1 Burning Question Every NBA Team Must Answer in Training Camp

Daniel O'BrienFeatured ColumnistOctober 4, 2013

1 Burning Question Every NBA Team Must Answer in Training Camp

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    As NBA teams work out, practice and compete in preseason games, there are important issues for each squad to tackle.

    Some question marks are more important than others, however.

    The 2013-14 campaign brings a whole new set of opportunities and challenges, and each team enters the year with one burning question that must be answered during the preseason.

    For some, it's a strategical decision. For others, it's a personnel quandary. And for others, it's a matter of chemistry.

    Find out what pivotal question your team must answer in the next few weeks. 

Atlanta Hawks: What Will Backcourt Rotation Look Like?

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    With Lou Williams still recovering from ACL surgery, and Kyle Korver potentially playing some small forward, there is uncertainty in the backcourt for the Atlanta Hawks.

    Will Korver split minutes at the 2 spot with John Jenkins, or will Jenkins earn the starting role and force Korver to do most of his damage as small forward?

    At point guard, there isn't any doubt or discomfort regarding the starter. Jeff Teague has that covered. But keep an eye on Dennis Schroder's opportunities and contributions off the bench. How much playing time can he earn?

    When the Hawks' preseason concludes, Mike Budenholzer better have an idea of what the pecking order and rotation is at both backcourt positions.

Boston Celtics: Can Young Bigs Work Together Now and in the Future?

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    If Rajon Rondo was fully healthy and running the Boston Celtics' attack, the preseason in Beantown would look much different. All eyes would be on the point guard's rapport with new coach Brad Stevens and how Rondo implements his system.

    Instead, the burning question to answer during training camp is whether the young bigs can fit together as a unit.

    Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger, in particular, have been identified as long-term assets. Olynyk is highly skilled offensively, and Sullinger is a formidable rebounder as a power forward.

    But can they work together as a combo? Is there enough size and athleticism there to compete with playoff-caliber frontcourts?

Brooklyn Nets: Can J-Kidd Get Everyone Enough Touches Early in the Season?

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    Having a plethora of talent might be a good problem to have, but it's a tricky situation nonetheless for the Brooklyn Nets.

    When we look back on Jason Kidd's coaching career, we'll remember the fall of his first year at the helm and his tough task of making a mini-All-Star team into a legitimate title contender.

    There aren't any massive egos or locker-room cancers to worry about, but it's still going to be difficult to keep everyone on the same page early in the season.

    How will Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce divvy up responsibilities on the wing? Will Deron Williams be able to effectively distribute the ball to both Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez?

    These are just a couple of the questions linked to the overarching theme of Kidd's leadership throughout the preseason.

Charlotte Bobcats: Can 'Cats Make Any Progress Defensively?

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    Michael Jordan's Charlotte Bobcats certainly became more talented during the 2013 offseason, and they will put a much more exciting and competitive product on the floor.

    That doesn't necessarily mean they'll thrive defensively.

    While Al Jefferson and Cody Zeller are both smooth offensive assets, they aren't quite as valuable on the other end. Jefferson has been a substandard post-protector for years, and Zeller's D can't be trusted either.

    Will wings Jeffery Taylor and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, along with energetic point guard Kemba Walker, spark a blue-collar culture that permeates the frontcourt? Charlotte seeks to outperform its 2012-13 defense, which surrendered 102.7 points per night.

Chicago Bulls: How Much Can Thibs Expect from D-Rose in Early Going?

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    By all accounts, including Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose himself, the Chicago Bulls megastar is better and more explosive than he was before.

    We believe him, but we don't know exactly how potent he'll be until we see him play in training camp.

    Within the next few weeks, Tom Thibodeau has to decide how much he can lean on Rose throughout the season. The 24-year-old has averaged at least 35 minutes per game in each of his four NBA seasons.

    How soon can he get back to the 35-minute mark? It's something Thibs needs to assess in training camp and preseason competition.

Cleveland Cavaliers: What Kind of Role Will Anthony Bennett Have?

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    We're not going to get a definitive answer on Andrew Bynum's return anytime soon, so the most mysterious aspect of Cleveland Cavaliers camp is the role and usage of rookie Anthony Bennett.

    While Bennett may not face the kind of pressure most No. 1 picks see, he's still an important piece that Mike Brown must carefully guide.

    Even though he owns a powerful physique and game, small forward seems like a realistic option for the 20-year-old.

    How will he fit in at the 3 slot, and how much will he need to contribute offensively? Kyrie Irving is already a star, Anderson Varejao is back, and Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters could have breakout years.

    Where will most of his offensive strikes come from? How much playing time will he get? Cavs fans hope he makes a significant impact on Cleveland's playoff push.

     

Dallas Mavericks: Can Mavs Slow Down Top-Tier Opponents?

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    In the backcourt, the Dallas Mavericks welcome a slew of new faces: plenty of point guard skill in Jose Calderon; loads of playmaking and athleticism in Monta Ellis; intriguing potential in youngsters Shane Larkin and Ricky Ledo.

    Will there be enough defense among them to compete against upper-echelon Western Conference clubs? There isn't a great track record of defense attached to this personnel.

    Rick Carlisle's crew won't be any better than a middle-tier team in 2013-14, but it could sneak into the No. 8 seed if it can stay afloat defensively.

Denver Nuggets: Can Brian Shaw Quickly Bolster Team Defense?

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    Speaking of defense, new Denver Nuggets head coach Brian Shaw will be establishing a more physical mindset as he takes over.

    Last time we saw the Nuggets, they were giving up 107.2 points per night against the Golden State Warriors, despite intermittent attempts to rough up the Dubs.

    This year, Shaw will make sure teams feel the Nuggets. He told the Denver Post's Mark Kiszla that his team will have a straightforward style: "Smashmouth basketball...We want to have a nasty disposition, both offensively and defensively."

    The roster might not be better than it was last year, but there's still enough talent to excel on both sides of the ball. Can they implement Shaw's smashmouth philosophy when the season tips off?

Detroit Pistons: Can Mo Cheeks Effectively Utilize Josh Smith?

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    Ever since they signed free agent Josh Smith to a lucrative deal, the Detroit Pistons have heard the critics (including myself) question his compatibility with this current roster.

    It could be a success. It could be a failure. You can bet, one way or another, it will be interesting.

    With Drummond anchoring the low post as center and Greg Monroe filling power forward duties, Smith will primarily play as small forward. And he's far from a pure small forward.

    Can Maurice Cheeks maximize Smith's talents without undermining the trajectory of the team? If he figures it out, the Pistons have a chance to join the postseason party.

Golden State Warriors: Can Defense Follow Andre Iguodala's Lead?

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    Andre Iguodala is as good a defender as anyone in the league, and he will undoubtedly bring a stronger defensive culture to the Golden State Warriors.

    So how much of a dent can he put into opponents' margins? The Dubs ranked 24th in the Association in points allowed with 101.2 per contest, and they would love to bring that number back toward the mid-90s.

    It's going to depend on how well the rest of the Warriors adopt his mindset and protect the perimeter.

    If they can take care of business on individual assignments and rotate more efficiently when necessary, they'll be that much closer to being a complete squad.

Houston Rockets: Can They Develop Enough Half-Court Chemistry?

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    Kevin McHale's Houston Rockets had a banner offseason.

    However, just like everyone else, their record will be 0-0 when the 2013-14 season opens.

    When James Harden isn't running loose on the fast break and Dwight Howard isn't finishing easy dunks, what will the club's offense look like?

    How sharp will Howard be on the pick-and-roll with James Harden and Jeremy Lin? How many low-block post-ups will the big man get per game? Can Lin effectively facilitate this ultra-talented attack?

    The sooner they jell, the better playoff seed they'll have come springtime.

     

Indiana Pacers: How Will Granger and George Coexist?

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    It's an exciting time for basketball in Indiana, where the Pacers will once again aim at an NBA Finals appearance. The core is back, some key additions were made, and Danny Granger is back from his patellar tendinosis hiatus.

    Granger and Paul George have played together before, but not since George has exploded as a breakout star.

    Last time Granger was healthy, he hoisted 15.2 shots per game. In 2012-13, George took 14.9. George is obviously the man of the future, but for now, Frank Vogel needs to figure out when and how to involve Granger and feature him in the offense.

    Vogel is a good coach, and Granger and George are both unselfish enough to make things work. It's just a matter of sorting out how they will operate on a possession-by-possession basis.

Los Angeles Clippers: Will Post Defense Be Consistently Effective?

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    Blake Griffin knows it, DeAndre Jordan knows it, and everyone knows it: the Los Angeles Clippers' low-post defense needs to get better.

    The Clippers' bigs were frequently out of position last year, and their season culminated with a systematic thrashing by the Memphis Grizzlies in Round 1 of the 2013 playoffs.

    Griffin and Jordan can't afford to simultaneously stray from the paint anymore or get foiled on screens. They need to adopt a nightly routine of fundamental defense.

    Can Doc Rivers implement the kind of chemistry that saw his new-look Celtics immediately excel in 2007? Early consistency will give L.A. an early jump in the standings.

Los Angeles Lakers: Will They Establish Chemistry and Fix the Defense?

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    In 2012-13, the mighty Los Angeles Lakers had to scratch and claw like underdogs just to grab the No. 8 seed in the West.

    Injuries didn't help their cause, but a lack of chemistry and defensive unity was the main culprit.

    Many pinned the struggles on Mike D'Antoni, but he assures them that things will be better this season. LakerHolicz.com relays his media day thoughts:

    Mike D’Antoni says having a training camp this year will allow him to work out his rotations before the season, instead of having to learn on the fly. D’Antoni also said the chemistry was poor last year –  ”We didn’t get along too well” – but the chemistry is good this season.

    Lakers fans might be able to give him a pass for an ugly 2012-13, but they want to see better defensive cohesion and a more consistent offensive chemistry, even if the roster isn't championship-bound.

Memphis Grizzlies: Can Re-Tooled Roster Keep Pace When Necessary?

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    Last year, the Memphis Grizzlies would occasionally go on a scoring spree.

    Unfortunately, the squad lacked enough outside shooting and playmakers to light up the scoreboard when it needed to. Consequently, the team didn't score more than 93 points as the San Antonio Spurs swept them in the 2013 Western Conference Finals.

    The squad added sharpshooter Mike Miller and made some upgrades to the frontcourt bench. Will that be enough to give them the firepower to hang with the elite units of the conference?

    Dave Joerger needs to quickly gauge his team's offensive capabilities and ceiling.

Miami Heat: What Can Greg Oden Provide?

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    It's been over three years since Greg Oden last played in an NBA game, so the question gnawing at Miami Heat fans, coaches, and Oden himself is: How much he can give?

    He won't be playing 25 minutes and registering double-doubles this fall, but Erik Spoelstra wants to see exactly what he can get from the injury-riddled former No. 1 pick.

    Can Oden move well laterally and explode upward to contest shots? Is he quick enough and agile enough to score some points on the move? How many minutes can Spoelstra give him early on?

    His status will affect the level of Miami's interior depth and could potentially boost its odds of winning a third consecutive championship.

Milwaukee Bucks: Can Backcourt Effectively Distribute the Ball?

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    Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings might have been shaky decision-makers and ill-advised shooters, but they were talented enough to team for 12.5 assists per night.

    Can the Milwaukee Bucks' new backcourt even come close to that kind of output?

    O.J. Mayo's career-high assists average is 4.4 (achieved in 2012-13 on 35.5 minutes per game), and Brandon Knight posted 4.0 during his sophomore campaign.

    Milwaukee won't get any facilitating from the small forward position, so it's up to Mayo and Knight to distribute the ball. Are they up for the task?

Minnesota Timberwolves: Can They Build Playoff-Caliber Defensive Chemistry?

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    Assuming everyone actually stays healthy, the Minnesota Timberwolves could surprise some people in the Northwest Division.

    Rick Adelman has talent and depth at most positions, so offensive production isn't something he should have to fret about during the preseason.

    Defensively, however, he should be wary. The Wolves finished 24th in the NBA in opponent field-goal percentage and 23rd in opponent three-point percentage. And that was a club without Kevin Martin, who's a suspect stopper on the wing.

    If they play together as a unit and rotate efficiently, guys like Corey Brewer and Kevin Love can cover for minor mistakes. Will Minnesota be able to sustain a playoff-worthy defense?

New Orleans Pelicans: Can Loaded Backcourt Share the Ball?

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    As I mentioned in the Brooklyn Nets slide, having an abundance of talent isn't a bad thing.

    If you know how to properly use it.

    The New Orleans Pelicans shook things up this offseason, adding point guard Jrue Holiday and slasher Tyreke Evans to the roster. When healthy, each of them is used to putting up at least 15 shots per game.

    How will Monty Williams design the Pelicans' attack? Finding touches for both Eric Gordon and Holiday looked doable, but then they added they the enigmatic, inconsistent Evans to the roster, making us wonder whether they will play with two basketballs or something.

    It could be fun, but it will also be tricky for the next couple weeks.

New York Knicks: How Will Mike Woodson Use Andrea Bargnani?

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    Mike Woodson and the New York Knicks love Andrea Bargnani's talent, and they can't wait to use his length and shooting skills to put pressure on opponents.

    It's not just a simple matter of trotting him out there, though. Stretch 4 is Bargnani's most natural position, but Woodson can't undermine the scoring versatility and low-post effectiveness of Carmelo Anthony.

    Will Bargnani execute the perfect mixture of post-ups and outside shots in order to give Anthony room to operate from the wing or elbow? Will 'Melo also be able to post up enough?

    The Knicks would love to see Bargnani enjoy a bounce-back campaign, but not at the expense of Anthony's overall potency.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Can Jackson Facilitate in Westbrook's Absence?

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    With Russell Westbrook's arthroscopic knee surgery setting him back more than a month, the Oklahoma City Thunder need someone to chip in quarterbacking skills.

    Reggie Jackson is technically the team's backup floor general, but he doesn't exactly demonstrate pure point guard skills. He can distribute the rock at a moderate rate, although he's more of a slasher than anything else.

    Until Westbrook is back to full strength, which could be late November, Jackson must do his best to aid Kevin Durant in the nightly playmaking efforts.

    Can he keep OKC near the top of the West standings?

Orlando Magic: How Much Facilitating Can Victor Oladipo Do?

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    Victor Oladipo is one of the Orlando Magic's major cornerstones of the future, so the coaching staff is keenly interested in his facilitating capabilities.

    It's not an issue the club needs to solve tomorrow. However, they would like to assess his point guard potential as soon as possible.

    Summer league saw him dish five assists per night, and there were stretches of superb decision-making and passing. That doesn't automatically translate to the big stage, so the jury is still out on him.

    Can he effectively initiate offense? How comfortable is he in pick-and-roll situations? If Jacque Vaughn can quickly assess Oladipo's standing, he can expedite his development and the team's rebuilding process.

Philadelphia 76ers: Can Michael Carter-Williams Effectively Run the Offense?

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    Every Philadelphia 76ers fan, player and coach is thinking the same thing entering the Sixers' preseason.

    How good is this Michael Carter-Williams kid, and is he truly the franchise point guard?

    He rode the momentum of his Final Four run all the way to the NBA draft, but he can't live off draft stock once he faces the ruthless collection of Eastern Conference guards.

    Carter-Williams' summer league efforts included some impressive passing stretches and some horrible shooting. There's vast room for improvement.

    Can he present a balanced attack in October and win the confidence of the Sixers' brass? Or will we quickly be second-guessing the club's draft strategy?

Phoenix Suns: What Will Crowded Frontcourt Rotation Look Like?

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    One of Jeff Hornacek's toughest tasks as a young coach is to determine the frontcourt rotation of the Phoenix Suns.

    The depth chart includes four players at center (Marcin Gortat, Alex Len, Miles Plumlee and Viacheslav Kravtsov), and three at power forward (Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris and Channing Frye).

    Gortat is the best center of the group, but Len and Kravtsov deserve some substantial playing time because they're so young and malleable.

    At power forward, Hornacek must mix the Morris twins with a returning Channing Frye.

    Not only does he have to establish ideal playing-time chunks, but he has to assess which units work best together.

Portland Trail Blazers: Will They Get Enough Production at Center?

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    Terry Stotts' Portland Trail Blazers have a great first, second and third option, and the bench has been significantly upgraded in the offseason with the acquisition of C.J. McCollum, Thomas Robinson and Mo Williams.

    From a production standpoint, the biggest question mark lies at center, where Robin Lopez and Meyers Leonard will compete for minutes.

    Lopez holds a considerable advantage in the way of experience, but Leonard's edge lies in the athleticism and versatility departments.

    Will this positional competition lead to surprising contributions? Can Meyers Leonard win the battle and have a breakout sophomore season? Most importantly, can they give Rip City enough production throughout the year?

Sacramento Kings: Can the Re-Tooled Lineup Play Some Defense?

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    There's no doubt the Sacramento Kings have some foundational pieces with exceptional potential. DeMarcus Cousins, Ben McLemore and Co. represent the beginnings of an exciting time in Sac-town.

    Can they play defense together, though?

    New head coach Mike Malone is charged with molding this reshaped roster into a complete unit that displays good habits. Last year, the Kings gave up 105.1 points per game on 47 percent shooting. Malone hopes the addition of Luc Richard Mbah a Moute can help turn around those numbers.

    Camp is an opportunity to establish a new defensive outlook and chemistry. Will this group be ready to slow down the wild West come November? 

San Antonio Spurs: Will Young Role Players Step Up?

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    For some San Antonio Spurs fans, the biggest overall question involves the Big Three's ability to make one more run at a title. We won't get the answer to that until springtime.

    During training camp, however, Gregg Popovich will try to figure out how much he can get from his peripheral contributors—most notably guys like Cory Joseph, Tiago Splitter, Nando de Colo and Aron Baynes.

    It would be foolish to underestimate Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, but practical wisdom suggests they'll continue to gradually decline in production. More responsibility lies on the shoulders of the supporting cast, so they need to get prepared for a higher volume of work.

    Can Splitter take on more scoring and rebounding responsibilities in the paint? Can Cory Joseph translate his Team Canada success into NBA consistency?

    Pop will put them to the test early and often. 

Toronto Raptors: How Much Can the Bench Rotation Contribute on a Nightly Basis?

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    All of the Toronto Raptors' 2013 offseason moves involved the reserves, and it will be interesting to see how they fit in Dwane Casey's system.

    As a whole, the bench has a solid mixture of talent, but there are no surefire competitors. The ceiling is high, but the basement is also scary.

    If Terrence Ross and Quincy Acy enjoy surprising sophomore upswings, and Dwight Buycks turns into a steal, the Raptors may have a better bench than any of us expected.

    On the other hand, we could be looking at a heavy dose of one-dimensional players like Tyler Hansbrough, Steve Novak and D.J. Augustin. 

     

Utah Jazz: Can Trey Burke Create Offense at a High Level?

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    Much like the other young point guards featured in this article, Trey Burke is the main variable in the Utah Jazz's 2013-14 attack.

    After a disappointing summer league showing, Jazz fans are itching to know whether Burke can make all the plays necessary to lead Utah against the West's power franchises.

    Does he have the athleticism and shooting touch to be a constant threat from the perimeter? He shot 24 percent in summer league, so Tyrone Corbin hopes that was a fluke.

    Utah's other young pieces have already proven they deserve to be a part of the wave of the future. Burke has yet to win everyone over.

Washington Wizards: Can Kevin Seraphin Step Up While Emeka Okafor Is Out?

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    With Emeka Okafor out indefinitely (neck), the Washington Wizards need Kevin Seraphin to fill the void.

    The three-year pro from France has made gradual progress as a scorer but has never played more than 22 minutes per game in his career.

    He averaged 7.2 rebounds per 36 minutes in 2012-13—a rate that won't cut it against most Eastern Conference towers.

    When his mid-range touch is clicking and he's conscientiously protecting the basket, Seraphin is nearly just as impactful as Okafor. Wizards fans hope he delivers that kind of performance every night.