The Biggest Hole Every NBA Team Has to Fill After the 2015 NBA Free-Agent Frenzy

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 21, 2015

The Biggest Hole Every NBA Team Has to Fill After the 2015 NBA Free-Agent Frenzy

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    The dust hasn't completely settled on the 2015 NBA free-agent frenzy, but the pool of available talent has drained to a few drops.

    For most clubs, the main portion of their roster management is finished. Issues that weren't solved in free agency, trades or the draft are likely to remain until clubs break camp this fall.

    Despite the flurry of activity over these past few weeks, every team has at least one hole that's still unfilled. While those clubs will have to decide how to handle it, we have nudged them in the right direction by bringing it to light.

    By scanning over the stat sheet and predicting the production of newcomers, we have identified the biggest weak spot on all 30 rosters.

    Some teams are lacking critical pieces, while others only have marginal roles that need filling. But all of them have areas to improve.

Atlanta Hawks: Two-Way Wing

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    After reeling off a franchise-record 60 wins last season, the Atlanta Hawks ideally would have returned all key contributors. But cap constraints forced them to choose between their two starting forwards, and they opted for Paul Millsap's versatility over DeMarre Carroll's three-and-D game.

    Carroll's departure still hurts, however. He was the Hawks' top perimeter defender, and he emerged as one of their primary scorers in the postseason.

    It will likely take multiple players to replace Carroll, but it sounds as if veteran Thabo Sefolosha will get the first chance to fill that void.

    "Having Thabo (Sefolosha) having played for a year with us and having him know how we do things defensively and offensively. ... That gives you some confidence that there is a start," Hawks head coach and president of basketball operations Mike Budenholzer told Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

    But Sefolosha is still recovering from a broken right fibula and ligament damage suffered during an off-court incident in April. The 31-year-old also posted his lowest true shooting percentage since 2008-09 last season (50.6). If he can't handle the assignment, Atlanta will have to rely on less proven players such as Kent Bazemore, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Justin Holiday.

Boston Celtics: Rim Protection

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    The Boston Celtics' roster reads like a work in progress. They have a slew of perimeter players and a handful of interior scorers, but they're light on defensive protection in the middle.

    Offseason imports Amir Johnson (free agency) and David Lee (traded from the Golden State Warriors) won't change much for a Celtics team that allowed opponents to shoot 59.2 percent from within five feet this past season (22nd overall). Lee brings the reputation of a sieve to Beantown, and Johnson's ankle issues have limited the type of impact he can make.

    There's also no guarantee that Boston's newest bigs will log major minutes next season. The frontcourt already features an abundance of players who do their best work at the offensive end: Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger, Tyler Zeller and Jonas Jerebko.

    Rookie Jordan Mickey, who averaged 3.4 blocks per game during two seasons at LSU, potentially provides an imposing presence in the paint. But it's hard to tell how much floor time the 33rd overall pick will receive during his first NBA go-round.

Brooklyn Nets: Playmaking Point Guard

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    Stretching the two years and $43.4 million left on Deron Williams' deal was the right business move for the Brooklyn Nets to make. But his exit leaves basketball questions in Brooklyn's backcourt.

    "Williams, for all his negative qualities...proved to be an excellent pick-and-roll partner for [Brook] Lopez, often finding the 7-footer with perfect pocket passes which resulted in easy push shots," wrote's Mike Mazzeo.

    While Williams struggled individually last season, he did provide a noticeable lift to this offense. The Nets averaged 104.6 points per 100 possessions when he played and only 98.8 points per 100 possessions when he sat. That's the difference between having the league's 11th-ranked offense and its 27th.

    Brooklyn lacks any comfortable options to fill Williams' shoes. Jarrett Jack is a shoot-first point guard whose shot selection isn't always the most discerning. Shane Larkin has a 10.3 player efficiency rating to show for his first two NBA seasons (the league average is 15.0). Ryan Boatright's next NBA game will be his first.

    If the Nets want to salvage something from the 2015-16 campaign—their 2016 first-round pick belongs to the Boston Celtics—they'll need someone to embrace the unheralded art of distribution.

Charlotte Hornets: Perimeter Scoring

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    The Charlotte Hornets were nothing if not active this summer. They brought in Nicolas Batum, Frank Kaminsky, Jeremy Lin, Spencer Hawes, Jeremy Lamb and Aaron Harrison while parting ways with Lance Stephenson, Noah Vonleh, Gerald Henderson and Bismack Biyombo.

    They're seemingly hoping for immediate returns, as almost all of their moves prioritized the present over the future. With Al Jefferson having celebrated his 30th birthday in January, there's a sense of urgency to build something substantial around him while they can.

    But offense was this group's Achilles' heel last season (28th in offensive efficiency). More specifically, the Hornets couldn't hold defenses honest from the outside (31.8 three-point percentage, 30th). That could continue to be an issue, as this roster doesn't have reliable scorers along the perimeter.

    Kemba Walker is a volume contributor, but his career 39.5 field-goal percentage shows the dangers of placing him in a primary role. Batum has always been a complementary piece (career 11.2 points per game), and that same role seems to fit best with Lin's skill set. Lamb brings more potential than production, and sophomore P.J. Hairston had a rough rookie year (32.3 percent shooting).

Chicago Bulls: Wing Depth

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    While the Chicago Bulls replaced Tom Thibodeau with new head coach Fred Hoiberg, they held off on making radical changes to their roster. They still seem to see championship potential in a core likely to feature Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol in prominent roles.

    It's not an outlandish vision—there's a ton of talent on paper—but it limits any margin for error. That means the young Bulls behind swingmen Jimmy Butler and Mike Dunleavy must prove they can produce on a consistent basis.

    Sophomore Doug McDermott, the 11th overall pick in 2014, is an obvious candidate for improvement. He's a supremely skilled scorer, but his rookie run was derailed by injury and never got back on track. A scorching run through the Las Vegas Summer League suggests he might be ready to recover from his tenuous maiden voyage, but the Bulls don't measure their success in July.

    This is also a critical campaign for third-year wing Tony Snell. He's had some encouraging moments, but Chicago needs much more stability than he's provided to date.

    It's better to have wild cards than nothing, but the Bulls need both of these prospects to pan out sooner rather than later.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Second-Team Scoring

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    The Cleveland Cavaliers know the importance of depth all too well. While they put up an admirable fight in the 2015 NBA Finals, their rotation ultimately couldn't withstand the losses of Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and Anderson Varejao.

    To be fair, no benches are built to deal with that type of disaster. But reserve units must hold things together when the starters catch a breather, and the Cavs could struggle to find steady scoring when Irving, Love and LeBron James all leave the floor.

    Bringing Mo Williams back should help, but the 32-year-old is coming off the second-worst shooting season of his career (39.7 percent from the field). The Cavs haven't seen enough of sophomore Joe Harris to depend on him for offense, and Varejao is a walking question mark who has missed more than 40 games in four of the last five seasons.

    The Cavs aren't done spending yet, and they could still retain free agents Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith and Matthew Dellavedova. But the former doesn't provide offense much outside of hustle points, and the other two have more cold spells than fiery runs.

Dallas Mavericks: Interior Defense

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    It's tough to build a formidable frontcourt defense with 37-year-old Dirk Nowitzki in the fold, but it's possible with a top-shelf rim protector alongside the Diggler. When Tyson Chandler manned the middle last season, the Dallas Mavericks earned respectable marks for their point prevention (102.1 points allowed per 100 possessions, would have tied for 12th overall).

    The Mavs let Chandler walk in free agency because they thought they had a younger, more athletic replacement. But when DeAndre Jordan reneged on his verbal commitment to join Dallas, the Mavs were left without an emergency recovery plan.

    They traded for Zaza Pachulia, who turned 31 in February and has started fewer than 40 percent of his 815 career games. They just inked Jarrid Famous to a partially guaranteed three-year contract, according to RealGM's Shams Charania, but the newcomer isn't as notable as his last name would suggest. Undrafted in 2011, Famous has yet to play an NBA game.

    The Mavs have been linked to JaVale McGee, according to Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, but the 27-year-old hasn't signed anything yet. His athleticism could help this frontcourt, but he has only played 28 games over the past two seasons combined.

Denver Nuggets: Shooting Guard

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    After trading away troubled point guard Ty Lawson, the Denver Nuggets should have a better grasp on their roster.

    Rookie Emmanuel Mudiay, this June's seventh overall selection, should immediately step into the starting spot vacated by Lawson. Kenneth Faried and Jusuf Nurkic should enter training camp as the favorites to fill both interior posts, and veterans Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari are set to battle for the small forward job once again.

    But the Nuggets have a glaring void at shooting guard. They had the eighth-lowest scoring average at the position last season (18.6 points per game, via, and that was with veteran Arron Afflalo on board for 53 games.

    Sophomore Gary Harris posted woeful shooting marks in 55 games (30.4 percent from the field, 20.4 from three), and he didn't fare significantly better in three summer-league games (42.4 and 13.3, respectively). Will Barton plays with great energy, but he's not a shooter (career 23.0 three-point percentage), which makes him an awkward fit alongside Mudiay.

Detroit Pistons: Primary Scorer

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    Andre Drummond fits the physical profile of a franchise face, but his 12.1-points-per-game career scoring average shows how thin his offensive arsenal is. The Detroit Pistons clearly believe in Reggie Jackson, but their $80 million investment in him won't make him a better shooter (career 29.4 three-point percentage).

    For all of the spacing advantages the Pistons gained when Greg Monroe left the Motor City this summer, Detroit also lost arguably its most reliable scoring source.

    "We've obviously lost a very, very good player and a guy who was easy to lean on on the offensive end,” Pistons head coach and president of basketball operations Stan Van Gundy told's Keith Langlois. “You could just come down and drop the ball inside to him and with his ability to score and to pass you felt like you could get a good shot."

    The Pistons should boast a deep array of offensive weapons, but when they desperately need a bucket, it's hard to tell where they'll turn. Jackson-Drummond pick-and-rolls figure to be the first option, but defenses can feel comfortable about ducking under screens against Jackson or sending Drummond, a career 39.7 percent free-throw shooter, to the charity stripe.

    Keeping teams guessing about where points are coming from can be a good thing, but Detroit will need a No. 1 option to emerge if it hopes to make some postseason noise.

Golden State Warriors: Post Scoring

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    The Golden State Warriors have an obvious hole in terms of post scoring. But the question is whether they want to actually fill it.

    Last season, they scored the fifth-fewest points on post-up plays. They also secured the organization's first world title in 40 years and tallied the third-most victories in NBA history.

    But if you're searching for something the champs can't do, post scoring is it.

    They'll occasionally isolate wings on the low block (Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson and Shaun Livingston), but their bigs don't generate many back-to-the-basket points. Andrew Bogut is a bigger passing threat than a scoring one, Marreese Speights lives off mid-range jumpers, and Draymond Green positions himself away from the basket as a stretch shooter/playmaking 4.

    With David Lee out, the Dubs might find even less interior scoring this time around. But considering how much their pace-and-space style contributed to last season's title run, they probably aren't looking for any paint-clogging post scorers.

Houston Rockets: Backup for the Beard

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    Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey did it again. With a nagging itch for a scoring point guard, the executive paid a bargain rate to get Ty Lawson—one of only three players to average at least 15 points and eight assists in each of the last two seasons—out of Denver.

    With Lawson in tow, the Rockets' roster runs (at least) two deep at almost every position.

    Lawson and Patrick Beverley form a lethal offense-defense tandem at the 1. Trevor Ariza, Corey Brewer and Sam Dekker offer length, athleticism and shooting at small forward. The Rockets are overloaded with quality power forwards (led by Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas), and they have a pair of athletic centers anchoring the interior (Dwight Howard and Clint Capela).

    But if a weak spot exists in this rotation, it's the one behind MVP runner-up James Harden. K.J. McDaniels is a freak athlete, but he shot below 40 percent from the field and 30 from deep as a rookie. Marcus Thornton can be an incendiary gunner, but he doesn't offer much when his shot isn't falling.

    Houston's offense lost 14.0 points per 100 possessions when Harden took a seat last season. Lawson's arrival should help that number, but McDaniels' growth could be vital to Houston's second-team success.

Indiana Pacers: Long-Range Shooting

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    The Indiana Pacers team that breaks camp this fall will bear little resemblance the one that closed out its 38-win campaign in the spring. Roy Hibbert, David West and Luis Scola are among those who exited the Circle City, while Monta Ellis, Myles Turner and Jordan Hill headline the new faces.

    The former defensive power now features an unmistakable offensive slant, which fits the direction this team said it planned to take. Given Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird's stated desire to "play a little faster tempo," per Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star, it's no surprise to see Indiana bring in some gazelles to help increase its speed.

    But it's hard to tell if the Pacers pack the perimeter punch of a typical small-ball squad. Paul George (career 36.1 three-point percentage), George Hill (37.0) and Chase Budinger (35.8) grade out closer to good shooters than great ones. Ellis (31.4) falls well below that mark.

    In a best-case scenario, it isn't hard to imagine Indiana fielding a potent long-range attack. But for that to happen, C.J. Miles must rebound from a rocky 2014-15 campaign (34.5 percent), Rodney Stuckey must prove his breakout wasn't a fluke (39.0 percent, up from his 30.5 career average), and Turner has to find the range that eluded him at Texas (17-of-62, 27.4 percent).

Los Angeles Clippers: Wing Defender

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    The Los Angeles Clippers have a few central figures who could potentially anchor an elite defense. Chris Paul remains one of the NBA's premier defenders at point guard, DeAndre Jordan is a near-limitless supply of blocks and boards and head coach Doc Rivers has a sharp defensive mind.

    But there's a ton of gray area in between these three pillars.

    Even with 82 games from Paul and Jordan—plus 76 from the feisty Matt Barnes—the Clippers finished 15th in defensive efficiency last season. That number has obvious room for improvement, but moving from Barnes to 37-year-old Paul Pierce strips away some athleticism and versatility.

    However, the Clippers have a pair of wild cards who might elevate this defense. Lance Stephenson can be a pest on the ball, while Wesley Johnson possesses the length and athleticism to lock down the perimeter. But consistency has never been a strong suit for either player, and the Clippers can't afford many stumbles if they're hoping to make a title run behind the 30-year-old Paul.

Los Angeles Lakers: Stability at Small Forward

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    The Los Angeles Lakers have put together an interesting blend of past, present and future talent. The problem is that almost none of it appears at the small forward spot.

    The current depth chart shows only two players at the position: Nick Young (who shot 36.6 percent from the field last season) and Anthony Brown (the 34th pick in June). Lakers head coach Byron Scott has said Kobe Bryant is likely to see time at the 3 as well, according to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times.

    Bryant may be the safest candidate in that group, a statement that speaks loudly to L.A.'s dearth of options. The 36-year-old has played 41 games the past two seasons combined. And when he has suited up, he's looked nothing like the superstar that fans remember. He's shooting just 37.8 percent since the start of 2013-14 (28.5 from three) and averaging almost as many turnovers (4.0) as assists (5.7).

    But where else can the Lakers turn? D'Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Lou Williams aren't big enough to move out of the backcourt. Ryan Kelly lacks the lateral quickness to defend the position, and Larry Nance Jr. doesn't have a good enough perimeter stroke to log major minutes on the wing.

Memphis Grizzlies: Perimeter Scoring

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    It's the saddest broken record spinning on Beale Street—the Memphis Grizzlies need more offense. Throughout the grit-and-grind era of shadow contention, the Grizzlies have been undone by an irregular scoring attack that's been unable to support their consistently stout defense.

    The problem resides exclusively on the wings. Bigs Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph have formed a fearsome frontcourt tandem, and point guard Mike Conley has quietly developed into one of the league's better floor generals. But Memphis has yet to strike the right combination around its Big Three.

    The Grizzlies couldn't spread the floor last season, ranking 29th in three-point makes (5.2 per game) and tied for 22nd in percentage (33.9). It's hard to find any reason to believe those stats will significantly change in 2015-16.

    Maybe Memphis hopes this is the year Jeff Green finally figures things out, but seven seasons of data suggest he's a complementary piece and nothing more. The same tag can be applied to Courtney Lee and newcomer Matt Barnes. The Grizzlies can only hope it still fits 38-year-old Vince Carter, after watching him shoot a career-worst 33.3 percent from the field last season.

    The Grizzlies' reported pursuits of Joe Johnson, via's Marc Stein, and Danilo Gallinari, via Stein, don't indicate a lot of confidence with their in-house options.

Miami Heat: Goran Dragic Insurance

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    Rest and relaxation were arguably the biggest keys of this summer for a Miami Heat team that was ripped apart by injuries last season. But the franchise also leaves this offseason with several impressive pulls from the bargain bin.

    Miami's good fortune began on draft night, when swingman Justise Winslow slipped to the No. 10 pick. The Heat continued finding value in free agency, doling out minimum contracts to Amar'e Stoudemire and Gerald Green, veterans who averaged a combined 23.4 points per game last season.

    The Heat made the most of their limited available resources, but the depth chart behind starter Goran Dragic remains underwhelming.

    Sophomore Shabazz Napier had a disappointing debut, shooting below 39 percent and giving the ball away on nearly one-fourth of his possessions (24.3 turnover percentage). Mario Chalmers had the second-lowest true shooting percentage of his career (52.1) and has since been made available "for nothing," according to Grantland's Zach Lowe.

Milwaukee Bucks: Floor Spacing

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    The Milwaukee Bucks needed to find a primary scorer this summer, and they hope to have found one in skilled center Greg Monroe. No Milwaukee players averaged more than Michael Carter-Williams' 14.1 points per game last season. Monroe has poured in at least 15.2 per night each of the last four seasons.

    "Offensively, Monroe should be a major upgrade," wrote ESPN Insider Kevin Pelton. "He can be a threat as a playmaker from the elbow...Yet defenses must also respect Monroe's ability to score, particularly out of the post."

    But Monroe needs breathing room if he's going to carry this offense. And the Bucks, on paper, don't have the shooters needed to prevent defenses from crowding the paint.

    Carter-Williams owns a career 25.2 three-point percentage. Giannis Antetokounmpo only attempted 44 three-pointers last season and misfired on all but seven. Jabari Parker wasn't a great perimeter shooter at Duke (35.8 percent), and he rarely strayed beyond the arc before suffering a season-ending torn ACL (4-of-16 in 25 games).

    The Bucks traded away two of their top shooters this summer (Jared Dudley and Ersan Ilyasova), so they'll need their returning players to improve their accuracy and 18-year-old rookie gunner Rashad Vaughn to hit the ground running.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Sharpshooters

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    If you're seeing a pattern develop, that isn't a coincidence. Long-distance snipers are a critical part of any winning recipe in today's game, and the absence of them is a potentially fatal flaw.

    The Minnesota Timberwolves might need marksmen more than anyone. The spacing they could provide is exactly what this offense needs to start realizing some of its massive potential. From the passing windows created for Ricky Rubio, to the driving lanes opened for Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine, to the low-post real estate cleared for Karl-Anthony Towns, the gifts of a three-point threat would be bountiful.

    But those rewards are restricted to the hypothetical for now. The Timberwolves were dead last in three-point makes last season (5.0 per game) and only marginally better in terms of accuracy (33.2 percent, 25th).

    Minnesota has one high-volume shooter on the roster: Kevin Martin. But the playing time given to the 32-year-old might be better spent on developmental minutes for the club's numerous prospects. Minnesota needs its floor spacing to come from the Timberpups, so it can start to visualize the winning formula for this upside-rich roster.

New Orleans Pelicans: Backcourt Reserves

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    The New Orleans Pelicans can't be sure about what type of team they have. The injury bug has denied them the opportunity to make a full assessment.

    The Pelicans only had two players clear the 70-game mark last season. They had four in 2013-14, but Tyreke Evans is the only one still on the roster.

    With injuries putting such an obvious obstacle in the Pelicans' path, one might assume they have overfilled their ranks to provide some insurance. But the little depth this roster has is almost all centered in the frontcourt. Should starting guards Jrue Holiday or Eric Gordon go down (again), it's tough to tell where New Orleans would turn.

    Holiday has missed more than 40 games each of the past two seasons, so the Pelicans need to be confident in his backup. But he doesn't have an understudy on the roster, though that spot might be filled by restricted free agent Norris Cole and/or summer-league standout Seth Curry.

    Gordon's injury history runs even longer. He's only missed fewer than 18 games once in his first seven seasons. He's also missing a clear backup, as Quincy Pondexter and Alonzo Gee are small forwards by trade. The versatile Evans can play anywhere on the perimeter, but he'll handle major minutes even when Holiday and Gordon are healthy.

New York Knicks: Spot-Up Shooters

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    The New York Knicks have been bending the rules of geometry this summer. While head coach Derek Fisher hasn't abandoned Phil Jackson's preferred triangle offense, the Knicks played a modern game in Sin City with priorities on pace and ball screens.

    The triangle is still the base of their attack, but the Knicks aren't solely relying on it to create scoring chances.

    "We're doing some different things to make sure we emphasize the pace more, to not give our players the impression that we want to walk it up and get right into our [triangle] format," Fisher told Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal. "…Defenses are too good for us to use our half-court sets every time down."

    All of these methods should help create clean three-point looks. Whether attacking a defense that isn't set, collapsing it with screen-and-rolls or staying ahead of it with constant cuts and quick passes, the Knicks should be able to find catch-and-shoot opportunities.

    They just need more players who can knock them down. New York had the eighth-worst effective field-goal percentage on catch-and-shoot attempts last season, and it only returns one regular who shot above 36 percent from three (Jose Calderon, 41.5).

Oklahoma City Thunder: Depth Behind Durant

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    The buzz surrounding Kevin Durant's free agency has already reached a fever pitch—nearly 12 full months before the four-time scoring champ actually hits the open market. But the Oklahoma City Thunder's need for insurance behind him comes from a more immediate demand.

    After an injury-riddled 2014-15 campaign, the Thunder are out to reclaim their spot among the NBA's elites. Having a healthy Durant would exponentially help that effort—he missed 55 games and had three surgeries on his right foot last season—and, to a much lesser extent, so would having a viable backup behind him.

    The Thunder traded away two players who could have served spot duty in that role: Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones III. They also shelled out $25 million to keep Kyle Singler around for the next five seasons, and the 27-year-old needs to start earning some of that money now by preventing a complete collapse when Durant leaves the floor.

    OKC doesn't need Singler to step outside of his complementary role. The Thunder should have a slew of scorers on their bench, so it's fine if Singler only provides a soft shooting touch and serviceable wing defense. But if he shoots 38.6 percent again like he did last season (33.3 percent in 26 games for the Thunder), OKC will have a tough time buying Durant long breaks.

Orlando Magic: Defensive Big Man

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    Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

    The Orlando Magic might have an impenetrable fortress around the perimeter with the young defensive talent they have assembled. Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo are active and relentless at the guard spots. Aaron Gordon packs an absurd amount of energy into his long 6'9", 220-pound frame.

    With new head coach Scott Skiles at the helm, Orlando won't be any fun to deal with at the point of attack. But the Magic must figure out how to build some roadblocks behind their initial line of defense.

    Nikola Vucevic is a skilled scorer and rebounder, but he's not a shot-blocker. He has 214 rejections in 259 career games, or 14 more than Anthony Davis managed in 68 outings last season. Vucevic needs a top-flight rim protector beside him, and Orlando has yet to find that player. Jason Smith is a solid defender, but nothing above that. Channing Frye would have welcomed that grade for his rough debut in Orlando.

    The Magic tied for the sixth-highest field-goal percentage allowed at the rim last season (53.3). If that number doesn't drop significantly, this team will struggle to secure a playoff spot on the strength of its defense.

Philadelphia 76ers: Backcourt Production

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    The Philadelphia 76ers' patient search for a superstar has so far yielded a small mountain of draft picks and four bigs. But only one of those bigs has suited up so far (Nerlens Noel), as the others are injured (Joel Embiid), overseas (Dario Saric) or just drafted (Jahlil Okafor).

    In other words, it's far easier to identify the Sixers' weaknesses than their strengths. But production from the guard spots—or lack thereof, rather—stands out among their sea of sore spots.

    Last season, Philly's guards held bottom-third rankings in both points (39.9 per game, 22nd) and assists (12.5, tied for 21st), via If those standings don't jump off the page as problematic, remember that the Sixers' counting categories were inflated by playing at the seventh-fastest pace.

    This guard group must improve in all facets. It collectively underwhelms in scoring, shooting and distributing. Nik Stauskas (acquired from the Sacramento Kings) might help turn some of those numbers around, but it speaks volumes that this backcourt's source of hope is a player who averaged 4.4 points (on 36.5 percent shooting) and 0.9 assists as a rookie last season.

Phoenix Suns: Lights-Out Shooter

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    Last season, the average NBA team shot 35 percent from distance. The Phoenix Suns aren't returning a single player from their 2014-15 group who cleared that number (P.J. Tucker's 34.5 percent rate is tops among the incumbents).

    The Suns put a premium on perimeter shooting for their offseason strategy. Nearly all of their pulls from free agency (Mirza Teletovic, Sonny Weems), the trade market (Jon Leuer) and the draft (Devin Booker) could address this need.

    But all of these additions bring question marks.

    Teletovic missed 42 games with blood clots in his lungs last season, and he only hit 32.1 percent from distance when he played. Weems spent the past four seasons in Europe. Leuer struggled to find minutes for the Memphis Grizzlies in 2014-15 and went just 7-of-29 from downtown (24.1 percent). Booker doesn't turn 19 until October, so the Suns could keep him on a short leash out of the gate.

Portland Trail Blazers: Second Scorer

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    The Portland Trail Blazers tied their present and future to All-Star point guard Damian Lillard. He's the only returning starter from last season's 51-win team and the proud owner of a new five-year, $120 million contract extension.

    He's also the only stable source of offense in Portland's revamped rotation.

    The Blazers brought a horde of fresh faces to Rip City, nearly all of whom bring more potential than proven production. Noah Vonleh is perhaps their most attractive new piece, but the 6'10" power forward is anxious to rebound from a rough rookie run where he managed only 3.3 points on 39.5 percent shooting in 25 games for the Charlotte Hornets.

    Portland doesn't have many internal avenues to improvement, but former lottery pick C.J. McCollum could help accelerate this rebuild. He has put up at least 15 points per 36 minutes in each of his first two seasons while converting his shots at a 42.9 percent clip from the field and 38.8 percent from outside.

Sacramento Kings: Scoring Guards

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    After pumping the brakes on a potentially disastrous DeMarcus Cousins trade, the Sacramento Kings have tried to surround their All-Star center with a stronger supporting cast.

    Their frontcourt now features an intriguing rim protector in rookie Willie Cauley-Stein and a stable veteran presence in Kosta Koufos. The Kings also took a one-year flier on enigmatic point guard Rajon Rondo, who could be the table-setter they didn't have last season (55.4 assist percentage, 26th). And they still have Rudy Gay's scoring punch at either forward spot.

    But it's hard to say what they have at shooting guard.

    Ben McLemore looked better as a sophomore (12.1 points on 43.7 percent shooting), but he's still plagued by inconsistency (13 games with 20-plus points, 12 with six or less). Marco Belinelli is a good shooter (career 39.2 three-point percentage), but he's only averaged double-digit points in three of his eight seasons. James Anderson spent last year overseas and posted a 10.7 PER during four NBA seasons.

    With a non-shooter like Rondo at point, Sacramento needs a reliable backcourt scorer to keep the heat off Cousins.

San Antonio Spurs: Protection for Tony Parker

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    The San Antonio Spurs were the clear winners of free agency. They scored stellar marks for both their headline-grabbing moves (LaMarcus Aldridge's arrival, Kawhi Leonard's extension) and their less heralded maneuvers (re-signing Danny Green, adding David West for the minimum).

    Their roster is packed with intrigue, but it's not without a few faults. Namely, there isn't much depth behind Tony Parker, and that could be concerning for a 33-year-old who encountered a few injury problems last season.

    Patty Mills can be an electric shooter off the pine, but his impact is almost entirely dependent on his ability to light the lamp. He's not a distributor (career 4.0 assists per 36 minutes), so he has to score to be effective. Newcomer Ray McCallum (acquired from the Sacramento Kings) didn't find his NBA niche during his first two seasons.

    The Spurs, of course, don't need a gifted passer to run the reserve offense. San Antonio's system generates ball movement all over the floor, and West joins Manu Ginobili and Boris Diaw as capable quarterbacks off the bench.

    But if the injury bug strikes Parker again, the Spurs might need to creatively work around his absence. Neither Mills nor McCallum is built for a featured role, so San Antonio could wind up moving some players away from their natural positions.

Toronto Raptors: Pass-First Distributor

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    The Toronto Raptors built last season's third-ranked offense around the individual scoring skills of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Lou Williams. But with Williams gone and Lowry and DeRozan both coming off sub-42 percent shooting campaigns, the Raptors need to place a higher priority on sharing the basketball.

    Toronto had the third-worst assist percentage in 2014-15 at 54.7. The Raptors were also a bottom-third team in terms of passes per game (281.1, 24th).

    "The Raptors were humorously reticent to move the ball on offense, completely abandoning the style that helped them take the league by surprise a year earlier," wrote Eric Koreen of the National Post. "...At times, it looked like they had no idea how to involve center Jonas Valanciunas in their attack."

    The Raptors need a selfless distributor to take better advantage of their full offensive array. Rookie Delon Wright is a natural playmaker, but Lowry and DeRozan could block his path to major minutes. DeMarre Carroll found his calling in the Atlanta Hawks' pass-happy offense, but he also had one of the team's lowest assist percentages (8.3).

Utah Jazz: Polished Point Guard

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Even in the overcrowded Western Conference, the Utah Jazz could emerge as a popular sleeper pick for the playoffs.

    They showed flashes of elite play after trading away Enes Kanter and promoting Rudy Gobert to the starting lineup, ranking first in defensive efficiency and seventh in wins after last season's All-Star break. They have size and athleticism at all five positions, and their interior tandem of Gobert and Derrick Favors is a terror to score against.

    But they had one of the league's least productive point guard corps last season, ranking 25th in points (17.4 per game) and tied for 28th in assists (6.5), via Trey Burke has yet to shoot above 38 percent from the field, and Dante Exum couldn't clear 35 percent during his first big league go-round.

    Utah has continued to value its long-term future over any short-term gains, but that commitment could be tested if both Burke and Exum struggle again. If the rest of this roster is ready to compete for a playoff berth, the Jazz may need some immediate relief to their point guard problems.

Washington Wizards: Stretch 4

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    It took the Washington Wizards a little longer than some clubs to realize the importance of floor spacing, but once they embraced the long ball, they showed how dangerous they can be.

    A lot of factors contributed to their 6-4 playoff record, but arguably none meant more than the promotions given to forwards Paul Pierce and Otto Porter. Both saw their playing time spike in the postseason, and each helped balance the floor with consistent three-point shooting.

    But Pierce, who served as a valuable stretch 4, bolted for the Los Angeles Clippers this summer. As a result, the Wizards suffered a loss in the one area head coach Randy Wittman hoped to strengthen.

    The Wizards traded for marksman Jared Dudley, but he's only played 13 percent of his career minutes at power forward. Second-round pick Aaron White has the length-shooting mix of a stretch 4, but he's likely headed overseas, and his 220-pound frame could use more muscle to bang with NBA power forwards.

    Washington could try to fill that void in-house, perhaps by giving Drew Gooden more minutes or seeing if 28-year-old Martell Webster can rediscover his stroke. If those options don't pan out, the Wizards may need to look outside the organization for bigs who can open up driving lanes for John Wall and Bradley Beal to exploit.

    Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of and


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