Every NBA Team's Biggest FlawAugust 25, 2013
Every NBA Team's Biggest Flaw
With offseason roster construction complete, we now have enough information to properly discern what each team's respective strengths and weaknesses are.
Team flaws take on varying degrees of severity based on the composition of rosters, but it's clear that no team is perfect. Even the defending champion Miami Heat have issues with size, and we saw them exposed throughout the postseason against the Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs.
As the season inches closer, we've compiled a primer of each NBA team's most glaring flaw and how it may hinder success in the year ahead.
Atlanta Hawks: Starting Shooting Guard
The Atlanta Hawks brought back Jeff Teague and replaced Josh Smith with Paul Millsap this summer, but one big question continues to linger: Who will start at shooting guard for Mike Budenholzer's bunch?
There are two candidates, but neither is particularly appealing in a starting capacity. As of Sunday, Rotoworld is projecting that second-year sharpshooter John Jenkins will start at the 2 with Lou Williams coming off the bench. That's the most logical scenario, for Williams has only started 47 games over the course of his eight-year career.
Williams is comfortable in his role as an instant offense creator and is one of the league's best when he's fully healthy. The problem with starting Jenkins at the 2 is that the Hawks already have Kyle Korver locked into the starting lineup.
Slotting Jenkins next to him would give Atlanta few off-the-dribble creators in its starting five. Jenkins would allow them to space the floor a bit more, but his offensive game is rather limited.
Boston Celtics: Frontcourt
The Boston Celtics' frontcourt is a jumbled mess. Brad Stevens has the fortune of being able to develop two prospects in Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk, but it's unclear if either is going to amount to more than a solid rotational body.
Sullinger showed promise during his rookie campaign (six points and 5.9 rebounds a night), but was limited to 45 games due to a back injury. Health will be key for Sullinger, and it would be a shame to see the red flags that dropped him down draft boards last summer turn out to be legitimate long-term issues.
In Olynyk, the Celtics have a seven-footer who can stretch the floor. With the skill set to contribute immediately, Olynyk shouldn't have a problem finding his niche. The problem for Boston is that they have no true center. Olynyk has the height, but not the bulk and Sullinger the opposite, while Brandon Bass and Kris Humphries are nothing more than pieces who add depth.
Humphries and Bass may very well comprise the Celtics' starting frontcourt when the season opens, but this is a team that figures to be on the outside looking in at playoff time. Situated at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, Sullinger and Olynyk should get plenty of chances to show that they're deserving of the starting gigs.
Brooklyn Nets: Age
The average age of the Brooklyn Nets' starting lineup is 31.6 years old. In a league that's dominated by talented young prospects, that has to be an alarming figure for Nets fans.
There's no doubting that the Nets significantly improved their title odds with the additions of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko. However, Brooklyn's title window shrank considerably due to their offseason activity.
In the end, it's a trade-off Mikhail Prokhorov and the Nets organization were willing to make. And if Prokhorov's past spending is any indication, he may very well spend even more to extend Brooklyn's title window beyond Pierce and Garnett's retirement.
Charlotte Bobcats: Lack of Defensive Stability
The Charlotte Bobcats may not have finished last season with the worst record in the NBA, but they still struggled mightily on the defensive end. According to Basketball-Reference.com, the Bobcats allowed 102.7 points per game last season, the second-worst mark in the Association. To make matters worse, they allowed 111.5 points per 100 possessions, which ranked dead last.
Charlotte did well to re-sign their best wing defender in Gerald Henderson, although his status as such is pending improvement from Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in year two. Kidd-Gilchrist has the potential and physical attributes to be one of the league's best and will be a key piece to the Bobcats' revival.
However, Charlotte is sorely lacking the same defensive potential on the interior, where the additions of Cody Zeller and Al Jefferson don't figure to help matters. Zeller and Jefferson could prove to be a nice offensive one-two punch, but neither is known for their stingy defense.
It's going to be a few years before the Bobcats find their defensive footing.
Chicago Bulls: Three-Point Shooting
It's been well-documented that the Chicago Bulls offense struggled without Derrick Rose.
In 2012-13, the Bulls shot 43.7 percent from the field as a team and a concerning 35.3 percent from three. That mark ranked 21st in the NBA, and on the season, the Bulls attempted just 1,265 treys, the second-lowest number in the league. Chicago hit on 446 of those attempts and finished ahead of only the Minnesota Timberwolves in that category.
So have things changed for the better in the Windy City? From a three-point shooting perspective, Rose's return shouldn't inspire that much confidence. For his career, Rose is a 31 percent shooter from deep. However, what Rose does bring to the table is an ability to free up looks for the few shooting wings the Bulls have.
With an ability to penetrate defenses and draw double-teams, Rose should be able to make life easier for Luol Deng, Mike Dunleavy and Jimmy Butler from beyond the arc.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Defending the Three
Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers have plenty to improve upon if they're going to make the playoffs this season, but one area of focus should be defending the three.
Last season, opponents hit on 37.2 percent of their threes against the Cavs, the sixth-worst mark in the NBA. Dion Waiters still needs to find his footing defensively at the professional level, but Mike Brown and the Cavs should benefit from Earl Clark's presence on the perimeter. The 6'10'' Clark is an improvement from a physical standpoint over 6'6'' Alonzo Gee and is a more reliable wing defender.
Not much else changed for the Cavs on the perimeter this offseason, so they'll need to hope that their young core grows and posts a better defensive rating than the putrid 109.4 from last season.
Dallas Mavericks: Backcourt Defense
Check out the Dallas Mavericks' starting lineup and you'll notice some glaring defensive problems. Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis are the team's new starting backcourt staples, and while that may be good news offensively, the two have career defensive ratings of 111 and 110, respectively, per Basketball-Reference.com.
For a team that ranked 27th in opponent's points per game last season, the additions of Ellis and Calderon figure to hinder any progress Rick Carlisle was hoping to make on the defensive end. Shawn Marion and Jae Crowder remain the team's only reliable lockdown wing defenders, with Vince Carter firmly out of the picture in that regard.
The Mavericks' roster looks questionable on paper, and once play gets underway, those thoughts should be validated after witnessing some defensive breakdowns.
Denver Nuggets: Perimeter Defense
Losing one of the game's premier wing defenders hurts. It hurts even more when your team allowed opponents to shoot 36.3 percent from three last season.
The Denver Nuggets saw Andre Iguodala depart for the Golden State Warriors this summer, a huge blow to a defense that ranked 23rd in opponent's points per game last season. Denver surrendered the second-most three-point attempts (1,894) and makes (687) in 2012-13, a major reason why they came undone in the first round of the playoffs against Golden State.
Brian Shaw wasn't given an adequate replacement to Iguodala, and he'll be forced to work with a platoon of Randy Foye, Evan Fournier and Wilson Chandler to slow down defenders while Danilo Gallinari rehabs from a partially torn ACL.
A year after posting 57 wins, expect the Nuggets to hover below the 50-win mark next season.
Detroit Pistons: Floor Spacing
The 2013-14 Detroit Pistons will likely score their fair share of points, but they won't always come easy. Not with Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith on the same team.
Jennings and Smith love their long, contested twos, and it appears as if both will be given plenty of opportunities to take their favorite inefficient shots in Maurice Cheeks' offense. Having Jennings run the point is bad enough, but all indications are pointing to the Pistons starting Smith at the 3, with Greg Monroe at the 4 and Andre Drummond at the 5.
If Smith does indeed start at small forward, Detroit's lineup will fail to space the floor effectively. Even worse, unless Drummond's post game improved dramatically over the summer, defenses will focus on stopping Smith and Monroe exclusively.
Golden State Warriors: Interior Defense
During the 2012-13 season, the Golden State Warriors allowed 103.1 points per 100 possessions with David Lee on the floor. When he was on the bench, the Dubs were two points better per 100 possessions. It may not be a huge margin, but the numbers indicate that Lee deters the Warriors' best defensive efforts.
Andrew Bogut is a rock in the middle on defense, so this is not intended to be a slight directed toward the Aussie. The bottom line is that Lee is not an intimidating presence down on the blocks. He doesn't disrupt opponents' shots and has never blocked more than 0.5 per game in a single season.
Making matters worse is the addition of Marreese Speights, who will now back Lee up at the 4. Speights can stretch opposing defenses, but is anything but reliable or motivated when it comes to locking players down.
Houston Rockets: Turnovers
Playing at a breakneck pace is good for several things, but taking care of the ball is not one of them. Last season, the Houston Rockets ranked first in pace, churning out 96.1 possessions per 48 minutes, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
The downside to that is Houston had far more opportunities to turn the ball over, and they did. The Rockets committed 15.8 turnovers per game last season, and according to Basketball-Reference.com, ranked dead last with a turnover percentage of 14.9.
Perhaps Kevin McHale's system will slow down just a tad in an attempt to get Dwight Howard some more post touches in the half court, but don't expect any revolutionary changes after the Rockets scored 106 points per game last season.
Indiana Pacers: Pace of Play
The Indiana Pacers aren't a prolific offensive squad, evident by the 94.7 points they scored per game last season. But what many don't realize is that the Pacers don't fill it up offensively because they play at one of the league's slowest paces.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, the Pacers churned out 90.2 possessions per 48 minutes, the sixth-slowest pace in the NBA.
Now, those who are familiar with the Pacers know that they win with defense first (league-best defensive rating of 99.8 last season, per Basketball-Reference.com), but it's hard to imagine that they'll be able to top the Miami Heat or Chicago Bulls if they don't start moving their offense at a faster clip.
Paul George is an athletic specimen built to move in the open floor, but it's simply not reasonable expecting Frank Vogel to institute a system that requires bigs like David West and Roy Hibbert to get out on the move.
The Pacers aren't speedy enough to shake up their style of play, so they must step up their efficiency in the half court to match the offensive proficiency of other Eastern Conference title contenders.
Los Angeles Clippers: DeAndre Jordan's Offensive Limitations
Four years and $43 million is a bit much to be paying a center of DeAndre Jordan's caliber. By matching the Golden State Warriors' offer sheet in December 2011, the Clippers committed to Jordan for the future at center.
While his defense has been steady, Jordan's offensive production has not increased significantly, nor has his repertoire of post moves. Jordan's offensive game is dependent upon lobs and putbacks and not much else. He averaged a career-high 8.8 points per game last season, but on a team that just added more shot creators and shooters, that number could very easily dip in 2013-14.
There's also the matter of Jordan's inability to hit free throws. For his career, Jordan is a 42.4 percent shooter from the stripe and hit on just 38.6 percent of his freebies last season. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin help mask Jordan's offensive deficiencies, but there's no way his one-dimensional game is worth the money he's making.
Los Angeles Lakers: Depth at All 5 Positions
The problem that plagues the Los Angeles Lakers is a product of their muddied salary cap situation. Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash are combining to make roughly $59.1 million this coming season, which left the Lakers with minimal cap room to sign much-needed depth.
For reference, here are the Lakers' projected backups at each position entering the 2013-14 season, per Rotoworld:
- Point guard: Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar
- Shooting guard: Jodie Meeks
- Small Forward: Nick Young/Wesley Johnson
- Power Forward: Ryan Kelly, Elias Harris
- Center: Jordan Hill, Robert Sacre
In short, that's not pretty.
Young and Johnson could prove to be adequate fill-ins at the 3, but success will be dependent on one's ability to play defense and the other's capability to create offense.
The depth behind Gasol is even more concerning, as Ryan Kelly and Elias Harris are both rookies. Jordan Hill could slide into a role as a combination power forward-center, but it remains to be seen how Mike D'Antoni will work with the difficult hand he's been dealt.
Memphis Grizzlies: Off-the-Dribble Scoring
"Grit-n-grind" is the philosophy that has contributed to the Memphis Grizzlies' success in recent years, but the one thing that strategy doesn't emphasize is off-the-dribble shot-making.
With defense and low-post offense the primary focus of the Grizzlies in recent years, the team hasn't relied on its wings or backcourt to step up and create shots for themselves. And when you look at their personnel, it makes sense.
Point guard Mike Conley is starting to emerge as one of the game's better ball handlers, so perhaps one more season of development will make him a stronger shooter off the bounce.
But Tayshaun Prince, Mike Miller and Quincy Pondexter are all shaky shooters moving with the ball, and are better served spotting up on the perimeter. Tony Allen, on the other hand, is best served not shooting beyond 15 feet at all (he hit on 30.8 percent of his attempts between 16 feet and the three-point line last season, per Basketball-Reference.com).
Miami Heat: Lack of Size
Just about the only knock on the Miami Heat is their lack of size. Chris Bosh, Chris Andersen and Udonis Haslem comprise the league's most undersized frontcourt. However, Miami did go out and snag Greg Oden this summer in hopes that the bulky seven-footer will be able to strengthen their interior toughness.
Oden gives the Heat a true center, but it remains unclear just how much he'll play as he eases his way back into the pro game.
The Heat will hope Oden can contribute right away, considering they finished last season ranked 26th in offensive rebounding percentage (22.2 percent) and 24th in defensive rebounding percentage (73 percent), per Basketball-Reference.com.
Milwaukee Bucks: Shot Selection
No more Brandon Jennings, no more problem, right? Not so fast. Jennings' shooting inefficiencies are well-documented, but he was only a part of the problem for the Milwaukee Bucks.
Last season, the Bucks ranked 28th in the NBA with a field-goal percentage of 43.5 while they allowed opponents to hit on 45.4 percent of their shots. In addition, according to HoopData, the Bucks ranked 25th last season on shots between 10 and 15 feet, converting on 39.2 percent of such shots.
That's especially bad news because Milwaukee ranked 12th league-wide in attempts from that range. The Bucks also finished in the bottom 10 in field-goal percentage on shots between 16 and 23 feet (36.5).
So what's changed for the Bucks? Brandon Knight, who shoots 41 percent from the field for his career, has replaced Jennings, while O.J. Mayo is taking Monta Ellis' spot in the starting lineup.
Mayo represents an upgrade over Ellis, but only if he can replicate his production from last season. In his lone campaign with the Dallas Mavericks, Mayo shot 44.9 percent from the field and 40.9 percent from three (a career-high) en route to 15.3 points per game.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Three-Point Shooting
If you watched the Minnesota Timberwolves at all last season, then you're well aware that their kryptonite was the three-point jumper.
Minnesota hit on 30.5 percent of their threes last season, the worst such mark in the NBA. The 29th ranked team was the Orlando Magic, and they shot 32.9 percent from beyond the arc. To remedy this problem, the Timberwolves went out and signed Kevin Martin to take the reins at shooting guard.
The signing was strong, but one has to wonder if Martin's presence alone will help the Timberwolves emerge from the bottom of the pack when it comes to three-point shooting.
My gut says yes if Kevin Love and Chase Budinger remain healthy, but it remains to be seen if they can take a significant step forward in the long-distance department. A marked improvement could even result in a playoff berth.
New Orleans Pelicans: Eric Gordon's Health
The New Orleans Pelicans made two bold moves this summer in acquiring Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans, each of whom could prove to be a nice complement to Eric Gordon. However, that's all contingent on Gordon staying healthy.
Once a feared scorer, Gordon's last two seasons have been marred by injuries which limited him to a combined 51 appearances (nine in 2011-12). That means over the course of 148 games (66 in 2011-12 and 82 in 2012-13), Gordon has played in just 34.5 percent of all possible contests.
Knee and ankle injuries have plagued Gordon recently, but the Pelicans have a shot to start fresh with a new name and new franchise centerpieces. Gordon can absolutely be one of those building blocks and has proven in the past that he has the skills necessary to fill such a position.
New Orleans has a real shot at making some noise in the Western Conference playoff picture, but to do so, it's imperative that Gordon remains healthy. Should he go down again, Evans would likely slide into a role as the starting 2, leaving Al Farouq-Aminu as the starting 3.
New York Knicks: Lack of Offensive Distribution
All Carmelo Anthony, all the time. That's how the New York Knicks offense works, and while it's successful, it's hardly ideal.
Of Knicks players who appeared in at least 20 games last season, only three averaged more than 10 field-goal attempts per game. Those three were Anthony (22.2), J.R. Smith (15.6) and Raymond Felton (13). The next closest was Amar'e Stoudemire (9.2), and then there was a sharp drop-off to Chris Copeland (6.8) and Tyson Chandler (6.1).
Anthony's usage topped out at 35.6 percent last season, per Basketball-Reference.com, which was the highest such mark among all players. Russell Westbrook finished second in usage with a mark of 32.8 percent.
As a result of their extremely limited distribution, the Knicks finished last in total assists last season, dishing out 1,579 (19.3 per game) as a team.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Center
On a team that's steady from point guard to power forward, the Oklahoma City Thunder continue to lack stability at center.
Kendrick Perkins and Hasheem Thabeet comprise the Thunder's platoon at center, and put simply, neither is a serviceable offensive big. Both provide a bit of nastiness on the defensive end, but the Thunder haven't been able to count on their centers when it comes to conventionally posting up on the blocks.
Perkins and Thabeet combined to make all 82 starts at center for the Thunder last season, and they averaged 4.2 and 2.4 points, respectively.
Sam Presti and management tried to remedy their big-man problem by drafting Steven Adams out of Pittsburgh, but at 20 years old, he remains a raw prospect who won't work his way into the rotation for some time.
Orlando Magic: Inability to Get to the Free-Throw Line
One way to identify a team that thrives offensively is to look at how often they get to the free-throw line. For example, the Oklahoma City Thunder, Denver Nuggets and Houston Rockets ranked second, third and fourth in free-throw attempts per game last season.
The Orlando Magic, however, ranked 30th in free-throw attempts and 29th in free throws made last season. Not surprisingly, they finished the season ranked 27th in offensive rating, per Basketball-Reference.com.
One of the big problems for Orlando is that they lack players who aggressively attack the basket off the dribble and draw contact at the rim. Rookie Victor Oladipo has the athletic tools to turn into that player for coach Jacque Vaughn, and given enough minutes, figures to be the front-runner for rookie of the year.
Philadelphia 76ers: Absence of Scorers
Here's a fun game: Try and determine who the Philadelphia 76ers' top-three leading scorers will be next season.
Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young feel like locks (if they're even with the team at season's end), but the third spot is up for grabs. Michael Carter-Williams will be given the run necessary to score points, but his jump shot is in need of considerable work before he's considered a scoring threat off the catch and not solely off the dribble.
In all likelihood, Spencer Hawes will wind up being the Sixers' third-leading scorer, as he's slated to receive the bulk of the minutes at center with Nerlens Noel sidelined.
Turner's been waiting for his time in the spotlight, and next season will provide him an opportunity to prove that he can be the team's go-to scoring option. Just don't expect his broken jumper to magically fix itself anytime soon.
Phoenix Suns: Lack of Wing Talent
Trading for Eric Bledsoe was a brilliant move by general manager Ryan McDonough. Unfortunately, to acquire Bledsoe, the Phoenix Suns had to trade away their best perimeter player in Jared Dudley.
While their backcourt now boasts the promising duo of Bledsoe and Goran Dragic, they're left with a trio of Michael Beasley, P.J. Tucker and Caron Butler on the wing.
To repeat, that's Beasley who shot 40.5 percent from the field last season, Butler who's 33 and shot a shade over 42 percent last season and Tucker, a 27-year-old journeyman, who may actually turn out to be the most reliable of the three next season.
The Suns are one of a handful of teams gunning for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft, so like the Philadelphia 76ers, they'll be content with their ragtag group on the perimeter.
Portland Trail Blazers: Forcing Turnovers
The Portland Trail Blazers' bench problems are well-documented, but the improvements they made this summer should propel their second unit into the top-20 realm.
Instead, it's time to focus on the defensive problems the Blazers had a year ago.
Portland allowed 109.2 points per 100 possessions, per Basketball-Reference.com, the fifth-worst mark in the NBA. One reason why they were among the league's worst defensive teams is that they forced just 12.7 turnovers per game. According to Basketball-Reference.com, their defensive turnover percentage of 12.5 ranked 27th as well.
Nicolas Batum is one of the few quality defenders the Blazers have on the wing, although the addition of Robin Lopez will help bolster the interior of Terry Stotts. Whether that translates to an increase in turnovers, however, remains to be seen.
San Antonio Spurs: Offensive Rebounding
Considering the San Antonio Spurs went 58-24 and captured a Western Conference title last season, it's hard to find any blemishes on this year's squad.
Since we're starting to nitpick, one could make a case that the Spurs' biggest flaw is their inability to crash the offensive glass.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, the Spurs finished last season ranked 29th in offensive rebounding percentage (20.5) and 29th overall in total offensive rebounds.
The silver lining is that the Spurs finished fourth in total defensive rebounds and third in defensive rebounding percentage with a mark of 74.9.
With all of their championship-caliber pieces returning next season, expect Gregg Popovich's group to make yet another run at a title.
Sacramento Kings: Post Defense
There are countless areas in which the Sacramento Kings need to improve, but their post defense sticks out.
During a 2012-13 season where the Kings finished with a record of 28-54, Sacramento ranked 28th in total blocks (342) and 30th in defensive rebounding percentage (71), per Basketball-Reference.com. DeMarcus Cousins led the Kings in nightly rebounding last season (9.9 per game), but he was the only player who averaged more than seven boards a night.
That's likely to change this season, as the Kings brought in Carl Landry to hold down the fort at the 4 alongside Cousins. Landry averaged 9.3 rebounds per 36 minutes last season, per Basketball-Reference.com, and with starter's minutes, he should hover around that number this season.
Mike Malone is fighting an uphill battle trying to lead a young and immature team, but if he can convince them to win with defense first, they'll soon be one of the West's more intriguing up-and-coming teams.
Toronto Raptors: Rebounding
The Toronto Raptors finished last season an average 17th in opponent's points per game, but they were incapable of crashing the glass consistently.
According to NBA.com, the Raptors finished 28th in nightly rebounding last season, and their lack of frontcourt size was a major reason why.
Amir Johnson, the team's 6'9'' starting power forward actually led the Raptors with 7.5 boards a night last season, but the rebounding burden will fall on 21-year-old, seven-footer Jonas Valanciunas in his first season as a full-time starter.
Valanciunas has all of the tools necessary to average double figures in both the scoring and rebounding columns, and considering he averaged nine boards per 36 minutes last season (per Basketball-Reference.com), those are realistic expectations.
Another key factor in improving Toronto's rebounding success will be the effort of free-agent signee Tyler Hansbrough, who makes his living as a scrappy and gritty post player by thriving on second-chance opportunities.
The pieces are in place for the Raptors to improve from a rebounding standpoint. All that's left to take care of is the execution.
Utah Jazz: Backcourt Depth
It's going to be a down year for the Utah Jazz due to the youth movement that has descended upon Salt Lake City.
There are a number of promising pieces taking on larger roles in Ty Corbin's system this year, but the most notable ones are Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors in the frontcourt. When it comes to guard play, it's unclear what the Jazz are going to receive from young guns Trey Burke and Alec Burks in years one and three, respectively.
However, beyond Burke and Burks, the Jazz don't have much in the way of steady depth. John Lucas III and Brandon Rush (who tore his ACL in the second game of last season) are the primary backups at the 2-guard spots, but may be perfectly situated for what the Jazz are looking to do this season.
With a chance to be one of the worst teams in the Western Conference, thanks to their shaky depth, the Jazz have a realistic shot at winning the sweepstakes for the No. 1 overall pick in 2014 if they grant their young prospects significant run next season.
Washington Wizards: Frontcourt Depth
Check out the Washington Wizards' depth chart and you'll see that they're rock solid at point guard, shooting guard and small forward. With promising starters and reliable backups, the Wizards look like a playoff team from 1-3.
Unfortunately, the Wizards take a hit in the frontcourt, where they're extremely thin behind Nene and Emeka Okafor. Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin are the backups at the 4 and 5, respectively, but neither is the sort of solid veteran reserve that playoff teams typically boast.
The one solution to this problem would be the emergence of Jan Vesely, whose summer league performance was rather encouraging. In year three, it's time for the 23-year-old to put up or face the reality that he may not have a long career in the NBA.