Biggest Hole Every NBA Team Still Needs to Fill
Free-agency signings have reached a relative halt, the Kawhi Leonard trade sweepstakes have concluded and next year's depth charts are beginning to take shape.
Ergo, the NBA has surpassed the height of its offseason and started the descent into the dog days of summer.
The struggle is real. Training camps and the next superstar trade demand cannot get here soon enough. There is, however, a silver lining to the Association's transaction frenzy entering a slow period: We have license to harp on the voids that remain unfilled.
Every team has them. Well, almost every team.
Many of these gaps in the roster are not deathblows. They're footnotes. Some squads may even have the answer to their most glaring holes already in tow, and we just don't know it or can't see it yet.
For now, though, these cracks in the foundation are real. And they'll eventually need to be addressed. That may entail another free-agent signing. It might consist of a midseason trade. It could be a matter of waiting on prospects to develop or on next year's free-agency market. We don't care.
We're not here to figure out when or how these issues will be remedied. Nor are we showing sympathy to teams without available roster spots. That these voids exist, in any form, is all that matters.
Atlanta Hawks: Building-Block Big
Sincere apologies to the Big Baller Brand for stealing its initialism, but the Atlanta Hawks do indeed need a building-block big.
John Collins is a fine prospect—a real cornerstone. His future might even lie at the 5. He needs a frontcourt partner either way and preferably one who can, like him, slither between power forward and center.
Atlanta rated in the 13th percentile of defensive efficiency last season whenever Collins lined up at the 5, according to Cleaning The Glass. Finding someone bigger than the 235-pounder who is more of a deterrent around the rim and aligns with the Hawks' rebuilding window becomes paramount if they're not bent on developing their 6'10'" trampoline into a center.
Alex Len ain't it. The same goes for Miles Plumlee—who, by the by, is set to turn 30, not 25, in September. Go figure.
Dewayne Dedmon and his burgeoning three-point stroke is fine for now, as Atlanta experiments with small-ball 4s in lineups that feature Collins at the 5. Dedmon would be fine long term as well...if he were a half-decade or so younger. Maybe Omari Spellman is the answer up front. He probably isn't.
Collins, Kevin Huertas, Taurean Prince, Trae Young and, for us romantics, DeAndre' Bembry make up the Hawks' core. Another sub-25-year-old biglet needs to join them.
Boston Celtics: Literally Nothing
Imagine looking at the Boston Celtics roster and coming to the conclusion that "Oh, wow, this team needs help."
Size profiled as a minor issue entering the offseason. It isn't anymore. Aron Baynes is back. Robert Williams is a lottery talent that needs a Tile tracker for his wallet. Al Horford still exists. A healthy Daniel Theis rounds out a solid big-man rotation for a Boston squad that, let's face it, has too many talented wings to lean heavily on twin-tower lineups.
Adding another shooter could be considered pressing if you're a party-pooping grouch. The Celtics only have one player who places in the top 50 of high-volume three-point accuracy over the last three seasons (Kyrie Irving), according to NBA.com's John Schuhmann.
That would be more concerning if Gordon Hayward, Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown didn't qualify as above-average marksmen. And don't forget: Terry Rozier is more comfortable jacking three-pointers than attempting layups, while Horford, being Horford, canned nearly 43 percent of his treys last season on respectable volume.
Boston's spacing will be fine. Head coach Brad Stevens will make sure of it. This team needs to worry about staying outside the unsubstantiated Anthony Davis rumor mill more than anything else.
Brooklyn Nets: Playmaking Power Forward
Nabbing another playmaking forward tops the Brooklyn Nets' to-do list even after the acquisition and subsequent retention of Jared Dudley. Head coach Kenny Atkinson will endeavor to create enviable spacing, with Dudley and DeMarre Carroll sponging up minutes at the 4.
Brooklyn still needs something more than expiring-contract placeholders over the longer haul—particularly with the extension-eligible Rondae Hollis-Jefferson ticketed for restricted free agency next summer.
Sticking with the 23-year-old isn't out of the question. The 6'7" forward has shown the capacity to initiate some half-court offense and might one day sniff league-average volume and efficiency from downtown. He drilled a nice 47.7 percent of his looks between 10 and 16 feet last season while also downing 44 percent of his long twos.
The Nets are nevertheless itching for a more natural "from scratch" scoring force. They considered making a run at Jabari Parker before he signed with the Chicago Bulls for way too much money, as ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst noted on an episode of The Lowe Post podcast.
Hollis-Jefferson is never going to be that Jabari-type shot creator. No one on the roster will be. Brooklyn needs to find him—or hope RHJ defies consensus and evolves into him.
Charlotte Hornets: 3-and-D Wing
Rookie Miles Bridges is the lone three-and-D wing under the Charlotte Hornets' employ. That's assuming you buy into his 37.5 percent outside clip from Michigan State holding up against NBA volume and range (it might), and that you also trust the rebuild-averse Hornets to play him (they should).
Everyone else? Yeah, nah.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist avoids three-pointers like they have cooties. Nicolas Batum is swishing under 34 percent of his triples since 2014-15. Jeremy Lamb has shot better than 36 percent from deep one season (the last one) and is a net-neutral defender after you liberally interpret the meaning of "net-neutral defender."
Dwayne Bacon aspires to Batum's efficiency. Malik Monk's jumper may come around; his defense is a different story. And, well, would you look at that: Charlotte is out of options.
As if the decision to turn Treveon Graham loose wasn't bizarrely terrible enough, right? Nice scoop, Brooklyn.
Chicago Bulls: A Wing, Any Wing; Please Just Get an Actual Wing
Bulls general manager Gar Forman does not seem the least bit concerned about playing Jabari Parker, a career 4, at the small forward slot.
"Jabari is a 23-year-old player who is a natural fit with our young core and is a proven scorer at the NBA level," he said in a statement, per the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson.
Wendell Carter Jr., Robin Lopez, Lauri Markkanen and Bobby Portis disagree. Omer Asik and Cristiano Felicio probably do, too.
Parker will need to log a boatload of time at the 3 unless Chicago plans to marginalize a handful of its other incumbent bigs. And if his past small-forward reps are any indication, Parker isn't built for a wing's workload. Check out the Milwaukee Bucks' net ratings with him at the 3 (via Cleaning The Glass):
- 2014-15 (244 possessions): -9.4
- 2015-16 (404 possessions): -29.7
- 2016-17 (1,052 possessions): -2.8
- 2017-18 (24 possessions): -16.7
Chicago is different than Milwaukee. That doesn't mean better. Functioning like a wing on offense won't be a problem for Parker. Small forwards will kill him at the other end. His arrival puts unnecessary strain on the more switchable Carter and even Markkanen.
Worse, the Bulls do not have adequate reinforcements. Justin Holiday and Denzel Valentine shouldn't be chasing around combo forwards. David Nwaba will be missed. Chandler Hutchison looks the part, but he alone won't stop the inevitable—long gulp—"Zach LaVine at the 3" minutes. The Bulls need more wing options, any wing options, if they actually expect Parker's stay to be more than a one-year layover.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Backup Combo Forward
With Kevin Love signing a four-year, $120 million extension and Cedi Osman set to absorb starting small forward duties, the Cleveland Cavaliers have their 3/4 dynasty in place. Finding a backup for the both of them is all they have left to do.
Fine, fine, fine. The Cavaliers have a lot more to do. And it'll be a miracle if Love finishes his new four-year deal, or even next season, in Cleveland. This team needs to be in the indiscriminate asset-amassing business.
That doesn't diminish the importance of adding a combo forward. Larry Nance Jr. will be expected to swallow some minutes at the 4 as it stands. That cannot happen. Kyle Korver forecasts as the primary backup 3 at the moment. That cannot happen, either.
Re-signing Rodney Hood would help alleviate some of the perimeter burden but not all of it. He isn't appreciably long for someone who stands 6'7" and has always defended with an inexplicable passiveness. Using him at the 3 is fair. Having him pester small-ball 4s is mean.
Okaro White will be interesting once he's all the way back from his broken left foot—just not at the 3. Like Nance, Channing Frye should be banned from playing a single solitary second at the 4. The Cavaliers do not have enviable trade assets or an iota of cap space, but that doesn't matter. The next addition they make, however low-end, needs to lead them toward a youngish combo forward.
Dallas Mavericks: Sweet-Shooting 2/3
Yours truly expects Luka Doncic to emerge as a Magic Johnson/Chris Paul hybrid as much as the next irrational sentimentalist. The Dallas Mavericks still need another body to cha-cha between shooting guard and small forward.
Bringing Devin Harris home will help. He is a career combo guard, but he played 754 possessions at the 3 last season, during which time the Mavericks outscored opponents by 12.4 points per 100 possessions, according to Cleaning The Glass.
Getting Wesley Matthews back from his fractured right fibula will be similarly beneficial. A few of us still remain on the Dorian Finney-Smith island, albeit with a tick of reluctance. Dallas might have juuust enough 2/3 bodies to get by if J.J. Barea cannibalizes Yogi Ferrell's playing time and Harris-at-small-forward remains a thing.
Too many of those minutes are still left to chance—especially when you consider that, in an ideal world, Harrison Barnes gets more spin at the 4 than the 3. This will be a season-long sore spot if Doncic doesn't put the draft-day decision-makers in Phoenix, Sacramento and Atlanta to shame.
To be clear: He might.
Denver Nuggets: Combo Wing
Playing Will Barton at small forward is a familiar look for the Denver Nuggets. Last season saw him do more of a balancing act between shooting guard and makeshift point guard, but he gives them their starting 3 mostly without issue.
Barton, Gary Harris, Nikola Jokic, Paul Millsap and Jamal Murray obliterated opponents by 38.6 points per 100 possessions, with an offensive rating north of 132, when they played together, according to Cleaning The Glass. That enemy shellacking came across a limited sample size (135 possessions), but the output from this group don't feel entirely unsustainable.
Everything outside the starting five is a little hazier.
Michael Porter Jr. will be the eventual combo-wing heir if all goes according to plan. He needs to get healthy first. The 20-year-old recently underwent surgery on his lumbar spine and doesn't have a timetable for return.
Denver does not have a host of other proven options at its disposal. Malik Beasley has barely played through his first two seasons and won't match up well versus bigger wings. Juan Hernangomez remains intriguing but should be deployed at the 3 in microscopic, almost-nonexistent spurts.
Torrey Craig is going to shoulder a heavy burden this year if Porter gets redshirted. Well, that or the Nuggets will torture themselves with actual reps for Trey Lyles at the 3—which, yeah, please no. It will be interesting to see how Denver's defense fares with the current personnel if the roster shuffling is officially over.
Detroit Pistons: Veteran Shooter
Any team with designs on playing Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin and Reggie Jackson together, plus a little bit of Stanley Johnson, needs to bury itself in dependable outside shooting. The Detroit Pistons have not.
Luke Kennard remains underappreciated after draining 41.5 percent of his threes and not playing nearly enough as a rookie. Glenn Robinson III is a solid "let's see what have here" add. He has some defensive range and is shooting 39.3 percent from long range since 2015-16 on just over three attempts per 36 minutes.
Neither Kennard nor Robinson gives the Pistons a battle-tested high-volume sniper. And to be fair: Re-signing James Ennis wouldn't have rectified the situation. Reggie Bullock is the closest they come to an answer—you know, just-started-getting-real-minutes-in-the-NBA-last-season Reggie Bullock.
Reading deeply into Bullock's 44.5 percent success rate from distance is fair. It also doesn't help much. The Pistons shot 31 percent on threes in the 44 minutes Drummond, Griffin and Jackson played together (9-of-29).
Small samples are only so useful as predictors, but that brief brick-laying aligns with what you'd expect from this imbalanced cast. A higher-volume marksman would go a long way—unless Kennard or Robinson are fixing for unanticipated breakouts.
Golden State Warriors: Off-the-Bounce Bench Scorer
Maybe we should pencil Jamal Crawford into the Warriors' depth chart and call it a day. The two sides showed "mutual interest" in joining forces at the start of free agency, according to ESPN.com's Zach Lowe.
Golden State has not done anything to suggest its admiration for Crawford's microwave scoring has waned.
DeMarcus Cousins can beat up opposing second units, but he first has to return from his Achilles injury and isn't the quintessential face-up weapon if you give a darn tootin' about turnovers. Shaun Livingston is a lunchpail diehard, not off-the-bounce chuckster. Quinn Cook might be the answer. The unsigned Nick Young is not.
Re-upping Patrick McCaw assures the Warriors of another half-court ball-handler, but he's no pull-up artist or let-'er-rip assassin. They need someone a little bit more in-your-face, even if he's erratic and doesn't move the needle on defense.
Anyone who applies more off-the-dribble pressure in the half court and allows Golden State to care slightly less about staggering the minutes of its nine jillion superstars would suffice.
Houston Rockets: Switchable Wing
Losing Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute in the same offseason stings—we think. The Rockets played more than 1,000 possessions last season with both on the bench and turned in a good-not-great defensive rating alongside an otherworldly point differential, per Cleaning The Glass. They might be fine as currently constructed.
At the bare minimum, though, they're not switch-friendly. The loss of Mbah a Moute specifically hurts their frenetic rotations. James Ennis will help some, and PJ Tucker is alive. The certainty ends here.
Gerald Green is the Nick Young of combo wings who actually play defense. Adding Carmelo Anthony to the fold would do nothing other than infer a lack of faith in Ryan Anderson remaining playable into April. Michael Carter-Williams has the length to bounce around on defense, but his non-shooting, non-finishing at the offensive end will be the ultimate test of Houston's spacing.
Here's to the Rockets waiting for Jared Dudley and the Nets to enter buyout discussions after the trade deadline.
Indiana Pacers: Defensive Wing
While the Indiana Pacers had a fantastic offseason last year, they approach next season a little light on sure-thing wing defenders.
Perhaps they don't care. They finished eighth in points allowed per 100 possessions after the All-Star break, and Thaddeus Young is a whiz when it comes to undetected suffocation at the forward spots. Use Cory Joseph and Victor Oladipo to harass the occasional wing, and the Pacers might be fine.
Or they could dip closer to below average, just as they did prior to the All-Star sabbatical.
Doug McDermott, bless his heart, enthusiastically punches his time card on defense, but he'll struggle to be a net-neutral gnat at the 4 spot. Playing him at the 3 is a good way to open the floodgates inside the arc.
Tyreke Evans has the length to move from like-sized wing to like-sized wing. His on-ball defense verged on terrific during his one-year stop with the Memphis Grizzlies. He's also Tyreke Evans, in the same way Bojan Bogdanovic is Bojan Bogdanovic. Their best cases are not guarantees.
Counting on this cast to consistently play above its heads is a calculated risk. Again: The Pacers have the perimeter utility to get by on defense. They just don't have more than that.
Los Angeles Clippers: 3-and-D Wing
A Los Angeles Clippers squad with more serviceable players than roster spots should not want for anything.
Scrolling through their depth chart is an exercise in pleasant confusion. They have no discernible long-term direction. Are they rebuilding? Trying to contend? Competing until the trade deadline when they'll unload their many team-friendly contracts? We don't know.
Nor, it seems, do they. The Clippers will have hella trouble winnowing down their roster ahead of opening night. CJ Williams has already become an unfortunate casualty after joining the team last year on a two-way contract. Los Angeles waived him Friday, according to Yahoo Sports' Shams Charania.
Letting Williams go accentuates a need the Clippers shouldn't have. They finally assembled some depth. It doesn't just come in the form of three-and-D wings. At 6'5", Williams checked that box. Few others on the payroll do.
Danilo Gallinari shouldn't be defending 2s and 3s ever again. Tobias Harris is more likely to get on-ball stops at the 4. No one should be banking on Wesley Johnson turning into a league-average shooter.
Avery Bradley, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson will be above their physical profiles against bigger wings. Feel free to have skyscraper-high hopes for Gilgeous-Alexander—if only because it feels wrong to tie Los Angeles' three-and-D quota to Luc Mbah a Moute alone.
Los Angeles Lakers: Combo Big
Forget about power forward. The next phase of LeBron James' career will include more time at center.
As one Los Angeles Lakers executive told Bleacher Report's Eric Pincus: "We may not see this on day one, but the coaching staff is eager to see our version of the [Warriors'] Death Lineup with Lonzo [Ball], Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, [Kyle] Kuzma and LeBron."
Has anyone told James about this? Putting him at center has always seemed like it could be a cheat code. He would devastate as the rim-runner in pick-and-rolls, and good luck to any semi-traditional big keeping pace with him in space.
But James doesn't have the vibe of someone who will embrace big-man life for more than a small fraction of the time. It took him a while to warm up to playing power forward with the Miami Heat. A move to center may not invite unequivocal endorsements. He spent fewer than 100 possessions at the 5 during his second go-round in Cleveland, according to Cleaning The Glass.
This says less about James' functional leanings, and more about the Cavaliers' surrounding personnel. Manning center won't rattle him on offense. He understands the importance of generating mismatches, and he now vacations on the low block.
Battling with rival bigs on the less glamorous end is an entirely other matter. The Lakers need a combo big who lets James pick and choose frontcourt assignments and therefore rids this moonlighting venture of any associated stigma. They don't have that player right now.
JaVale McGee isn't him. Moritz Wagner will be overpowered by burly 5s and a deer in headlights opposite face-up 4s. Kuzma and Michael Beasley will top out against power forwards—if they give Los Angeles anything on defense at all.
Memphis Grizzlies: Wing Shooter
Props to the Grizzlies for their offseason. Seriously. Kyle Anderson, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Garrett Temple give them a defensive malleability they've never known. Memphis will sneak up on the Western Conference's playoff clique if Mike Conley and Marc Gasol remain healthy.
Half-court spacing still profiles as a hairy wart. The Grizzlies have not added a knockdown shooter. They can talk themselves into Jackson and Temple posting above-average clips, but neither is a volume guy. Jackson might be someday, just not now. Temple has only cleared five three-point attempts per 36 minutes twice in his career.
Anderson is waiting for his outside touch to find him. His mid-range game is down pat, but he's a career 33.7 percent shooter from deep on afterthought volume.
Expecting Dillon Brooks to fill this role for extensive stretches will attach unnecessary urgency to his learning curve. Something about relying on MarShon Brooks feels wrong. Wayne Selden is the straight-to-video-on-demand Wayne Ellington. Tyreke Evans should have been dealt at the trade deadline dammit is in Indiana.
Oh, make no mistake, the Grizzlies have done small-market franchises allergic to full-tilt rebuilds proud. But after placing in the bottom 10 of three-point frequency and efficiency, they continue to need a little extra outside juice.
Miami Heat: Secondary Shot Creation
Goran Dragic needs a friend. That much was painfully clear last season whenever the Heat used Dwyane Wade as a crunch-time crutch. It remains maddeningly unaddressed now, a byproduct of a ledger bogged down by too many fairish-priced and above-market deals.
Miami is not getting extra "square one" brushstrokes from incumbents. Not right away. Wayne Ellington was its only player to post an effective field-goal percentage better than 45 on one pull-up jumper per game. That is...not good.
Dion Waiters will fancy himself a solution. He's not. Bringing back Wade isn't either. James Johnson is too topsy-turvy on the perimeter to be the answer. Tyler Johnson and Justise Winslow are non-starters in this discussion. Dragic himself has shown cracks when operating without a safety net.
Josh Richardson is getting there as fast as he can. Miami has experimented with him orchestrating pick-and-rolls, and he offered a glimpse into some off-the-dribble pizzaz during the playoffs.
In the meantime, head coach Erik Spoelstra will make it work. The Heat don't need to be a one-on-one superpower if they eschew isolations for quicker half-court decisions, and they inject breathing room into their clunkiest lineups with thought-out floor positioning.
Milwaukee Bucks: 3-and-D Wing
Identifying a clear need for the Bucks is surprisingly difficult. They're by no stretch a finished product, but they addressed a majority portion of their frontcourt void with Ersan Ilyasova and Brook Lopez.
Milwaukee's center carousel remains in somewhat disarray even after their arrivals. Neither Ilyasova nor Lopez is the complete package. Ditto for John Henson and Thon Maker. The Bucks don't have that big man who blends strength, length and top-shelf mobility at the defensive end.
Maker is a million-zillion calories away from being that player. Lopez is too slow-footed. Henson doesn't have the lateral gait. D.J. Wilson will be lucky to play. Ilyasova is the closest to the desired hybrid, but that doesn't say much.
All of which suggests the Bucks will have Giannis Antetokounmpo headline more lineups as the primary big. And they'll need additional perimeter pests to make that work. They coughed up more than 116 points per 100 possessions last year with Antetokounmpo at the 5, according to Cleaning The Glass. Life won't get much easier now.
Head coach Mike Budenholzer is an upgrade over Jason Kidd. He's not a miracle-worker. He has a bunch of serviceable and stout-when-engaged defenders between Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon, Khris Middleton and Tony Snell. It'll take at least one more option for the Bucks to effectively play Antetokounmpo in the middle.
Matthew Dellavedova doesn't count. Pat Connaughton might, but not really.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Wing Depth
Pretty much everyone understood the Minnesota Timberwolves needed to flesh out their wing rotation entering this summer.
So, naturally, they hard-capped themselves with Anthony Tolliver and made sure to re-sign Derrick Rose.
Tolliver helps the Timberwolves with their clumpy half-court setup. They finished dead last in three-point-attempt rate and an unremarkable 19th in long-ball accuracy. He put down 43.6 percent of his deepies on 7.5 looks per 36 minutes for the similarly space-strained Pistons.
This just in: Tolliver is not a wing. Just 8 percent of his minutes have come at small forward since 2014-15. Detroit put him there for fewer than 30 possessions last season, per Cleaning The Glass. He has more giddyap in his step than most realize, but Minnesota will be a bottom-five defensive team if he's even a part-time 3.
Keita Bates-Diop and Josh Okogie loom large here. Coach-president Tom Thidobeau looms larger. They both have the length and east-west portability to pitch in at the 2 and 3, with Bates-Diop maybe hassling some small-ball 4s, but Thibs will have to break character and show an aptitude for talent development if either of them are going to carve out a role.
New Orleans Pelicans: Sweet-Shooting Wing
Darius Miller and Nikola Mirotic remain the extent of the New Orleans Pelicans' sweet-shooting wings. And including Mirotic is generous. He has never eclipsed league-average efficiency from three in consecutive seasons, and the Pelicans should view him as more a single-position player (power forward) than interchangeable wing.
They won't, because they can't. Julius Randle wasn't brought in on a two-year deal (player option for 2019-20) so he, Mirotic and Anthony Davis could never play together. Mirotic will have to putter around at small forward every now and then.
New Orleans' stash of wings is unsettled beyond that. The most palatable options aren't even actual wings. Jrue Holiday and E'Twaun Moore can find nylon from behind the rainbow, but they both give up size at the 3, and neither of them should be rotating onto 4s.
DeAndre Liggins will have a case if his 47.1 percent clip from three holds up next season...on more than 17 attempts. Solomon Hill, who returned in March after a torn hamstring, can stalk both forward spots, but he only breaks out artificial-sweetener shooting for the playoffs.
The Pelicans will put points on the board anyway. They have enough off-the-dribble shot creators near the top of the depth chart for their shallow well of accessory shooters not to matter—or rather, for it not to hurt nearly as much.
New York Knicks: Playmaking Wing
Chew on the New York Knicks' arrangements at the 2-3-4 spots (two-way contracts not included):
- Shooting guard: Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee, Damyean Dotson
- Small forward: Lance Thomas, Mario Hezonja
- Power forward: Kristaps Porzingis (injured), Kevin Knox, Noah Vonleh
Futz around with the hierarchy as you see fit. Common-sense enthusiasts everywhere will love you forever if you list Porzingis as a center.
Wherever you land with this setup, ask yourself: Which one of these players do you want pushing the ball up the court after a defensive rebound or serving as the pick-and-roll triggerman in the half court?
Lee should be the first answer. That doesn't make him an ideal one. Going on 33, he doesn't fit the timeline of a rebuilding team. He also won't fit the Knicks' books beyond this season if they're serious about a Kevin Durant pursuit.
Thomas may be the 87th coming of Draymond Green in head coach David Fizdale's eyes. He's not. Forcing him to wear a bunch of hats on defense isn't too much of a stretch. Running the offense through him only makes sense in the Land of Make Believe.
Keep going through the options. They won't get better with Hardaway or Hezonja. Knox is an interesting pick after his summer-league detonation, but he's a teenager who's more of a big than a wing. Frank Ntilikina works if you're both desperate and certain the Knicks won't ever groom him as a point guard.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Proven Spot-Up Shooter
And now for a look at where every Oklahoma City Thunder wing rated on the spot-up-efficiency scale last season (note: Kyle Singler didn't burn through enough possessions to qualify):
- Alex Abrines: 74.9 percentile
- Terrance Ferguson: 36.8 percentile
- Paul George: 92.7 percentile
- Jerami Grant: 34.5 percentile
- Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot:42.4 percentile
- Andre Roberson: 9.9 percentile
Just for kicks: Neither Dennis Schroder (18.4) nor Russell Westbrook (33.6) finished in the 35th percentile of spot-up efficiency last year. They're not going to be off-ball beacons in smaller lineups.
Stir in the complete absence of shooting at the center position beyond Patrick Patterson, and the Thunder face more confined operating room than in 2017-18. Don't be surprised if they tumble outside the top 10 of points scored per 100 possessions after barely making last year's cut.
Orlando Magic: Point Guard
We could pretend that trading for Jerian Grant gives the Orlando Magic a legitimate point guard prospect to evaluate against a long-term fit.
We could stretch the boundaries of reason and sing unending praises for D.J. Augustin.
We could point out that Evan Fournier and Jonathon Simmons can fire up some pick-and-rolls.
We could argue that either Aaron Gordon or Jonathan Isaac might become an in-case-of-emergency point forward.
Or we could set the over/under on the number of games Isaiah Briscoe will start at 30, recognize that Orlando desperately needs a floor general and be on our merry way knowing we didn't sugarcoat reality.
Philadelphia 76ers: A Marco Belinelli Who Doesn't Go Rogue
Don't laugh. Well, actually, go ahead and laugh. Or pretend to laugh. It would be good for my ego. But the premise isn't all giggles. The Philadelphia 76ers know they need a Marco Belinelli 2.0 and have contacted the Cavaliers about getting him.
Sources told Philly.com's Keith Pompey that the Sixers have tried to build a package around Jerryd Bayless' expiring contract in exchange for Kyle Korver. A person close to the talks deemed a deal "possible" while speaking with the New York Times' Marc Stein, but that was before the Cavaliers extended Kevin Love and declared their allegiance to first-round playoff exits and 10th-place conference finishes.
Philly needs a free-flinging assassin to pair with JJ Redick—just not one who gets his postseason jollies on contested pull-up jumpers that seldom find the bottom of the net. Ben Simmons is at his most dangerous when surrounded by automatic shooters who can stay in motion.
Wilson Chandler, Robert Covington and Dario Saric can work within those roles to some degree. But none of them are really quick-trigger slingshots. Rookie Zhaire Smith needs to show his sound mechanics can persist in higher volume and faster-twitch actions.
As far as potential in-house solutions go, Shake Milton, the No. 54 pick in this past June's draft, might be the Sixers' best long-term bet. ESPN.com's Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz explained:
"Although he's not the most dynamic off-the-dribble shooter because of his release point and lack of elevation, Milton is deadly with his feet set. He finished in the 98th percentile in spot-up situations (121 possessions) according to Synergy sports. He can attack closeouts into a 1-2 dribble jumper, get to floaters or kick out."
Actual space was just dedicated to a late second-rounder on an Eastern Conference contender. That happened. Philly would be much better off acquiring Korver, but it is not completely hard up for options without him.
Phoenix Suns: Point Guard
As secretary to the secretary to the assistant of the president for the Elie Okobo Fan Club, the Phoenix Suns' point guard dilemma doesn't come across as totally damning.
Last year's youngest team is still pretty dang young. The Trevor Ariza signing and Mikal Bridges trade imply a certain level of urgency within the organization, but they do not divert the Suns off their rebuilding path. They have the leeway to play Okobo and Shaquille Harrison while encouraging Devin Booker and Josh Jackson to polish off their pick-and-roll decision-making.
Rumor has it Brandon Knight remains in the NBA, too. To run him exclusively at point guard is to miscast his skill set, but he offers some ball-handling on the margins.
Still, the Suns could use more than inexperienced wild cards and secondary creators to head up their offense. They closed 2017-18 dead last in offensive efficiency and assist-to-turnover ratio and never got their pick-and-roll attack off the ground.
To misquote Mary Poppins: A spoonful of additional experience at the 1 helps buckets go down.
Portland Trail Blazers: Combo-Wing Shooter
Aminu has come a long way from his sub-30-percent outside clips in Dallas and New Orleans. He deserves to be applauded for turning into a viable three-point threat with the Blazers. But his volume alone doesn't cut the mustard. And Portland doesn't have anyone else.
Moe Harkless is downing 37.5 percent of threes over the past two seasons, but that's on barely three attempts per 36 minutes. Evan Turner's long-range touch has far from corrected itself. Trotting out Nik Stauskas at the 3 (or 4) is a good way for head coach Terry Stotts to get himself fired.
Jake Layman cannot be considered the guy until he clears 500 career minutes. Anfernee Simons enters the NBA with questionable shot selection and a 6'4", 183-pound frame that must bulk up before he can tackle taller wing assignments.
Gary Trent Jr., the No. 37 pick in June's draft, had the greenest of lights at Duke. Maybe he can crack the rotation. But he's not explosive enough to play too far up. He might max out as a 2—in which case, following the expiration of the returning trade exception, Portland might want to prepare itself for an infusion of "Why the Blazers never should've offloaded Allen Crabbe" thinkpieces. (He wouldn't be the answer, either.)
Sacramento Kings: Small Forward
Specific position designations are overrated these days. Physical profiles and tools matter more than inflexible descriptors. The NBA is strutting through an era dominated by gray areas.
That said: Boy, do the Sacramento Kings need a small forward.
This does not nullify the initial point. The league fawns over multifaceted players, but single-position talent lives on. Jabari Parker is a prime example. He shouldn't be tasked with defending 3s and 5s. He is a 4 through and through.
Sacramento is drowning in single-position 9-to-5ers. None of its de facto power forwards (Marvin Bagley III, Harry Giles, Skal Labissiere) should be sniffing time at small forward. Bogdan Bogdanovic, Buddy Hield and Ben McLemore (!) are shooting guards who shouldn't move up a rung for more than a few beats.
Iman Shumpert blurs the line between the 2 and 3, which is fine. Justin Jackson is the only player who can be squeezed into every wing spot, and we're being generous here.
Please don't twist this into a plea for the Kings to sign Rodney Hood (a restricted free agent). The remaining free-agent market does not offer a quick fix. Sacramento needs to bide time for the 2020 draft (miss you, 2019 pick) or work the trading block—though, taking a stab at free-agent-who-shouldn't-still-be-a-free-agent David Nwaba would be sweet.
San Antonio Spurs: Shooter at the 2/3
The San Antonio Spurs need shooters, period. But they have the most room for improvement at the swingman spots.
Dejounte Murray isn't getting benched, and the syrupy-shooting Patty Mills is behind him. Davis Bertans, Dante Cunningham and, yes, Pau Gasol are as space-y as the Spurs will let themselves get up front.
That brings us back to the 2 and 3. Marco Belinelli isn't enough insurance behind DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay on his own. Bryn Forbes, Lonnie Walker IV and Derrick White still need to earn their stripes. Manu Ginobili is 41 and saw his three-point success rate spill below 34 percent last season.
Subbing out Gay from the projected starting lineup would be ideal. The Spurs desperately need spacing and have no other way to get it. They sure as hell aren't moving DeRozan to the second unit and don't have the depth to make impactful changes to the 4/5 duo.
Consider this: San Antonio's expected starting five (Murray, DeRozan, Gay, LaMarcus Aldridge and Gasol) combined for 205 made threes between them last season. Nine players cleared that marker on their own. Put another way: The Spurs' entire starting lineup brings the three-point volume of Joe Ingles (204 made treys).
Including Danny Green in the Kawhi Leonard trade may have possibly, potentially, definitely been a mistake.
Toronto Raptors: 4th Big
Flipping Jakob Poeltl to the Spurs as part of the Kawhi Leonard trade package leaves the Toronto Raptors with an opening for a fourth frontcourt wheel alongside Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam and Jonas Valanciunas.
Pouring one out for Lucas Nogueira is perfectly acceptable, but the Raptors are here on purpose. They gained an extra wing, Danny Green, in the Leonard deal. Tack on OG Anunoby, CJ Miles, Norman Powell and Malachi Richardson, and this team is suitably built in the image of a small-ball terror.
Things will change if the Raptors are reluctant to play Anunoby at the 4. They shouldn't be. They notched top-tier offensive and defensive ratings through the 679 possessions he logged at power forward last season, according to Cleaning The Glass. The Green-Leonard-Anunoby combo has the chance to be the league's best defensive trio, bar none. Toronto should milk it.
Steer into a switch-almost-everything model, and the Raptors don't have a clear hole. Having Leonard and Miles, in addition to Anunoby, help at the 4 eliminates the need for a fourth big. Toronto is closer to Boston and Golden State than not.
Then again, the Raptors might opt out of every-possession small-ball. It could be something they won't unleash in full until crunch time or even the postseason. And if that's the plan, well, they need a new plan. But they'll also need a fourth big to counterbalance the half-court mobility they won't get in arrangements that feature both Ibaka and Valanciunas.
Utah Jazz: No. 2 Scorer
And here it comes again.
Utah has a bunch of nifty third options in its employ. Derrick Favors, Joe Ingles and Ricky Rubio each bring their own genre of shot creation to the table. Head coach Quin Snyder's equal-opportunity offense takes care of the rest.
The Jazz still need a from-the-ground-up maestro to relieve Mitchell of his herculean burden. They placed 18th in points scored per 100 possessions during their post-All-Star tear and were 29th in efficiency when shooting after using between three to six dribbles, the latter of which nods to their razor-thin comfort working off the bounce.
Look, Utah is going to win a ton of games next season, and a healthy Dante Exum will soften the shot-creation blow even if he's not reliable outside the restricted area. But when Ricky Rubio is second on your team in pull-up attempts per game by a wide margin, you have a problem.
And so, last season, the Jazz had a problem. This year, terrifyingly good as they are, they could have one, too.
Washington Wizards: Switchy Frontcourt Shooter
If you're looking for a roundabout way of saying the Washington Wizards will miss Mike Scott, here ya go.
John Wall is satisfied with the addition of Dwight Howard. Even at age 32, he brings more athletic flavor to the center position than the 34-year-old Marcin Gortat. But that extra burst comes at the expense of space.
Pick-and-pops with Gortat were a staple of Washington's offense. He opened up driving lanes for a team with dicey floor balance. The Wizards wrapped 2017-18 fourth in three-point accuracy but finished 23rd in attempts per 100 possessions. They're not teeming with knockdown flamethrowers after Bradley Beal and Otto Porter.
Ian Mahinmi poses identical problems when captaining the middle. Jeff Green could see time at the 5, but he shot 31.2 percent from deep while playing beside LeBron freaking James. Jason Smith brings the desired range but nothing else.
Markieff Morris is the Wizards' singular hope at simultaneously breathing marksmanship and switchability into the center rotation. He is hitting more than 36 percent of his three-point attempts over the past two seasons and has the gait and size to tussle with wings and bigs alike.
And yet, Morris' stints at center, while tantalizing in theory, have mostly been a letdown. Washington surrendered almost 118 points per 100 possessions when he got his feet wet at the 5 last year, according to Cleaning The Glass. He won't be the antidote to this pickle unless Porter or Kelly Oubre Jr. shows he can spare him from certain post-up and rim-protecting assignments.