Every Rebuilding Team's Biggest Need in the 2016 NBA Draft
The NBA trade deadline is in the rearview. The playoff picture has almost taken shape. For most members of the hoops world, the next couple of months are about securing and/or improving postseason seeding and advancing in the big dance.
But for basketball's rebuilders, this is a time of welcome distractions in the face of disappointment.
Mainly, it's a period of dreaming about fixing defective rosters. We have scanned every rebuilder's situation—defined here as all clubs five or more games out of the playoff picture—to find their biggest area of need. An ideal offseason for these squads would start with scratching these itches in the NBA draft.
Brooklyn Nets: Perimeter Scoring
The Brooklyn Nets are in a bad place. Not only are they woefully short on talent, but they're also limited in means of acquiring it. Thanks to impatient efforts to build a contender overnight, they don't control their own first-round pick until 2019 and won't make an opening-round selection in two of the next three drafts.
As recently hired general manager Sean Marks tries to make sense of this mess, he should soon discover there are no untouchables on the roster. Any option to rebuild their pick collection must be explored. That being said, the production and salaries of Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young could make them worth keeping around.
But Brooklyn desperately needs to revamp its perimeter ranks. The Nets don't have a reliable option at any of the 1-3 spots. By total scoring, they rank 26th at point guard and small forward and 24th at shooting guard, per HoopsStats.com. There are no ways to improve those numbers internally. Their only young perimeter players are defense-only wing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and journeyman reserve Shane Larkin.
More than anything, the Nets need ammo for this draft. With their first-round pick owed to the Boston Celtics and second-rounder possibly going to the Los Angeles Clippers, Brooklyn could be on the outside looking in at the best way of finding young, cheap, high-upside talent. With all the holes on this roster, it cannot afford to sit this session out.
Denver Nuggets: Alpha Scorer
The Denver Nuggets' search for a superstar started the moment they traded away Carmelo Anthony in 2011. Five years later, they're still looking for an offensive leader.
Danilo Gallinari paces them in points at 19.5 per game. But he has the worst field-goal percentage among the league's 28 players averaging 18-plus points (41.0), and he's struggled to shake the injury bug. He looks like he could be a valuable Robin, but Denver needs its Batman to make that happen.
Emmanuel Mudiay is a highly intriguing prospect as an athletic 6'5" point guard. If anyone on this group has top-shelf potential, it's probably him. But that's an awfully tough sell when he's struggling to the tune of 33.6 percent shooting and an 8.2 player efficiency rating.
If not Mudiay, though, who would hold that title? The rest of the youngsters all seem to have complementary skills: Will Barton's energy, Gary Harris' three-and-D game, Nikola Jokic's high-post passing, Jusuf Nurkic's low-block banging. Denver needs the kind of talent that can shatter its ceiling, and it might have enough draft chips to unearth that player.
Los Angeles Lakers: Two-Way Anchor
The Los Angeles Lakers added Roy Hibbert last summer as a Band-Aid solution to their interior issues. With his impact limited by both a porous perimeter defense and today's spread-out attacks, the former All-Star looks like he'll have nothing more than a brief tenure with the Purple and Gold.
In other words, those low-post problems remain unsolved.
"The Lakers' biggest long-term need is for a center who can protect the rim and function as a roll man with rookie point guard D'Angelo Russell," wrote ESPN.com's Kevin Pelton.
L.A.'s defense has been a disaster, hemorrhaging a league-worst 109.5 points per 100 possessions. It's been particularly vulnerable underneath, allowing opponents to shoot 63.0 percent within five feet. Since the Lakers' young perimeter players contribute to those numbers, they need a paint presence capable of cleaning up his teammates' mistakes.
Milwaukee Bucks: Floor Spacing
There's plenty to like about the Milwaukee Bucks' starting five: length, youth and athleticism. But there's a missing element that's almost impossible to be without in this NBA—outside shooting. Those five players above have managed just 143 triples (112 of which are from Khris Middleton).
The outside problem runs twofold. For starters, the Bucks are burying themselves in a hole by failing to convert the game's most valuable shot. They've hit just 322 threes as a team and allowed 547—that's a difference of 675 points or minus-11.4 per game.
Beyond that, Milwaukee is handcuffing its own strengths. It's tough to lean on post-ups, dribble drives and off-ball cuts against an overcrowded paint. But the Bucks aren't giving opposing defenses a reason to stray away from the basket.
After entering this season as a sleeper, they'll leave it as an interesting young group with one fatal flaw. There's still a considerable amount of upside here, but there's no way to realize that potential without adding a marksman and balancing this attack.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Power Forward with Range
Few rebuilders have found the quality of building blocks the Minnesota Timberwolves possess. Freshman Karl-Anthony Towns might already be their best player, and that's with reigning Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins on the roster. Zach LaVine is a super-charged athlete who can catch fire from long range, and Ricky Rubio remains one of the game's most creative playmakers.
Notably absent from their collection, though, is a high-potential power forward. And it's hard to see them developing one given what they currently have on hand.
"Power forward contains the only question mark, and it'll grow larger when Kevin Garnett retires and opens up an even more significant void at the position," wrote Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal. "Adreian Payne and Nemanja Bjelica have potential, but neither should emerge as a top-tier starter on a competitive squad."
Minnesota's power forwards have combined for only 15.4 points per game, the league's third-lowest mark, per HoopsStats.com. The Timberpups could use another scoring threat to keep the heat off Wiggins and Towns, plus they need a sniper, since LaVine is the only member of the aforementioned quartet shooting above 36 percent from downtown.
New Orleans Pelicans: Three-and-D Wing
Anthony Davis needs more help. The single-browed superstar powered the New Orleans Pelicans to a surprise playoff berth last season, but this campaign seems likely to produce their fourth lottery appearance in the last five years.
To be honest, that's probably a good thing. Although injuries have made it hard to get a complete grasp on this roster, it's clear the pieces don't really fit. The perimeter players are more ball-dominant than they should be, which is a massive issue when a talent like Davis isn't getting enough touches. New Orleans has also lowered its own ceiling with its 27th-ranked defense.
The Pelicans need a low-maintenance wing who doesn't force head coach Alvin Gentry to choose between offense and defense. They need a player who will spread the floor for Davis, find him when he's open, convert clean shots and lock down the defensive end.
This is about finding ball-movers for Gentry's offense, corner shooters to set the spacing and willing defenders to stop the constant stream of dribble penetrations. It's about getting the kind of guys who should have already been surrounding Davis.
New York Knicks: Competent Starting Point Guard
The New York Knicks roster reads like an unfinished puzzle. They have some compelling pieces, but lack the glue that would bring all of them together. With touches to spread between established star Carmelo Anthony, rising rookie Kristaps Porzingis and the rest of their support cast, they need a smart, skilled offensive leader.
Instead, they have a collection of flawed floor generals. Jose Calderon is a traffic cone on defense. Jerian Grant can't shoot (36.0 percent from the field, 17.5 from deep). Langston Galloway belongs on the bench.
"At this stage of his career, Calderon is perfectly suited to be the backup. One problem: Galloway and Grant are, as of now, just backups," wrote Frank Isola of the New York Daily News.
Even with Anthony approaching his 32nd birthday, the Knicks should play the long game in their point guard search. Rather than grabbing a discarded one from the buyout market or overpaying another in free agency, New York would be best off finding that player in the draft. But it has to become part of the annual talent grab first—the Knicks have already traded away their upcoming first- and second-round picks.
Philadelphia 76ers: Anything but a Big
The process may have lined up the Philadelphia 76ers for a wildly entertaining future. Not only have they stockpiled exciting young frontcourts, nut they've also hoarded incoming first-round picks. But they sound eager to move away from collecting assets and start forming a cohesive basketball picture.
"You have to create an atmosphere that is really attractive to free agents," said chairman of basketball operations Jerry Colangelo, per CSN Philly's Jessica Camerato. "You need to create a pool of players that others want to join. ... We could talk in theory about how that's going to happen, but we just need to go out and start doing things."
One way to make this roster more attractive—focus on finding anything other than a young big this summer. The primary pieces of Philly's rebuilding efforts are all frontcourt players: Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric. That quartet may need trimming at some point, and it definitely has to be better supported on the perimeter.
Philly's steadiest hands away from the basket right now are Ish Smith, Robert Covington and Isaiah Canaan. None of them were billed as top prospects—Canaan, the 34th pick in 2013, was the only one drafted—and all are shooting below 39 percent. Former lottery pick Nik Stauskas has also disappointed, hitting just 38.2 percent from the field and 34.7 from distance.
Phoenix Suns: Frontcourt Fixtures
The Phoenix Suns have their backcourt for the present and near-future. Whether that includes both Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight remains to be seen, but even one of those plus sharpshooting freshman Devin Booker and athletic combo guard Archie Goodwin would put Phoenix in a good place.
Beyond the guards, though, it's tough to tell who's worth retaining. T.J. Warren is a keeper, but he'll have to prove himself as an outside shooter to be a long-term starter. On a similar note, Alex Len remains searching for the numbers to show he belongs with the opening lineup.
Stunning as this sounds, that may be the extent of Phoenix's building blocks. Tyson Chandler looks grossly overpaid now, and that's with another three seasons left on his deal. Guys like P.J. Tucker, Mirza Teletovic and Jon Leuer are all nice, but Phoenix would gladly swap them out for younger players with their best ball ahead of them.
After falling short in the LaMarcus Aldridge sweepstakes and being saddled with the Markieff Morris drama, the Suns need some stability inside. And they might have the assets to find it with likely three first-rounders in the upcoming draft.