The One Area Every NBA Team Must Improve Before 2013-14 Season
There's no such thing as a perfect NBA team. No matter how many massive free-agent signings, slick draft picks or blockbuster trades your favorite squad makes, there's always room for improvement.
For example, the New Orleans Pelicans could use a quality bruiser to play alongside Anthony Davis on the front line. That's a basic, positional need.
In other cases, upgrades are necessary in subtler ways. Take the New York Knicks, whose reliance on isolation ball resulted in the lowest percentage of assisted baskets in the NBA last year. That's a team that could stand to improve its ball movement.
Sometimes, help can come from an outside source via a free-agent acquisition. But just about every useful free agent has already found a home, so organic growth, strategic tweaks and the ability to solve problems from within will be critical, too.
There's still plenty of time before the 2013-14 season kicks off, so NBA teams will have ample opportunities to address their various deficiencies. That's a good thing, because a good chain is only as strong as its weakest link...or something like that.
Area of Need: Backup center
Al Horford is the best center on the Atlanta Hawks roster; that's been true for a while. But really, he's not a conventional fit for the position, which makes the Hawks' lack of a bona fide 5 problematic.
Macedonian import Pero Antic probably isn't the answer. Johan Petro and Gustavo Ayon have some experience, but neither is more than a last resort. Horford's a terrific talent and probably works best as a center against teams that don't have elite size.
But he's going to struggle against some of the NBA's bigger centers.
How to Improve: Hair tonic
There are a couple of options here, and neither are particularly good. First, the Hawks could embrace a small-ball attack, pick up the pace and hope that such a strategy forces the Roy Hibberts and Marc Gasols of the world off the floor.
Failing that, Atlanta could make a bigger effort to get rookie Lucas Nogueira onto the roster, force him to grow out his Afro until he measures approximately 8'6" and then slot him in at backup center. Maybe the hair will fool opponents into thinking he's bigger than he actually is.
I told you neither option was very good.
Area of Need: Offensive rebounding
A lot of defense-first NBA teams purposely give up on crashing the offensive glass in favor of getting back in transition. It's a viable strategy, particularly for teams that don't do a lot of scoring at the rim anyway. Last season, the Boston Celtics took that approach and stretched it to the limit.
Boston hauled in just 20.1 percent of its own misses in 2012-13, the lowest offensive rebound rate in the league. And now that Kevin Garnett is gone, the Celtics don't figure to be an elite defensive team. That means a strategic adjustment to generate more second-chance opportunities might be in order.
How to Improve: Crash
Theoretically, Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries—the flotsam and jetsam that drifted over in the Celtics' franchise-altering megadeal with the Brooklyn Nets—will provide immediate help on the offensive glass.
Wallace earned the nickname "Crash" in part because of his relentless assault on the boards, and Humphries' most useful NBA skill is his rebounding. Assuming those two aren't shipped elsewhere before the season starts, they'll constitute improvements.
It'll be interesting to see how new head coach Brad Stevens changes Boston's philosophy in his first year at the helm. If he wants to correct the Celtics' most glaring area of need from a season ago, he should make offensive rebounding a key focus in training camp.
Area of Need: Backup point guard
Shaun Livingston occupies a sympathetic spot in every NBA fan's mind, if only because of the guts he showed in returning from one of the ugliest injuries in league history. But the fact is that he's simply not a good player.
Livingston can't shoot from long range, can't stay in front of quick opponents and gets pushed around by players of all shapes and sizes.
If he's the last guy on your bench, you're probably in good shape. But expecting him to play significant minutes behind Deron Williams is far from an ideal strategy for the Brooklyn Nets.
How to Improve: The Ron Harper plan
Slotting Jason Terry into the point guard role is an option, but he's much better utilized as an off-the-ball shooter.
So the Nets' best option to minimize Livingston's responsibilities (and minutes) is going to involve some unconventional rotation decisions. Paul Pierce can handle the ball when necessary; so can Joe Johnson.
Even Andrei Kirilenko could get the ball over the time line for a few possessions per game.
Using those guys as pseudo point guards isn't ideal if an opposing team dials up the backcourt pressure, but it certainly gives the Nets more offensive options once they get past half court.
Remember, Phil Jackson's Chicago Bulls got a long way with Ron Harper technically playing the point guard position. Maybe the Nets can do something similar.
Area of Need: Team defense
This is about as basic as it gets. The Charlotte Bobcats were the worst defensive team in the NBA last year. Their defensive rating of 108.9 resulted in a net rating of minus-10.6 points per 100 possessions, which was also the poorest such figure in the league.
What's odd is that there's actually a fair amount of defensive potential on the Bobcats roster.
Gerald Henderson has the length and athleticism to become a stopper at the 2, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has more tools than any other Charlotte player. His work ethic will almost certainly result in him becoming an elite defender, but it'd be nice for the Bobcats if that happened sooner rather than later.
Bismack Biyombo can block shots with the best of them, and rookie Cody Zeller's athleticism should allow him to chase around quicker power forwards.
But the defensive whole was much worse than the sum of its parts a year ago, and the addition of Al Jefferson, possibly the worst defensive big man in the game, sure won't help going forward.
How to Improve: The Van Gundy disciple
Defense is as much about philosophy as it is about individual talent, so new head coach Steve Clifford is the most important figure in any potential overhaul here.
Clifford came up under Jeff Van Gundy in New York and Houston before spending time on Stan Van Gundy's staff in Orlando. And if there's one thing we know about the Van Gundy clan, it's that defense comes first.
Expect a slower, grittier pace in Charlotte next year, along with a defensive accountability that should immediately improve the Bobcats' numbers. With Jefferson in the fold, opposing teams will try to pick-and-roll the Kitties to death, so help rotations are going to be critical.
Upgrading Charlotte's horrendous defense is going to have to come through internal growth and a renewed, top-down emphasis on getting stops.
Area of Need: Backup shooting guard
Assuming everyone stays healthy, the Chicago Bulls have one of the most loaded starting lineups in the league. Derrick Rose's return moves Kirk Hinrich back to the bench, while rising star Jimmy Butler figures to take over full-time duties at the 2.
But with the way head coach Tom Thibodeau punishes his starters with absurd playing-time allotments, it's only a matter of time until someone on the Bulls' first unit succumbs to injury. And if said malady strikes one of Chicago's wing players, there's going to be a pretty serious production decline.
Of the Bulls' current reserves, none profile as a prototypical shooting guard. And while thinking outside the box in terms of lineups is a great idea, it's not ideal to slot Mike Dunleavy or Kirk Hinrich at the 2.
How to Improve: Cool it, Thibs
Addressing the Bulls' deficiency at backup shooting guard is pretty simple: Thibodeau needs to lay off his starters.
There's no harm in giving one of Chicago's ill-fitting backups a few minutes per game at the 2, especially if the extra rest for Butler will help him avoid a late-season breakdown that requires someone like Hinrich to step into the shooting guard position for a few weeks at a time.
Asking Thibodeau to take it easy with the minute demands is like asking Mike D'Antoni to ditch the mustache. It'll never happen; it's just too big a part of who he is.
But if the Bulls are going to survive the season intact, Butler's minutes have to stay under control.
Area of Need: Starting small forward
Between Earl Clark, Alonzo Gee and Sergey Karasev, the Cleveland Cavaliers have the makings of a capable small forward rotation...except that no member of that trio is actually good enough to be a starter.
Clark probably has the job nailed down for now, but he proved last year with the Los Angeles Lakers that he's actually better suited as an undersized stretch 4. According to 82games.com, Clark's PER was slightly better when he slid over to the power forward position in 2012-13.
And Gee didn't show anything close to the necessary perimeter touch to give the Cavs a floor-spacing threat at the 3. Last season, he hit just 41 percent of his field goals and only 31.5 percent of his triples. As a cutter and finisher in transition, Gee is fine. But he's not the answer in the starting lineup either.
How to Improve: Look within
Sam Young and Ronnie Brewer are still on the market, but neither of them would represent much of an upgrade at the position. So perhaps the Cavs will have to get creative to generate production at the 3.
That could mean a lineup that features Jarrett Jack and Kyrie Irving in the backcourt together, with Dion Waiters moving over to the 3. At the very least, that would give Cleveland a handful of outside threats that could keep things spaced out for Andrew Bynum in the middle.
More interestingly, what if No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett proves agile enough to log a few minutes at small forward? The Cavs seem to have designs on using him at the 4, but he showed flashes of the ability to play both forward spots in college.
Expect head coach Mike Brown to do some experimenting before the season starts. Maybe he'll find his starting small forward is already on the roster but simply playing a different position.
Area of Need: Backcourt defense
There are small backcourts, and there are small backcourts. The Dallas Mavericks' guard rotation, which features a handful of players too tiny to ride grownup roller coasters, falls among the latter category.
And that's going to be a problem on D.
Starters Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis will get eaten alive by even average-sized guards, while Devin Harris and Wayne Ellington won't fare any better. When the Mavs meet up with the Houston Rockets, for example, who's going to match up with James Harden?
And what about the Kobe Bryants, Klay Thompsons and Joe Johnsons of the world? Big guards are going to kill the Mavericks.
How to Improve: Vinsanity?
Vince Carter played a whole lot of shooting guard in a past life, and though most of the athleticism that defined Vinsanity is long gone, Carter has actually fashioned himself into a capable defender. He'll never be able to hang with the league's quicker backcourt players, but he can hold his own against most conventional 2's.
As scary as it sounds, the 36-year-old vet is going to be a key part of Dallas' defensive scheme. Who would have ever imagined that?
Area of Need: Shooting guard
Pardon me if I'm not impressed by the Denver Nuggets' shooting guard situation.
New acquisition Randy Foye is basically a younger version of Willie Green: an accomplished three-point shooter who provides absolutely nothing else. Evan Fournier needs a few more years of seasoning, and Nate Robinson is simply not a starter on a good team.
That's what the Nuggets are stuck with, though, so they'll have to make the best of it.
How to Improve: Embrace the little things
All right, so Robinson's spark-plug game works best off the bench. That's fine; he can still log major minutes as a reserve. If Foye starts—as he most likely will—he should give way to Robinson (or even Andre Miller) after just a few minutes in the first quarter.
Using Miller or Robinson alongside the similarly undersized Ty Lawson is far from ideal, but it's really the best option the Nuggets have. Of course, it'd be nice if Miller ended up leaving town in a trade that brought back a more useful, well-rounded shooting guard. But nothing appears imminent.
Given what they have, the Nuggets should just embrace a small backcourt and run, run, run.
Speed kills. Especially at altitude.
Area of Need: Floor-spacing shooters
With Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond making up the frontcourt rotation, the Detroit Pistons are in desperate need of somebody on the perimeter to keep defenses honest. Otherwise, opponents will pack the middle and shut down the Pistons' interior offensive attack.
And by the way, using Smith as a perimeter threat is probably the last thing Detroit should try. Just ask the thousands (OK, hundreds) of Atlanta fans who screamed "Nooo!" every time Smith teed up a jumper over the past nine seasons.
How to Improve: Trust the new guys
Brandon Jennings is clearly a student at the J.R. Smith school of shot selection, which is to say that if he can actually see the rim, he's of the opinion that it's a good time to shoot.
But for all of his trigger happiness, Jennings is a pretty darn good three-point marksman. Despite taking a ton of triples off the dribble last year, he still managed to hit 37.5 percent of his long-range attempts. That's barely a percentage point better than Brandon Knight shot last year, but Jennings has the ability (and the will) to scare defenses by taking far more long-distance looks.
The other new guy in town, rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, might give the Pistons another floor-stretching option. And if Chauncey Billups can find enough duct tape to hold his body together, the former Mr. Big Shot could knock down a couple of treys as well.
It doesn't matter who it comes from, but the Pistons have to find some outside shooting in order to give their impressive frontcourt enough room to operate.
Golden State Warriors
Area of Need: Backup center
Given Andrew Bogut's track record, whichever reserve big ultimately ends up taking the backup center role for the Golden State Warriors can count on at least 30 starts in the 2013-14 season. The Aussie is an absolute beast when he's healthy, but save for a few cortisone-fueled bursts in last year's postseason, Bogut hasn't been able to keep it together for more than a game or two at a time.
The Warriors' new and improved culture revolves around defense, and without an anchor in the middle, it's difficult for Golden State to get the stops it needs.
Despite an almost total inability to catch the basketball on offense, then-rookie Festus Ezeli was a serviceable big body in the middle last year. But he'll be sidelined for the start of the season following knee surgery, so the Dubs will have to look elsewhere for help behind Bogut.
How to Improve: Minute limits and (gulp) Jermaine O'Neal
The best way to address a need at backup center is to make sure the starter misses as little time as possible. With Bogut, that's a tough task, but the first step in tackling it should be a hard-and-fast minute restriction.
Bogut shouldn't play more than 25 minutes per game, and Golden State ought to extend the policy it tried out last year of resting him on the second night of back-to-backs. It's going to hurt the team when Bogut misses a few games here and there, but the goal should be to make sure he doesn't sit out for a few dozen in a row.
The ageless (but still somehow only 34) Jermaine O'Neal is slotted in as the Dubs' backup 5, which means that a Bogut injury will result in a 17-year veteran assuming a key role on the team. That's not ideal, and O'Neal probably isn't capable of giving Golden State anything beyond 20 minutes per game.
But as long as the training staff can keep O'Neal relatively fresh, he'll be a decent option. Maybe the Phoenix Suns' vaunted healers sent over instructions on how to get the most out of him.
Area of Need: Starting power forward
The Houston Rockets have plenty of power forwards on the payroll. The problem is that none of them have done enough in their careers to justify a firm grip on the starting spot.
Right now, it seems most likely that Greg Smith will get a chance to bring his ultra-physical style of play to the 4, but there's also a chance that Omer Asik somehow slides in alongside Dwight Howard in the starting lineup. And don't rule out Terrence Jones, either.
What a logjam, huh?
How to Improve: Stretch
The one option I didn't mention earlier, Donatas Motiejunas, is the most intriguing. See how dramatic effect works?
Motiejunas is still almost entirely unproven, really raw and prone to mind-numbing defensive lapses. But he's also extremely skilled and a potentially perfect fit as a stretch 4.
With Dwight Howard occupying the middle, it makes no sense to slot Asik or Smith beside him. We saw what happened in Los Angeles when Howard had to play next to another interior presence, and it wasn't pretty.
So why not let Motiejunas hang out in the corners and fire away? The 7-footer is a perimeter player at heart, and although he made just 29 percent of his triples as a rookie, his stroke looks good enough to eventually allow him to knock down a much higher percentage of his outside attempts.
Howard wants his space, and he's a better player as part of a one-in, four-out offense. It's time for the Rockets to stretch things out a bit.
Area of Need: Ball security
Viewers of last season's NBA playoffs got a chance to see the maddening turnover tendency that Indiana Pacers fans had to suffer through all season long.
During the 2012-13 regular season, no NBA team posted an assist-to-turnover ratio worse than Indiana did. For every giveaway, the Pacers registered just 1.34 assists. Despite that glaring weakness, Indy managed to get within a single game of the finals.
And if the Pacers had been able to take care of the ball against the Miami Heat, who knows how last season would have turned out?
How to Improve: Patience and decisiveness
A little subtraction is going to help the Pacers clean up their turnover woes. Gerald Green, Tyler Hansbrough and Jeff Pendergraph are all gone, meaning Indiana swept away three players who registered more turnovers than assists last season.
But the bigger developments need to come from Indiana's two best players: Roy Hibbert and Paul George.
Both guys struggled with ball security last year because of their inexperience. George often got himself caught up in the air with no place to go, or simply took the ball to trouble out of overaggression.
Hibbert simply didn't make his decisions quickly enough in the post. He'll have to improve his reaction time when double-teams come at him. Recognizing when to attack and when to get rid of the rock under pressure is one of the most difficult skills for a big man to master, because extra defenders can come from anywhere and often vary the timing of their digs to create confusion.
Both George and Hibbert will benefit from a bit more experience, but they'll still have to stay focused on taking care of the ball. Now that they both know how costly turnovers can be, expect them to cut back on their mistakes.
Los Angeles Clippers
Area of Need: Offensive variation
As long as Chris Paul is around, the Los Angeles Clippers will always have a highly productive offense. According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), L.A. averaged .96 points per possession last season, good enough for fourth best in the NBA.
The problem, though, is that the Clips can be a bit too predictable when they have the ball—particularly at the end of games.
Everyone knows the pick-and-roll is coming, and that's probably the best option in any case, but if the Clippers mixed up their attack a bit more during the first three quarters, defenses probably wouldn't be so dialed in to stopping it down the stretch.
The Clippers couldn't beat the Memphis Grizzlies in the playoffs last year because their defense fell apart. But they also had a hard time executing in their predictable sets when it mattered.
How to Improve: Spread the wealth
The ball is almost always going to start in Paul's hands on offense, but its final destination should be a bit more varied.
With Vinny Del Negro no longer in charge, that should change immediately. Doc Rivers isn't known as a particularly good offensive coach, but it'd be impossible for him to be less creative than VDN.
Rivers needs to involve J.J. Redick frequently, using curls and pin-down screens to get him open for jumpers. Similarly, the Clippers' deadly pick-and-roll attack should feature more skip passes to a waiting Jared Dudley on the weak side.
Both of those new shooters should help open things up in the middle for Paul's penetration, which, in turn, should result in scrambling defenses and more open shots.
The Clippers offense isn't broken by any stretch. It just needs to expand a bit.
Los Angeles Lakers
Area of Need: Transition defense
The real culprit behind the Los Angeles Lakers' disappointing 2012-13 season was their defense. Well, that and an apparently toxic personality clash between Dwight Howard and everyone else on the roster.
The Lakers simply never seemed interested in buckling down and committing to playing fundamental team defense. Kobe Bryant basically stopped giving help, Howard fell asleep on pick-and-rolls and absolutely nobody got back in transition.
Hence, their No. 22 ranking in points allowed per possession in transition, per Synergy (subscription required).
With Howard gone, it stands to reason that they'll be worse defensively next year. But a little emphasis on the basics could result in a swing in the other direction.
How to Improve: Try harder
How's that for in-depth analysis? Defense—especially transition defense—is pretty light on strategy. Basically, you just have to sprint back to the other end before the offense gets there.
And that comes down to effort.
The Lakers did too much ball-watching and complaining at the end of their offensive possessions last season, so if D'Antoni wants to engineer a quick fix to his team's biggest problem, all he has to do is get his players to shut up and expend a little energy.
Of course, to do that, he'll have to get them to listen to him first. This might be tougher than I thought.
Area of Need: Backup power forward
It was tempting to list perimeter scoring as the Memphis Grizzlies' biggest need, but count me among the minority who thinks the combination of Jerryd Bayless, Quincy Pondexter and Mike Miller will be just enough to spread the floor.
That means a lack of a viable backup power forward is the biggest issue facing the Grizz.
Zach Randolph isn't getting any younger (32), and he was clearly worn down in last year's playoffs. With only Ed Davis, who simply isn't strong enough to defend opposing bigs and can't create his own shot, Memphis is in trouble if Z-Bo goes down.
How to Improve: Pray?
All right, that's a grim assessment. Maybe Davis will hit the weights and develop some kind of offensive game that doesn't require him to be within four inches of the rim to finish. The lefty is a great finisher and his length makes him a capable rebounder, but without a major step forward, he's going to be a liability.
The alternative to organic growth from Davis might involve something as unpalatable as signing free agent Tyrus Thomas off the scrap heap. And nobody wants that.
Area of Need: Three-point shooting
It sounds ridiculous to say this, but the Miami Heat are going to miss Mike Miller. Not for the 15 minutes per game he logged during the regular season, but for the inevitable red-hot stretches he blessed them with in each of the past two postseasons.
The Heat's small-ball attack is premised on capable three-point shooting to space the floor. And the more options LeBron James has on his drive-and-kicks, the better. Last year, Miami was second only to Golden State in three-point percentage.
When Shane Battier shot just 29.5 percent from long range in the 2013 playoffs, it was Miller who chimed in with a 44 percent effort from beyond the arc. But now Miller's gone, and the Heat didn't replace his outside shooting.
How to Improve: Lean on the vets
Unless Mario Chalmers or Norris Cole suddenly turns into a dead-eye sniper, the Heat are going to have to hope that Ray Allen and Battier both stay hot throughout the regular season and playoffs.
It's dangerous to give more responsibility to those two, especially because Allen is such a defensive liability and Battier wore down so obviously last season. But that's what the Heat will have to do.
Of course, it's also possible that James shoots 75 percent from three next season, if only because he's getting bored.
Area of Need: Small forward
Before anybody pipes up and mentions Ersan Ilyasova as an option at the 3, just forget about it. Two years ago, the Milwaukee Bucks dabbled with him in that spot, but after realizing that he's kind of awesome as a stretch 4, they played him at power forward almost exclusively last season.
Moving him back to a wing position would basically erase all of his advantages and rob him of his considerable value.
Having dismounted the soapbox, I'll now point out that only the mighty Carlos Delfino rates as an even semi-usable player at the 3 this season.
That's an area of weakness if I've ever seen one.
How to Improve: Go small
Everybody else is doing it, so why not the Bucks?
If Milwaukee slots Gary Neal alongside Brandon Knight in the backcourt, and slides O.J. Mayo over to small forward, suddenly all of its problems disappear. OK, not really.
But that would be a very dangerous offensive lineup for the Bucks. And with Larry Sanders erasing mistakes in the middle, perhaps they could even get away with it for long stretches.
The Bucks' alternative options include trading one of their 19 big men for a traditional small forward to play in front of Delfino, or banking on the unlikely readiness of rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Area of Need: Montenegrin centers
Wouldn't it be great if the Minnesota Timberwolves could find a hulking, intimidating big man (preferably one from Montenegro) to handle their interior scoring duties?
It's just too bad there aren't any free agents on the market they could sign to fill that role.
How to Improve: Sign Nikola Pekovic!
What's taking so long? Is this some kind of staring contest between the Wolves and Pek? If so, kudos to the team for daring to make eye contact with Pekovic for this long; that has to be pretty scary.
Seriously, though, it's basically a foregone conclusion that Pek will re-sign with the only NBA team he's ever known. The parties are at odds over a potential fifth year in the deal, but it'd be shocking if they can't eventually come to an accord.
And once Pek is officially back, Minnesota's very specific area of need will be filled. Problem solved.
New Orleans Pelicans
Area of Need: Starting center
Anthony Davis isn't a starting center—not yet, anyway. He's still too slim to handle the NBA's more imposing bigs. And neither Greg Stiemsma nor Jason Smith are qualified to log starter's minutes, either.
So the New Orleans Pelicans, with new, boring uniforms in hand, need to go out and find somebody to do the dirty work as Davis' finesse game rounds into form.
How to Improve: Trade Ryan Anderson
There aren't many stretch 4's as accomplished as Ryan Anderson. He's a uniquely valuable player who can do serious damage in the right role. But the Pelicans have wisely cast their lot with Davis at power forward, which means Anderson may never find his ideal fit in New Orleans.
But he'd look pretty good in Houston, don't you think? And Omer Asik, who demanded a trade mere seconds after Howard ended up with the Rockets, is precisely the kind of partner Davis needs.
This is a win-win deal for everyone involved. The sooner the Pelicans reach out to the Rockets, the better off both teams will be.
New York Knicks
Area of Need: Ball movement
Last season, the New York Knicks had the lowest percentage of assisted baskets in the NBA. That focus on stagnant isolation ball really came back to bite them against the Indiana Pacers, who shut down New York's predictable, pass-free attack with ease.
And with new addition Andrea Bargnani only adding to the problem, the Knicks are going to have to make a few strategic changes to overcome their problematic unwillingness to get the ball moving.
How to Improve: Lead by example
As the resident superstar, any wholesale offensive change has to start with Carmelo Anthony. When he hangs on to the ball for too long, things slow down and the Knicks offense loses much of its potency.
Early in the 2012-13 season, New York was dynamite on offense because the ball was humming around the perimeter, finding open shooters and keeping defenses off balance. But by the time the playoffs rolled around, much of that dynamism was gone.
Anthony has to be the catalyst here, largely because the team's other primary scorers—Amar'e Stoudemire, J.R. Smith and Bargnani—are notorious ball-stoppers.
It's unfair to ask 'Melo to do even more than he did a year ago, but that's the only way the Knicks can change their offensive philosophy.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Area of Need: A bench scorer
The downgrade from James Harden to Kevin Martin was steep, but the one from Martin to Jeremy Lamb is going to be even steeper.
Lamb is likely the next wing in line to take on bench scoring duties for the Oklahoma City Thunder, and outside of a couple of impressive summer league performances, the lanky small forward hasn't shown anything to indicate he's ready for the job.
How to Improve: Split duty
Head coach Scott Brooks had no clue what to do with OKC's offense when Russell Westbrook went down last year. Suddenly, the whole world found out that the Thunder relied almost exclusively on their dynamic duo to create scoring chances out of nothing when the team's limited number of plays fell flat.
Without Westbrook, Kevin Durant had an entire defense focused solely on him. The Thunder weren't prepared to spread the ball around or implement any equal-opportunity offensive sets.
The lesson: It's not a good idea to rely on one or two guys to get the job done.
That's why a combination of Reggie Jackson, Lamb and perhaps even new addition Ryan Gomes need to share the reserve scoring role. Lamb can't handle it on his own, and Jackson may not be totally ready either.
There's no rule that says OKC has to keep slotting a single player into Harden's position. The beard is gone; it's time to move on and embrace a committee approach to backup scoring.
Area of Need: Seasoning
The Orlando Magic might not be a player or two away from competing, but they're definitely a year or two away.
It's possible that there's enough talent on the current roster to eventually get the Magic into the playoffs, but until the incredibly young core of Victor Oladipo, Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris and Moe Harkless have some time to grow, it's not happening.
That's fine, though. Orlando's in no hurry to win this season.
How to Improve: Take some lumps
The most important thing head coach Jacque Vaughn needs to remember this year is that he has to let his young players struggle. So he'll have to resist the urge to play Jameer Nelson, Glen Davis and Jason Maxiell any more than necessary.
Those guys are supposed to provide veteran leadership, not steal valuable minutes from a developing cast of young players. It's going to be much more beneficial in the long run if Oladipo bumbles through a nine-turnover game and learns a lesson or two than it would be if Nelson replaced him and played heavy minutes.
There are going to be some tough times, but if the Magic are going to find out whether or not they've got the right collection of youth, it's important to let the kids take their lumps.
Area of Need: Coaching
Perhaps you haven't noticed, but the Philadelphia 76ers are the only NBA team that currently lacks a head coach. Don't feel bad; they haven't exactly been a big part of the league's news cycle lately.
So while Michael Carter-Williams' shaky summer league performance and the team's overall lack of talent are both areas worthy of concern, it's probably best for the franchise to figure out who's going to preside over the rebuilding effort before doing anything else.
How to Improve: Hire somebody
Too vague? All right, how about "hire the dude from the San Antonio Spurs?" That seems to work for everyone else.
Said dude is actually named Brett Brown, and according to Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer, he's the team's "preferred" candidate. For a team starting from scratch like the Sixers, a coach fresh off Gregg Popovich's productive tree is just the man for the job.
Here's hoping he's patient.
Area of Need: Small forward
Let's break this down: P.J. Tucker is too angry, Michael Beasley is too lazy and Caron Butler is too old. Having exhausted the Phoenix Suns' current small forward candidates, I'd say that proves they've got a pretty sizable hole at the 3.
For a rebuilding team loaded with young players, it's borderline unforgivable to have Beasley on the roster. His negative effects on the team—in both the on-court and attitude departments—could stunt the growth of the impressionable talent on hand.
He shouldn't be allowed within 50 feet of Eric Bledsoe.
And neither Tucker nor Butler are anything more than fringe rotation players. So how do the Suns fix this problem?
How to Improve: Andrew Wiggins
Well, we made it 23 slides before the first mention of Andrew Wiggins, the prohibitive favorite for next year's No. 1 overall pick and prophesied franchise savior.
Obviously, this isn't a solution that the Suns can achieve before the regular season starts. Instead, they'll have to wait a year. But there are a few things they can do right now to make sure they finish off the plan next June by being in a position to draft Wiggins.
For starters, they need to give Beasley 40 minutes a night. Again, he's not to speak to or make eye contact with Bledsoe. But if B-Eazy is on the floor for long stretches, it almost assures a low win total and a great chance at winning the lottery.
Maybe that's a morbid, somewhat insulting way to improve, but the Suns don't have any better options.
Portland Trail Blazers
Area of Need: Backup shooting guard
Wesley Matthews is a capable starter at the 2, and the Portland Trail Blazers did a great job turning the NBA's worst bench into one that could actually provide a few useful minutes per game.
Still, it seems that the Blazers are lacking a safe reserve option at shooting guard.
How to Improve: Experiment
Right now, rookie Allen Crabbe and untested Will Barton populate the depth chart beneath Matthews. But the Blazers shouldn't get hung up on the notion of using either of those two unless they're ready.
Why not see if C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard can play together as an undersized, combo guard duo? And if that doesn't work, Dorell Wright can play plenty of small forward while Nicolas Batum slides over to the 2.
If all else fails, I hear Delonte West is looking for a team.
There are options here, which is a pretty nice change after last season's stunningly shallow Blazers rotation.
Area of Need: Small forward
Does it seem like everybody needs a small forward, or is it just me?
Look, the Sacramento Kings have plenty of problems, but one that's remarkably consistent throughout the roster is the fact that there are at least two rotation-quality players at every position. The problem is that none of said players (with the possible exception of DeMarcus Cousins) has star potential.
Nowhere is that more true than at small forward, where John Salmons provides nothing but low-percentage scoring, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute can't score at all and Travis Outlaw does...well, nothing.
If you could combine all three of those guys into one player, you might have something. But as it is, the Kings have a handful of one-dimensional options to choose from.
How to Improve: Make a deal
Mbah a Moute belongs on a good team where he can function as a defensive specialist. His one skill, though elite, has little use on a go-nowhere lottery team like the Kings. So why not package him and one or two other decent pieces like Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Thornton for a young player with a high ceiling?
It's easy to say that, though, and it's much harder to imagine a team would be willing to give up someone with promise for three spare parts. But the point is that the Kings have way too much quantity and almost no quality—especially at the 3.
It's time to wheel and deal.
San Antonio Spurs
Area of Need: Backup small forward
It's not easy to come up with weaknesses for a team like the Spurs. But we did it for the Heat, so anything's possible.
If the Spurs could stand to shore up any one position, it's got to be the reserve small forward spot. Behind Kawhi Leonard, all they have are DeShaun Thomas and Livio Jean-Charles, neither of whom figure to warrant more than mop-up duty at the end of blowouts.
How to Improve: Get versatile
First of all, it's entirely possible that Leonard is ready to play 48 minutes a night. Jimmy Butler came close for the Bulls at the end of the season last year, and Leonard is sort of the Western Conference equivalent, so let's not rule out an iron-man effort from him.
But just in case Leonard is actually human, the Spurs should really consider letting Danny Green play some small forward in short stints. He's got the defensive chops, and with Manu Ginobili and Marco Belinelli both needing minutes at the 2, it could work out for everyone.
It might also be possible that the Spurs have a lead on some foreign superstar that nobody's heard of. That's kind of how they do business.
Area of Need: Perimeter shooting
Between DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay, the Toronto Raptors have one of the worst three-point shooting wing duos in the NBA.
Gay knocked down just 32 percent of his triples last year, while DeRozan managed to make only 28 percent of his long-distance attempts. With Jonas Valanciunas suddenly looking like a potential breakout candidate, the worst thing the Raptors could do would be to stand pat with their brick-laying perimeter twosome, which would allow defenses to collapse onto Valanciunas, negating his value.
How to Improve: Go Gibson
Daniel Gibson certainly can't guard 2's or 3's, but he'd at least give the Raptors a reliable outside threat. The free-agent guard is probably the best option still on the market.
Unfortunately, Toronto invested in D.J. Augustin, who can knock down a three in his own right but brings almost nothing to the table in any other areas. Remember, he absolutely killed the Pacers whenever he relieved George Hill in last year's playoffs.
The Raptors shouldn't let a bad signing preclude them from one that could potentially be helpful, though. So hopefully they'll give Boobie a look.
Failing that, it might be time for Steve Novak to see an uptick in his minutes.
Area of Need: Backup bigs
It wasn't so long ago (last year, actually) that the Utah Jazz had more big men than they knew what to do with. But now that Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap are playing elsewhere, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors are all alone up front.
That's good for the development of Utah's young frontcourt duo, but there's a dire need for backup bigs.
The options are as follows: Rudy Gobert, Andris Biedrins and Jeremy Evans.
How to Improve: Go shopping
The Jazz are one of a number of teams that are trying to rebuild, which means they're not interested in spending big money on players who aren't going to transform the franchise. That's fine, though, because the guys still left on the free-agency market aren't pricey.
Ivan Johnson and Tyrus Thomas could be had for a song. Neither one of those guys would alter Utah's overall fortunes, but you'd have to figure that they'd each bring more to the table than any of the Jazz's current reserve big men.
Then again, it is a contract year for Biedrins. Maybe he'll stop spending so much time in the tanning bed and focus on getting his game back.
Area of Need: Backup point guard
Of course, assuming Wall's greatness doesn't prevent him from missing his annual date with the injury bug, it might be a good idea for the Wiz to get somebody besides Eric Maynor at the point.
Maynor has washed out at every NBA stop, so until he does something to change his career narrative, it's not wise to rely on him as a capable contributor.
How to Improve: Get a Brazilian
I'm talking about Leandro Barbosa. What did you think I meant?
The speedy combo guard with the underrated three-point stroke is still available, and he could do a decent impression of Wall, at least as far as pace is concerned.
Maybe Maynor will work out this time, but just in case, it couldn't hurt to sign Barbosa on the cheap.