The Most Important Player Improvement for Every NBA Team In 2022-23

Mo DakhilFeatured Columnist IAugust 23, 2022

The Most Important Player Improvement for Every NBA Team In 2022-23

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    CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - NOVEMBER 12: RJ Barrett #9 of the New York Knicks drives to the basket against LaMelo Ball #2 of the Charlotte Hornets during the first half of their game at Spectrum Center on November 12, 2021 in Charlotte, North Carolina. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
    LaMelo Ball and RJ Barrett (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

    The 2022-23 NBA season is just around the corner. At this point, several teams have an optimistic view of their upcoming campaign.

    Each team will need someone to step up and help keep the good times going, even the reigning champions Golden State Warriors. Sometimes it will be a young player. Sometimes it might be a role player taking a leap forward, or even a multi-time All-Star changing their game.

    In some cases, it will be multiple players in a position group sharing a collective area of needed improvement. There is even a coach on the list!

    Teams are setting their own expectations for the season now, and here is a look at who they need to raise their games to reach their ceilings.

    The only rule was no rookies. They have to play a season before we assess what they need to do and how they must evolve in the interest of their franchises.

Atlanta Hawks: Trae Young

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    MIAMI, FLORIDA - APRIL 26: Trae Young #11 of the Atlanta Hawks reacts against the Miami Heat in Game Five of the Eastern Conference First Round at FTX Arena on April 26, 2022 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    Area of Improvement: Playing off the ball

    After a disappointing 2021-22 season for the Atlanta Hawks, the front office made a move to acquire Dejounte Murray. But that move will only be successful if Trae Young is willing to change his game.

    Murray was brought in to alleviate some of the ball handling and playmaking duties. The key will be Young working off the ball to let Murray cook.

    It is more than just giving up the ball on offense; it requires him to participate in those possessions. Young simply cannot give up the ball and stand three feet off the three-point line. He needs to work off screens more than last season. There were only 24 Hawks offensive possessions where Young took a shot off of off-screen actions, according to synergy sports technology.

    It may be weird asking the Hawks two-time All-Star to have to change his game but to maximize Atlanta's potential with Murray, Young must tweak his game and be more of a threat when the ball is not in his hands.

Boston Celtics: Robert Williams lll

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    SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JUNE 12: Robert Williams III #44 of the Boston Celtics looks on during 2022 NBA Finals Practice and Media Availability on June 12, 2022 at Chase Center in San Francisco, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

    Area of Improvement: Short roll pass

    The Boston Celtics were just two wins away from being NBA champions last season. They are the favorites on DraftKings to win the title in 2023 and there is not much they need to build upon. But it would be a massive upgrade for the Celtics if Robert Wiliams can consistently develop the short roll pass.

    A brief explainer of the short roll pass: Off a pick-and-roll when defenses double the ball handler, the screen rolls to the free-throw line area creating a passing outlet for the ball handler. From there it is a four-on-three advantage for the offense and it is usually a center making the decisions. Draymond Green has mastered it, but several centers are very good at it, including Boston's own Al Horford.

    Williams is capable of making the short roll pass; he's done it. He needs to become more consistent in seeing when to make that pass to the corner as well as delivering it properly. Adding that with the plethora of shooters Boston has will make a very tough team to defend even tougher.

Brooklyn Nets: Ben Simmons

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    LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 10:  Ben Simmons #10 Brooklyn Nets attends the 2022 Las Vegas Summer League between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Brooklyn Nets on July 10, 2022 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

    Area of Improvement: Being present

    Let's be honest. Brooklyn is a mess. There could be some roster turnover before the season begins, during the season…at any point really. It is all up in the air, but one player's improvement and presence could make a big difference, and that player is Ben Simmons.

    Yes, it has been a pretty disastrous year for Simmons. But forgetting the issues for a brief moment, he is still a two-time All-Defensive player with one All-NBA team under his belt. Getting Simmons back and in proper form can open up a lot for the Nets on both ends of the court.

    Simmons could help facilitate the offense and take playmaking responsibilities off the plates of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Then he can defend the opponent's best perimeter defender and even some bigs.

    Assuming the roster stays as it is, Simmons could be (yes, there are a lot of doubts) the key to salvaging the Nets.

Charlotte Hornets: LaMelo Ball

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    SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 05: LaMelo Ball #2 of the Charlotte Hornets attempting to steal the ball fouls Harrison Barnes #40 of the Sacramento Kings during the third quarter at Golden 1 Center on November 05, 2021 in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Area of Improvement: Defensive discipline

    The former Rookie of the Year LaMelo Ball followed that up by making the All-Star Game his sophomore season. He is a highlight machine, and when the ball is in his hands there is always a feeling that something exciting is coming. He needs, though, to get more locked in defensively in his third season.

    For everything Ball gives on the offensive end, he gambles way too much on defense. The Hornets ranked 22nd in defensive rating in 2021-22. Just improving that to the middle of the pack and keeping their offensive rating in the top 10 would shoot them up in the standings.

    This season Ball has to show more defensive discipline. Less gambling and solid positional defense will go a long way in the 21-year-old's development, especially with a defensive-minded coach like Steve Clifford.

Chicago Bulls: Patrick Williams/Alex Caruso/Lonzo Ball

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    CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22: Lonzo Ball #2 and Alex Caruso #6 of the Chicago Bulls high five during the game against the New Orleans Pelicans on October 22, 2021 at United Center in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

    Area of Improvement: Creating a defensive unit

    The trio of Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso and Patrick Williams is the key to Chicago's success. The Bulls had a great start last season but injuries to Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso took out their defensive backbone. Williams missed most of the year, returning to play 17 games—but Ball was already out at that point.

    With Ball returning healthy (he might be ready by training camp), Alex Caruso and Williams can form an even stronger defensive lineup for the Bulls. This would allow for coach Billy Donovan to play any mix of the trio if not all at once to cover for the defensive warts of DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic.

    The Bulls had a top 10 offensive and defensive team before the calendar changed. The talent is there, but once injuries hit the Bulls defense tumbled down to 23rd by the end of the year. If those three can stay healthy and DeRozan, LaVine and Vucevic keep up their offensive output, the Bulls could be in the mix for a top four finish in the East.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Isaac Okoro

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    CLEVELAND, OH - APRIL 10: Isaac Okoro #35 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on before the game against the Milwaukee Bucks on April 10, 2022 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)
    David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

    Area of Improvement: Three-point shooting

    Cleveland has just about every young building block a team can ask for: a star guard in Darius Garland, and a strong defensive twin tower setup in Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen. The one missing piece is a wing threat.

    Isaac Okoro has to become that threat. He is a solid defender to help cover for the small backcourt the Cavs start but his lack of range is a liability. It makes it difficult to put him on the court since it will crowd the paint.

    Okoro shot 35 percent from three last season but that was the shot the defense was willing to give up. Of his 157 three-point attempts, all but one of them were classified as either open (a defender being 4-6 feet away) or wide open (a defender not within 6).

    For the Cavs to go from being a young upstart team to a serious player in the Eastern Conference, Okoro not only needs to shoot better from three but be more willing to take those shots to force the defense to have to defend him.

Dallas Mavericks: Christian Wood and JaVale McGee

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    DALLAS, TEXAS - MARCH 23: Christian Wood #35 of the Houston Rockets looks to grab a rebound against Dorian Finney-Smith #10 of the Dallas Mavericks in the game at American Airlines Center on March 23, 2022 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Tim Heitman/Getty Images)
    Tim Heitman/Getty Images

    Area of Improvement: Rebounding presence

    The Mavericks made a surprising run to the Western Conference Finals last year but once they got there their lack of size really caught up with them. That is why newly acquired Christian Wood and JaVale McGee have to play big for Dallas this season.

    Wood is likely to get the starting nod at center and will have to replicate his rebounding efforts last season when he averaged a career-high in rebounds per game and rebound percentage. Off the bench, McGee cannot let those numbers drop while providing rim protection for the Mavs.

    In the playoffs, Dallas had the lowest rebound percentage of any team and the second lowest blocks per game. They were outrebounded by the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference by 11 rebounds a night.

    McGee and Wood have to give the Mavs an inside presence if they are going to build on their run from last season.

Denver Nuggets: Aaron Gordon

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    SAN FRANCISCO , CA - APRIL 27: Aaron Gordon (50) of the Denver Nuggets picks up an offensive foul for charging Draymond Green (23) of the Golden State Warriors seconds before being assessed a technical for dunking over the downed Green during the first quarter at Chase Center on Wednesday, April 27, 2022. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
    AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

    Area of Improvement: Becoming a lockdown defender

    For a large part of Aaron Gordon's career he has been miscast as a leading scorer. There was a glimmer of what was the perfect role for him once he was traded to Denver but that was short-lived with Jamal Murray's injury. Even last season, he was depended on to do much more on offense as Michael Porter Jr. eventually made his way to the injured list.

    This season, with the cast fully healthy (the hardest knock wood there is) Gordan can finally slide into the more suitable role as a wing defender and cutter to receive the passes of two-time MVP Nikola Jokic. It is unlikely that he will ever be the shooter many hoped for but for the Nuggets he will not have to be.

    With Jokic, Murray and Porter handling the offensive load, Gordon can focus on being a perimeter lockdown defender and help transform the Nuggets into title contenders.

Detroit Pistons: Isaiah Stewart

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    DETROIT, MI - APRIL 6: Isaiah Stewart #28 of the Detroit Pistons runs on the court during the game against the Dallas Mavericks  on April 6, 2022 at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Michigan. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Brian Sevald/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Brian Sevald/NBAE via Getty Images

    Area of Improvement: Extending his shooting range

    The Pistons have a very intriguing young squad headlined by Cade Cunningham but it is Isaiah Stewart who will need to take the biggest leap. Stewart will have to change his shot profile, not just to help Detroit but to ensure more playing time.

    In Stewart's first two seasons in the NBA, he has predominantly been an inside presence for the Pistons. During that time he has only taken a total of 109 threes, connecting on just 33 percent of them. With the addition of Jalen Duren at the draft, meaning the paint will be crowded.

    Spreading Stewart's range to the three-point line this season will allow the Pistons to play both bigs together. To his credit, Stewart played two games in the Las Vegas Summer League and attempted 4.5 threes making 55.6 percent of them. He even acknowledged the need to spread his game out saying "with how we want to play with two bigs, someone is going to have to space the floor."

    Stewart extending his range will give Detroit more spacing for their guards to drive into the paint and can lift the Pistons up in the standings.

Golden State Warriors: Moses Moody

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    SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 5: Moses Moody #4 of the Golden State Warriors drives to the basket against the Miami Heat during the 2022 California Classic on July 5, 2022 at Chase Center in San Francisco, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

    Area of Improvement: Filling the Payton/Porter role

    The defending champions are returning almost everyone from the roster except for Gary Payton II and Otto Porter Jr.. That will open up the minutes for Moses Moody to begin blossoming during his second season.

    With a veteran-heavy roster last year, Moody only appeared in 52 games, some of that being garbage time. When he saw time, Moody shot 36.4 percent from three on 2.1 attempts a game. In summer league, he dropped 34 points in the first of two games he played.

    The offense is a nice bonus for the Warriors, but they really need Moody to fill the defensive void left by Payton and Porter. In 2021-22, Golden State had a 108.9 defensive rating with him on the court. If he can improve on that end, it will lessen the loss of those two key role players.

Houston Rockets: Jalen Green

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    HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 10: Jalen Green #0 of the Houston Rockets looks on during the game against the Atlanta Hawks on April 10, 2022 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images

    Area of Improvement: Improved playmaking

    Jalen Green had an impressive rookie season making the first-team all-rookie squad. He will have to build on that to help lift the Houston Rockets out of the NBA basement.

    The rookie campaign started out slow in the first half of the season. Green averaged just 14.6 points per game on 38.7 and 31.1 percent shooting splits with a near one-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio. He elevated his game after the All-Star break, averaging 22.1 points while hitting 47.6 and 38.7 percent. Green also improved his playmaking, raising his assist numbers to 3.2 while lowering his turnovers to 1.6.

    Houston has a ton of young talent but it needs Green to continue the trend he had going in the second half of the season being more efficient while improving his playmaking skills. He will need to improve on that level to help launch the Rockets.

Indiana Pacers: Tyrese Haliburton

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    NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 10: Tyrese Haliburton #0 of the Indiana Pacers dribbles during the second half against the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center on April 10, 2022 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Nets won 134-126. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
    Sarah Stier/Getty Images

    Area of Improvement: Step into a leadership role

    After being traded to Indiana and the Pacers, in turn, sending Malcolm Brogdon to Boston, Tyrese Haliburton is officially the lead guard of an NBA team.

    In Haliburton's 26 games as a Pacer he put up good numbers, 17.5 points per game on 50.2/41.6/84.9 shooting splits while dishing out 9.6 dimes. Indiana is transitioning into a younger squad centered around him.

    A big area where he will need to improve on the court is getting to the free throw line. He averaged just 2.5 free-throw attempts last season; Haliburton needs to get that number up to at least five attempts a game, if not more. He is too good of a shooter to not take advantage of getting to the line.

    The Pacers are going to be young and fun but the ultimate success for them will be Haliburton stepping into the lead guard role.

Los Angeles Clippers: Ivica Zubac

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    CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 31: Ivica Zubac #40 of the LA Clippers dunks the ball during the game against the Chicago Bulls on March 31, 2022 at United Center in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

    Area of Improvement: Be the big man they need

    LA will likely close games going small using either Robert Covington or Marcus Morris at center, but depending on the matchup, they may need to size up.

    That is where Ivica Zubac comes in.

    The Clippers have only two traditional centers, one of which being Moses Brown, who is more a project than a contributor. That puts a lot of center minutes on Zubac, who over his six-year career, has grown into a starter role.

    Last season Zubac averaged a career-high in points and rebounds, but this coming season, to help the Clippers be the champion contenders many expect them to be, he may need to average a double-double in points and rebounds.

    Playing against the likes of Denver or Phoenix, LA might not be able to play small and that is where having a 10-rebounds-a-night big with a strong defensive aptitude can go a long way.

Los Angeles Lakers: Anthony Davis

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    PHOENIX, AZ - APRIL 5: Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots the ball during the game against the Phoenix Suns on April 5, 2022 at Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

    Area of Improvement: Make jumpers again!

    The Lakers have struggled massively since winning the championship in 2020. Injuries have played a role but the bigger issue has been the precipitous drop in Anthony Davis’ shooting.

    During that playoff run, Davis connected on 49.6 percent of his mid-range shots and 38.3 from three. Since then, his numbers from the mid-range dropped to 35.8 percent and 22.9 percent from deep. The last two seasons have been his worst shooting seasons from three over the last seven years.

    Los Angeles is going to need a big shooting season from Davis to help space the floor. The lack of shooting was an issue for them last season. Driving lanes were clogged for LeBron James and the whole team.

    The shooting in the bubble might have been an aberration but if the Lakers are going to have success in the 2022-23 season, Davis is going to have to shoot the ball at that level. The Lakers are desperately in need of shooting and need Davis to contribute in a meaningful way.

Memphis Grizzlies: Ziaire Williams

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    SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH - JULY 05: Ziaire Williams #8 of the Memphis Grizzlies looks on during a NBA Summer League game against the Philadelphia 76ers at Vivint Arena on July 05, 2022 in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
    Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

    Area of Improvement: Become a three-point threat

    Kyle Anderson's departure in free agency has dinged the Grizzlies' depth at small forward. To offset that loss, Memphis needs Ziaire Williams to really emerge in his second season.

    As a rookie, Williams averaged 21.7 minutes and the Grizzlies were a plus 4.2 when he was on the floor. His numbers declined in the playoffs as did his effectiveness with a -7.7 net rating for Memphis.

    To be a key contributor for the Grizzlies, Williams will have to improve his three-point shooting from the 31.4 percent he shot last season. The good news for Memphis, in the three games he played in summer league he shot 36.4 percent on 3.7 three point attempts. It is a small sample size but it is a sign of improvement.

    Yes, Anderson was not a floor spread but he was a better defender and the Grizzlies used him as a ball handler. That is not something Williams is going to be able to replicate and it is not what Memphis needs. They need him to be a reliable enough three-point shooter to keep the lane clear for Ja Morant to fly down.

Miami Heat: Tyler Herro

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    MIAMI, FLORIDA - MAY 29: Tyler Herro #14 of the Miami Heat looks against the Boston Celtics during the second quarter in Game Seven of the 2022 NBA Playoffs Eastern Conference Finals at FTX Arena on May 29, 2022 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Area of Improvement: Defense

    "You wanna be a starter, you really have to become a two-way player today." That was a quote from Pat Riley after the Heat's season in response to Tyler Herro's desire to become a starter. It is a challenge for Herro to improve his defense.

    The Heat have not made a substantial move so far this offseason making Herro's improved defense the most important thing to focus on. He did make strides as a defender; the Heat had a defensive rating of 110.6 when he was on the floor in 2020-21. Last season that improved to 108.1. But he took a step back defensively in the playoffs when the Heat's defensive rating was 114.8 when he was on the floor and 99.0 when he was off.

    The Heat needs Herro on the floor to add to his offensive firepower but it cannot come at the cost of their defense like it did in the playoffs. His improvement on that is the most important key for Miami.

Milwaukee Bucks: Any Wings Not Named Middleton

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    MILWAUKEE, WI - MAY 13: Wesley Matthews #23 and Head Coach Mike Budenholzer of the Milwaukee Bucks talk during Game 6 of the 2022 NBA Playoffs Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Boston Celtics on May 13, 2022 at the Fiserv Forum Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images).
    Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

    Area of Improvement: Help in the halfcourt offense

    Milwaukee could very well have gone to the Finals for the second year in a row had it not been for an unfortunate knee injury to Khris Middleton. His absence hurt the Bucks in the halfcourt offense.

    In the playoffs, according to Synergy Sports Technology, the halfcourt offense points per possession was 0.865—a big drop from 0.999 in the regular season. Apart from Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday, Milwaukee was hard pressed to find offense elsewhere.

    Middleton should be back near the start of the season after wrist surgery. But the Bucks will need a combination of Wesley Matthews, Grayson Allen, rookie MarJon Beauchamp and Joe Ingles (once healthy) to step up in the halfcourt to take some pressure off the core three.

    Ingles might be the most interesting player of that group assuming he comes back healthy. At his best, Ingles is a strong secondary playmaker with a career 40.8 percent three-point shooter and would be a perfect fit for the Bucks.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Anthony Edwards

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    MEMPHIS, TN - APRIL 26: Anthony Edwards #1 of the Minnesota Timberwolves smiles during the game against the Memphis Grizzlies during Round 1 Game 5 of the NBA Playoffs on April 26, 2022 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)
    David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

    Area of Improvement: Clutch scoring

    The Minnesota Timberwolves took a massive swing this offseason trading for Rudy Gobert to help capitalize on their run in the playoffs. For the Wolves to continue to take the leap, Anthony Edwards is going to have to continue to develop into their star player.

    Edwards had a great sophomore season and was the Wolves' leading scorer in the playoffs. He shot 40.4 percent from three, up from his regular season 35.7 percent. He needs to continue to develop his game and become Minnesota's go-to scorer down the stretch.

    During the regular season, Edwards fell short in the clutch. In games with a three point differential in the final three minutes, he averaged just 0.6 points and shot 18.2 percent from the field. For the Wolves to build on their success of last season, Edwards has to deliver in clutch situations.

New Orleans Pelicans: Zion Williamson

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    NEW ORLEANS, LA - APRIL 28: Zion Williamson #1 works with Assistant Coach Teresa Weatherspoon of the New Orleans Pelicans before the game against the New Orleans Pelicans during Round 1 Game 6 of the 2022 NBA Playoffs on April 28, 2022 at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)
    David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

    Area of Improvement: Availability

    This should come as no surprise. Zion Williamson is the player the Pelicans need the most to step up, but It's not so much "improve" as much as it's simply being available. He missed all of last season and since being drafted has only played in 85 games in three years.

    When Williamson plays, he is a dynamic force that teams have not been able to figure out how to deal with. Point Zion got downhill either in transition or off a pick-and-roll that yielded results. He shot 61.1 percent from the field leading to averaging 27 points in his second season.

    New Orleans came on strong after a disastrous start to make the play-in tournament and then the playoffs and eventually pushed the Phoenix Suns to six games. They did it on the backs of Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum and company.

    Adding Williamson to the mix should give coach Willie Green a new tool to leverage defenses. If the Pelicans can take a step forward it will be dependent on the availability of Williamson.

New York Knicks: RJ Barrett

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    NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 06: RJ Barrett #9 of the New York Knicks looks on during the second half against the Brooklyn Nets at Madison Square Garden on April 06, 2022 in New York City. The Nets won 110-98. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
    Sarah Stier/Getty Images

    Area of Improvement: Consistent three-point shooting

    The Knicks had a disappointing season last year missing the play-in tournament. They since made a big move signing Jalen Brunson away from Dallas, but for the Knicks to be successful, it will be RJ Barrett taking a serious leap forward in his fourth year.

    Barrett has improved his scoring each season but his three-point shooting fell off the cliff in 2021-22. He went from connecting on 40.1 percent from three as a sophomore to 34.2 percent last year.

    The second half of the season was a promising sign for Barrett's development. He led the Knicks in scoring and got to the free throw line 8.3 times a game. The next stop will be his shooting from deep. If he can reliably connect on 38 percent of his threes or higher, he can develop into a second option for the Knicks.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Josh Giddey

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    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JULY 09: Josh Giddey #3 of the Oklahoma City Thunder shoots against Jabari Smith Jr. #1, TyTy Washington Jr. #0 and Josh Christopher #9 of the Houston Rockets during the 2022 NBA Summer League at the Thomas & Mack Center on July 09, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    Area of Improvement: Spot-up shooting

    There is a fun and talented team being built in Oklahoma City. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lu Dort are the elder statesmen for the Thunder. But Josh Giddey's development is going to be the deciding factor for how successful they will be.

    Passing is not the issue. Giddey does a great job of keeping the ball moving and has developed chemistry with rookie Chet Holmgren. It is his shooting that the Thunder are going to need him to build upon.

    Last season Giddey shot 26.3 percent from three. His improvement as a shooter creates more space and allows him to be a threat when the ball is not in his hand. This may be the case as Gilgeous-Alexander will be the primary ball handler so Giddey has to be a threat to spot-up.

    The good news is the Thunder has brought in renowned shooting coach Chip Engelland from San Antonio to help the cause. Oklahoma can climb in the standings if Giddey takes a leap as a shooter.

Orlando Magic: Wendell Carter, Jr./Mo Bamba

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    ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 2:  Mo Bamba #5 of the Orlando Magic high fives Wendell Carter Jr. #34 of the Orlando Magic during the game against the Indiana Pacers on March 2, 2022 at Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Gary Bassing/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Gary Bassing/NBAE via Getty Images

    Area of Improvement: Shooting and Rebounding

    This season will be an exciting one for the Orlando Magic with the No. 1 pick in Paolo Banchero in the fold. The big area, though, where the Magic leap forward comes from improved play from their big men Wendell Carter Jr and Mo Bamba.

    Carter had a career year rebounding and scoring with 10.5 boards nightly and 15 points a night. The one drawback for him is his three-point shooting. He is a career 29.8 percent three-point shooter and the Magic need that to climb closer to 34-35 percent so he can help spread the floor.

    Bamba is a better three-point shooter than Carter but he needs to increase his rebounding output to align closer with Carter's double-digits. He averaged just 8.1 rebounds which is a career high but needs to be higher.

    The Magic went with the twin towers blueprint last season but with Banchero probably taking the power forward spot, it will be critical for the big men to become interchangeable and have a little more of each other's game.

Philadelphia 76ers: James Harden

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    PHILADELPHIA, PA, USA - MAY 12: Philadelphia 76ers player James Harden warms up ahead of the NBA match between Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States on May 12, 2022. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
    Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

    Area of Improvement: Locking in

    The Sixers' season ended on a real sour note and a lot of fingers were pointed at James Harden. There is not a skill the former MVP needs to improve on but he simply needs to be better.

    Harden will need to find the balance of his scoring and when to get his teammates involved. The Sixers have a ton of talented players headlined by two-time MVP runner up Joel Embiid, young upstart Tyrese Maxey and the skilled Tobias Harris. Understanding who to get involved with and when is what Harden needs to do.

    There have been whispers this offseason that Harden is taking his conditioning seriously. Doc Rivers all but confirmed that in a recent visit to the VC Show with Vince Carter "He works out with our development guys and they report back that he's in great shape".

    The Sixers need a locked in Harden to compete for the title. If they get that, Philadelphia has a strong chance at a deep playoff run.

Phoenix Suns: Cam Johnson

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    PHOENIX, AZ - MAY 15: Cameron Johnson #23 of the Phoenix Suns dribbles the ball during the game against the Dallas Mavericks during Game 7 of the 2022 NBA Playoffs Western Conference Semifinals on May 15, 2022 at Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

    Area of Improvement: Operating off the dribble

    Even though the Suns had a sour ending last season, this team still has a lot of talent after bringing back DeAndre Ayton. Phoenix is not spoken about as much but they are still contenders in the Western Conference, especially if Cam Johnson can make a Mikal Bridges-like leap this season.

    Johnson was an important piece for Phoenix, a rangy small/power forward with three-point range. He connected on 42.5 percent of his threes last season and nearly six attempts a game. Johnson is also a strong defender, with the Suns posting a defensive rating of 104.6 when he was on the floor.

    What Johnson needs to add is more dribble attacks to his game to take the next step forward. Defenses play him as a shooter but Johnson needs to attack these closeouts off the bounce to open up more opportunities.

    The Suns were starting Jae Crowder at the power forward spot but if Johnson can make this improvement to his game, he should supplant the older Crowder out of the starting lineup and give the Suns a stronger team to start games with.

Portland Trail Blazers: Anfernee Simons

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    PORTLAND, OREGON - FEBRUARY 27: Anfernee Simons #1 of the Portland Trail Blazers reacts against the Denver Nuggets during the second quarter at Moda Center on February 27, 2022 in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
    Abbie Parr/Getty Images

    Area of Improvement: Maintain efficiency with less usage

    It was a breakout year for Anfernee Simons in Portland last year. Damian Lillard played only 29 games, CJ McCollum was traded to the Pelicans and the stakes were low with the Blazers out of contention.

    That being said, Simons took advantage of the opportunity and delivered massively for Portland. He averaged a career high 17.3 points while shooting 40.5 percent from three. It did not produce wins but it gave the Blazers a glimpse into the future and made it easier to move off McCollum.

    Simons did all of that with a 24.4 percent usage rate, another career high. But with the arrival of Jerami Grant from Detroit and Lillard returning from injury, It is likely his usage rate will go down.

    In a crowded western conference, Simons is going to have to find a way to be as effective if not even more effective with a lower usage rate to get the Blazers back in the playoff race.

Sacramento Kings: De'Aaron Fox

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    SACRAMENTO, CA - MARCH 16: Interim Head coach Alvin Gentry and De'Aaron Fox #5 of the Sacramento Kings face the Milwaukee Bucks on March 16, 2022 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

    Area of Improvement: Defensive Effort

    De'Aaron Fox has seen a lot over his time as a Sacramento King but he has not seen the playoffs. The longest playoff drought in the NBA has been going strong for the last 16 seasons. If this is the year the Kings finally break through, it is going to require Fox to give more effort defensively.

    The best defensive rating the Kings have had with Fox on the floor was 109.1 in the 2018-19 season. Sacramento finished 21st in defensive rating that season. Last season the team's defensive rating was 116.5 with Fox on the floor. This is not asking Fox to become a lockdown defender but don't be a negative defender. Offensively the Kings are set up pretty nicely pairing Fox with Domantas Sabonis but it will not matter if they are giving away those points they earned on the defensive end.

    An improved effort from Fox, who is flanked by some solid defenders, should raise the Kings' defense high enough to compete for a play-in spot this season.

San Antonio Spurs: Keldon Johnson

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    NEW ORLEANS, LA - APRIL 13: Keldon Johnson #3 of the San Antonio Spurs handles the ball during the game against the New Orleans Pelicans on April 13, 2022 at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images)
    Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

    Area of Improvement: Playmaking

    Fresh off of signing a $74 million extension and Dejounte Murray being traded, the Spurs are now Keldon Johnson's team.

    For the Spurs to have a big season (even though they appear to be tanking), Johnson needs to embrace that role as the number one Spur.

    In Johnson's three-year career he has improved his scoring average each season, finishing last season with a career 17 point scoring average. With the Derrick White and Murray trades in the books, he is going to have to add more playmaking to his repertoire. The ball will be in his hands much more and it will need to be spread around the court.

    With an increased role comes increased responsibility. The Spurs have had a history of helping players develop more playmaking skills from DeMar DeRozan to Murray. It is now Johnson's time to learn to balance being a distributor and a scorer.

Toronto Raptors: Scottie Barnes

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    TORONTO, ON - APRIL 28:  Scottie Barnes #4 of the Toronto Raptors puts up a shot over Danny Green #14 of the Philadelphia 76ers during the first half of Game Six of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Toronto Raptors at Scotiabank Arena on April 28, 2022 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)
    Cole Burston/Getty Images

    Area of Improvement: Three-point threat

    Last season's Rookie of the Year, Scottie Barnes, serves as a jack of all trades for the Raptors. At just 21 years old in his inaugural campaign, he defended positions 1 through 5 while operating all over the floor on offense as a playmaker, post-up and isolation player.

    Where his game can really develop is around his shooting.

    According to Synergy Sports Technology, Barnes' second most frequent play type was spot-up shooting and it was his worst points per possession at .788. He shot 30.1 percent from three on 2.6 attempts. Even though the Raptors have plenty of shooters, they ranked 20th in the regular season and they shot only 29.9 percent during the playoffs.

    The Raptors are one of the toughest and scrappiest teams in the NBA; Barnes adding a deep ball adds another threat for defenses and also opens up driving lanes for him.

Utah Jazz: Will Hardy

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    SALT LAKE CITY, UT - JULY 05:  Ryan Smith Owner, Will Hardy Head Coach and Danny Ainge CEO of Basketball Operations of the Utah Jazz speak during a press conference about Will Hardy as the new Head Coach at vivint.SmartHome Arena on July 05, 2022 in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

    Area of Improvement: Setting the tone

    This might seem like a copout but with the Jazz's roster in flux, Will Hardy is the most important member of the franchise next season. As a first-time head coach, this is an opportunity to set the culture as Utah goes over some roster turnover.

    The Jazz are going through changes after trading Rudy Gobert and it seems they are willing to move Donovan Mitchell. Assuming Mitchell is traded, expectations will be lowered. So Hardy will have a chance to reset the culture in his own vision.

    Hardy rose through the ranks in San Antonio and was the top assistant to Ime Udoka in Boston last season. For his first year to be successful, he will need to set the tone for how he wants the team to operate on the court.

Washington Wizards: Monte Morris

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    SAN FRANCISCO, CA - APRIL 27: Monte Morris #11 of the Denver Nuggets moves the ball up court against the Golden State Warriors during Round 1 Game 5 of the 2022 NBA Playoffs on April 27, 2022 at Chase Center in San Francisco, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

    Area of Improvement: Playmaking

    Monte Morris may be new in town from Denver but he will play a major role for Washington. Ever since John Wall was dealing with injuries, the Wizards never had a real playmaker. Morris can fill that void. Someone has to find a way to get Bradley Beal the ball!

    Last season, as a secondary playmaker for the Nuggets, Morris averaged a career-high in assists with 4.4 and just one turnover per game. He will have a larger role as a ball handler as Washington tries to lighten the load on Beal. Morris will have the opportunity to raise his career even higher this season.

    It will not just be distributing the ball to Beal. Kyle Kuzma, Will Barton and the young wings will all need touches. On top of the playmaking responsibility, Morris must continue to knock down his deep ball at the near 40 percent he shoots.

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