Every NBA Team's Biggest Hole After Free-Agency Madness
Another hectic round of NBA free agency has come and gone, and with the dust now settling, teams are left to grapple with the roster holes that went unfilled.
Nothing, of course, is set in stone so far from training camps. But barring any more blockbuster trades, depth charts and rotations are beginning to take shape. Squads have better than a general idea of what they're working with and what they still need.
And make no bones about it: Every team needs something.
Some voids are more concerning than others. Certain holes are newly created by departures. Select needs are holdover issues from previous seasons. Big or small, though, each team has at least one.
For instances in which a squad has numerous holes, we'll default to the most pressing. These selections are not meant to be debilitating blows in every case. Some squads have potential, albeit unproven, solutions in-house. This is more so a look at which player types a team could still use most.
[For more NBA wisdom, interviews and hot-button conversation, check out Bleacher Report's Full 48 podcast with senior NBA writer Howard Beck.]
Atlanta Hawks: Floor-Spacing Rim Protector
Losing Dewayne Dedmon is a huge deal for the Atlanta Hawks—much bigger than most realize. Floor-spacing rim protectors are hardly a dime a dozen, and he was a stabilizing defensive force in the middle.
Atlanta doesn't have a clear-cut replacement for him. That might speak to the team's plan for John Collins. He's a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses at the 5. But the Hawks have yet to tread water with him in the middle. They gave up 120.6 points per 100 possessions when he played center last season.
Extending his time at the 5 would be a big bet on his defensive development, both as a decision-maker and physical presence. That's not an unreasonable gamble given the Hawks' gradual timeline. It is still a risk.
Jabari Parker's arrival doesn't help the cause. Alex Len can. He doesn't have the mobility of Dedmon, but he's a good enough rim protector, and Atlanta gave him the green light last year to shoot threes, which he buried at 36.3 percent clip.
Maintaining that value in a larger role won't be easy. Len has barely cracked 20 minutes per game over the past three seasons. If he can't take on more responsibility and Collins doesn't improve on defense, a heavier-than-expected burden figures to fall upon rookie Bruno Fernando.
Boston Celtics: Interior Defensive Anchor
Both of the Boston Celtics' two most valuable players from last season are suiting up for new teams next year. That's very tough stuff.
Boston rebounded nicely from Kyrie Irving's departure. Kemba Walker is routinely referred to as a Kyrie Irving knockoff. He's better than that.
Recovering from Al Horford's exit hasn't been so easy. Starting Enes Kanter could be a disaster. Teams will attack him in the pick-and-roll, and parades to the rim might follow. Head coach Brad Stevens will be in the Coach of the Year running if Kanter ends up playing replacement-level defense.
The Celtics have better defensive options. Daniel Theis is sneaky switchable. Semi Ojeleye hails from fleeting "Giannis Antetokounmpo stopper" fame. Robert Williams III is a bouncy shot-blocker. Rookie Vincent Poirier has some mean-streak pop around the basket. Grant Williams has the defensive IQ of a more seasoned veteran.
Too many of these alternatives need time to marinate. Only Ojeleye and Theis have more than a year of NBA experience, and neither is what you'd call a defensive centerpiece.
Replacing Horford was never in play. His combination of intellect, versatility and impact is essentially unobtainable. But the drop-off between what the Celtics had and what they now have looks unmanageably steep after also bidding adieu to Aron Baynes and Marcus Morris.
Brooklyn Nets: Kevin Durant Safety Net
Voids don't get much more "Well, duh" than this one.
Kevin Durant is recovering from a ruptured right Achilles tendon and doesn't have a timetable for return. It could be 2020-21 by the time he officially suits up for the Brooklyn Nets.
"He will be evaluated with the performance team and so forth," general manager Sean Marks told reporters. "A timeline will be given in due time. But as of now, we're certainly not going to comment on when or if and make any sort of hypotheticals. It's too early."
Brooklyn has Kyrie Irving to carry the first-option workload in the interim. It even has another playmaking wing to lean on with Caris LeVert. He generated All-Star buzz last season before suffering a dislocated right foot.
Neither player comes close to sniffing peak Durant's value. Few in NBA history have. And to the Nets' credit, they've done an admirable job filling out the rest of the roster. Taurean Prince will have some from-scratch juice if he gets his handle under control, and Rodions Kurucs has the air of a certified bucket-getter.
But Durant is Durant. The Nets do not have a higher-end combo forward without him.
Charlotte Hornets: Primary Playmaker
Kemba Walker's departure threatens to cripple the Charlotte Hornets offense. Acquiring Terry Rozier might soften the blow. It also may do nothing to assuage Walker's exit.
Few can wrap their head around Rozier's three-year, $58 million agreement. The Hornets are clearly betting he'll stand out in a bigger role. That's an acceptable spin. It doesn't mean this dice roll will pay off.
Pointing to his late-season performance in 2017-18 isn't enough of a defense. That stretch has been overly romanticized. He averaged 14.7 points and 5.0 assists while hitting 37.0 percent of his threes following Kyrie Irving's knee injury, but he shot just 36.5 percent overall and only slightly moved Boston's offensive needle.
It was the same story in the playoffs. He barely shot 40.0 percent from the floor, and his outside accuracy dipped. Boston leaned harder on Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.
This should concern the Hornets. Their offensive rating plummeted by 9.2 points per 100 possessions last season without Walker on the court. And that was with Jeremy Lamb in tow. He's gone, too.
Charlotte now has Rozier, Dwayne Bacon, Nicolas Batum, Devonte' Graham and Malik Monk to milk as offensive lifelines. Bacon may be the best shot-creator of the gaggle. That feels like a problem.
Chicago Bulls: 3-and-D Wing
Give the Chicago Bulls a round of applause for an offseason well done.
Adding Tomas Satoransky will be a boon for the offense. He has the off-the-bounce vision to jump-start the half-court offense and is more than capable of playing off Chicago's ball-dominant scorers. His integration beside Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White and, well, everyone else should be more seamless than not.
Thaddeus Young is an awkward offensive fit if the Bulls use him at the 3. He is a rock-solid pickup in every other regard. He'll be a strong locker room presence, and his defensive diligence remains underappreciated. He is strong enough to tussle with bigs and has the speed to shoot enormous gaps on closeouts. He might be the NBA's most underrated help defender.
Chicago is nevertheless light on three-and-D wings. Every team wants more of this player archetype, but Otto Porter Jr. is holding down the fort on his own.
Denzel Valentine, who missed all of last season with a left ankle injury, is neither a wing nor a defensive asset. Anyone who has a strong feel for Chandler Hutchison's game is either a career seer or fibber. Markkanen, like Young, doesn't belong at the 3.
Certain counters should help the Bulls get by on offense. Lineups featuring LaVine, Satoransky and White, perhaps with Porter at the 4, will generate a ton of cross-matches. Good luck counting on those arrangements at the less glamorous end. Chicago is one two-way wing short of truly intriguing (i.e. unexpected playoff contention).
Cleveland Cavaliers: Lockdown Wing Defender
David Nwaba will be sorely missed by the Cleveland Cavaliers. He wasn't just their best wing defender last season. He was their only one.
Nobody else on the roster came close to rivaling his defensive range. His 6'4" stature implied certain limitations, but he had none. He spent most of his time chasing around bigger wings and power forwards.
Cleveland has no one to take up Nwaba's mantle. The roster is overrun with combo guards who have zero business defending wings. Matthew Dellavedova is the only potentially obvious net-positive defender in the backcourt, and he doesn't have the strength or force to play up a position for long stretches.
Cedi Osman and rookie Dylan Windler will get more looks than anyone against the league's elite perimeter scorers out of necessity. They're both 6'8" and reasonably long, and the Cavaliers are devoid of alternatives. Larry Nance Jr. is their most versatile defender, but he cannot beef up the wing defense beyond hanging tough when he switches into space.
Dallas Mavericks: Playmaking Wing
Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis give the Dallas Mavericks a budding-beast vibe. A playmaking wing is all that separates them from evolving into an actual beast.
Remove gettability from the equation, and Khris Middleton always made the most sense as the Mavericks' top free-agent target. They need a wing who is accustomed to finishing plays off the dribble but equally familiar with playing off those around him.
Dallas eventually placed Kemba Walker atop its wishlist. That was calculated. He was the bigger flight risk. Free agency validated as much. Walker is in Boston, and Middleton re-upped with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Not that the Mavericks' priorities matter now. They largely struck out on the open market. Delon Wright grants them more defensive flexibility, and they kept Dorian Finney-Smith and Maxi Kleber on team-friendly deals. But they're still a playmaking wing short of automatic postseason contention.
Tim Hardaway Jr. (two years, $39 million) is being paid like that player. He isn't that guy. His passing is sporadic in volume and suspect in purpose. Dallas cannot fully trust his off-the-bounce shooting.
Finney-Smith and Justin Jackson haven't flashed the handles necessary to branch out. Courtney Lee has dabbled as a pick-and-roll orchestrator, but he's going on 34. Ryan Broekhoff is best served moving without the ball.
Denver Nuggets: Small Forward
Jerami Grant's arrival brings the Denver Nuggets oh-so-very-close to absolute completion. They needed a properly sized wing defender, and his extra-long 6'9" frame is suited for rumbling with 2s, 3s, 4s and even some 5s.
"The combination of shooting, floor spacing, athleticism, open court finishing, help side defense, and pure hustle and energy are an ideal fit alongside [Nikola] Jokic. Those skills are all proven to provide extra value when playing next to the best playmaking center the league has ever seen. At just 25 years old, there’s time for Grant to develop his game around Jokic’s, especially if you take Nuggets president of Basketball Operations at his word that Grant was brought in to be a long-term piece of the team."
Pigeonholing players into positions is so pre-2015. You are what you defend these days, and Grant covers almost everyone. But the Nuggets continue to want for a true 3 even with him.
Will Barton, Malik Beasley and Gary Harris are undersized relative to full-time small forwards, and Torrey Craig isn't a consistent enough offensive weapon to be viewed as an answer. A healthy Juan Hernangomez can play the 3, and the Nuggets seem to consider him one, but he's better off defending 4s.
Michael Porter Jr. looms here. He is the quintessential combo wing with the floor game of a small forward. But he missed his entire rookie campaign following back surgery and didn't play in summer league due to a left knee sprain. Denver is a championship contender and not in position to let him work through the motions.
Don't cry for the Nuggets. They're going to be good. This is just nitpicking at its nitpickiest.
Detroit Pistons: Playmaking Wing
Trading for Tony Snell and signing Markieff Morris noticeably bolsters the Detroit Pistons' wing rotation. They are floor-spacing upgrades over last year's primary options and add a little defensive grit, albeit with inconsistent motors.
Both still fail to meet the playmaking-wing criteria. Morris is more of a power forward only; it makes more sense to use him as a small-ball 5 than at the 3. Asking Snell to create off the dribble is among the most desperate requests a team can make.
Rookie Sekou Doumbouya might be that player in due time. His offensive profile is too raw to expect anything from him next season. He doesn't even turn 19 until December.
Bruce Brown is the Pistons' best possible in-house solution. He has already shown he can do heavy defensive lifting versus 2s and 3s and has more to offer as a ball-handler. He fared quite well running point for Detroit's summer league team and will be more of an every-lineup player if he strokes threes with any sort of consistency.
Luke Kennard also has a puncher's chance of being the answer. The Pistons afforded him more license off the dribble last season, and lineups with him at the 3 held their own on defense. It remains to be seen whether his on-ball comfort can translate to creating for others consistently.
What-ifs are fine. They're not guarantees. The Pistons need Brown or Kennard to develop into a certainty—or they need to figure out how to trade for one.
Golden State Warriors: Combo Wing
D'Angelo Russell will help the Golden State Warriors begin to replace Kevin Durant's offensive star power. He is not an ideal fit unless they start running pick-and-rolls ad nauseam, but they supplanted an unprecedented shot-creator and shot-maker with an All-Star shot-creator and shot-maker still a beat or two away from his prime.
It could be worse. The Warriors have deftly preserved their offensive armory even after factoring in the loss of Andre Iguodala and two first-round picks. Anyone writing them out of the Western Conference's arms race is succumbing to knee-jerk pessimism.
This does not earn their wing rotation a pass. Klay Thompson's torn ACL put them at an unavoidable disadvantage, and they steered further into the depletion by sacrificing Iguodala so they could add another playmaking guard.
Approximating Durant's impact was always out of the question. That's not the point. The Warriors no longer have that player who can man both forward spots. They barely have interchangeable options at the 2 and 3 until Thompson returns.
Alec Burks, Jacob Evans, Alfonzo McKinnie, rookie Jordan Poole and Glenn Robinson III now populate their wing rotation. And that's if we stretch the definition of "wing." Never mind plucking out a small-ball 4. At least two of those players are one-position 2-guards.
Short of flipping Russell for more perimeter utility after Dec. 15, the Warriors won't have the means to diversify their wing rotation even with a healthy Thompson. Next season will be interesting.
Houston Rockets: Defensive Wing
Dealing Chris Paul, two first-rounders and two pick swaps for Russell Westbrook was a gutsy, if curious, move by the Houston Rockets. The offense has to change. They have to play faster. Or James Harden has to work off the ball more. It might take both for him and Westbrook to effectively coexist.
Houston's defensive concessions are being lost amid the offensive risk. Paul lost a step or two last season, but he was still a nuisance at the less glamorous end. Westbrook is a downgrade. He lives and dies by gambles, and his locked-in on-ball efforts don't carry the same sway despite his three-inch height advantage over Paul.
Extra pressure will fall on everyone outside the backcourt when Harden and Westbrook play together. The Rockets don't seem equipped for it. They ranked fourth in points allowed per 100 possessions after last year's trade deadline, but the drop-off from Paul to Westbrook is real, and Houston's defensive rating plummeted with him off the floor during that stretch.
Bringing back Danuel House helps. Eric Gordon showed some moxie when defending 3s last year. Clint Capela and PJ Tucker haven't gone anywhere. Gary Clark and Gerald Green have their moments. But the Rockets need someone else.
They didn't chase Jimmy Butler twice in the past year for no reason. They're still looking to recoup the defensive sure things (and switchability) they enjoyed in 2017-18.
Indiana Pacers: Primary Playmaker
Victor Oladipo has long needed other shot-creation threats around him. Now, once he returns from his ruptured right quad tendon, he'll have them.
He still won't have a primary floor general. The Indiana Pacers have instead mashed together a bunch of maybes and spot playmakers.
Malcolm Brogdon and T.J. McConnell have experience running point, but they've never held the keys to an above-average offense. McConnell barely cracked the fully processed Philadelphia 76ers' playoff rotation last year, and Brogdon tallied fewer than 450 regular-season possessions without one of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton on the floor.
Jeremy Lamb took on some playmaking responsibilities in Charlotte. He had no choice. But the offense seldom remained afloat when he rolled without Kemba Walker. TJ Warren is not the answer unless he has unexplored depths to his offensive bag. Among 105 players to average at least six drives per game last season, his pass percentage ranked...105th.
Maybe Aaron Holiday is ready. Or perhaps playmaking by committee is enough. The Pacers don't employ an elite passer, but an offense built around a healthy Oladipo with Brogdon, Holiday, Lamb, McConnell and Domantas Sabonis has levels.
That depth is tough to buy into without caveats. Chucking more threes and increasing transition volume could help offset the void, but Indiana is committed to playing two bigs, and head coach Nate McMillan has not shown an affinity for adjusting his team's offensive style.
Los Angeles Clippers: Pass-First Floor General
Exactly zero teams will earn more championship predictions entering next season than the Los Angeles Clippers. They deserve it. Paul George and Kawhi Leonard form arguably the best one-two punch in the league, and landing their superstars didn't cost all of their depth. (Just a boatload of picks and swaps.)
Split hairs and the Clippers look like they'll want for a conventional floor general. George and Leonard are secondary playmakers, and Patrick Beverley has never pretended to be a primary offensive pilot.
Lou Williams is the closest they get to a table-setting captain. This is to say: They're still pretty far away from having one. Williams is a magician out of the pick-and-roll, particularly when he's linking up with Montrezl Harrell. He's also a score-first guard at heart.
To be painfully clear, this won't faze the Clippers. Beverley and Williams paved the way for them last year, with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, now of the Oklahoma City Thunder, filling in the gaps. This season's setup is better.
George and Leonard arm the Clippers with even more shot creation, and they can extract another layer of pick-and-roll ball-handling from Rodney McGruder. Not having a traditional point guard might be an inconvenience, but it wasn't crippling last season and won't be now.
Los Angeles Lakers: Bigger Wing Defender
Parsing through the Los Angeles Lakers' above-average perimeter defenders doesn't take long. They have very few.
Push the boundaries of "above average" as far as possible, and they're left with Avery Bradley, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Jared Dudley, Danny Green and LeBron James. Please do not decry Rajon Rondo's absence. It won't matter even if you do. He isn't getting assigned to the biggest wings. Nor is the 6'2" Bradley.
Caldwell-Pope and Green will shoulder more of that burden, but not all of it. Neither stands taller than 6'6". They'll have problems matching up with certain 3s.
James will have to take on more of the bigger wing matchups. That used to be OK. Not so much anymore. Kyle Kuzma has nights on which he's the better off-ball defender.
Dudley is way more valuable to the Lakers than any 34-year-old on a minimum contract should be. He is their most versatile wing defender unless James decides to give more regular-season damns.
From the look of this roster, rookie Talen Horton-Tucker, who sports a 7'1" wingspan, may get the opportunity to play an actual role.
Memphis Grizzlies: Wing Shooter
Wing shooting has been the Memphis Grizzlies' default need since roughly the dawn of time. This year is different.
This standing void used to be a nod toward their lack of dynamism. They've flipped that script. They're in line to field a defense teeming with hybrids.
Kyle Anderson, Brandon Clarke, Jae Crowder, Jaren Jackson Jr., Josh Jackson, Tyus Jones and De'Anthony Melton have a chance to crack the top half of the league in points allowed per 100 possessions right away. The Grizzlies' ceiling becomes exponentially higher if they wind up holding onto Andre Iguodala.
Those good vibes do not spill over to the shooting department. Memphis has a handful of could-be-acceptable marksmen but no established assassin.
Crowder is probably the Grizzlies' best wing shooter, and he canned just 33.1 percent of his triples last season, up from only 32.3 percent in 2017-18. Dillon Brooks is in the mix, as well. He's at 35.9 percent from distance for his career. Possibilities are wearing thin after them.
Iguodala is shooting 31.0 percent from deep over the past two years, and the Grizzlies are trying to trade him, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium. Josh Jackson hit 38.7 percent of his three-point attempts after last season's trade deadline, but he's the antithesis of reliable.
Anderson doesn't attempt treys. Bruno Caboclo's 36.9 percent clip from beyond the arc came in a 34-game sample size. Grayson Allen shot 32.3 percent from long range as a rookie. Clarke and Triple-J aren't wings. Without a youngster taking a leap or a veteran playing above his head, Memphis figures to yet again lack that high-volume outside threat.
Miami Heat: Motion Shooter
If Tyler Herro's performance in Las Vegas is any indication, the Miami Heat have one player who can knock down threes at a high clip, fire off jumpers after flying around screens and provide a dab of ball-handling.
They do not, it seems, have a second one.
Head coach Erik Spoelstra has a way of manufacturing space out of the clunkiest lineups, and the Heat, despite not shooting well from the outside last season, are not begging for offensive talent. They have plenty of secondary playmakers, including Herro, who will mask the absence of a conventional backup point guard behind Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow.
Besides, Jimmy Butler, Kelly Olynyk, KZ Okpala and Dion Waiters all have outside range. But they, like Dragic and Winslow, are not wired to move ceaselessly without the ball.
Okpala might actually be Miami's second-best in-motion threat after Herro. Is this enough for a team that, frankly, could use an upgrade at the point guard spot? Probably not.
Milwaukee Bucks: Reserve Wing
Assuming the Bucks start Wesley Matthews with Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo, their reserve-wing options will include Sterling Brown, Pat Connaughton, Donte DiVincenzo and Thanasis Antetokounmpo.
That...doesn't look so hot.
Keeping Malcolm Brogdon would've gone a long way. He has the defensive range of a wing, and the rotation becomes a lot deeper if Matthews comes off the bench. The Bucks might want to consider starting Brown or DiVincenzo just so he can run with the second unit.
Guarding bigger wings stands to be an issue either way. Milwaukee has Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo but conceded switchable size by letting Nikola Mirotic walk and trading Tony Snell.
Declaring a state of emergency overplays concern. The Bucks won't have a problem replicating their three-point-heavy model with their current personnel. If anything, they'll take a hit on defense.
Snell wasn't a pivotal part of the rotation by last season's end, but George Hill doesn't have the same positional bandwidth as Brogdon. Brown, Connaughton and DiVincenzo aren't doing the trick against bigger wings. Don't be surprised if Thanasis Antetokounmpo ends up getting a shot at meaningful playing time.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Primary Playmaker
Point guard almost wasn't an issue for the Minnesota Timberwolves. They were very much in play for D'Angelo Russell entering free agency.
As ESPN's Zach Lowe noted on a late-June episode of The Lowe Post podcast, the Timberwolves felt they had a "pathway to get" Russell despite operating without cap space. Speculation reached a fever pitch when they secured face time with the 23-year-old All-Star.
And then he was sign-and-traded to the Golden State Warriors.
Minnesota followed up that swing and miss by opting not to match Tyus Jones' three-year, $28 million offer sheet from the Memphis Grizzlies. After also "losing" Derrick Rose to the Detroit Pistons, the Timberwolves' point guard rotation consists of Jeff Teague and Shabazz Napier, who they acquired as a third-team facilitator in the Russell-to-Golden State deal.
Karl-Anthony Towns is transcendent enough for this not to matter in the short term. Minnesota pumped in a good-not-great 111.9 points per 100 possessions last year when he and Teague played without Jones or Rose. Napier is a legitimate spark plug. That'll fly as a one-season placeholder, but not much longer.
Both Napier and Teague are free agents next summer, and the Timberwolves don't have big-picture alternatives in place. It is time to give up on Andrew Wiggins turning into a complementary playmaker. Jarrett Culver is more suited for that role over the long haul but doesn't profile as a full-time point forward. Minnesota needs a more permanent option—an actual floor general to pair with Towns.
New Orleans Pelicans: Combo Forward
Measure their roster by pure optionality and the New Orleans Pelicans have one of the NBA's deepest teams. Twelve of their players have strong cases for regular playing time, and that number climbs to 14 if you're inclined to include Jahlil Okafor and Nicolo Melli.
It shouldn't be this hard to find holes on a rebuilding squad. The Pelicans have a little bit of everything. So much of their success hinges on the development of youngsters and unknowns, but they're rich with potential at every position.
Settling on a combo forward makes the most sense. Another shooter also works, but they have Darius Miller, E'Twaun Moore and JJ Redick, and Josh Hart should fare better from long distance in head coach Alvin Gentry's offense. Consider this your warning that Nickeil Alexander-Walker is coming, too.
Identifying that 3 who can log extensive time as a small-ball 4 is harder. Miller has the size but not the defensive aptitude. Kenrich Williams feels like a reach in that role. Will Melli even play?
Brandon Ingram is a smart bet to get power forward minutes when Zion Williamson isn't on the court (or when he's playing the 5). That might work out. The Lakers placed in the 77th percentile of defensive efficiency last season with him at power forward. Whether he's strong enough to take on more reps there is up in the air.
Once more: This might be a void that resolves itself. The Pelicans are steeped in might-bes at every turn. The power forward minutes that don't go to Williamson are their biggest question mark, even if they're resigned to playing Derrick Favors and Jaxson Hayes together for abbreviated stretches.
New York Knicks: Perimeter Defender
Get those "The New York Knicks are addicted to power forwards" jokes off. They're fair game. Marcus Morris can defend some 2s and 3s, and all of their other big-man signings will mop up time at the 5, but the troll jobs are not unwarranted. The Knicks went on a power forward binge.
By doing so, they failed to appreciably upgrade their perimeter stopping power. They added some wings, but none of them will reinvent last year's bottom-six three-point defense.
Morris is not fulcrum material and is in his bag most when tracking bigger, slower wings who don't have the offensive depth of a typical attacking 3. Reggie Bullock is a replacement-level stopper, and his immediate impact cannot be assumed after medical issues prompted New York to rework his initial two-year, $21 million deal to a two-year, $8.2 million pact.
Kevin Knox was one of the Knicks' worst defenders last year. That happens with rookies. The Knicks should be prepared for a similar learning curve with RJ Barrett. Ignas Brazdeikis will probably never have the horizontal springiness necessary to stay in front of NBA wings.
Frank Ntilikina is scrappy and can match up with certain forwards. He is also forever in New York's dog house. Damyean Dotson assumed some of the roughest covers as a sophomore and struggled accordingly. If he's the Knicks' go-to perimeter defender once again, they'll be lucky to dramatically improve upon last year's 28th-place finish in points allowed per 100 possessions.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Primary Building Block
Singling out a functional void on the Thunder's roster lacks a certain propriety. They are a team in abrupt transition and full of placeholders after trading Paul George and Russell Westbrook. Treating them like every other franchise suggests they're planning to keep the current core intact. That isn't a presumption worth making.
Defaulting to the building-block card is the best way to handle their situation. Dealing George and Westbrook gave them a line to 15 first-round picks over the next seven drafts, plus four swaps. It did not guarantee them a cornerstone.
Chris Paul will not finish the season in Oklahoma City. Danilo Gallinari is a free agent next summer and going on 31. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander just turned 21 and is a potential All-Star, but it remains to be seen whether he has a face-of-the-franchise ceiling.
Ditto for Darius Bazley. At 25, Steven Adams is young enough to wait out the Thunder's window, but he's not going to be the best or second-best player on a championship-level squad now, let alone three or more years down the line.
Oklahoma City isn't getting this player before the 2020 draft. General manager Sam Presti will be lucky to nab a pick and prospect for the three years and $124.1 remaining on Paul's deal.
Perhaps Gilgeous-Alexander goes boom as a primary option. If it's not him, it won't be anyone else. The Thunder are set up perfectly to find their next cornerstone through the draft, not the roster they currently have.
Orlando Magic: Primary Playmaker
Markelle Fultz could be on course to start opening night of next season and the Orlando Magic would still need a No. 1 playmaker more than anything. He's too much of a wild card to function as a long-term answer.
Any lingering resistance to this idea is neutralized by Fultz's cryptic timeline. The Magic have no idea when he's going to play. Fultz-as-savior pipe dreams dissipate with that uncertainty.
D.J. Augustin is a fine stopgap in the meantime. He is not much more. He's coming off one heck of a season; he ranked in the 99.2 percentile of spot-up efficiency and converted 38.9 percent of his pull-up threes. But the offense cannot function with him as a playmaking lifeline. He needs a buffer off which he can work.
Nikola Vucevic is that cushion for the Magic. Their offensive rating cratered without him last season, including stretches in which Augustin ran the show. Orlando mustered just 96.6 points per 100 possessions during those stints.
Length, control and defensive discipline can get the Magic back to the playoffs, but a team with an offense anchored by Vucevic and few face-up playmakers has a hard ceiling. Orlando hit it last year. Next season won't be any different.
Philadelphia 76ers: Motion Shooter
Feel free to lament the Sixers' crunch-time pecking order instead. Jimmy Butler was their go-to option down the stretch of close games, and they don't have a ready-made heir unless Ben Simmons starts banging in jumpers off the dribble or one of Tobias Harris and Josh Richardson plays with more force.
Philly has enough talent to sidestep that void here. A lineup of Harris, Richardson, Simmons, Joel Embiid and Al Horford will win a lot of close games.
Replacing JJ Redick's pinball movement is much harder. He so often put pressure on defenses by remaining in constant motion and hitting off-balance jumpers after coming around screens. The Sixers don't have that quick-fire trigger without him. They were wearing thin to begin with after giving up Landry Shamet in the Harris trade.
Shake Milton can get off looks in those situations depending on how much the Sixers play him. Zhaire Smith showed some shot-making ability off screens in summer league, but he and Matisse Thybulle don't, as of now, seem to have speedy enough releases.
The Sixers may just have to get by without generating a ton of off-ball movement from any one player—far from ideal when Simmons still poses a spacing crunch.
Phoenix Suns: Defensive Linchpin
Opinions of the Phoenix Suns' summer are split. Surprise, surprise.
Did they cough up too many future assets and overpay Ricky Rubio just to belch out a 20-something-win season? Or did they improve the roster from top to bottom without overspending and surrendering an asset more valuable than the Milwaukee Bucks' 2020 first-round pick (top-seven protection)?
Wherever you land in the debate will change your impression of the roster and what it still needs. Maybe point guard is still a concern because Rubio eats into too much of Devin Booker's on-ball work. Or perhaps the power forward spot remains a problem because Frank Kaminsky and Dario Saric aren't playmakers or exceptional defenders.
Rolling with a defensive linchpin instead is better, even if it's a generalized copout. It meshes with every possible interpretation of the Suns' offseason, whether negative, positive or completely indifferent.
Watching this 11-minute video of Mikal Bridges working his butt off might convince you otherwise. I'm not yet ready to call him a defensive captain. Bigs are inherently better positioned to direct their teammates, and Deandre Ayton still has mountains to climb in the half court before he's an impact stopper, never mind a defensive anchor.
Aron Baynes will help Phoenix's toughness, but he isn't rescuing one of the league's leading sieves on his own. Echo that for Ricky Rubio. Though he's disruptive, he isn't a commander in chief. The Suns should finish much higher than 29th in points allowed per 100 possessions, but they're still waiting on that defensive culture-setter.
Portland Trail Blazers: Backup Point Guard
Anfernee Simons' summer league detonation doesn't ease the Portland Trail Blazers' backup point guard concerns. He is not a floor general. Playing in tandem with Damian Lillard or CJ McCollum as the score-first off-guard is his best fit.
That is not a knock against Simons. He is an offensive lightning rod with a mixed bag of on-ball tricks. He's just not meant to be a point guard.
The same goes for everyone else on the Blazers who isn't Lillard. Their backup point guard situation is awkward after trading Evan Turner and losing Seth Curry. They have some wings who can handle the ball, but second-unit backcourts featuring two of Simons, Kent Bazemore and Rodney Hood don't scream sustainable offensive production.
Rigidly staggering the minutes of Lillard and McCollum has to be a given. It isn't enough. Portland didn't give McCollum a ton of solo time last season and is one non-Lillard injury away from a playmaking crisis even if that changes.
Here's to (maybe, possibly, potentially?) Point Mario Hezonja riding again.
Sacramento Kings: Combo Wing
Scanning the Sacramento Kings roster doesn't yield much concern. Quibble over where they spent their money in free agency as you wish, but theirs is a rotation that can stretch 11 players deep without breaking a sweat. That's formidable.
Sacramento's finite supply of multiposition players is not.
Bogdan Bogdanovic and Buddy Hield are undersized defensively when playing outside the backcourt. Trevor Ariza and Harrison Barnes can shimmy between the 3 and 4, but they're not surviving serial cross-matches versus smaller, quicker players.
Both are also more valuable offensive weapons at power forward, where they will still have a marked edge in mobility. The Kings aren't built to tap into those small-ball lineups with significant volume. They have to juggle playing time for Marvin Bagley III, Dewayne Dedmon, Harry Giles and Richaun Holmes up front, not to mention Nemanja Bjelica.
Three-position wings or even players with 2-3 chops are tough to find. We have to recognize that. But the Kings could've benefited from more serious free-agency looks into wings with more defensive range than Ariza. Danny Green, Rodney Hood, Marcus Morris and Kelly Oubre Jr. could all have been compelling options.
San Antonio Spurs: Wing Defender
For the San Antonio Spurs, this is the void that almost wasn't. Marcus Morris initially agreed to a two-year, $20 million deal, but he backed out once the Knicks opened up more cap space. The Spurs then pulled his offer and pivoted to Trey Lyles.
Morris would've been perfect for what the Spurs need: defensive flexibility on the wing.
They have some after bringing back Rudy Gay and signing DeMarre Carroll, but they're otherwise stocked with guards who will have to masquerade as 3s (DeMar DeRozan) and power forwards who don't have the switchability to defend down (Lyles).
This won't be the end of the world. The Spurs allowed a respectable 107.9 points per 100 possessions with Gay at the 4. Adding Carroll to the fold will only strengthen those lineups while making it easier to field different small-ball combinations.
The problem: Carroll and Gay are not matches for most All-NBA wings. Not every team has a Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Jimmy Butler or Giannis Antetokounmpo, but plenty do. Morris could have spearheaded coverage in many of those cases. San Antonio doesn't have such a stopper now.
Toronto Raptors: Sweet-Shooting Wing
Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard are out. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson are in. And the Toronto Raptors' offensive spacing is going to feel the squeeze.
Look at the combined three-point shooting of those duos from last season:
- Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard: 310-of-737 (42.1 percent)
- Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson: 71-of-264 (26.9 percent)
Oof. That's quite the drop-off.
OG Anunoby might be ready for a bigger role, and the Raptors still have Norman Powell. That's something. But neither is an entrenched high-volume threat from behind the rainbow.
Powell hit 40.0 percent of his treys last year but is a career 34.5 percent shooter from deep. Anunoby is at 35.1 percent through his first two seasons after knocking down just 33.2 percent of his triples in 2018-19.
Unless one of them or Patrick McCaw has a coming-to-Jesus Shuttlesworth performance next season, Toronto will be hard-pressed to churn out league-average three-point volume and efficiency.
Utah Jazz: Backup Point Guard
Landing Mike Conley makes it easier for the Utah Jazz to navigate a thin rotation of backup playmakers. They can stagger his minutes with Donovan Mitchell's playing time and have the option of running more bench-heavy combinations with Joe Ingles, who might end up with the second unit anyway following the arrival of Bojan Bogdanovic.
This is a big deal. The Jazz poured in more than 110 points per 100 possessions last season when Ingles played without Mitchell and Ricky Rubio, and some of those minutes will now come alongside Bogdanovic. Options abound for Utah.
In the most literal sense, though, the Jazz's backup point guard situation isn't too rosy.
Dante Exum and Emmanuel Mudiay have yet to earn their primary-playmaker stripes. They're satisfactory depth pieces when they're not necessities. They're shaky options if they're anything more than excess.
Who knows whether Conley will play in 70-plus games next year. He turns 32 in October and has missed at least 12 games in each of the past five seasons, including 25-plus contests twice.
Even if the Jazz aren't concerned with injuries, any reps given to Exum and Mudiay promise nothing. They're built to navigate that uncertainty, but having so much mystery attached to the first two guards off the bench, depending on what you consider Royce O'Neale, isn't exactly a confidence-booster, either.
Washington Wizards: Playmaking Wing
Best of luck cobbling together a strong opinion about the Washington Wizards' offseason. Their approach has been equal parts unspectacular and shrewd and restrained and fine.
As Yahoo Sports' Ben Rohrbach wrote:
"Signing [Isaiah] Thomas was reminiscent of reclamation projects past, but at the veteran minimum, the former All-NBA guard is worth the shot. [CJ] Miles and [Ish] Smith are also solid depth additions who will not break the bank. [Interim GM Tommy] Sheppard then leveraged Washington as a landing spot for extraneous pieces in larger deals elsewhere around the league, nabbing [Davis] Bertans from the San Antonio Spurs and [Moritz] Wagner from the Los Angeles Lakers—acquiring a potential frontcourt of the future for nothing.
"The Wizards also drafted [Rui] Hachimura, who at No. 9 overall might have been a stretch, and acquired the second-round rights to [Admiral] Schofield for cash, restocking the wings after losing every major contributor to last season's abominable campaign. [Bradley] Beal cannot carry this roster to the playoffs, but in one offseason Sheppard made more malleable a roster that is still saddled with [John] Wall for another four years."
Playmaking wings have been tough to come by for the Wizards in the John Wall era. Otto Porter Jr. is the closest they came, and he wasn't gifted the offensive leeway necessary to, you know, make plays.
That void endures now. Hachimura displayed a nice feel off the dribble around and away from the basket in Las Vegas, but summer league is summer league. He still has to prove he can set the stage for his teammates, or he'll be more of a one-position player at power forward.
Pickings are slim after him. Miles and Troy Brown Jr. aren't the answers. Schofield intrigues, but he needs more twist and twitch to his dribble. Beyond them, Washington's wing well is mostly desolate.