All 30 NBA Teams' Biggest Flaw as Training Camp Opens
Perfection is difficult to attain.
No NBA team is ever going to enter a season in flawless fashion. Not with the salary cap restricting how many stars can play together and talent dispersed throughout not just a handful of legitimate contenders, but the league as a whole.
Even the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder and Cleveland Cavaliers have significant weaknesses in spite of their offseason splashes. Only Beyonce can be "Flawless," and she didn't end up purchasing the Rockets this summer, so that's out of the question.
But before other teams can expose them when games actually count, let's give each organization a hint at what it should be working on throughout training camp and preseason action. Some of these flaws are legitimately fixable; others are bigger issues that have to do with roster construction or mentalities and might require a bit more work.
Atlanta Hawks: Youth-Experience Balance
The Atlanta Hawks should know from personal experience that maintaining middling status in the Eastern Conference isn't an ideal outcome. Even if the NBA changes the results in an effort to prevent full-fledged tanking, accepting a down year that facilitates future growth is still more beneficial than a vain attempt to win 35 games and remain somewhat relevant.
But the Hawks haven't yet committed to a specific route. Waffling is the course du jour.
"We are going to be competitive," general manager Travis Schlenk, who has previously stated his disdain for the word "rebuild," said at the team's media day, per Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "When you look at the guys we signed this year in free agency, those are guys that show up and play hard every night. We are laying the foundation for the future of the Atlanta Hawks, and that is to play the right way, to play hard and to give it everything you’ve got every single night."
And that's fine. Playing hard is a good thing. It's the front office that promotes tanking, not players or coaches.
But this roster construction is still flawed, and it'll remain so if veterans like Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova end up playing major minutes at the expense of up-and-comers such as Taurean Prince and John Collins.
Boston Celtics: Rebounding
During the 2016-17 campaign, the Boston Celtics ranked Nos. 24 and 27 in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, respectively. Crashing the boards was one of the team's few weaknesses, and the Cleveland Cavaliers exploited it throughout the Eastern Conference Finals.
Now, the struggles might get even worse.
Part of this is by design. Head coach Brad Stevens enjoys running out amorphous lineups with interchangeable wings, and that prohibits the C's from boasting enough size to successfully earn their own second-chance opportunities or prevent the opposition from doing the same. But personnel changes could make palatable rebounding an even tougher goal to achieve.
Among those who departed this offseason are some of the 2016-17 squad's leading board-crashers. In terms of total rebounding percentage (only looking at those who logged at least 1,000 minutes), Kelly Olynyk (13.1 percent, No. 1), Amir Johnson (12.7, No. 2), Jonas Jerebko (12.3, No. 3), Avery Bradley (10.1, No. 5) and Jae Crowder (9.9, No. 7) are all notable losses.
Gordon Hayward (9.0 percent for the Utah Jazz) isn't making up for the subtractions by himself. Nor is Jayson Tatum (12.6 percent at Duke). Kyrie Irving (5.0 percent with the Cleveland Cavaliers) certainly isn't. Marcus Morris (7.8 percent for the Detroit Pistons) is a lackluster rebounder for his position, as well.
This is a battle Boston will be fighting all year.
Brooklyn Nets: Perimeter Defense
- Caris LeVert: minus-0.84, No. 326 overall
- Sean Kilpatrick: minus-2.36, No. 443 overall
- D'Angelo Russell: minus-2.45, No. 448 overall
Having Rondae Hollis-Jefferson helping from the weak side while Timofey Mozgov and Jarrett Allen work to clean up the interior should help the Brooklyn Nets' overall defensive success. But they still need to focus on figuring out how they can stop dribble penetration from the perimeter.
The point guards are fine.
Spencer Dinwiddie can hold his own defensively, but he's not likely to play major minutes when the rest of the backcourt is healthy. Jeremy Lin is a legitimately solid stopper who might not have the foot speed necessary to stick with quicker guards but has become quite adept at pushing players to the right spots. He finished in the 90.4th percentile against isolation plays last year and the 68.8th percentile when covering pick-and-roll. Throw in the 6'4" Isaiah Whitehead and you have a solid defensive trio.
The shooting guards, however, fall into a different category. Just look at where the three leading candidates for significant run finished in ESPN.com's defensive real plus/minus last year:
DRPM isn't technically a rating system, but it's still troubling that all three prospective 2-guards (especially the big-name acquisition who should start along Lin) finished near the bottom of the pack with distinctly negative scores. Defense at the 2 is going to be a major problem.
Charlotte Hornets: Backup Point Guard
Last year, the Charlotte Hornets were wholly dependent on Kemba Walker. They thrived when he was on the floor and floundered while he wasn't.
Quite frankly, the numbers indicate such claims may actually be understatements.
When Walker was leading the charge, Charlotte outscored the opposition by a solid 3.5 points per 100 possessions. Unfortunately, they declined on both ends when he wasn't playing, to the extent that they were on the wrong end of a minus-6.6 net rating. To put that in perspective, they essentially went from playing, in terms of effectiveness rather than style, like the Cleveland Cavaliers to performing like the Brooklyn Nets.
Obviously, they needed to remedy this. Walker is too crucial to the team's success to wear him down early in the year, but he also had to play far too frequently and shoulder too much responsibility to even keep his troops in the playoff hunt.
But going from Ramon Sessions, Brian Roberts and Briante Weber to Michael Carter-Williams and Julyan Stone isn't enough. The latter hasn't played in the NBA since 2013-14, while the former has declined sharply since winning Rookie of the Year with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Even more troublingly, they're both more effective on the defensive end, and that's just not what Charlotte needs behind Walker. Without the ability to provide spacing or take over as scoring options off the pine, they'll have trouble keeping the second unit from blowing one lead after another, much to Walker's constant chagrin.
Chicago Bulls: Basketball
This may seem harsh, but it's true.
Especially after the departure of Dwyane Wade, the Chicago Bulls are the easy choice to look like the NBA's worst team in 2017-18. Zach LaVine is still working his way back from an ACL tear, which means the three best (healthy) players in the Windy City are...drum roll..Robin Lopez, Nikola Mirotic and Kris Dunn.
Maybe Bobby Portis or Justin Holiday can sneak past one member of that trio. Maybe Lauri Markkanen's EuroBasket success will carry over to the Association, though that's far from guaranteed. Maybe Cristiano Felicio or Denzel Valentine will make the proverbial leap.
But just read those names again.
Not one member of this roster ranked within the top 100 in ESPN.com's countdown. Lopez (No. 85) is the only entrant in Sports Illustrated's rankings still on the roster. In NBA Math's #CrystalBasketball project, Lopez and LaVine were the only enduring roster members who graded out as even low-level starters.
The Bulls aren't going to be competitive on either end, which makes homing in on a singular flaw an impossible endeavor. Fortunately, they're picking an awfully convenient year to slip to the bottom of the pack. The 2018 NBA draft is loaded with generational talents and should help expedite the rebuild into which Chicago has suddenly and fully plunged.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Point Guard
Derrick Rose is a useful basketball player at this stage of his career.
Though he struggled to knock down triples, played woeful defense and commandeered possessions a bit too frequently during his lone season with the New York Knicks, he could still score effectively. Put him in a sixth-man role as an offensive spark off the pine and he'd thrive. He should just be deployed situationally, and his days of serving as a star at the point are firmly in the past.
But the Cleveland Cavaliers might not have that luxury.
ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin reported that Isaiah Thomas, acquired in the blockbuster Kyrie Irving trade, isn't expected to play until January. What if he's delayed even further? What if his hip never fully heals and he's left as a diminished version of the All-NBA point guard who broke out with the Boston Celtics?
And this isn't just about Thomas and Rose, either. While the diminutive floor general is recovering, the Cavs have to operate with Jose Calderon and Kay Felder as Rose's primary backups, which is concerning in and of itself.
Cleveland needs to shore up its defense and figure out how to maximize Kevin Love. But those are secondary concerns until the rotation at the 1 is solidified and helping the defending Eastern Conference champions win games in consistent fashion without needing to hold three-point parties.
Dallas Mavericks: Offensive Rebounding
No team was worse than the Dallas Mavericks at grabbing offensive rebounds during the 2016-17 season. That's partially intentional, as head coach Rick Carlisle has his troops bust back in transition to prevent the opposition from racking up fast-break points, and a natural tradeoff exists between that style of defense and the creation of second-chance opportunities.
But a rebounding deficit this extreme is still troubling.
"We've got to get some monsters that push and shove, throw people out of the way and go get the ball," Carlisle explained, per Mavs.com's Earl K. Sneed. "We've got to get more of those guys. We've got to block out and we've got to have five guys going [for the rebound] all the time. And when it matters, we've got to get the rebounds."
Personnel changes should help.
Dallas already saw its offensive rebounding percentage climb from 18.2 to 18.7 when Nerlens Noel was on the floor after a midseason trade, and it's brought in a number of bigger bodies to training champ—Brandon Ashley, Maxi Kleber, Josh McRoberts and Johnathan Motley.
But this is more than a personnel issue. Until the mentality shifts and Dallas understands that it can mitigate its sixth-worst-in-the-league offensive rating by creating extra possessions, it may continue lagging well behind the rest of the field.
Denver Nuggets: Defense in General
Once Nikola Jokic re-entered the starting five on Dec. 15 (and Gary Harris returned to health), the Denver Nuggets were unstoppable on offense. They scored more points per 100 possessions than any other team in the NBA (113.3), outpacing the Golden State Warriors (112.9), Houston Rockets (111.9) and everyone else.
But those offensive strides were also greeted by a glaring problem. Denver's overall growth was hindered by the league's worst defense. Allowing 111.9 points during the same stretch, they fell behind the Los Angeles Lakers (111.1) and all of the NBA's other squads.
Paul Millsap's arrival should help shore up some of the flaws on the interior, but the Nuggets will inevitably struggle in a number of key defensive areas.
They don't have wings capable of playing high-quality defense for sustained stretches, and they'll have extra trouble against the Association's best small forwards, who will either be slowed by Will Barton/Harris playing up or Wilson Chandler attempting to overcome his diminished foot speed. Their guards still don't know how to prevent dribble penetration, which just exposes Jokic around the hoop. Millsap will help with this, but he can only do so much.
Plus, the Nuggets often seem philosophically opposed to forcing turnovers. They finished 2016-17 ranked dead last—by a wide margin—in opponents' turnover percentage, and that's not likely to change unless they start attacking passing lanes and pressuring handlers with a bit more intensity.
The offense should carry Denver into the playoff picture, but defense remains a glaring weakness.
Detroit Pistons: Shooting
Luke Kennard (43.8 percent on 5.4 attempts per game during his final season at Duke) should help. Avery Bradley (39.0 percent on 5.0 attempts per game with the Boston Celtics) should help. Anthony Tolliver (39.1 percent on 3.5 attempts per game for the Sacramento Kings) should help.
But the Detroit Pistons are facing an uphill battle to become a solid shooting team. They still don't have enough established three-point shooters, and the ones they've acquired over the offseason are either fighting for playing time or attempting to fill a drastically different role with a new squad.
The spacing that stems from quality perimeter marksmanship is imperative for any organization operating in the modern NBA, but it's especially key in the Motor City. Allowing defenses to compress around Andre Drummond and cut off driving lanes for Reggie Jackson and Ish Smith is more than just a bit problematic. So much of what Detroit tries to do relies upon Drummond's physicality on the interior, Jackson's scoring acumen while attacking the basket or Smith's drive-and-kick skills.
These numbers should trend up as Bradley becomes the team's best shooter, some young figures experience internal growth and Tolliver/Kennard play off the pine. But we just can't overlook the Pistons finishing last year ranked No. 28 in three-point percentage while taking more attempts per game than only four other squads.
Golden State Warriors: Turnovers
Look, the Golden State Warriors don't really have a weakness.
They've become a dynastic force in today's NBA and enter the 2017-18 as both the reigning champions and the prohibitive favorites to repeat, thereby earning a third title in a four-year stretch. They finished last year ranked No. 1 in offensive rating and No. 2 in defensive rating, and they're only getting stronger after the offseason additions of Nick Young, Omri Casspi and Jordan Bell.
But if we have to pick something—and we do—turnovers jump out.
Defensively, the Dubs contest shots better than any other squad, as evidenced by their top placement in opponents' effective field-goal percentage. They also force plenty of cough-ups and rarely send foes to the free-throw line, which makes their lackluster defensive rebounding (the second-biggest weakness) more palatable.
On offense, however, they're wholly reliant on their ridiculous shooting prowess. They don't collect too many second-chance opportunities or embark upon parades to the charity stripe, and that places even more importance on maximizing the number of first possessions that end in shooting attempts.
Opponents could at least hang with Golden State when the eventual champions started getting sloppy—turning the ball over with carelessly flashy passes or dribbling into traffic in search of a highlight. Shoring up the No. 19 finish in turnover percentage would go a long way.
Houston Rockets: One-Way Players
With James Harden and Chris Paul sharing the backcourt, the Houston Rockets have the top-end talent necessary to throw some scares into the Western Conference favorites. But they're also bubbling over with depth, thanks to a number of savvy offseason acquisitions that allow them to feature Luc Mbah a Moute, P.J. Tucker, Tarik Black and others off the bench.
Still, head coach Mike D'Antonio might have his work cut out for him. Eric Spyropoulos, writing for HoopsHabit, has more:
"While Houston has added quality defenders, those same players could limit their offense for stretches. Trevor Ariza is the only true '3-and-D' wing on the roster, as Tucker and Mbah a Moute struggle to hold up the '3' part consistently.
"Given his relatively limited shooting ability, Tucker is best suited to play more minutes at power forward in small lineups. Tucker is certainly limited offensively, as he primarily spots up in the corner for 3-pointers. For his career, 72.3 percent of his 3-point attempts have come from the corner. Last season, he hit 45.5 percent of such shots from beyond the arc."
These concerns extend to other parts of the roster.
Paul has to help cover up for Harden's defensive weaknesses. Clint Capela has to do the same for Ryan Anderson, while Anderson's floor-spacing helps Capela get space to thrive in the pick-and-roll.
The Rockets have plenty of talent, but forming a cohesive squad isn't guaranteed.
Indiana Pacers: Too Much Pressure on Myles Turner
Myles Turner is trending toward superstardom, but the Indiana Pacers have to be careful about exposing him to astronomical responsibility levels in expeditious fashion.
Though the big man is set to take on plenty of offensive touches in Paul George's absence, the Pacers have to remember his usage rate in 2016-17 was only 19.5 percent—actually a decline from his rookie efforts. Asking him to do too much as an inside-outside scorer could be counterproductive, since he could become over-reliant on established skills rather than learning to fix his weaknesses and expand his game.
Ditto for defense.
Darren Collison and Bojan Bogdanovic are significant liabilities on the preventing end, while Victor Oladipo isn't consistent enough to prevent opposing guards from testing the bigs behind him at the rim. Turner does profile as a rim-protector in the future, but he's coming off a season in which he allowed opponents to shoot 49.4 percent while he was stationed at the hoop.
Asking him to do even more could stretch him too thin.
Turner could very well break out and make the All-Star roster this year, especially given the overall weakness of the Eastern Conference. But the Pacers have to manage his workload and development carefully.
Los Angeles Clippers: Chemistry
Roster continuity is always advantageous in the NBA. Teams receive substantial boosts in production simply from keeping the right pieces together and letting them take advantage of the chemistry they've already established.
But the Los Angeles Clippers won't have that luxury.
You can literally count the number of incumbent players on a single hand: Austin Rivers, Blake Griffin, Brice Johnson (who played a total of nine minutes), Wes Johnson (who's likely buried on the bench) and DeAndre Jordan. That's it. Of the 19,755 minutes logged by Clippers players in 2016-17, only 7,519 are returning.
Sure, the acquisitions look promising and could keep LAC in the playoff hunt, even after losing Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets. But that's an almost unfathomable amount of continuity evaporating into thin air for a team expecting to remain competitive.
Figuring out how to work in Patrick Beverley, Danilo Gallinari, Milos Teodosic, Sam Dekker and all the other new pieces is the top priority—not just during the late stages of the offseason but throughout the 2017-18 campaign.
Los Angeles Lakers: Hype
The Los Angeles Lakers have plenty of talent at virtually every position.
Lonzo Ball, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle could all blossom into stars. So too could Ivica Zubac, Larry Nance Jr., Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart. Brook Lopez is already an All-Star presence at center who should help the youngsters immensely with his consistent scoring ability and newfound ability as a stretch 5.
But the Lakers can't buy into their own hype too quickly.
"We're focused on making the playoffs. Obviously it's going to be a tough journey, but we're looking forward to it..." Ball said at media day, per Silver Screen and Roll's Drew Garrison. “That's what I'm saying, yeah. I think we can [make the playoffs]."
Having that type of mentality—and we're not even talking about LaVar Ball's nonsensical belief the Purple and Gold will chase 50-plus wins—can be beneficial, as players should strive for victories and shoot for the moon. But legitimately expecting to skip so many steps during the rebuilding process can be dangerous, setting the stage for disappointment both inside and outside the organization.
This is tough in Hollywood, but the Lakers have to manage the hype and let their young up-and-comers struggle along the winding path toward celestial status.
Memphis Grizzlies: Diminished Depth
Obviously, we hope this doesn't happen. But let's pretend knee issues pop up once again and keep Chandler Parsons from making a substantial impact during his second season with the Memphis Grizzlies. Who's their fourth-best player in that situation?
Here's your list of choices behind Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and JaMychal Green:
- Mario Chalmers
- James Ennis III
- Tyreke Evans
- Andrew Harrison
- Jarell Martin
- Ben McLemore
- Wayne Selden
- Brandan Wright
Anyone jumping out? I didn't think so.
The Grizzlies have two All-NBA threats in Conley and Gasol, while the newly re-signed Green (as reported by The Vertical's Shams Charania) is full of reachable upside. But beyond that, they're struggling to make the most of some second-tier young contributors and veterans without too much enduring potential. It's an uninspiring roster through and through.
Apparently, losing Tony Allen, Vince Carter, Zach Randolph and Troy Daniels in the same offseason is tough to overcome.
Miami Heat: Pick-and-Roll Defense
Only seven teams allowed opposing ball-handlers to score more points per possession out of the pick-and-roll than last year's Miami Heat. That would be concerning enough, but it's particularly disconcerting that the scouting report was clearly being passed around throughout the league. A staggering 20.8 percent of the Heat's defensive possessions came against a PnR handler, which edged out the Utah Jazz for the NBA's highest percentage.
It gets worse.
Miami also ceded 1.09 points per possessions against PnR roll men, which again left it near the bottom of the pile. Only four squads were worse. Plus, the Heat were again exposed rather often, as just 10 teams were attacked by PnR rolls more frequently.
Opponents identified this weakness, and they exploited it.
Again. And again. And again.
By dragging Hassan Whiteside up to the top of the key, foes opened up territory around the rim. Then they could catch him off guard, pulling him from side to side with inside-out dribbles and forcing him to play outside of his comfort zone. More often than not, it worked to the tune of plenty of points and fouls.
Kelly Olynyk—surprisingly enough, since he's not exactly known as a defensive stopper—should help. But Whiteside has to make strides here, as well.
Milwaukee Bucks: Reliable Complementary Scorers
Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to get buckets. That much is clear. When he's on the floor and not watching from the bench, Greg Monroe will join him in the high-scoring category. But beyond those two, the Milwaukee Bucks don't have many consistent options to serve as either secondary or tertiary producers of points.
Last year's roster featured just three more players averaging double figures, and each of them comes fraught with questions.
Jabari Parker (20.1 points per game) is now coming back from the second ACL tear of his basketball career, and he might not return until the All-Star break. For all intents and purposes, we might as well not even count him for the time being, though he should provide a substantial boost when he does get back on the hardwood and starts rocketing toward the basket.
That leaves Malcolm Brogdon (10.2) and Khris Middleton (14.7). The former is more of a steady presence at the point who can control the tempo and avoid mistakes than a high-scoring threat out of the backcourt. The latter is an off-ball option who's at his best when filling a three-and-D role.
Perhaps one of those two can take on more responsibilities until Parker is healthy. Maybe Tony Snell lives up to his contract with one scoring outburst after another. But the Bucks have to figure something out before Antetokounmpo is left dealing with too much offensive work.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Perimeter Shooting
The Minnesota Timberwolves have plenty of talent after adding Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague to their starting lineup. But even after the infusion of star power and the expected progression from Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, they could still have trouble knocking down enough threes to space out the floor and remain competitive in a brutal Western Conference.
Just take a gander at the 2016-17 three-point figures for each member of the expected starting five:
- Jeff Teague: 35.7 percent on 3.1 attempts per game for the Indiana Pacers
- Jimmy Butler: 36.7 percent on 3.3 attempts per game for the Chicago Bulls
- Andrew Wiggins: 35.6 percent on 3.5 attempts per game
- Gorgui Dieng: 37.2 percent on 0.5 attempts per game
- Karl-Anthony Towns: 36.7 percent on 3.4 attempts per game
Remember: The league average from downtown was 35.8 percent last year.
Minnesota currently boasts plenty of perfectly moderate shooters in the starting five, and that's not terribly problematic. It's enough to get by, especially because most of these contributors are better in catch-and-shoot situations and should receive strong set-up feeds from Teague.
But the lack of a single knockdown marksman is still troubling in a landscape that relies more and more on the long ball each and every year. If everyone just stagnates in this department, opponents will inevitably compress toward the paint and dare Minnesota to do something more than connect at an average rate.
New Orleans Pelicans: Wings
DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis are locked into starting spots. Ditto for either Jrue Holiday or Rajon Rondo at the point, which leaves one of them playing shooting guard. But what are the Pelicans planning on doing at small forward?
Will Tony Allen start at the 3 despite always playing a position smaller for the Memphis Grizzlies? Is Dante Cunningham an option one year after logging 78 percent of his minutes at power forward? Neither option is particularly intriguing, especially because the New Orleans Pelicans are guaranteed to struggle spacing the floor with so many limited shooters playing at one time.
And then we have to worry about wing depth.
While Solomon Hill continues to rehab his torn hamstring, which could keep him out for the majority of the 2017-18 campaign, the Pellies only have the aforementioned options, Darius Miller, Ian Clark, E'Twaun Moore and Jordan Crawford capable of lining up on the wings. Small forward is the natural position for only one of those gentlemen (Miller, who hasn't played an NBA game since Nov. 25, 2014), which means New Orleans will inevitably be working with some unorthodox lineups.
Experimentation is both likely and necessary, and this organization doesn't have much time. If it's clear it isn't competing for a playoff spot from the get-go, Cousins could be on his way out sooner rather than later.
New York Knicks: Point Guard
Ramon Sessions. Frank Ntilikina. Jarrett Jack. Ron Baker.
Feeling inspired yet?
All in all, the New York Knicks can reasonably be excited about the 2017-18 campaign. Tim Hardaway Jr. will have something to prove in his return to the Big Apple, while Kristaps Porzingis is poised to break into the realm of All-Stars now that he's the unquestioned leader of this team—and, more importantly, its offense. Throw in the upside of Willy Hernangomez, and you can get the hype train rolling even faster.
But, even given a weakened Eastern Conference landscape that has so many spots seemingly up for the taking, the Knicks aren't going to compete for a playoff berth.
Not only do they lack established talent and defensive cohesion, but the point guard rotation is rather easily the NBA's worst. Many teams have a backup who's currently better than any of the four men listed above, though Ntilikina could change that moving forward. Just don't expect too much from this year's lottery pick right from the jump, as Jake Brown explained for theKnicksBlog:
"This is going to take time, though. Ntilikina hasn’t played in America and there is always that adjustment period. This entire first season for him will be a learning and a growing process. If anyone expects him to come out firing right out of the gate, they will be disappointed. It’s going to take a lot of patience, but after a year or two, expect to see him as the clear-cut starting point guard for this team.
"Ntilikina’s impact early on will be seen on the defensive side of the floor, where he will be able to be a three-position defender. But don’t look for him to have a huge impact immediately like Dennis Smith, Jr. or De’Aaron Fox likely will."
Unless Ntilikina proves everyone wrong, this carousel at the 1 is going to be rough.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Only One Ball
*It's media day, 2017. A ball rolls into the other corner of the practice court within Chesapeake Energy Arena, where members of the Oklahoma City Thunder are taking team pictures.*
Carmelo Anthony, in his role as the stoic veteran of the OKC Big Three: "See that ball off in the dis7ance? It's beckoning to all of us, but on7y one of us can take the final s7ot. You know it's going to be me, rig7t?"
Paul George, pensively: "What is a basketball? Is that the spherical object that spends so much time in my hands?"
Russell Westbrook, giddy with the excitement of a young child on Christmas morning: "I love the basketball! I didn't even have to share it last year! Triple-doubles!"
George, still deep in thought: "You know, if I take all the clutch shots, you two can claim you never missed a single one."
Anthony: "Just remember, let's stay Me7o."
This new trio in OKC has plenty of talent, and the pieces should fit together cohesively. George and Anthony are the best big-minute spot-up shooters with whom Westbrook has played since Kevin Durant departed, and the rest of the starting five should be able to cover up any weaknesses possessed by the superstars.
But this requires buy-in, and that's where potential flaws emerge. As Tony East pointed out for NBA Math, "The Thunder, as a team, took 7,169 shots last season. Their three stars jacked 4,678 between them—or 65 percent of the squad’s overall looks, leaving 35 percent for the other 12 players. Nobody will be thrilled about that, so one member of the Big Three will need to accept a role change..."
That member will most likely be Anthony. But can he accept such a decline in prestige?
Orlando Magic: Spacing
The Orlando Magic finished the 2016-17 campaign ranked No. 15 in three-point attempts per game (26.1). They just couldn't make any of them. Their 32.8 percent clip sat well below the league average, leaving them ahead of only the Oklahoma City Thunder (32.7).
Apparently, they're now doubling down.
Terrence Ross' enduring presence will help, but look at the perimeter numbers of the notable men added to the roster this offseason:
- Arron Afflalo: 41.1 percent on 2.5 attempts per game for the Sacramento Kings
- Jonathan Isaac: 34.8 percent on 2.8 attempts per game for the Florida State Seminoles
- Shelvin Mack: 30.8 percent on 2.2 attempts per game for the Utah Jazz
- Adreian Payne: 20.0 percent on 0.8 attempts per game for the Minnesota Timberwolves
- Jonathon Simmons: 29.4 percent on 1.3 attempts per game for the San Antonio Spurs
- Marreese Speights: 37.2 percent on 3.4 attempts per game for the Los Angeles Clippers
That looks more encouraging than it should, thanks to the presence of the players bookending the group.
Speights and Afflalo were the only above-average marksmen last year, but how much will they realistically play? The former has to compete for minutes with Nikola Vucevic, Bismack Biyombo and small-ball lineups, while the latter could fall behind Ross, Evan Fournier, Mario Hezonja and Simmons in the pecking order.
This is a rebuilding squad, and it shouldn't be sacrificing minutes allotted to young players just so the veteran shooters can get on the floor. In some ways, it's a catch-22 scenario for a squad that's seemed stuck for years.
Philadelphia 76ers: Health
Realistically, we don't know what the Philadelphia 76ers' biggest flaws will be.
They could dominate on defense with Joel Embiid shutting down the paint and Robert Covington swarming shooters on the wings. They could feature a fantastic offense with Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz running the show and J.J. Redick providing spacing with his three-point prowess.
But how do we know? This roster doesn't have the luxury of continuity, and the three most exciting pieces have combined to play a grand total of 31 games at the professional level. They're still trying to prove themselves...and they must stay healthy to do so.
Simmons is bouncing back from a foot injury that erased what would've been his rookie season. He's apparently healthy and "ready to go," per CSNPhilly.com's Jessica Camerato, but the burden of proof still rests firmly on his shoulders. Embiid, as reported by The Athletic's Derek Bodner, still hasn't been cleared for 5-on-5 action.
Here's hoping they don't experience any further setbacks and get to strut their stuff on the big stage in a few short weeks. That's just far from guaranteed, given their individual histories.
Phoenix Suns: Defense in General
Even with an infusion of Josh Jackson, the Phoenix Suns will be vastly overmatched whenever they're playing defense.
The Kansas product will help—as much as any rookie can—by matching up against the opposition's best scoring option at small forward or power forward, but that's about where the positives end. Eric Bledsoe can't dominate (consistently, at least) anymore without risk of being run into the ground, while Devin Booker is a horrid stopper who gives up as much as he adds with his scoring acumen.
And though Tyson Chandler is healthy, how much is he going to play on a team with plenty of young bigs raring to go? He's a likely trade candidate as the season progresses, and he's now coming off a year in which he allowed opponents to shoot 53 percent while he was stationed at the hoop.
That's not just a Chandler flaw. It's a Phoenix flaw.
The whole team was bad at allowing penetration and subsequently stopping it around the basket last year, though it was also so undisciplined on the perimeter that teams didn't have to pick their poison. They could just play to their strengths and attack as they saw fit, leading to the Suns posting a 112.2 defensive rating that beat out only the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets.
This young team should experience some improvement on defense. Just not enough to make its preventing work anything less than the biggest flaw.
Portland Trail Blazers: Backcourt Defense
The Portland Trail Blazers' defensive issues aren't nearly as widespread as the Suns' problems on the preventing end. Jusuf Nurkic should be able to clean up lapses by protecting the rim—opponents shot 53.3 percent against him after he moved to Rip City, but he contested so many shots that he was still making an impact—while Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu are capable wing stoppers.
But the backcourt is porous as can be.
Highlighting the defensive weaknesses of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum isn't a simple task. Not because it's hard to find any, but because the opposite is true. How do you only focus on one element of their games?
Fortunately, they make that easy by having so much trouble in the pick-and-roll. Both guards treat screens like they're brick walls, apparently thinking they have to stop and stand in place as soon as they make contact with someone other than their primary assignment.
Lillard allowed 0.85 points per possessions to PnR handlers last year, which left him in the 49th percentile. Those numbers stood at 0.93 and 27.3, respectively, for McCollum. That's bad enough, but two elements make the numbers look even worse.
Opponents constantly sought out PnR opportunities against the starting backcourt last year, to the point that both guards faced such sets on at least 40 percent of their defensive possessions. Plus, these numbers only factor in scoring attempts and turnovers; the passes foes made to open teammates after bursting past the primary defender aren't even factored in.
Sacramento Kings: Defense
The seventh-worst team in 2016-17 at protecting the rim, the Sacramento Kings might not actually be that much better in 2017-18.
Skal Labissiere and Willie Cauley-Stein, for all their size and athleticism, were both rather porous in the painted area, failing to showcase any sort of discipline as they tried in vain to contest every shot in their vicinity. They should both improve with more experience under their respective belts, but they're not the shut-down defenders needed behind a group of sieve-like guards and wings.
This changes if George Hill plays upwards of 35 minutes per game at De'Aaron Fox's expense, but the Sacramento backcourt is too inexperienced to make much noise on the preventing end, no matter how quick Fox may be during his rookie season.
Just imagine lineups like Fox/Buddy Hield/Bogdan Bogdanovic/Labissiere/Cauley-Stein. Where does the defense come from? And yet, that quintet is almost inevitably going to spend time together since the Kings need to see what they have in their many young pieces.
The 2017-18 season should be filled with trial and error, and many of the mistakes will come on the defensive end—just as they did last year, when the Kings posted the league's No. 25 defensive rating.
San Antonio Spurs: Depth
More so than they have in decades, the San Antonio Spurs feel utterly reliant on the exploits of a single man.
Back when Tim Duncan entered the league, the model franchise was built around a two-tower approach, featuring the Wake Forest product alongside David Robinson. Then came Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, and San Antonio has boasted a multi-faceted approach ever since. But it's now the Kawhi Leonard show, complete with a bevy of questionable pieces around him.
Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge can still look like stars on any given night, but they each have distinct weaknesses and are operating past their primes. Even if we give them the benefit of the doubt and say a starting lineup comprised of Gasol, Aldridge, Leonard, Patty Mills and Danny Green will excel, that leaves behind a shaky bench.
Just look at the likely second unit if everyone is healthy and those are the figures present for the opening tip: Dejounte Murray (an inexperienced sophomore coming off a disappointing rookie campaign) or Tony Parker (recovering from a major injury to his left quadriceps), a 40-year-old version of Manu Ginobili, Rudy Gay (returning from an Achilles rupture) and two of Kyle Anderson, Davis Bertans and Joffrey Lauvergne. That doesn't exactly inspire confidence.
Head coach Gregg Popovich is an unabashed basketball genius who will probably make us regret ever doubting the depth of the Spurs, but this feels like the weakest top-to-bottom roster the organization has cobbled together in quite some time.
Toronto Raptors: Tertiary Scorers
Who's the third option?
DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry should do most of the heavy lifting for the Toronto Raptors in 2017-18, just as they did last year while combining to score a staggering 38.4 percent of the team's points. But beyond that dynamic duo, the team doesn't boast any established scoring options who can consistently push for a 20-spot.
C.J. Miles is a tremendous spot-up option. Serge Ibaka can space the floor from either power forward or center. But they averaged 10.7 and 14.2 points (looking at Toronto only) last season, respectively. Neither is making that substantial a leap, which pushes the focus to Jonas Valanciunas (stagnating for years) and Norman Powell (still blocked from big minutes).
The Raptors simply don't have a go-to scorer for the nights either DeRozan or Lowry struggles.
A by-committee approach can work during many outings, but that route is fraught with danger. Counting on someone to get and stay hot isn't always a reliable strategy, especially when you're doing so because one of the stars is having difficulty finding the bottom of the net.
For the time being, the tertiary role will probably go to Ibaka out of sheer necessity. Just don't forget he hasn't averaged more than 15 points since his 2013-14 campaign with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Utah Jazz: Go-to Scorer
All members of the Utah Jazz will have to put forth a concerted effort to cover up for the lost scoring that stems from Gordon Hayward's departure, but someone will have to take over as the top option. Replacing an All-Star who put up 21.9 points per night is a tough task, and it doesn't help that the offseason's biggest addition (Ricky Rubio) is more facilitator than scorer and is replacing the team's second-leading point-producer (George Hill at 16.9 per game).
As of now, that someone is unknown.
Though he's coming off a year in which he averaged just 12.7 points per game, Rodney Hood is the safest bet. He just has to convince himself not to hesitate before he lets fly, as he explained at the Jazz's media day.
"I can't have a conscience, that's the biggest thing," the Duke product stated, per Kyle Goon of the Salt Lake Tribune. "Not where I'm just jacking shots, but just being ready to shoot. That's one of my specialties. With Ricky [Rubio] and Rudy [Gobert] on the pick-and-roll and I'm on the wing, I get a lot more open shots than I got in the past."
But what if Hood isn't ready to take on such a heavy burden? Can Rudy Gobert become a more well-rounded scorer? Is Derrick Favors healthy enough to lead the team? Is Donovan Mitchell an option during his rookie season?
These Jazz have plenty of strengths, but they need to establish a pecking order during training camp that's in everyone's best interests.
Washington Wizards: Backups
When John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr., Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat share the floor, the Washington Wizards can run with anyone. And lest you think that's hyperbolic, the quintet earned an 8.1 net rating in 2016-17—better than the season-long marks produced by any squad other than the Golden State Warriors.
But disaster ensued when the starters needed breathers. With all five on the pine, the Wizards were outscored by 3.4 points per 100 possessions, placing them around the level of the New York Knicks or Dallas Mavericks.
Obviously, most teams struggle when their best players aren't on the floor. But Washington took that to an extreme thanks to a dearth of depth at just about every position. It's an issue that wasn't remedied over the offseason—signing Mike Scott and Jodie Meeks while trading for Tim Frazier can't fill a hole that large—and will be tested immediately as Morris recovers from surgery to fix a sports hernia.
A healthy Ian Mahinmi, improved play from Kelly Oubre Jr. and capable performances from Frazier will, at least partially, help remedy this issue. But the Wizards still need so much more from the second unit, or else head coach Scott Brooks will have to start getting more creative with his rotations to ensure either Wall, Beal or Porter is on the floor at all times.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.