1 Thing Every NBA Team Failed to Address This OffseasonAugust 11, 2018
1 Thing Every NBA Team Failed to Address This Offseason
Breaking news: Perfection is difficult to attain when constructing an NBA roster.
That doesn't stop every team from trying, of course. And some get far closer than others, whether attempting to craft contenders who have great chances at hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy or looking to tease out growth from youngsters during a rebuilding season.
The intended direction of an organization is crucial here, because those squads looking to the future have far different expectations than the league's true contenders. But each category is still susceptible to mistakes and unaddressed issues as we move closer to the start of the 2018-19 campaign.
Some teams failed to address holes at specific positions. Others didn't tackle deficits in certain facets of the game. Others still only have minor oversights or are entering the upcoming season without any serious regrets.
Here's hoping your favorite bunch falls into one of those last two groupings, which we'll address before jumping alphabetically into those with major mistakes.
If the Atlanta Hawks were actively trying to contend for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, they'd have serious flaws scattered throughout the roster. But they're not. Instead, they're engaged in a full-scale rebuild geared around replicating the Golden State Warriors' system by finding shooting at all spots in the lineup.
So far, so good.
With Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, Taurean Prince, John Collins and Omari Spellman, the Hawks have intriguing pieces who fit the schemes across the board. Dewayne Dedmon provides even more spacing at the 5 while operating on a reasonable deal, and Jeremy Lin should be able to help mentor Young and the other, well, youngsters. After offloading Dennis Schroder's contract, this roster looks how it should as Atlanta prepares to compete for the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA draft.
After the All-Star break, the Boston Celtics posted the league's No. 16 offensive rating, scoring only 107.4 points per 100 possessions. But they were still so good on defense—103.3 points allowed per 100 possessions to sit at No. 7—that they still finished with a positive net rating and carried that momentum into a deep playoff run that fell just one game shy of a Finals appearance.
Now, the young core is a year more experienced. The defense isn't going to lose a step as the youths continue to develop, especially because Marcus Smart and Aron Baynes are both returning. And with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward prepared to bounce back from season-ending injuries, they'll have offensive firepower alongside Jayson Tatum, allowing them to climb back up that particular leaderboard.
The Celtics have no obvious weaknesses and now boast one of the Association's deepest collections of talent, all under the supervision of a wizardrous head coach in Brad Stevens.
Golden State Warriors
The Warriors might be coming off back-to-back championships, but their run to the latest title exposed the lack of shooting depth behind Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant. Naturally, they went out and solved their biggest weakness.
DeMarcus Cousins, though he could miss time while returning from Achilles rehab, took 6.1 triples per game in 2017-18 while connecting at a 35.4 percent clip—respectable enough to draw defensive attention on the perimeter. Jonas Jerebko is a legitimate stretch 4 (41.4 percent on 2.1 threes per game last year), and we can't overlook the additions of Danuel House (a stud shooter in the G League) or Jacob Evans (41.8 and 37.0 percent during his final two seasons at Cincinnati).
The Indiana Pacers aren't being bandied about with the Philadelphia 76ers, Toronto Raptors and Celtics as top-tier contenders out of the Eastern Conference, but they've stealthily built a deep roster that doesn't have any obvious flaws. Just take a gander at the projected depth chart, per Rotoworld:
- Point Guard: Darren Collison, Cory Joseph, Aaron Holiday
- Shooting Guard: Victor Oladipo, Tyreke Evans, Elijah Stewart
- Small Forward: Bojan Bogdanovic, Doug McDermott
- Power Forward: Thaddeus Young, Domantas Sabonis, T.J. Leaf, Alize Johnson
- Center: Myles Turner, Kyle O'Quinn, Ike Anigbogu
They're at least two deep at every position. They have offensive specialists, defensive stalwarts and plenty of shooting from everyone. They boast upside and creation ability at multiple slots. They might not have the superstars to match up with the NBA's loaded squads, but that doesn't mean they have any major flaws they failed to address during the offseason.
Had the Raptors not signed Greg Monroe in free agency, the void behind Jonas Valanciunas would've pushed them to the "teams experiencing only slight issues." But why should we have any qualms about a team with one of the NBA's deadliest starting fives (Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Serge Ibaka and Valanciunas, though OG Anunoby could also sneak into an oversized bunch at Green's expense) while it still features depth at every position?
Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet, CJ Miles, Anunoby and Pascal Siakam are all useful second-stringers who should help preserve Toronto's ability to dominate when the starters are catching their breath. And as such, this squad is ready to make the climb from regular-season force to legitimate Finals contender in the Eastern Conference.
Only Slight Issues
If the Dallas Mavericks are fine holding onto Wesley Matthews' expiring contract and clearing up space for 2019 free agency, that's perfectly fine. But they've at least thought about engaging in such a transaction, as Mike Fisher of 247Sports reported they'd trade the veteran swingman for a deal they'd consider "special."
This obviously isn't a glaring concern, and it's hard to fault the Mavericks for holding tight. But with Matthews on the roster, they'll have to be careful and avoid letting him get too many minutes at the expense of the Luka Doncic/Dennis Smith Jr. backcourt pairing that will shape the future of this franchise.
The Milwaukee Bucks successfully addressed their need at center by signing Brook Lopez, but he might prove little more than a stop-gap solution at the biggest position—an ideal stop-gap, given his floor-spacing abilities that will pair well with Giannis Antetokounmpo, but a stop-gap nonetheless.
Lopez is only aboard on a one-year pact worth $3.4 million, which means the Bucks will be back to the drawing board next summer. Fortunately, that gives them a full year to find a long-term fix alongside Antetokounmpo, Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton, whether that comes from Thon Maker finally developing into a useful contributor, a follow-up contract for Lopez or an external option.
Though the lack of immediacy keeps them away from the featured teams in this article, a concern exists all the same.
New Orleans Pelicans
The New Orleans Pelicans recovered nicely from the departures of Rajon Rondo (Los Angeles Lakers) and DeMarcus Cousins (Golden State Warriors). Quite frankly, both exits may prove positives for the bayou-based franchise, as the former is getting by more on reputation than enduring skill set, while a positive bounce-back from an Achilles injury isn't guaranteed for the latter.
But even if we view those flights as negatives, New Orleans did well to add Elfrid Payton and Julius Randle in the quest for a more complete supporting cast around Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday.
On the flip side, will Davis be pleased with the lack of commitment to his fellow Kentucky products? That's the risk here, since the Pelicans can't afford to frustrate the franchise centerpiece as it tries to build an actual contender during his prime years. Even while they gained quality pieces, they run the risk of unhappiness.
New York Knicks
The New York Knicks are building their roster the right way, remaining patient as they prepare for 2019 free-agency expenditures. Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina and Mitchell Robinson should receive significant opportunities during the 2018-19 campaign, and the franchise also took reasonable fliers on Mario Hezonja and Noah Vonleh. For once, a desire to expedite the rebuild isn't holding the organization back.
But what about this whole Joakim Noah situation? As Adrian Wojnarowski and Ian Begley reported for ESPN.com, "The New York Knicks remain unlikely to reincorporate exiled center Joakim Noah into the team under new coach David Fizdale and still plan to part ways with the veteran big man before training camp."
Therein lies the mistake, as the Knicks should either have taken care of this situation by now or proved willing to give him an opportunity at redemption, even if doing so was only geared at revitalizing his trade value for a future swap. The timing doesn't make sense, as Mike Vorkunov elaborated upon for The Athletic.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Though I have enduring concerns about Dennis Schroder's fit as a non-starting point guard with the Oklahoma City Thunder, the franchise still added plenty of talent during the offseason. Hamidou Diallo and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot make for intriguing fliers, while Nerlens Noel should add more depth to the frontcourt portion of the roster. And that's saying nothing of Paul George's return or Andre Roberson's rehabilitation process.
But while the Thunder are now poised to become legitimate challengers in the Western Conference, they do have one weakness that might need to be addressed in the future. Noel, Steven Adams and Jerami Grant aren't exactly reliable floor-spacing options, and the coaching staff hasn't proved willing to lean on Patrick Patterson for a larger role.
This lack of frontcourt shooting could prove problematic, forcing the smaller players to fill even tougher assignments on the offensive end.
We'll likely never know how hard the 76ers tried to land a superstar during the 2018 offseason. They had the cap space necessary to pursue either LeBron James or Paul George, but those signings never materialized before they went to the Lakers and Thunder, respectively. Maybe they could've put together a convincing package for Kawhi Leonard, though that didn't happen either.
So can we really hold the failure to upgrade against the Sixers? To some extent, sure. Just not enough that it cancels out the good they did by acquiring Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala and Jonah Bolden while getting Landry Shamet and Zhaire Smith via the draft.
Brooklyn Nets: Guard Play
The Brooklyn Nets have plenty of intriguing pieces populating their depth chart, but they're still searching for a building block at point guard. Spencer Dinwiddie improved tremendously throughout the 2017-18 season, and D'Angelo Russell has shown flashes of the upside that made him the No. 2 pick back in 2015, but neither has consistently demonstrated an ability to make lives easier for their teammates while simultaneously thriving as a scorer.
No one in Brooklyn has.
Dinwiddie's passing was excellent during his breakout campaign, but his 6.6 assists per game came while he shot just 38.7 percent from the field and 32.6 percent from beyond the arc. Russell, meanwhile, slashed 41.4/32.4/74.0 and had issues keeping his turnovers in check.
Caris LeVert was next up on the team's dime leaderboard (4.2 per game), and he likewise had trouble keeping his percentages in the green—43.5 percent from the field, 34.7 percent from downtown and 71.1 percent from the stripe.
If the Nets want to maximize the growth of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Jarrett Allen and the other young players on the roster, they need someone who can capably initiate the offense without allowing the defense to ignore them. Quality guards make development so much easier for other positions, but only if they have well-rounded games or exist as top-tier passers.
Charlotte Hornets: Backup Point Guard
Without Kemba Walker on the floor, the Charlotte Hornets have struggled immensely.
Now that the speedy floor general has figured out how to thrive in all pick-and-roll situations by demonstrating an equal ability to beat defenders off the bounce and pull up for open shots when they sag too far back in an attempt to counteract his speed, he's become the clear-cut impetus behind any and all offensive success.
That's great when he's playing, but it means the Hornets score 8.9 fewer points per 100 possessions without him, dooming them to lottery finishes and poor performances in his absence. Oh, and that decline was almost three times greater than one produced by any other rotation member.
But Charlotte is attempting to solve this issue with Tony Parker, which isn't much of a solution at this stage of the veteran 1-guard's career.
Parker was losing minutes to Dejounte Murray with the San Antonio Spurs, and it's obvious he's no longer the same player. He doesn't have the fleetness of foot necessary to play the style with which he thrived during his younger days, and he's now coming off a year in which he shot only 47.9 percent on his two-pointers (his worst mark since his rookie season) while the Spurs saw their net rating drop 5.3 points per 100 possessions when he got run.
When you're struggling for help behind your team's leading star, the solution shouldn't come from a player in the twilight of his career who has appeal only because of his name.
Chicago Bulls: Facilitating Ability
The Chicago Bulls will likely enter the 2018-19 season with Kris Dunn as the starting point guard while Cameron Payne prepares to function as the backup. Maybe that fills you with confidence because of the former's defensive abilities and undeniable strides during his first go-round away from the Minnesota Timberwolves, but it's still hard to view that as an unmitigated positive.
Zach LaVine is best when he's functioning in off-ball scenarios. Lauri Markkanen is a growing catch-and-shoot threat who isn't ready to initiate too much of his own offense. Wendell Carter Jr. might draw some Al Horford comparisons during his rookie campaign, but he's not prepared to serve as a facilitating hub at this stage of his young career.
The Bulls need table-setting options who can assist the developments of the other youngsters, and they don't have those quite yet. Dunn might be a gifted passer, but his shooting woes (42.9/32.1/73.7) allow defenders to gum up distributing lanes and make space harder to come by for his running mates. Payne hasn't shown enough to inspire confidence in his skills as a distributor, though his speed does keep defenders off-balance at times.
Maybe Dunn still emerges as a centerpiece. But until he turns potential into production, this is an enduring concern.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Direction
If the Cleveland Cavaliers' goal is to remain moderately competitive after LeBron James' departure, allowing them to work toward a back-end playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and serve as first-round fodder for the Celtics/76ers/Raptors, then they're doing a great job. Maybe they're a low-level postseason squad if everyone stays healthy. Maybe they falter down the stretch and just miss out on one of the eight berths.
But that's often the worst place to be in the NBA.
The unabashed pursuit of an 83rd game is understandable for struggling franchises looking to finally get off the schneid and end lengthy playoff droughts, but the Cavaliers don't qualify as such. They're only a few years removed from a title, which should make it easier to swallow a lottery finish that allows for the acquisition of an elite prospect.
Instead, they could find themselves stuck in the Association's version of purgatory after signing Kevin Love to an extension that might allow him to remind us of those old exploits with the Timberwolves.
Cleveland has veteran leaders in Love, George Hill, Tristan Thompson, JR Smith, Channing Frye and Kyle Korver. It has intriguing youngsters in Collin Sexton, Larry Nance Jr., Ante Zizic and David Nwaba. But the mix is a strange one, indicative of a front office refusing to pick a direction and instead trying to travel down multiple paths.
Denver Nuggets: Small Forward, Small Forward, Small Forward
The Denver Nuggets backcourt is loaded with talent, featuring Jamal Murray and Gary Harris in starting roles while Isaiah Thomas, Monte Morris, Malik Beasley and Torrey Craig come off the pine. Will Barton is also more of a natural 2, even if he'll likely be thrust into a starting role at small forward out of necessity.
The frontcourt is even better: Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic in the opening quintet with Trey Lyles, Tyler Lydon, Juancho Hernangomez, Jarred Vanderbilt, Mason Plumlee and Thomas Welsh there for support. Especially if Vanderbilt proves a draft-day steal (a possibility, since health depressed his stock), that makes for one of the NBA's deadliest rotations at the 4 and 5.
But Michael Porter Jr. is the only natural small forward on the roster, and the Nuggets can't yet be sure how much (or if) he'll play in 2018-19 as he recovers from back surgery. Especially after trading Wilson Chandler into the 76ers' cap space for luxury-tax purposes, they're likely turning to players such as Barton, Craig and Hernangomez at the 3, none of whom are ideal fits.
Barton didn't even play small forward in 2017-18, per Cleaning the Glass. Craig was far better at shooting guard than the lineup slot in question, albeit in less time. Hernangomez spent more action at the 3 and was superior there, but only in small segments with a game that still presents a better long-term fit at a bigger position.
Denver will likely keep looking for answers well after the first game of the next campaign.
Detroit Pistons: Point Guard Upgrade
The Detroit Pistons might be able to find success with a Blake Griffin-Andre Drummond tandem, but they need quality play at point guard in order to maximize the output of that big-man pairing.
Reggie Jackson and Ish Smith aren't the answers, and bringing in Jose Calderon isn't going to change much. Maybe the veteran will provide the occasional spurt of efficient shooting in relief of the more prominent rotation members, but that's about all the Motor City should expect.
According to FiveThirtyEight's CARMELO projection system, here are the values of the three floor generals:
- Jackson: 0.7 WARP in 2017-18 and 0.3 projected WARP in 2018-19
- Smith: 1.2 WARP in 2017-18 and 0.6 projected WARP in 2018-19
- Calderon: 0.8 WARP in 2017-18 and minus-0.2 projected WARP in 2018-19
Together, they're expected to earn 0.7 WARP during the upcoming season—far less than Toronto Raptors backups Fred VanVleet (2.7) or Delon Wright (2.5), as two of many examples. Together, they're expected to be worth a meager $9.7 million, which isn't ideal at such an important position.
We're not saying the Pistons have to find an All-Star at the point. They just need to unearth a quality starter who won't hold back the studs surrounding him in the opening lineup.
Houston Rockets: Wing Defense
Signing Carmelo Anthony isn't necessarily a bad move. But in conjunction with the departures of both Luc Mbah a Moute and Trevor Ariza, it's an acquisition sure to depress the ferocity of the Houston Rockets defense, which finished the 2017-18 campaign trailing only the Celtics, Jazz, 76ers, Spurs and Raptors.
Per PBPStats.com, the reigning No. 1 seed in the Western Conference posted a 4.9 net rating and 110.9 defensive rating without both Ariza and Mbah a Moute last year. The first number sits quite a bit below the season-long mark of 8.5, and the second would've given Houston the worst defense in the league.
Another year with PJ Tucker should help. Anthony's offensive prowess could help boost the overall net rating, so long as he accepts an advantageous role during his reunion with head coach Mike D'Antoni. But this still represents some slippage and diminished depth while the Warriors are only getting stronger—the lone barometer for a team of Houston's caliber.
To be clear, we're not saying this is a disastrous series of events. But the defense is getting worse, and that's an objective fact clear enough for Houston to make it known that it's shopping around for help on the preventing end.
Los Angeles Clippers: Fixing the Backcourt Logjam
This isn't a condemnation of the Los Angeles Clippers' backcourt talent. Far from it, as the organization has put together too many useful bodies and now runs the risk of hindered growth for the up-and-comers.
Feast your eyes upon the projected depth chart in LAC, per Rotoworld:
- Point Guard: Patrick Beverley, Milos Teodosic, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jawun Evans
- Shooting Guard: Avery Bradley, Lou Williams, Jerome Robinson, Sindarius Thornwell
- Small Forward: Danilo Gallinari, Wes Johnson
- Power Forward: Tobias Harris, Luc Mbah a Moute, Mike Scott
- Center: Marcin Gortat, Montrezl Harrell, Boban Marjanovic, Johnathan Motley
Sometimes, too much depth is actually a problem, and that's the case for the Clippers even after moving Austin Rivers to the Washington Wizards for Marcin Gortat.
Which members of the backcourt don't deserve minutes?
Should you rule out Sindarius Thornwell and Jawun Evans as they enter their sophomore campaigns, you're still looking at two first-round talents (Jerome Robinson and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander) falling behind veterans who have to get minutes.
Milos Teodosic showed moments of offensive brilliance during his first NBA season, Patrick Beverley is a defensive ace when healthy, Lou Williams is coming off a near-All-Star season, and Avery Bradley just received a two-year extension worth $25 million.
Either the Clippers are burying young talents who need to develop on the floor, or further moves are coming.
Los Angeles Lakers: Shooting Around LeBron James
As NBA veteran Ryan Hollins explained while sitting in for Jalen Rose on ESPN's Jalen & Jacoby, the Los Angeles Lakers could be looking to some midseason acquisitions to fill in their shooting holes (h/t TheSpun.com's Dan Lyons):
"So LeBron needs dead-eye shooters...you need a Kyle Korver. Granted, in today's NBA, this is a real blessing for LeBron. When the trade deadline starts to come up, you're going to see guys like [Marco] Belinelli, [Ersan] Ilyasova, you're going to see these guys come available and be able to join LeBron. So the Lakers have a strategy that they'll be able to get a dead-eye shooter later in the season, which will be an immense help."
But they don't have those shooters now.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart can knock down looks from outside the rainbow, while Kyle Kuzma has shown hints of floor-stretching ability as he continues to develop into a draft-day gem. But that's not enough, particularly if the other offseason additions (Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Michael Beasley and JaVale McGee) are going to fill rotation roles and/or Lonzo Ball continues to struggle with his unorthodox form.
Granted, this is allegedly part of the master plan—one that James himself has approved. But we've learned over the years that the four-time MVP is most effective when surrounded by snipers, and that's not how this Tinseltown roster is constructed.
Waiting until the trade deadline might be waiting too long.
Memphis Grizzlies: More Shooters
During the 2017-18 season, the Memphis Grizzlies didn't exactly function as a beacon of shooting excellence. Only six teams took fewer three-point attempts per game, and the Beale Street residents completed their detrimental volume/efficiency combination by sitting at No. 25 on the three-point-percentage leaderboard.
If that's going to change in 2018-19, it may only trend in the wrong direction.
A full return to health and form from Mike Conley would help, but the team is now operating without Tyreke Evans, who led the team in successful triples. Gone too are Ben McLemore (No. 4) and Mario Chalmers (No. 5). So even if the healthy incumbents and new additions (Jaren Jackson Jr. chief among them) manage to knock down some deep looks, the Grizzlies may well be doing nothing more than treading water in a facet of the game vital to modern-day offenses.
This unit can create looks from so many different positions, given the unorthodox styles of Marc Gasol and Kyle Anderson (a strong free-agency signee). But without knocking down the shots that provide spacing, it could be unintentionally relying on defense and that old grit-and-grind mentality for a while longer, even without the holdover pieces who originally made the style work.
Miami Heat: Hassan Whiteside Roadblock
Are the Miami Heat really going to waltz into the 2018-19 campaign with Hassan Whiteside still on the roster?
Should his mentality change, no longer allowing him to gripe about his role with the organization and always imbuing him with the necessary effort levels, he could still be a detrimental presence. He's now coming off a year in which the Heat were 4.4 points per 100 possessions worse when he played, and they were 10.8 worse with him logging postseason minutes; his style doesn't work with the intended schemes deployed by head coach Erik Spoelstra.
Worse still, he's blocking Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo from carving out even bigger roles in the rotation.
The former is a perfect fit for the drive-and-kick stratagems, given his ability to knock down catch-and-shoot jumpers from all over the floor. The latter is a high-upside prospect who has already shown flashes of excellence on both ends of the floor. And yet, neither can thrive—not to the full extent of their capabilities, at least—while Whiteside is continuing to receive run.
This is a situation that should've been remedied long ago, even if the Heat are merely selling off the disgruntled pivot for pennies on the devalued dollar.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Wing Depth
To be fair, the Minnesota Timberwolves might not be too concerned with remedying this flaw because head coach Tom Thibodeau staunchly refuses to use his backups in the first place.
During the 2017-18 season, not a single team turned to its non-starters for fewer minutes. In fact, the gap between the 'Wolves (1,110) and the No. 29 Oklahoma City Thunder (1,316) was just about equivalent to the chasm between the Thunder and the No. 16 Orlando Magic (1,523).
Yes, you're free to pick your jaws up off the floor.
But even given Thibodeau's traditional reliance on the opening quintet, the glaring lack of depth behind the wing starters is highly problematic. Does a playoff team really want to be counting on rookie-year production from Josh Okogie and Keita Bates-Diop? Can it depend upon James Nunnally and constant small-ball lineups that make use of some combination of Jeff Teague, Derrick Rose and Tyus Jones?
No matter how effective Teague, Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins, Taj Gibson and Karl-Anthony Towns may be, five men alone can't keep pace with the upper-tier teams in the supercharged Western Conference.
Orlando Magic: Point Guard, Point Guard, Point Guard
Exciting as the Orlando Magic's big-man core may be (Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, Mohamed Bamba and Nikola Vucevic), the rotation at point guard is equally upsetting. D.J. Augustin, Jerian Grant and Isaiah Briscoe may prove worthy of jobs as backup floor generals, but they certainly shouldn't be competing for a starting job.
And yet, here we are.
Let's put that in further perspective. Excluding Briscoe, who spent the 2017-18 calendar playing overseas, the two-headed dragon at the 1 combined to record 18.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 8.4 assists per game. In the last decade alone, a handful of players have matched those numbers all on their lonesomes:
- Russell Westbrook (four times)
- LeBron James (three times)
- James Harden (twice)
- Chris Paul (twice)
- John Wall
Orlando isn't competing for anything of note during the upcoming season, so the ill effects of this 1-guard rotation will likely be mitigated by diminished expectations. But that just means this perpetual rebuild drags on even longer, and the lack of solid backcourt members could make it tougher for the bigs to expedite their developments.
Phoenix Suns: Playing Time for the Youngsters
Cue Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes, who detailed how a member (or more) of the Phoenix Suns' forward rotation is sure to get left out in the cold after the inexplicable decision to hand Trevor Ariza a one-year deal worth $15 million:
"Giving Trevor Ariza a one-year, $15 million deal was bizarre. Not just because the Suns seemingly signed the veteran small forward with short-term competitiveness in mind, but also because they have so many players they need to see develop at his position.
"Is Josh Jackson going to be a quality starter? What about Mikal Bridges? Can TJ Warren extend his range and become a complete scorer? Where will those guys find minutes with Ariza occupying the 3? If your answer involves undersized lineups, fine, but then you're marginalizing Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender, a pair of lottery picks entering make-or-break years."
This rotation is overcrowded, which would've been true even if the Suns hadn't brought Ariza aboard to serve as a declining two-way veteran prepared to help mentor the younger members.
Maybe Josh Jackson and Mikal Bridges will play such effective basketball that they force Phoenix's hand. Perhaps a trade is in the works, selling another organization on the untapped potential possessed by Marquese Chriss and/or Dragan Bender.
But the current situation is untenable and won't allow for the full growth of the high-upside pieces now dwelling in the desert.
Portland Trail Blazers: Reliable Backcourt Depth
Seth Curry could turn out to be a valuable addition for the Portland Trail Blazers.
He was excellent during the 2016-17 season, averaging 12.8 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists while shooting 48.1 percent from the field, 42.5 percent from downtown and 85.0 percent from the charity stripe. As if that weren't enough, his quick hands worked well on defense as he blossomed into a player upon whom head coach Rick Carlisle could rely for his work on both ends.
But that was before a stress fracture in his left leg ended his efforts prematurely and then kept him out for the entirety of the 2017-18 campaign, depressing his stock enough that Rip City could strike with a one-year contract worth just $2.8 million.
Now, he's a question mark.
Maybe he rekindles the Dallas magic. Maybe he's unable to find his rhythm after fighting back from injury. That uncertainty doesn't play well when he's joined by Wade Baldwin IV (disappointing during his brief NBA career), Nik Stauskas (disappointing during his brief NBA career), Gary Trent Jr. (a second-round rookie) and Anfernee Simons (a rookie who hasn't played above the high school level) as the primary backups to Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
The starting guards remain the lifeblood of the Blazers organization, and the team falls apart without either of them on the floor. That occurred for 254 minutes last year, and Portland was outscored by 3.3 points per 100 possessions, per PBPStats.com.
If that doesn't change, the Blazers will have trouble moving any higher up the Western Conference standings.
Sacramento Kings: The Small Forward Situation
Yes, the Sacramento Kings still plan to use Marvin Bagley III at the 3. Perhaps they're just confused by the digits after his surname, thinking those are somehow functioning as an indication of his true position at the NBA level even after he was a clear-cut big man for the Duke Blue Devils.
Here's the Sacramento Bee's Jason Jones with the plan:
"When general manager Vlade Divac said Bagley [6'11", 234 lbs] could play small forward, it didn't mean the Kings plan to make Bagley their small forward full time.
"However, the Kings believe that as Bagley's game develops—especially his outside shooting—playing Bagley as a small forward will be an option.
"Bagley's athleticism stood out to the Kings, so they plan to get the most out of it and see how much Bagley can handle in the future."
It's not only the athleticism and development of his outside shooting that will be pushing the Kings toward using their marquee addition at a smaller spot in the lineup. Sheer necessity is driving that, as well.
Even after an offseason of roster shuffling, Sacramento has an imbalanced lineup construction featuring far too many bigs and guards without any small forwards. Justin Jackson is the most natural 3 on the books, and that means also using oversized options such as Bagley and Nemanja Bjelica or undersized ones like Iman Shumpert, Buddy Hield and Ben McLemore.
None of these choices are particularly positive ones, even in the age of positionless basketball.
San Antonio Spurs: 3-Point Shooting
The San Antonio Spurs will probably make this work because they're the San Antonio Spurs and head coach Gregg Popovich is a magician, but the lack of three-point shooting has to be concerning as they move out of the short-lived Kawhi Leonard era and into the DeMar DeRozan phase.
Take a peek at last year's deep numbers for the projected starters:
- Point Guard: Dejounte Murray (26.5 percent on 0.4 attempts per game)
- Shooting Guard: DeMar DeRozan (31.2 percent on 3.6 attempts per game)
- Small Forward: Rudy Gay (31.4 percent on 2.1 attempts per game)
- Power Forward: LaMarcus Aldridge (29.3 percent on 1.2 attempts per game)
- Center: Pau Gasol (35.8 percent on 1.6 attempts per game)
For perspective, the NBA as a whole connected on its long-range jumpers at a 36.2 percent clip—a level reached by exactly zero of San Antonio's expected starters.
Some of the backups can provide spacing—Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli chief among them—but they're also one-way contributors who will damage the defensive inclinations of the starters they're supplementing. And that leaves the team with an enduring flaw that often wrecks the offenses of modern-day squads.
Worse still, the Spurs are coming off a year in which they finished No. 27 in three-point attempts per game while sitting at No. 26 on the accuracy hierarchy. That might only get worse as they move forward and gum up the half-court set with multiple volume scorers who prefer mid-range looks over everything else.
Can it work? Sure. We're still talking about the Spurs.
Will it work? That's the better question with an uncertain answer.
Utah Jazz: Secondary Scoring Threats
Other than Donovan Mitchell, no returning member of the Utah Jazz scored more than 14 points per game last year, and the "returning" qualifier is only necessary because Rodney Hood was averaging 16.8 points before a midseason trade sent him to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Who's going to fill the void, supplementing the sensational scoring of the surging sophomore with offensive heroics of his own?
Ricky Rubio is a pass-first point guard who shouldn't be tasked with volume-scoring responsibilities. Rudy Gobert thrives in the pick-and-roll game but has never been asked to generate his own offense. Derrick Favors, Joe Ingles and Jae Crowder can all have the occasional explosive performance, but they're largely tasked with serving in other roles and remain efficient because they're not overextended as scorers.
Maybe Alec Burks or Dante Exum can break out of the bench. Perhaps Grayson Allen is ready to pull a Mitchell and contribute in a key role from day one.
But in all likelihood, the Jazz will, once more, be attempting to win with defense and an egalitarian scheme when Mitchell isn't doing the heavy lifting. And that's fine...until the playoffs come around and someone needs to prove capable of posting big numbers on the nights that see a certain Louisville product greeted with too much defensive attention.
Washington Wizards: Still Looking for Depth
The Washington Wizards have been trying (and failing) to put together a competent bench unit for years now, which has left them consistently squandering the valiant efforts of their starters. Even last year's improved group fell down to No. 18 and drastically curtailed the team's overall ceiling.
Should we expect anything different going forward?
Tomas Satoransky has another year of experience, as well as some practice running the show when John Wall was injured. Austin Rivers gives the team another capable guard, and Jodie Meeks may actually be healthy enough to do something of note.
Kelly Oubre Jr., Troy Brown Jr. and Jeff Green are all intriguing, but they're either too inconsistent or inexperienced to be relied upon. Ian Mahinmi is a limited presence at center, and we don't really know what to expect from Thomas Bryant.
Sure, this bench mob is increasingly deep. That doesn't necessarily mean it'll avoid functioning as a liability. It doesn't have a go-to scorer, and youthful presences off the pine often experience roller-coaster rides while searching for some semblance of rhythm.
For now, at least, Washington still has to place a heavy burden on the shoulders of its talented starters.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.
Unless otherwise indicated, all stats courtesy of Basketball Reference, NBA.com, NBA Math or ESPN.com.