Biggest Hole Every NBA Team Still Needs to Fill

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 19, 2017

Biggest Hole Every NBA Team Still Needs to Fill

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    Basketball's biggest garage sale—known formally as the 2017 NBA offseason—is winding down as both supply and demand dwindle.

    But the task of personnel management is a yearlong endeavor.

    As rosters come into focus, so do their biggest voids. And no matter how successful their summer shopping excursions have been, every team has at least one area in need of improvement.

    Through a combination of statistical analysis, player projections and the always-trusty eye test, we have uncovered each club's primary weakness. Some are finishing touches on otherwise polished products. Others may require the construction of a new foundation.

    Either way, these should be the focal points for each franchise to address through internal or external means.

Atlanta Hawks: Perimeter Shooting

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    The Atlanta Hawks weren't a good shooting team last season, sitting just 20th in three-point makes (8.9 per game) and 23rd in accuracy (34.1 percent). But even those numbers could be difficult to replicate, as this offseason has exacerbated the issue.

    Their top performer by percentage was waived (Mike Dunleavy). Their volume leader left as a restricted free agent (Tim Hardaway Jr.). Their most prominent newcomer misfired on the only three-point attempt he launched over two collegiate seasons (John Collins). Their most expensive signee has the same 0-of-1 career line, only his spans four NBA campaigns (Dewayne Dedmon).

    Outside of situational snipers Mike Muscala and Marco Belinelli, this entire roster grades out as average or worse from the perimeter. This offense will have difficulty breathing if this void isn't addressed before training camp opens.

Boston Celtics: Rebounding

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    The Boston Celtics combined roster versatility with head coach Brad Stevens' vision and creativity to form a package potent enough to capture the Eastern Conference's regular-season crown. But without the requisite brawn, their brains can only take them so far.

    Rebounding proved a fatal flaw for last season's squad. They ranked just 22nd on both the offensive and defensive glass, leaving them 27th overall on rebounds. While they still advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals, they failed to put up a formidable fight there. They were extinguished in five games, getting out-rebounded by 25 in the process.

    That weakness surely contributed to the signings of free agent Aron Baynes and 2016 first-rounder Ante Zizic. But when factoring in the departures of Kelly Olynyk and Amir Johnson, it's hard to tell how much progress the Celtics have actually made. At the least, it seems safe to say more work is needed.

Brooklyn Nets: (More) Assets

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    The Brooklyn Nets are beginning to inch their way through their rebuild. By shouldering the burdensome contracts of Timofey Mozgov and DeMarre Carroll, they've added former No. 2 pick D'Angelo Russell and two selections in next summer's draft (including a lottery-protected first).

    Those are positive developments but also just the beginning for a franchise still lacking a foundation. The Nets, who have gone a miserable 41-123 over the past two seasons, must continue exploring any and all potential avenues to talent.

    Maybe there's a prospect or future pick out there waiting to be attached to another exorbitant contract. Maybe Brooklyn has retained the cap space needed to reel in a promising restricted free agent like JaMychal Green or Nikola Mirotic. Assets should be there for the taking, and snagging another would only brighten what's already been a productive offseason.

Charlotte Hornets: Second Scorer

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    Kemba Walker used the 2016-17 season as his springboard to stardom. By simultaneously balancing career-best levels of volume (23.2 points per game) and efficiency (44.4 percent shooting overall, 39.9 outside), he booked his first-ever All-Star trip and gave the Charlotte Hornets a clear offensive focal point.

    Now, the 6'1" point guard needs one of his teammates to fill the vacant sidekick role.

    Nicolas Batum (15.1 points per game) and Frank Kaminsky (11.7) are the highest-scoring incumbents, but they also ranked 138th and 140th, respectively, in field-goal percentage among the Association's 149 double-digit scorers. Dwight Howard just posted his fewest points per game since his rookie year (13.5). Freshman Malik Monk lost his NBA Summer League to an ankle injury.

    After an active offseason—trading for Howard, drafting Monk, signing Michael Carter-Williams—the Hornets probably can't address this issue externally. They need someone to rise within their ranks, because if this role lacks consistency, this offense may well do the same.

Chicago Bulls: Incumbent Stretch 4

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    The dust hasn't cleared from the demolition phase of the Chicago Bulls' rebuilding project. Between the youngsters' rough showing in summer league and the uncertainty around Zach LaVine's recovery from an ACL tear, it's hard to find bright spots amid the darkness.

    Securing the future of Mirotic would qualify. Sure, he doesn't count consistency among his strengths, but he's had drool-worthy flashes of being a 6'10" sniper and playmaker. That should be enough to fuel contract negotiations, especially when both sides would like to get a deal done, as Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

    Chicago needs some stability. None of the prospects can provide that yet, while veterans Dwyane Wade and Robin Lopez may not be long for the Windy City. Mirotic should be a bridge to whatever's coming next and probably will be whenever this mutual interest materializes as an actual agreement.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Front-Office Direction

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    The Cleveland Cavaliers might be doing it again. With LeBron James' free agency looming in 2018, the franchise could be giving him reason to scan the NBA landscape for other options.

    Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today explains:

    "Expecting an aggressive offseason approach that would close the gap on the champion Golden State Warriors, James soon found his anticipation and optimism diminished after Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert dismantled the front office, declining days before the draft and free agency to bring back general manager David Griffin and vice president of basketball operations Trent Redden.

    "Gilbert's decision left the Cavs without the franchise's top two front-office execs at a critical time, and it left James frustrated and concerned about the team's ability to put together a roster that can better compete with Golden State, the person with direct knowledge of James' thinking told USA TODAY Sports."

    Cleveland's on-court product lacks depth and defense. The Cavs bench shot a dismal 30.6 percent in the Finals, forcing James and Kyrie Irving to log more than 40 minutes a night. And Cleveland's defense, ranked 22nd in the regular season, had no other options for Kevin Durant than James, who seemed to wear down over the course of each game (66.7 percent shooting in the first half, 45.6 in the second).

    This roster needs attention and some creativity, given the cap constraints. Between banishing Griffin and then missing on Chauncey Billups, the Cavs exponentially increased this offseason's difficulty and next summer's anxiety.

Dallas Mavericks: Defensive Anchor

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    Nerlens Noel was plugged into the Dallas Mavericks' long-term plans from the second he was acquired at the trade deadline. If that wasn't obvious from the transaction itself—done just months before Noel would reach restricted free agency and at the cost of a recent first-round pick—then Dallas' post-deal discussions revealed its vision.

    "We're excited about the future with Nerlens," Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said, per's Tim MacMahon. "Clearly, he brings a dimension that we haven't had here for a while: shot-blocking, athleticism, rebounding. A 22-year-old with significant upside in a 7-foot frame is good material to work with."

    It's hard to think the plan has changed, even if negotiations are moving at a snail's pace. The Mavs still need a centerpiece for their 15th-ranked defense, and Noel remains the best option both for his abilities (at least 2.1 steals and 1.7 blocks per 36 minutes each of the last three seasons) and the fact he fits the timeline of Dallas' young nucleus.

Denver Nuggets: Lead Guard

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    The Denver Nuggets may have their point guard of the future on the roster already. With recent top-10 picks invested in Emmanuel Mudiay (seventh in 2015) and Jamal Murray (seventh in 2016), Denver has a pair of lottery tickets offering a potential backcourt prize.

    But after watching Nikola Jokic soar and signing Paul Millsap, the Nuggets may have abandoned wait-and-see mode. That's where things get thorny, as Denver might lack its point guard of the present.

    Mudiay is just a 36.9 percent shooter for his career, and Murray has looked more comfortable off the ball than on it. And at 35 years old, Jameer Nelson gets stretched thin if he's utilized as more than a change of pace.

    The Nuggets were linked to just about every available point guard in free agency—including Chris Paul, per the Los Angeles Times' Broderick Turner, and George Hill, per USA Today's Sam Amick—but they have yet to find their missing floor general.

Detroit Pistons: Ball Movers

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    Fresh off a 28th-placed finish in three-point percentage, the Detroit Pistons focused their offseason efforts on the perimeter. They snagged the draft's top sniper in Luke Kennard. They traded for Avery Bradley, who made a personal-best 2.0 triples at a 39.0 percent clip last season. They signed Langston Galloway and Anthony Tolliver, both of whom shot around 39 percent outside in 2016-17.

    The shooting should be in place to support a contemporary offense. But will the Pistons pass enough to take advantage of it? They were among the Association's worst creators last season, sitting 24th in assists per game (21.1) and 28th in assist percentage (53.0).

    Since Galloway is more of a scorer than a distributor, this will hinge on improvements from (or transactions involving) Reggie Jackson and Ish Smith. Jackson started the season sidelined by knee tendinitis and never found his form, eventually losing his starting spot to Smith—a career 29 percent three-point shooter. Jackson ideally fills this void, but if he's off his game again, Detroit might need to overhaul the position.

Golden State Warriors: Third Center

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    Finding holes on the Golden State Warriors is the definition of nitpicking. They just won 67 games and the NBA title, then bolstered their offense with two snipers (Nick Young and Omri Casspi) and their defense with a hyper-athletic rookie (Jordan Bell).

    That's why the "chasm" in the rotation is a role that was filled in fewer than 10 minutes per game last season. With Zaza Pachulia and David West back in the fold, they're unlikely to leave a bigger opening behind them. But this would work better as a three-headed monster, which might require the promotion of a prospect—Bell, Kevon Looney or Damian Jones—with JaVale McGee no lock to return from free agency.

    "One source said he is not happy with the Warriors for not giving him a shot at the starting slot and giving all of the mid-level to free agent guard Nick Young," Bay Area News Group's Marcus Thompson II wrote. "McGee believed his play this season earned him more minutes and money, and is looking for that on the market."

Houston Rockets: Third Star

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    What does the combination of Paul and James Harden bring the Houston Rockets? Other than a potentially massive sale for owner Leslie Alexander, that's hard to say. Even if you're optimistic about how the two All-Star guards fit—talent typically finds a way to work—it's hard to imagine their partnership being potent enough to dethrone the Dubs.

    Not that anyone needs to inform the Rockets.

    As soon as Paul landed, ESPN Insider Jeff Goodman brought word Houston was shopping for a third star. Carmelo Anthony is seemingly the most obtainable target and, despite some recent brake-pumping by the New York Knicks, Anthony believes he'll wind up in Houston, league sources told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

    Even with Anthony, the Rockets wouldn't be on-paper favorites to escape the Western Conference. But they'd have a wealth of offensive firepower, plus sneaky-good defensive potential between Trevor Ariza, PJ Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute. At the least, that looks like a thorn in Golden State's side.

Indiana Pacers: Three-and-D Wing

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    After trading away All-Star swingman Paul George, the Indiana Pacers have handed the franchise keys over to 21-year-old big man Myles Turner. One glance at his career averages of 12.7 points and 6.5 rebounds signals just how far away this club is from contending.

    But the Pacers' immediate focus should shift to finding a two-way wing who can soften the blow of George's absence. Because unless there's a way to amalgamate Bojan Bogdanovic and Glenn Robinson III, Indy's small forward spot looks distinctly one-sided.

    Strong sniping seasons from Victor Oladipo and/or Lance Stephenson would decrease this need, but their track records don't offer a lot of hope. Oladipo just had his first average-shooting season as a pro (36.1 percent), while Stephenson has a history of shrinking on the offensive end (career 30.7 percent).

Los Angeles Clippers: Perimeter Stopper

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    Losing a superstar like Paul always hurts, and the Los Angeles Clippers will miss his presence in a variety of areas. But don't be surprised if they also find themselves longing for Mbah a Moute, which says everything you need to know about the state of their perimeter defense.

    Patrick Beverley attempting to check multiple positions at once might be preferable to the single-coverage options at head coach Doc Rivers' disposal. European import Milos Teodosic's best (see: only) defense is his offense. Ditto for Lou Williams. And while Austin Rivers is adequate, he's lacking size at shooting guard and the passing chops to play heavy minutes at the point.

    Danilo Gallinari offers some positional versatility, but that could be mitigated by the presence of Blake Griffin. Gallinari lacks the physical tools to chase around athletic 3s, yet those assignments seem headed his way with the makeup of this roster.

Los Angeles Lakers: Interior Defense

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    The good news is there's nowhere for the Los Angeles Lakers' last-ranked defense to go but up. The not-so-great news is the progress may only be incremental next season.

    Brook Lopez is a more formidable force than anything the Purple and Gold put around the basket last season. But that isn't saying a lot, considering they yielded the second-highest field-goal percentage within five feet. Lopez is fine near the rim—1.7 blocks per game, 47.0 percent shooting allowed—but his flat-footed play can be exploited in space.

    Julius Randle struggles with help defense. Same goes for Ivica Zubac, although experience should help that. Rookie Thomas Bryant looks like a rim deterrent with his 7'6" wingspan, but he faces the same lateral limitations as Lopez. And despite Larry Nance Jr.'s activity at that end, he can only contribute so much off the bench.

Memphis Grizzlies: Starting Power Forward

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    While several Western Conference competitors engage in a weapons race, the Memphis Grizzlies are seeing their power forward arsenal depleted. Zach Randolph is off to Sacramento, and the only news coming from JaMychal Green's restricted free agency isn't exactly favorable to Bluff City.

    "I'm looking at two offer sheets and two sign-and-trade (scenarios). Seems to us Memphis is going in a different direction," Green's agent, Michael Hodges, told Ronald Tillery of the Commercial Appeal.

    Granted, that could be posturing on Hodges' part. And the Grizzlies' right to match any offer Green gets gives them control of this situation.

    But that void is glaring on the current depth chart. Brandan Wright is a center, and Jarell Martin and Ivan Rabb aren't ready for the gig. The best Green-less option might be moving over Chandler Parsons, but his health history isn't reliable and a position change could open a new hole at small forward.

Miami Heat: Elite Talent

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    The Miami Heat are fully committed to the core responsible for last season's scorching 30-11 second half. That also means Miami has invested hundreds of millions into a group that fell short of the 2017 playoffs and lacks a surefire star.

    "Over the past two summers the Heat have combined to lock [Hassan] Whiteside, [Dion] Waiters, [Kelly] Olynyk and [Tyler and James Johnson] into deals totaling more than $310 million," ESPN's Brian Windhorst wrote. "Add [Goran] Dragic, who signed in 2015, and the outlay is nearly $400 million. The number of All-Star appearances from the group: zero."

    Maybe head coach Erik Spoelstra and his staff work their player-development magic and launch some celestial bodies into the basketball universe. But in an era defined not by the presence of a star, but rather the amount of them, this roster could be careening toward a mediocre future. Any hope of making a good-to-great leap could hinge on president Pat Riley's ability to swing another blockbuster deal.

Milwaukee Bucks: Experienced Point Guard

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    The Milwaukee Bucks have limited financial flexibility and three point guards on the roster. Yet, they're reportedly organizing a second sit-down with former MVP Derrick Rose, league sources told ESPN's Chris Haynes.

    And somehow, their motivation for doing so isn't difficult to decipher.

    With a realistic chance of securing a mid-level playoff spot in the depleted East, Milwaukee might feel it has too many question marks at the point. Reigning Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon has as much experience as that title indicates. Matthew Dellavedova is a career 39.8 percent shooter, and Gary Payton II has all of six games under his belt.

    Rose might not be the ideal answer, given his frightening injury history and limited shooting range. But he is a proven commodity and perhaps the type of attacker who could unlock more drive-and-kick possibilities. Still, whether it's Rose or someone else, the Bucks should be shopping for stability at lead guard.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Floor-Spacing

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    What do you get when you combine Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins? Well, besides one of the Association's more intriguing trios, you have a nucleus that could struggle to generate proper offensive spacing.

    Towns is a good shooter for a 7-footer (career 36.1 percent). Butler and Wiggins have vacillated between average and subpar from the perimeter. And newcomers Jeff Teague (career 35.5 percent) and Jamal Crawford (35.0) fall into the same bag of mediocrity.

    Now, offense wasn't Minnesota's issue last season. The Wolves fielded a top-10 attack, which was undermined by their 26th-ranked defense. Adding Butler and Taj Gibson—both intimately familiar with the schemes of head coach Tom Thibodeau—should help fortify the defense. But the Wolves' last-placed finishes in three-point makes (7.3 per game) and attempts (21.0) could prove the more difficult fix.

New Orleans Pelicans: Support Scoring

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    The New Orleans Pelicans boast a potentially beastly triad with Jrue Holiday at the point and Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins along the frontcourt. The ceiling for those three is far from set, but the early returns are promising (plus-2.8 net rating together, would have been ninth overall).

    That still leaves two spots open on the floor. And none of the options to fill them look very encouraging.

    Head coach Alvin Gentry told the Dunc & Holder podcast he plans to start Rajon Rondo with Holiday in the backcourt (via Bourbon Street Shots' Mason Ginsberg), which means either taking the ball out of Holiday's hands or putting a non-shooter alongside him when he has it. The fifth spot could go to Solomon Hill, a 38.3 percent shooter last season.

    Digging deeper into the rotation only decreases the enthusiasm. E'Twaun Moore started his first 17 games in New Orleans, then only opened five contests the rest of the way. Quincy Pondexter has lost each of the last two seasons to injury. Jordan Crawford has played 19 games the last three seasons—splitting time between China and the G League—or only six fewer than Axel Toupane has in his career.

New York Knicks: Trade Package for Melo

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    Anthony's no-trade clause no longer feels like the biggest barricade blocking his exit from the Knicks. Perhaps dissatisfied with his trade market—turns out publicly lobbying for a player to leave isn't the best way to increase value—the 'Bockers have apparently caught a case of cold feet.

    ESPN's Ramona Shelburne and Wojnarowski provided the details:

    "The New York Knicks are pausing trade talks centered on Carmelo Anthony and want to pursue a conversation with the 10-time NBA All-Star about possibly reincorporating him into the organization, league sources told ESPN.

    "After talking with the Houston Rockets and Cleveland Cavaliers for nearly a month to help engineer deals for Anthony, the Knicks told both teams that they're stepping back from trade talks for a short time, league sources said."

    The rebuilding Knicks have to extract value from any Anthony deal. That's no easy task given their self-inflicted damage, but he's still their second-best asset. That said, this lengthy breakup feels well past the point of reconciliation. Anthony is ready to move on, and New York must find a way to make that happen.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Third Scorer

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    If you aren't being greedy in today's NBA, you're not trying hard enough. So while the pairing of MVP Russell Westbrook and All-Star Paul George gives the Oklahoma City Thunder a powerful one-two punch, they should already be thinking about a third knockout artist.

    The frontcourt provides well-fitting complementary pieces in Steven Adams and Patrick Patterson—the former a bulldozing pick-and-roll screener, the latter a lanky floor-spacer. But the two bigs have just two double-digit scoring seasons between them. Enes Kanter might be the most skilled scorer among the others, but his turnstile defense prevents him from logging major minutes.

    OKC's roster is full and expensive, so this will demand either a trade or an internal solution. And until someone takes ownership of the role, it might be a by-committee situation. Between the three bigs, Alex Abrines and Doug McDermott, the Thunder should be able to support their two stars most nights. But they'd prefer a more consistent path if one opens up.

Orlando Magic: Offensive Focal Point

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    Watching over the league's 24th-ranked defense must have driven defensive-minded Orlando Magic coach Frank Vogel to frustration last season. So, one can imagine the relief he felt as each of Orlando's offseason additions arrived with a defensive focus—Shelvin Mack, Jonathon Simmons and rookie Jonathan Isaac.

    But there's a problem. The Magic actually fared worse on offense (101.2 offensive rating, 29th), and that unit remains without a leader.

    Their top scorer, Evan Fournier, had a subpar player efficiency rating (13.9) and ranked just 48th overall with 17.2 points per game. They didn't have anyone inside the top 50 in offensive real plus-minus (midseason addition Terrence Ross came closest at 56th).

    Aaron Gordon is still an offensive project, and Isaac looks the same way for the foreseeable future. Elfrid Payton isn't a three-point threat, and neither is Nikola Vucevic. Ross can be electric, but he's unpredictable from one night to the next. No one really scares opponents, which is a major issue since Orlando's defense doesn't either yet.

Philadelphia 76ers: Health

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    Can you promise the Philadelphia 76ers a clean bill of health? If you can, Charles Barkley is ready to promise you a playoff berth.

    "If (Joel) Embiid is healthy and (Ben) Simmons is healthy, I think they're definitely gonna make the playoffs," Barkley told CSN Philadelphia. "Obviously the injury thing has really hurt them the last couple years. ... If they don't make the playoffs, I'd be totally shocked."

    Granted, those are some massive Ifs. Embiid has only made 31 appearances in three seasons, and Simmons never saw the floor as a rookie. There is no track record to trust, save for perhaps the one suggesting more medical maladies are coming.

    But if Philly shakes the injury bug, the Sixers could—maybe even should—skyrocket up the standings.

    Embiid is absurd when he plays (28.7 points, 11.1 rebounds, 3.5 blocks per 36 minutes), and Simmons could be a nightly triple-double threat. Markelle Fultz arrives as the consensus top player in a loaded draft, and shooting concerns could be silenced by J.J. Redick, a healthy Jerryd Bayless and rookie Furkan Korkmaz.

Phoenix Suns: Primary Playmaker

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    Savvy drafting in recent years has netted the Phoenix Suns a promising young core. The wings align for an effective offense-defense partnership between Devin Booker and Josh Jackson, while the frontcourt gets freakish athleticism from Marquese Chriss, advanced basketball IQ from Dragan Bender and possibly floor-spacing from both.

    The puzzle pieces look good; they just need the right floor general to put them all in place. Injuries and play styles both indicate Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight may not be the best men for the job.

    Bledsoe, who's missed 16-plus games in three of his four seasons with Phoenix, ranked just 57th among qualified distributors with 1.87 assists per turnover. Knight, who hasn't topped 63 games since 2013-14, averaged a career-worst 4.1 assists per 36 minutes. Both are better scorers than passers, and neither is a very efficient scorer.

    Sophomore-to-be Tyler Ulis has the right mentality to run the offense, but his slender 5'10" frame could prevent him from ever filling more than a reserve role. He'd be best utilized in the future backing up the top-shelf table-setter who isn't on this roster yet.

Portland Trail Blazers: Backcourt Defense

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    The Portland Trail Blazers fielded a bottom-10 defense last season. And they fared even worse when scoring leaders Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum shared the floor, a massive issue since that was the Blazers' most utilized twosome.

    "They make up one of the league's most lethal scoring duos, but the impact of their offense is dulled by the porousness of their defense," The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor wrote. "... Even when these two undersized guards work hard, they can't get stops."

    The Blazers, having inked both guards to massive deals, will explore all Band-Aid solutions to this problem. Surrounding them with as many plus defenders as possible might hide the problem most nights. Staggering minutes is another option, though it's not like Portland is swimming with backcourt stoppers behind them.

    At some point, the Blazers may need to give serious consideration to breaking this backcourt apart. But that's probably premature for now, as the duo has been the main driving force in back-to-back playoff berths.

Sacramento Kings: Stretch Bigs

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    For all the bigs the Sacramento Kings have stockpiled recently, they may not have added any of the stretchy variety.

    The three-headed monster at center—Kosta Koufos, Willie Cauley-Stein and Georgios Papagiannis—attempted just five triples last season and misfired on all of them. Newcomer Zach Randolph tried expanding his range in 2016-17 but shot a dismal 21-of-94 (22.3 percent from distance). Skal Labissiere is a capable jump-shooter (47.8 percent), but he rarely ventures beyond the arc. And Harry Giles has never been a spacer.

    The Kings can work around this to a degree by fielding three snipers along the perimeter. But the one player this could hurt the most is ballyhooed lottery pick De'Aaron Fox.

    His three-point difficulties in college (24.6 percent) continued at summer league (12.5), making him a prime candidate for defenders to sag off. If Sacramento's bigs are already clogging the lane, Fox's potentially productive driving game could be handcuffed.

San Antonio Spurs: Point Guard Protection

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    In typical San Antonio Spurs fashion, Tony Parker had been easing into his decline. The drop-off was noticeable but only when viewed through the wide-angle lens of time—from 20.3 points and 7.6 assists in 2012-13 to 10.1 and 4.5 last season.

    But the gradual nature of this process may have been wildly accelerated by a ruptured quadriceps tendon suffered during the playoffs. At best, he seems likely to miss a substantial amount of time in 2017-18. But any time a 35-year-old suffers a major injury, there's a chance for permanent damage.

    Either way, Parker's injury puts the Spurs in a tough spot. They have other options at lead guard, but none of them are ideal. Patty Mills is a scoring guard. Manu Ginobili, approaching his own swan song, works best as a change-of-pace playmaker in limited minutes. Sophomore Dejounte Murray and Derrick White lack the seasoning to be entrusted with running a 61-win team.

    It'll be hard to tell how pressing this problem is until Parker returns, but if it's obvious change is needed, San Antonio will have to hope it isn't too late.

Toronto Raptors: Reliable Reserves

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    The Toronto Raptors placed their biggest financial bets on their talented-but-pricey starting five. In doing so, they also wagered that their prospect-laden second team is ready to make consistent contributions.

    Any belief this will work comes almost entirely from optimism.

    It's a under-25 reserve unit, save for Delon Wright—and, in a week, Lucas Nogueira. Norman Powell has the most NBA experience at just 125 games. Nogueira is the only other player to log at least a season's worth of floor time (92 outings). It's also not the most coveted group of prospects, with Jakob Poeltl the only lottery pick of the bunch.

    Powell is fairly sturdy at both ends, and most of the others have shown flashes. But without the addition of more trustworthy options, these youngsters have no safety net. That's particularly precarious behind C.J. Miles at small forward, with Bruno Caboclo still unpolished—on the plus side, he should only be one more year away—and rookie OG Anunoby rehabbing an ACL tear.

Utah Jazz: Go-To Scorer

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    Only two teams averaged fewer points last season than the Utah Jazz's 100.7. The scoring struggle worsened this summer with the departures of their top two point-producers—Gordon Hayward (21.9) and George Hill (16.9).

    Utah only returns two double-digit scorers, neither of whom ranked among the Association's top 75. Defensive anchor Rudy Gobert sits atop the list at 14.0, an average compiled almost exclusively on dunks and layups. Rodney Hood is the other at 12.7, but he's yet to post an average PER (his high is 14.1) or a field-goal percentage north of 42.

    The Jazz are hoping their sum will be greater than the individual parts. To that end, they have an expert coach in Quin Snyder and a host of intriguing pieces—from former lottery picks Derrick Favors and Dante Exum to 2017 one Donovan Mitchell. But after following Hayward's lead, this offense must find its footing without a clear guide.

Washington Wizards: Bench Scoring

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    Whenever one of the Washington Wizards' cornerstone players left the floor last season, so did their offense.

    With John Wall, Bradley Beal or Otto Porter in the lineup, Washington had an offensive rating of at least 110.3, which would have tied for fourth. As soon as one sat, the number was no better than 104.8, which would have been 18th.

    The problem was dire enough for the Wizards to sacrifice a first-round pick in order to rent Bojan Bogdanovic for a few months. It's probably worse now Bogdanovic has moved on, and reinforcements have been hard to find. Unless Kelly Oubre develops at a rapid pace, Jodie Meeks shakes off years of injuries and/or Tim Frazier plays well over his head, Washington's bench looks destined for more offensive malfunctions.

    Wizards coach Scott Brooks can—and does—stagger the floor time of Wall and Beal to keep the ship afloat, but doing so also limits how much time Washington's top talents play together. Each also shoots better when the other is on the floor. Wall and Beal can solve a lot of the Wizards' woes, but fixing a broken bench is beyond their reach. By development or dealing, Washington's second team needs strengthening.


    Unless otherwise indicated, all stats from Basketball or

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.


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