he was with the Los Angeles Lakers a couple of years ago, and defense has to be the name of the game for this run-and-gun team.
That isn't to say that the Clippers are absolutely sunk. With all of the key players healthy, they can go far in the playoffs and surely get past some of their shortcomings. Just the same, it's better to be safe than sorry.
Team management needs to troll the trade market and see just which top centers are available, and not be afraid to make a deal if the price is right.
5. New York Knicks- No Perimeter Defense
As great as the Knicks have looked this season, their greatest weakness has become obvious. When it comes to the pick-and-roll, their defense might as well be Swiss cheese.
This is because apart from Iman Shumpert, New York does not have much in terms of on-ball defense. The team ranks ninth in points allowed, but just 24th in rebounding. Nothing against Shumpert, but he is not going to be a force both on the perimeter and in the paint, especially on defense.
Thus, GM Glen Grunwald needs to find a player who will both come cheap and provide excellent defense. New York fans have high expectations in the playoffs this year, and another early exit due to lack of defense could be enough for said fans to start rioting outside Madison Square Garden this season.
6. Memphis Grizzlies- No Go-to Scorer
Now that Rudy Gay has been traded to the Toronto Raptors, Memphis is without a go-to guy who can make key shots and put up good scoring numbers night after night. This isn't a must-fix problem, particularly since head coach Lionel Hollins is all about defense, but it's still going to hurt the Grizzlies come playoff time.
The fact is that the ultra-competitive Western Conference is full of teams that like to run, and Memphis just isn't that type of team right now. Their balanced attack will flow well through Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, but it can only take them so far. If the fans think that this team can make it past the first or second round, they'll be in for a rude awakening come the postseason.
7. Denver Nuggets- A Stubborn Head Coach
The Denver Nuggets have all of the necessary tools to be a favorite in the playoffs this year. Unfortunately, head coach George Karl insists on starting Kosta Koufos at center instead of the multi-talented JaVale McGee.
Koufos is posting eight points and 6.6 rebounds in 22.9 minutes per game this season and while he is good at what he does, starting McGee at the 5 could turn Denver into a powerhouse.
The former Nevada seven-footer is averaging 9.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and two blocks over 18.6 minutes, but take a look at his per-36 numbers. In that situation, he's averaging 19.1 points, 9.5 rebounds and an incredible 3.9 blocks. Am I the only one who thinks that Karl is crazy for letting him come off the bench?
Unfortunately, that decision lies with Karl and nobody else. So long as he is manning the sidelines in the Mile High City, Denver fans should expect to be frustrated with the team's defense.
8. Indiana Pacers- Youth
The Indiana Pacers are a pure defensive squad and incredibly fun to watch. Paul George is as dynamic a player as they come, and George Hill and Roy Hibbert are unique in their own ways. Once Danny Granger is back in the lineup, the team should have the scoring jolt it needs to go on a late season run.
However, do not expect the Pacers to get past the first round of the playoffs. As good as the team is defensively, there is no true veteran leader on offense, at least not one with tons of playoff experience. The team's youth will come back to bite it, as David West is the only current player on the roster over the age of 30.
Some late fireworks could carry them into the Conference Finals, but fans should not expect that. Indiana is still a young team with lots to learn, and that will become evident in the playoffs.
9. Chicago Bulls- No Reliable 2-Guard
Assuming Derrick Rose is able to come back this season, the Bulls are still going to have a hard time competing without a reliable go-to guy for him, particularly at the 2. Rip Hamilton is injured way too often, and both Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli are more shooters than they are scorers.
That isn't to say that the team is sunk without help at the position, but it's definitely going to hurt them in the long run, especially since Rose is sure to be just a little bit rusty upon his return.
10. Brooklyn Nets- Lack of Depth at Power Forward
Reggie Evans has done a decent job as a rebounding power forward for the Nets, but his offensive game is nonexistent. The same can be said for Andray Blatche who, despite a great deal of overall talent, is not a lock to get significant minutes.
I won't even get into how disappointing Kris Humphries has been this season.
The fact of the matter is that the Nets need to give Brook Lopez some help on both sides of the floor, but their current corps of power forwards is only going to be able to do so much besides help out in rebounding. Seeing as how the team ranks 21st in points scored, the problem is clear.
Whether it's via a trade or free agency, GM Billy King needs to find a player who can be a good fit in coach P.J. Carlesimo's system and help Brooklyn now as opposed to over the next couple of years.
11. Golden State Warriors- No Perimeter Defense
Like most teams that play the run-and-gun game, Golden State's perimeter defense is weak. David Lee and Andrew Bogut provide fine interior D, but defending the pick-and-roll is another story.
It also does not help that Golden State's best players are scorers whose other skills are just an added bonus. If GM Bob Myers can bring in a pure defender via a trade, free agency or the draft, then the team's position in the tough Western Conference can and will skyrocket.
12. Atlanta Hawks- No Shooting Guard Reliability
With Joe Johnson gone, the Hawks have been incredibly lacking at the 2. Rookie John Jenkins isn't ready to be a part of the regular rotation yet, and Devin Harris is just plain bad.
Josh Smith and Al Horford provide good defense, but even Smith's future with the team is uncertain. Thus, just so that the Hawks can compete both this season and in the future, GM Danny Ferry needs to find reliable help at shooting guard.
Defense is all well and good, but the team with more points on the board is still the one that wins the game. Without scoring help, Atlanta has zero shot at being that team.
13. Utah Jazz- No Depth at Guard
Since Mo Williams injured his thumb, the Jazz have had terrible struggles at both guard positions. Jamaal Tinsley is anything but reliable at the point, and both Randy Foye and Gordon Hayward are more shooters than they are solid scorers needed at shooting guard. Alec Burks has potential, but still has a lot of developing left to do.
Thus, GM Ted Lindsey either needs to make a trade for a guard or take one in the draft with one of Utah's two picks. The team can ride defense as long as it can, but the sad truth is that no team can survive without solid scoring, which the Jazz clearly lack in the backcourt.
14. Houston Rockets- Lack of Linsanity
In a run-and-gun offense, the point guard is king. Jeremy Lin was just that for the New York Knicks last year, absolutely thriving in "Linsanity" under then-head coach Mike D'Antoni.
Once Lin signed with Houston in July, there was no reason to believe that he wouldn't be great in the fast-paced game of head coach Kevin McHale. It is now February, and Linsanity has only been sporadic.
Lin is averaging just 12.6 points and 6.1 assists per game this season, and has struggled to be the offensive presence the Rockets need him to be in McHale's system. Be it an inability to mesh with James Harden or reality setting in, one thing is clear. Linsanity was a fad, and the Rockets need to figure out how to compensate for that.
15. Boston Celtics- No Reliable Youth
The Celtics have looked great in their eight games since losing the dynamic Rajon Rondo to a torn ACL, but the elephant in the room still exists. The team's two best players, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, are 35 and 36 years old.
Against the rest of the young and feisty Eastern Conference, this is going to be a problem come playoff time.
Experience does definitely count for something, but Boston cannot solely bank on that to carry them. An infusion of youth at any position is needed, so GM Danny Ainge had better get to work.
16. Milwaukee Bucks- Zero Backcourt Patience
The Bucks have a great backcourt tandem in Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, but both players are a bit too offense-oriented for their own good. Instead of getting their teammates involved and playing more of an isolation game, both players seem to want to carry the offensive load and play more of a modified run-and-gun.
This is a problem since Milwaukee has fine go-to guys in Mike Dunleavy and Ersan Ilyasova, but Jennings and Ellis continually hold back the team's development. If either play just took a step back and learned how to get everyone involved instead of having a shoot-first mentality, the Bucks could improve as a whole.
Until then, however, they are destined to be a team victimized by its own offense.
17. Portland Trail Blazers- Youth
With Damian Lillard running the point, Portland has become a team incredibly fun to watch. In the near future, this is a team that will make a lot of noise in the Western Conference and provide the happy balance between scoring and defense, thanks to Lillard and teammates LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum.
All that needs to happen is for the Blazers to play together for a few more years, and the sky is the limit. The sad truth is that the team is young and inexperienced, with the oldest player being 31-year-old Jared Jeffries.
Portland does indeed have potential, but cannot take the next step until youth is not as much of a concern.
18. Los Angeles Lakers- No Confidence or Identity
The Lakers have underachieved all season, and just why is obvious. After playing in Phil Jackson's defense-oriented system for years and then one in a similar system under Mike Brown, team management opted to bring in the offense-first Mike D'Antoni this season after a 1-4 start.
The team has shown flashes of greatness in this system but, on the whole, it is not the right fit for them. Los Angeles has thus become a group of defense-minded players (with the exception of a few) in a system meant for scorers, and some have let their true feelings be heard.
As a result, the team has often resorted to letting Kobe Bryant take over on offense in each and every game since he is the only one really buying into the idea of playing the run-and-gun game. Barring a major turnaround, it's clear what needs to happen in order for the team to be great again.
19. Philadelphia 76ers- Andrew Bynum's Knees
When the Sixers landed Andrew Bynum in the Dwight Howard trade, it looked as though the team finally had the go-to star it so desperately needed over the past two years. Then, his knees struck again.
Bynum has yet to play in one game this season, and just when he'll be back remains a mystery. Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner have done a good job of stepping up their effort, but the lack of a star is still obvious.
Once Bynum hits free agency this season, GM Tony DiLeo is going to have a tough decision to make.
20. Dallas Mavericks- No Reliable Youth
Not even two full seasons removed from a championship season, Dallas is about to enter a rebuilding phase. Dirk Nowitzki can still score, but is not getting any younger at age 34. Besides him and Shawn Marion, the rest of the team is a bunch of young players that are hit-or-miss, or injury prone veterans like Elton Brand and Chris Kaman.
Save for shooting guard O.J. Mayo, Dallas' youth is not strong enough to carry the team on a run to a playoff berth, and GM Donnie Nelson needs to use this summer to bring aboard key free agents who can help the team get back on the winning track. The balance of youth and experience was enough to bring the team a championship in 2011, and the future should be no exception if Nelson is able to have a productive summer.
Otherwise, Dallas is going to be lottery-bound for years to come.
21. Minnesota Timberwolves- Injuries, Injuries and More Injuries
Before the season even started, it looked as though the Timberwolves would be a surprise team in the Western Conference. Then, the injury bug struck.
Kevin Love broke his hand before the season started, and rushed back from it to be ineffective before breaking it again. Fans were excited about shooting guard Brandon Roy making a comeback, but his knees have kept him out of action for all but five games.
Throw in a bunch of role players like Malcolm Lee, Chase Budinger and even starter Andrei Kirilenko also getting banged up, and it's clear that this season was a fluke for Minnesota. Next season, with everyone healthy, prospects are sure to be better.
22. Toronto Raptors- Lack of Experience at Center
Jonas Valanciunas has plenty of potential to be a great NBA center, but is still young at 20 years old. He can make an impact in Toronto, but still has a lot to learn.
The lack of strong interior defense has definitely hurt the Raptors this season, as the team ranks 28th in rebounding and 20th in points allowed. However, Dwane Casey has the players responding well to him, and the presence of Rudy Gay can only mean good things in the future.
Toronto won't make the playoffs this year, but it is certainly moving in the right direction.
23. Detroit Pistons- Murky Identity
The Pistons are in a bit of a funk, as two years under former coach John Kuester proved to be a step away from the team's usual defense-first mentality. Lawrence Frank is the man who can get the team back to that style of play, but his young roster still needs time to develop.
Greg Monroe is a fine center, but still has a lot to learn about balancing his low post play with his offense. Moreover, inconsistency in the scoring department has not helped the Pistons, particularly because Brandon Knight is essentially an undersized shooting guard.
Jose Calderon's presence can certainly help Detroit get back on track, but the fact remains that this is still a young team without a clear identity. Assuming all goes well the rest of this season and next year, the Pistons could be back in contention soon.
24. Sacramento Kings- Wrong Players and Owners
Long story short, the Maloofs have turned the Kings into a complete and utter mess. Save for DeMarcus Cousins, the rest of the team is hit or miss in terms of production and cannot be counted on to have regular good games.
It's a good thing that the team is likely moving to Seattle next season, otherwise Sacramento would have to deal with disappointing season after disappointing season.
25. New Orleans Hornets- No Reliable Shooting Guard
Hornets GM Dell Demps selected guard Austin Rivers out of Duke in last year's draft with the hope that he could become a reliable go-to scorer. Instead, Rivers has been nothing but disappointing, posting just six points per game on 35 percent shooting.
Nothing against Eric Gordon, but New Orleans needs a guard who can score from virtually anywhere and regularly in order to get back into contention in the post- Chris Paul era. Unless a good scorer at the 2 or any position is brought in, the team is destined to struggle.
26. Phoenix Suns- Lack of Identity
The Suns are undergoing a transformation right now. Instead of playing the signature fast-paced offense that defined them over the last decade, interim coach Lindsey Hunter is shifting towards more of an isolation game.
Thus far, Phoenix has gone 4-8 under Hunter and is struggling to adapt. The roster is one that was put together for a modified run-and-gun game, and most of the players are not cut out for a slower pace.
Team management is going to have a lot of work to do depending on how the rest of the season plays out. An NBA squad is nothing without an identity, and the Suns need to figure out just what theirs is.
27. Cleveland Cavaliers- Slow Youth Movement
The Cavaliers' issues can be summed up in one word: youth. Team owner Dan Gilbert opted to start from scratch once LeBron James left via free agency in 2010, and Kyrie Irving has done a good job of stepping into the spotlight.
He has a solid supporting cast in Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson, but Cleveland still needs a reliable veteran leader who can come in and help make the team better. No such player currently exists on the roster, so the Cavs will continue to be a young and inexperienced team missing that one key piece.
Should Gilbert and his front office team manage to land that part of the puzzle, then Cleveland could soon again become a playoff town.
28. Washington Wizards- Damned by Youth
The Wizards may be playing a bit better now that John Wall is back in the lineup, but that does not take away from the fact that a good majority of the team is made up of young players not exactly cut out to make a major impact on the NBA level.
The sad truth is that except for Wall and Bradley Beal, the rest of Washington is a group of glorified young role players. Nothing against Emeka Okafor, Nene or Trevor Ariza, but that trio is not the veteran leadership and experience this team needs.
The Wizards need a go-to veteran, one who can have the same impact as a Dwyane Wade or Carmelo Anthony and have the same impact both has a leader and contributor on the court. Wall can fill this role someday, but having a reliable veteran to help him along the way can't hurt.
29. Orlando Magic- Lack of Leadership
We all knew that in their first season without Dwight Howard, the Orlando Magic were not going to have a good year. Even with reliable scorers in J.J. Redick and Arron Afflalo, plus a fine surprise in Nikola Vucevic, the team has no leader among its mix of veterans and youth.
Just how GM Rob Hennigan chooses to fill this role remains to be seen. He can try and rebuild through the draft, or try and trade someone like Redick for another reliable go-to guy. In another scenario, someone like Glen "Big Baby" Davis could step up and become team leader.
No matter how you look at it, this team is in the hardest part of the rebuilding phase: trying to figure out what comes next. Hennigan's a great front office mind and is sure to right the ship, but he cannot even begin to do that until the team has some form of player leadership both on and off the court.
30. Charlotte Bobcats- Inconsistency All Around
The Bobcats' greatest weakness is that they are a ridiculously young team, and their leader in point guard Kemba Walker is still learning how to play on the NBA level. Team management is fortunate to have a veteran assistant on both the professional and college levels in Mike Dunlap as the team's head coach, as he has tons of experience dealing with young players.
It can be argued that Charlotte needs a veteran presence to turn things around, but that's really not the problem. The team just needs to learn how to come together and play as a strong and cohesive unit, and this group of players certainly can if they are willing to learn.
Unfortunately, that has yet to happen and Charlotte is at the bottom of the rankings once again. The team needs to come together and hopefully go on a short winning streak towards the end of the season, or else team owner Michael Jordan will forever have his team in a rebuilding phase.
Given how much the city of Charlotte loves its basketball, from the countless college teams in North Carolina to the history of the Charlotte Hornets, I hope that things soon change for the better.
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